Costa Brava holidays introduce you to Spain at its wildest – whether it’s the make-up-free beaches and thick forests, or the dizzying waterparks and nightlife of Lloret de Mar.
Creeping up to the French border, the Costa Brava takes you to Spain’s less-trodden top corner. When it comes to landscapes, this place likes to go au naturel – think mountain backdrops and forest-tickled coves. It’s probably the reason Salvador Dali liked it so much – you’ll find a couple of museums dedicated to the artist around here. It’s just north of Barcelona, too, so daytrips are easy.
Big and bold
The so-called Rugged Coast still has all the beachy charms of the rest of the Costas along Catalonia. After all, there’s a reason why city slickers from Barcelona flock here to sunbathe. Loud- and-proud Lloret de Mar probably has the biggest helping of blue-water beaches in the palm of its hands – you can count five within a 10-minute drive. Plus, it’s got a bumper crop of bars to boot.
The quiet ones
Some of the Costa Brava’s holiday destinations like to lie low. They’re not exactly fishing villages per se, but they’re the type of places you can sip sangria or tuck into paella and watch the world go by. Pineda’s small, but well-stocked with tapas bars, cute squares and a big beach. And Santa Susanna’s even sleepier, with cobbled streets and plenty of family-friendly beaches.
Things to See and Do in Costa Brava
Blue Flag Beaches
The Costa Brava sets the bar high when it comes to beaches. The stretches of sand in the big resorts, like Lloret de Mar and Tossa de Mar, all come with the Blue Flag seal of approval. Part of their success is due to natural talent. The beaches are innately long, wide and golden. But part of it is due to good management. On S’Abanell beach, for example, the sand is raked every night, so it’s as well-groomed as possible the following morning.
The Big Beach
S’Abanell beach, near Blanes, is officially the longest beach in the Costa Brava. This swathe of sand is more than 2 kilometres long. But Lloret de Mar beach deserves a mention here, too. This 1.5-kilometre curve of caramel-coloured sand comes with a Blue Flag award and more restaurants, bars and watersports than you could fit into a week.
The Secret Beach
Boadella Beach is as far from the madding crowd as it gets on the Costa Brava. The unspoilt sand here is set against a pretty backdrop of coastal cliffs. Locals bring their kids here after work and on weekends to swim and build sandcastles.
Tuesday is market day in Lloret de Mar. Stall holders arrive at Carrer des Metres around 8am and shut up shop at midday. Goods like handbags, Spanish fans and brightly-painted ceramics are cheap at twice the price. Just less than 10 miles up the coast, Tossa de Mar’s market takes place on a Thursday. Follow your nose to the food section, where shiny olives, tangy cheeses, and spongy breads go for a song.
High street shops are an afterthought to the beach and restaurant scene on the Costa Brava. The big brand buck stops with a cluster of fashion and sports stores on Carrer de Sant Perre. For more choice, your best bet is a trip to Girona, where the Mercadel District is swimming with brands like Benneton, Bershka and Zara. You’re looking at an hour’s drive.
Arm yourself with a credit card and take a shopping pilgrimage to Barcelona. Avienda Diagonal in the L’Eixample district namedrops stores like Chanel and Gucci. If you’re scouting for tomorrow’s designers, today, meanwhile, have mooch around the Bulevard Rosa shopping centre – it’s on Rambla de Catalunya and its boutique fashion stores have names like Biscuit and Llilli.
Tossa de Mar’s old town, Vila Vella, is the place to go for a quiet meal. After dinner, you can walk around the cobbled streets, take in the sea views, and stop for an ice cream. For something a bit posher, don your dinner jacket and head to the Grand Theatre Liceu in Barcelona. With its gilt boxes and plump leather seats, it looks like it’s been modelled on the Moulin Rouge.
When it comes to nightlife, Lloret de Mar comes out all guns blazing. The holy trinity for bars and clubs are Carrer del Baix de la Reira, Carrer del Pla de Carbonell and Carrer de Santa Cristina. For a change of scene, pop over to Tossa de Mar. Among the cocktail bars you’ll find a few flamenco joints, especially around Calle Sant Josep and Calle Sant Pepe.
Llagosta i pollastre
This traditional Catalan dish is a distant relative of the paella family. It’s made by slowly cooking lobster and chicken in a rich tomato and hazelnut sauce. It’s then dished out with rice on the side. In some top-end restaurants, chefs add saffron to the sauce, too.
This dish was conceived in Aaragon, an hour’s drive from Lloret de Mar. It’s a simple but flavoursome dish, made by sizzling lamb with lemons, garlic and paprika. It’s served piping hot alongside a side dish like patatas bravas.
On the face of it, Crema Catalana looks just like crème caramel. But the devil’s in the detail. Firstly, the Spanish dish can be flavoured with lemon and cinnamon. Secondly, the caramelized top in the Spanish version is created using a hot iron rather than a flame.
Catalan sausages are renowned throughout Spain. Made in the mountain town of Vic, 1.5 hours from Lloret de Mar, the butifarra is one of the most loved. It’s made from pork, tripe and pine nuts and served grilled with beans. Other regional sausages include fuet, chorizo and llangonisseta.
Move over, Champagne. In Costa Brava, Parellada is the fizz of the moment. The grapes for this sparkling wine are grown in the countryside between Reus and Barcelona. Taste-wise, it’s fruity with hints of apple and pear, and it makes a great pre-dinner drink.
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Pineda is plonked on the Costa Brava, just a nudge north of Spain’s Costa Dorada. A sandy beach the colour of a first-place medal rolls out for a whopping three kilometres here, so it’s a top choice for a family holiday by the sea. It’s got less of a touristy feel, too, compared with other parts of the Spanish coast – holidaying here’s more popular with locals than an international crowd.
Lloret De Mar
Lloret de Mar has been one of Catalonia's prime beach destination for going on five decades now. Every year, thousands of visitors flock to this seven-kilometre stretch of coastline. And with its Blue Flag beaches, pumping nightlife and traditional old town, it doesn’t take a genius to work out why.
Santa Susanna lives up to the Costa Brava’s restful rep. Its doorstep is made up of a huge, biscuit-coloured beach. The filling’s a little old town with cobbled streets and everyday shops for the locals. When you want an energy hit, lively Lloret de Mar’s just up the coast, or you can get to Barcelona in an hour.
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