The Costa Brava is full of spectacular places. Beaches, bars, gardens, castles... there's a lot to choose from. It's been hard to select just a few, but these are, for us, some of the most stunning spots on the Girona coast.
Just by the beach, at C/Santa Màxima, 3 in L'Escala, a small treasure is hiding: La Botiga de l'Anxova (The Anchovy Shop). This is where Joan Gardella sells his unique wooden creations under the commercial name of Nituwood; you'll find letters, animals, kitchen tables and decorative items. They also sell other locally made products and various vintage items (such as old school maps, coffee grinders, typewriters, decanters...).
If there was a world ranking of 'xiringuitos' (beach bars), this would certainly be close to the top. And that's because it's in front of possibly the most perfect beach hotel ever (without wanting to offend anyone). The hotel is a modest house that hardly stands out among the lunar landscape of Cap de Creus, surrounded by pine and olive trees, cut off from the rest of the world, and without coverage for your mobile. To complete the image of perfection, three generations of one family run the place and if there's nothing you fancy on the set menu of the day, they will rustle something up for you (of course – there's a grandma in residence). But let's focus on the xiringuito: it was inaugurated in 1981, is open between approximately June and September, and is chic without going over the top, groovy without being a hive of modernity. On Fridays and Saturdays in the summer, there are DJs and live music. You have to drive along a track to get there, and you shouldn't use GPS because you'll get lost. But it's all worth it. Really worth it.
On Avinguda Just Marlés in Lloret de Mar you'll find numerous discos all next to each other, and in the summer, there's a constant flood of people heading in and out of them throughout night, making it one of the most lively streets in Europe. That might or might not be your cup of tea, but it has to be said that the avenue also contains a few havens from all those youngsters on the lookout for a good time. In Plaça Pere Torrent there's an old-fashion-style carousel that will transport you for a moment to the Tulleries in Paris thanks to its pink tones and soft music. Taking a selfie in front of this pretty landmark is a way of saying that there are a lot of different Llorets contained within this popular town.
The historic centre of Peratallada
An outing to Peratallada is a typical day out for many Catalan families. It has many similarities to the historical French walled town of Carcassonne – in the words of one writer, it's 'a little bit over-restored but with a lot less restaurants and shops selling knightly trinkets'. It's definitely worth the trip. Peratallada is one of the most important medieval villages in Catalonia (it's been designated a historical-artistic site and a Cultural Asset of National Interest), and maintains its feudal appearance with walls, towers and castles. Photogenic isn't the half of it.
Gola de Ter, or Fonollera beach, is one of the most tranquil beaches on the Costa Brava. And, at the same time, it's one of its most exceptional because it's where the river Ter ends, meaning that you can walk through fresh- and saltwater at the same time. In fact, as you get nearer to the sea, you can see how the river forms pools in the sand. What makes this spot even more special is the majestic presence of the Medes Isles just off the coast, rising from the waters. But don't expect to find showers or bars on this beach; at Gola de Ter, the only human presence can be found in a few country houses ('masies') some distance away. It's a real gem.
There are some beaches that just have to be seen. One of them is the cove of Els Frares with its group of rocks in incredible shapes that, year after year, attract hordes of photography lovers. There are no services and it's completely natural but also totally addictive; once you've bathed in this idyllic spot it's difficult to accept going swimming in other beaches. Well, perhaps we're exaggerating slightly, but it's true that you absolutely must see the Cala dels Frares. How to get there? You can walk along the coastal path that starts at the beach of Lloret and crosses Sa Caleta.
The Marimurtra Botanical Garden in Blanes is in itself a great reason for going to spend the day in this seaside town. It has five hectares that stretch from the hill of Sant Francesc to the cliffs of Sa Forcanera in a promenade of flora from all over the world that finishes, naturally, with a Mediterranean garden in front of the sea. It's in this part, in the Mediterranean garden, that you'll find a small viewing-point in the shape of a classical-style temple dedicated to Carl von Linné, the botanist who systemised the naming of species. In the summer, it hosts dinners and concerts; it's also possible to reserve the venue for private celebrations. We don't want to downplay any of the marvellous corners of the garden but we reckon that a selfie in the temple, perhaps in the company of a loved one, is a great way to remember forever your day there... and to turn your social media followers green with envy.
Better known to many as the Lovers' Cove (Cala dels Enamorats), this cove is a kind of sea enclosure that forms a small natural swimming-pool. It's not only an idyllic, peaceful corner, it also has incredible views of Llança, Port de la Selva and even Cap de Creus. In sum, it's a hidden jewel. To get there, the best thing is to go by boat or kayak via an opening that links it to the sea, but if you're daring enough, you can also get there on foot. Just make sure you're wearing quality foorwear.
Lloret de Mar knows how to make the most of its assets, especially when it comes to appealing to tourists. This place is the perfect spot for going for a daytime walk through the forest, where you can admire one of the more eccentric projects of modernista architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch: Sant Pere del Bosc. There's been a building on this site for a thousand years: alternatively a monastery, asylum and home of a self-made man from the 19th century who went by the name of count of Jaruco. But now it's become the symbol of Lloret's more chic side, which is trying to escape the stigma of the town's reputation as a low-cost tourist destination. The building hosts a luxury hotel and renowned restaurant that serves avant-garde cooking. During the summer, there's also a night-time 'xiringuito' in the garden; and despite the lights and luxury, in the evening you can't ignore that there's an aura of mystery surrounding the venue. A magical place.
If we could look in the dictionary for the definition of a 'charming vermouth bar', we're sure that next to it there would be a photo of El Pati de l'Estrella. This is an old vermouth bar ('vermuteria') from the 1950s that's been tastefully renovated. The owners have converted the space into a bohemian, welcoming courtyard with a menu full of vermouth, beer, tapas and spirits. Do you need any more reasons to go? Take a selfie there and you're bound to be a hit on Instagram; what's more you can upload your photo while in situ, because they have WiFi.
The black rocks of Cap de Creus mark the most easterly point of the Iberian Peninsula, and the wildest part of the Costa Brava, as spectacular as it is treacherous; covered in thousand-year-old remains, it still jealously guards some of its best-kept secrets. One of them, which we're generously sharing with you here, is Cala Tavallera, located about 2km from Port de la Selva, but only accessible from the GR11, the hiking route that connects the Mediterranean with the Atlantic. In some blogs and guides they insist that the beach can be reached by 4WD but the safest way to get there has always been by a two-hour walk that ends with a well-deserved prize: a cove that's practically deserted in summer and winter. It has a shelter for spending the night and witnesses dawns that feel as though a new world has been born. The seabed is fabulous and has a wide range of creatures living on it. At the height of summer many small boats anchor there, but at the start and end of the season, it's very rare to find anybody else there. If you do want to spend the night, it's a good idea to call the local council to make sure the shelter is in usable condition and available.
Don't wait for people to tell you about this place: you need to experience the charms of La Devesa de Tor for yourself. Visit the small Empordà village of Tor and immerse yourself in this restored 16th-century 'masia' (Catalan country house). The atmosphere will take you to an exotic and sensual place from where you won't want to return. Go into any of the rooms, each with their own suggestive name (the Cove, the Intimate, the Clandestine, the Sky...), and if you're in good company, prepare for a romantic evening with chill-out music and candlelight. Enjoy the variety of cocktails on offer such as Elixir of the Caribbean, Exotic Bubbles, the Cupid and the Marilyn, as well as the selection of sophisticated gin and tonics, beers and alcohol-free options. And if the experience gets your appetite going, you can accompany your drinks with a selection of Iberian cured meats ('embotits'), local cheeses and foies. It's a place you'll never forget.
Catalan writer Josep Pla was very sure of one thing: 'I don't believe that there is anything, in this country or in most other countries, like it.' The Dalí House-Museum, located in Portlligat, was originally a small fisherman's cottage, where the painter regularly lived and worked from 1930 until the death of his partner Gala in 1982. Inside it has a labyrinthine structure with numerous small rooms as well as decoration made up of an eclectic selection of objects that Dalí collected down the years. Outside, the standout feature is the giant egg on top of the roof that, according to the artist, was there because the house was 'intrauterine'. Incidentally, the house (which was converted into a museum following Dalí's death) was visited by the likes of Walt Disney and the Duchess of Windsor while the artist was still alive.
Without a doubt, this is the most beautiful bar in the whole Costa Brava, and an ideal place to carry out the final part of a planned seduction. During the day, you can enjoy views of the bluest sea and the rocks of Cala Banys below your feet. At night, the spot becomes more intimate and romantic and, even though it's only five minutes from the centre of Lloret, all you'll hear is the sound of the water lapping and the voices of loved-up couples. The drinks are top-notch, and this is a memorable and unmissable place for discovering another side to Lloret.
Despite the shelves full of 'National Geographic' magazines, at Ca La Pilar Dumingu they can't hide their true nature – the soda siphons of Casa Negre and the ceramic basins in the bathrooms clearly reveal them. The authenticity of this bar-café in Plaça Major in La Bisbal is undeniable. It's located in a historical grocery shop with mosaic floors and high ceilings, and has the charm of a place that acknowledges the past as a way of living contentedly in the present and future. The long tables create a family atmosphere for everyone who heads there for a vermouth, beer (they have a selection of craft beers) or one of the herbal infusions that are stored in apothecary pots (it's worth trying the 'ratafia' one, based on a local herbal liquor, or the red tea with orange flower variety). If hunger bites, try a gourmet 'botifarra' (Catalan sausage) sandwich with caramelised onion, or the one of aubergine with blue cheese and almonds.
Comfort, elegance, style... these are just some of the labels that define the Lounge Bar in the Hotel Aiguaclara in Begur, located in a colonial palace from 1866. At the Lounge Bar, the warm summer nights of the Costa Brava are matched with mojitos, gin and tonics, mint tea and tapas for everyone. Whether you're on holiday or a weekend break, with your partner or with friends, enjoy a drink and let the music and vintage decoration carry you away – pallet sofas, marble tables, soda siphons, candles and lamps that soften the ambience. All in all, it's an excellent antidote to your routine, problems and stress.
You'll need to walk a while or even take the car to actually get to the sea from this 'beach bar', but we can't ignore that this is one hot ticket among Empordà's summer bars. Why is it so popular? First because it's located in an amazing setting, surrounded by nature, at the flight school of Torroella de Montgrí. Secondly, it looks like something straight from 'Out of Africa'. The third reason is that there are DJ sessions, live music, good food and excellent cocktails. The best time to go is, without question, when the sun is just starting to set – and make sure your mobile is well charged because the landscape is spectacular. Unmissable.
Peralada Castle, built in the ninth century under the name Castell Toló, was once at the heart of the county of Peralada, and today it's been declared a national asset of cultural interest. The building as it now stands was constructed following a fire during the French invasion of the Empordà as part of the crusade against Catalonia by Felip l'Ardit (Philip the Bold of France) in 1285. Towards the 14th century the Gothic castle started to be built, but there's little left of the original construction nowadays. The estate was acquired in 1923 by Miquel Mateu i Pla, a Catalan politician and businessman, and the castle is still in the Mateu family. During the months of July and August, the gardens are opened for the Festival Castell de Peralada.
Castellfollit de la Roca
Castellfollit de la Roca is located on top of a spectacular basalt cliff that is 50m high and almost 1km long, cut out by the Fluvià river. Every time we go there or pass nearby, we can't help thinking the same thing: 'Incredible!'. It looks like something out of a film. And of course, the viewing-point has the most amazing views of the surrounding area.
This place was virtually a must-include, because if you can get to 'the end of the world' in less than two hours by car, you absolutely should go at least once in your life. Twenty-five years ago, a British biologist fell in love with this former Civil Guard barracks, and set up a restaurant along with a few bedrooms to rent. Over the years, it's gained a mythical standing, thanks in large part to its New Year's Eve parties and because if you go there at the height of winter, you can battle it out with the 'tramuntana' wind. Some people say that the premises, which have a clear bohemian vibe, need to be done up and that in high season the queues to get served are long. But we don't really think either of these things are a real problem because just by getting there, sitting down and looking into the far-off distance, it's worth planning a day trip one Tuesday in February. Although don't forget to wrap up warm.