One of the favourite dinner-table conversations of Catalans, especially during the winter, consists of remembering days on the beach of summers gone by. It's not surprising: they’re essentially sun-loving beings and the younger generations – not the older ones; 60 years ago, there wasn’t the same obsession with going so regularly to the beach – have grown up diving into the waves and sunbathing without proper protection to an extent that's bound to catch up with them one day.
When a dinner is particularly cosy and the company exceptionally pleasant, it can lead to so much relaxation, both physical and mental, that the beans get spilt on those secret coves ('cales') or corners of the Costa Brava where people go to lose themselves even at the height of summer – where you're basically guaranteed to not even find a hermit crab. Everyone knows which are the best beaches on the Costa Brava, but the ones listed here are the most secluded: sandy areas that it’s difficult to get to but for which the effort is completely worth it, because the memory of that day in the sun will keep you going until next spring. Take note because we might not tell you again.
This beach lies at the extreme north of the Catalan coast, the last one before the French border. Despite the name (Beach of the Pine Tree), there aren’t actually that many pine trees left, and you’re more likely to find yourself in the company of octopuses and fish. The beach is only 500 metres from the main beach in Portbou, following the Camí de Ronda (a costal path) but there are some sections along the route that are more suitable for goats than flip flops, which means that most days you’ll struggle to find anything but the most determined nudist there. To get there, cross the Tres Platgetes, which are actually not bad either, and perfectly good for a day with the family. But the true prize lies a little further on – you shouldn’t even contemplate going there if the sea is choppy or there’s a risk of strong easterly winds – a tiny space surrounded by black cliffs, accompanied by the exuberant seabed of the Cap de Creus region and the feeling of being very close to the end of the world.
Salvador Dalí and writer Josep Pla both talked about this place, but few people have seen it with their own eyes. You have to get to the lighthouse of Cap de Creus from Cadaqués via a road that calls for care and, once there, descend on foot along a dry riverbed for about half an hour until you reach a lovely spot, with softly rounded contours of broom bushes, the complete opposite of the harshly built-up aspect that you find in some other access points to this wild coast. Probably the playful name of this cove (it literally means Player Cove) originated in the gentleness of the landscape: what you’ll find there is a welcoming sandy stretch that gives on to a section of sea sheltered from the local tramuntana winds and with water that is completely transparent and calm, and which is home to an extensive range of sealife – don’t forget that it’s fiercely protected. It’s truly beautiful and if you stay there to sleep for a night during the early summer, feeling the sun on your face at dawn will undoubtedly be one of the most intense experiences of your life.
The upper Alt Empordà region has Cap de Creus and the lower Baix Empordà has Cala Estreta. It’s much more modest but that is quite fitting with this area considering that one of its most famous sons, Josep Pla, would have considered any kind of excess and opulence in very bad taste. The good news is, at the same time, the bad news: in the summer, motor vehicles are banned and to get there, it means a 45-minute walk from the beach of Castell along the Camí de Ronda coastal path, or, take note, only a 20-minute trek if you follow the service route that passes directly below the electrical towers in the car park of Castell. The effort, however, is directly proportional to the spectacularness of this series of coves that are naturist, light, open to the east and perfect for sunny winter mornings, although even in the middle of summer they remain relatively tranquil thanks to the long walk needed to get there. If you come across a man with white hair at the 15th-century fishermen’s hut, say hello – his name is Quico and he’s lived there for years. He doesn’t have television or radio because he says that he has at his disposal an endless screen focused on the horizon, but he will still show you which rock to head to to get some mobile coverage depending on which operator you have. We just have one thing to add: you have to go there at least once in your life.
Cala Maset is a small place with a few square metres of sand, very close to the popular beach of Sant Pol. It’s known locally as the Cala del Pont (the Cove of the Bridge) because the road between Sant Feliu and Sant Pol crosses over it via a small viaduct. A few minutes of climbing down stairs from the main road and you’re there. So why have we included it in this list of secluded beaches? Because Cala Maset has a secret that very few people know: during the days around the summer solstice, when the sun rises exactly in the east, the first rays of dawn fall right there and transform it into a kind of golden jewel that is nothing to do with the shady corner that it will be during the rest of the day (which means it’s actually not a bad option if you want to go to a beach with not too much glaring sun). If you go into the water and swim 50 metres to the left, you’ll find a solitary rock on which it’s easy to climb and then jump into the water. The surrounds are deep and the drop, about eight metres, is totally safe. Five minutes from the centre of Sant Feliu is this spot that looks a lot like paradise. Having said that, the magic, like in the story of Cinderella, ends with the ringing of the bells, in this case the ones marking 9am, which is when the summer visitors begin their relentless daily invasion.
This is a beach that is simply untouched and from where you won’t glimpse any human construction. As simple and extraordinary as that. To get there, you need to drive along the hideous road that links Sant Feliu de Guíxols and Tossa de Mar, with its 360 bends, and be alert for a sign that indicates the start of the path down. You can’t go by car, but it’s easy to leave it parked at the side of the road. From there it’s quite a trek down through a forest – forget about the boho beach look and make sure you wear some good shoes, suitable for mountain walking. The effort is absolutely worth it, though. In the middle of August, you’ll find no more than two or three people on a pebbled beach that measures around 200 metres. It’s nudist and extremely surprising for its silence, the complete lack of human paraphernalia and because, despite the complete lack of services, it manages to stay pretty clean, undoubtedly because the few people who endeavour to actually get there are well aware of the need for a notable environmental exertion for such a special place. If you’re not sure that so much isolation is really necessary, carry on a bit further in the car towards the north and you’ll come to the Cala del Senyor Ramon, which is also slightly cut-off but is easier to get to with kids and elderly people.
The landscapes in this part of the central Costa Brava are incredible, but the history that surrounds them is even more amazing. This small haven among the cliffs below the castle of Cap Roig, situated between Mont-ras and Calella de Palafrugell get its name (The Bath of the Russian Woman) because a one-time owner of the place, Ms Woevodsky, would head down to it on the back of a donkey and bathe there in the nude. The fact that she wasn’t actually Russian but British doesn’t spoil either the legend or the hike along the paths that descend from the botanic gardens of Cap Roig to this site with red-coloured rocks, water that is always calm and complete isolation, which is officially called Cala Massoin. A few metres to the south is the Cala del Crit, so named (the Cove of the Shout) for a pirate legend, and a little further on is Cala de la Fontmorisca, which has a fountain (‘font’ in Catalan) and was also popular with pirates. Carry on south and you’ll discover the Cala del Vedell, which until just a few decades ago was home to a colony of Mediterranean monk seals, which today are thought to scarcely exist in this part of the world. All three coves belong to Mont-ras, a small town that lies a few kilometres inland and which bought a small section of coast from nearby Palafrugell so that its young men could do their military service in the Royal Navy. The implications of this deal dragged on until recent times: for years Palamós, Mont-ras and Palafrugell tussled over the ownership of the Illes Formigues, an archipelago of just a few square metres that has cost the lives of many sailors in the past and where a famous victory was won against the French in the 13th century. Enough history? Apologies. We’ll finish by telling you that all these coves are difficult to access and are pretty much a guarantee of a private swim.
To complete this list of secluded areas in the Costa Brava, we’re going to mention another pirate story, but in this case one from the 20th century. Cala Morisca, which is a beautiful, solitary spot, to which you get to from the Lloret de Mar housing estate of Cala Canyelles by walking along the GR-92 trail and then going down a number of stairs, contains the entrance to some tunnels that connect this small bay and natural port with a nearby property. In the tunnels, which today are sealed up, still remain tracks, wagons and the relics of a sophisticated ventilation and electrical alimentation system. The infrastructure, which is a work of some scope, was used by the Corsican trafficker and smuggler Jean Antoine Canavaggio to easily transfer merchandise that arrived by sea to warehouses located close to his house. It’s not science-fiction: in this peaceful village in 1998, they made the largest confiscation of hashish in the history of Catalunya, some 17 tonnes. Nowadays nothing is left of that enterprise. But while you’re enjoying the sun, the calm, shallow, crystalline water, and the small bay that takes you away from the rest of the world, you could almost imagine yourself in an action film.