In 1905 Ferran Agullo, a journalist and writer, invented the term ‘Costa Brava’ to describe the coastline between the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees in the province of Girona.
The Costa Brava is where it all began as far as tourism goes: from the 1950s, tourists started to flock to this coastline, the first of them arriving in ex-war planes.
To this day, tourism is still the main industry of the Costa Brava region.
Costa Brava means ‘Rugged Coast’. Its 214km of coastline extends from Blanes in the south, to French-bordered Portbou in the north. It is Catalonia’s most northern stretch of coastline.
The Costa Brava’s distinctive rugged coastline is punctuated with charming coves, amazing beaches – both secluded and well-serviced for sunbathers and water sports lovers, striking cliff-spurs carpeted in lush pines, intriguing caves with shimmering metallic colours layered through the inner walls, and amazing underwater rock formations which are a haven for divers. Plus just off the coast you’ll find thriving forests filled with wonderful plants and wildlife.
Moderate rainfall, hours and hours of sunshine and a typical Mediterranean climate are all characteristics of the Costa Brava, which combined with its fervent history, amazing monuments dotted all along the coastline, and its renowned resorts, make this coastline one of Spain’s most popular.
Perhaps the Costa Brava has seen some misrepresentation as a typical package tour destination. But this is unfair, and this reputation can only really be attributed to a few of the many resorts on this coast.
The truth is that this amazingly diverse region offers an opulent cultural heritage, fortified towns, ancient villages, a stunning Mediterranean coastline and remarkable natural beauty.
In the 1900s, Picasso and Marc Chagall were drawn to this natural beauty, and when Salvador Dalí returned to his childhood home here, a trail of artisans followed.
Before the Civil War, the Costa Brava had begun to compete with the Côte d’Azur in France as a playground for the rich and famous. When the Franco-powered Ministry of Tourism began promoting it as a holiday destination in the 1950s, with little regard for the environment, the stars returned, but as placid fishing villages were consumed by high-rise hotels, they turned their backs on the region and moved on.
However, the region’s charm had always survived no matter what the tourist boom was doing to destroy it and the Spanish continued to visit for its stunning natural beauty.
Today, the towns of the Costa Brava are becoming more and more reluctant to trade their traditional values for mass tourism. The region is strengthening these values to suit the more discerning traveller, which it welcomes with open arms, and has begun to turn the tide on its unfair branding as the epitome of mass tourism.
Here is some brief information about some of the most notable towns on the Costa Brava coastline, and some of those just inland from the coast.
Portbou A prime destination for those who want a break away from the more commercialised resorts. The town is the furthest north on the Costa Brava. Promenade-side restaurants and bars attract a large number of day-visitors. The border to France is close. Friday is market day.
Colera A small coastal village with a winter-population of only around 300. Even during the summer it doesn’t get crowded here. The perfect location for some peace and to indulge in real traditional values.
Llanca This town is 15km from the French-Spanish border, with a fishing port and a yacht harbour. The older part of the village has a number of historical buildings surrounding the plaza major.
Port de la Selva Where the Cap de Creus forms a large bay, here you find Port de la Selva. It is a family resort, and a good base for walkers to admire the Cap de Creus. It is one of two points of access to Sant Pere de Rodes, one of the most important of all Catalan Romanesque sites. There is also a scuba diving centre here.
Cap de Creus Declared a nature reserve in 1998, this beautiful area is the only reserve in Spain which covers both sea and land; it incorporates the largest unpopulated area in the Spanish Mediterranean. The rock-strewn coast is barren and interrupted by small bays. The flora and fauna found here is quite unique and includes a variety of very rare species of sea-birds which are in danger of extinction.
Cadaques This town is approached by a small winding road, meandering through the mountains from Roses. Cadaques is extremely picturesque: cobalt waters, sandy beaches dotted with fishing boats, aged whitewashed houses, warren-like streets, and a 16th century hilltop parish. It’s not a family resort – more an up-market haven for those with artistic and creative blood flowing through their veins.
Roses This town has a 16th Century fortress which although in ruins is still of great architectural interest. Also here are the remains of the Greek settlement of Rhode. Its fishing port is one of the leaders on this coast and offers a lively nightlife at its marina.
Empuriabrava Laying just south of Roses the name sounds ancient, but it was actually purpose-built for holidaymakers. It Known as the largest Marina in the world. Here there are as many canals as there are in Venice, and boat owners have their own moorings in front of their houses. Here you can indulge in just about any water sport you fancy. This town also has its own aerodrome that is equipped to deal with light aircraft, and offers skydiving lessons.
L’Escala A small holiday resort at the southern end of the Gulf of Roses. It is a delightful fishing village well known for its delicious sardines. The resort offers much for the water sport enthusiast, two yacht clubs and a number of marinas. This is also the point of entry to the Roman colony of Empúries, the most visited archaeological site in Catalonia.
Toroella de Montgri Here there is a 13th century castle, a tremendous gothic church and a museum dedicated to natural history. Also to note are the hermitage of Santa Catalina and the legendary ‘Tower of Witches’.
L’Estartit Close to Toroella de Montgri is this fishing village which offers a port, marina and as much as 3km of beaches. From here you must visit the Medes Islands. Take a glass bottom boat and be amazed by what lies beneath the sea.
The Medes Islands A small archipelago made up of seven islets and several reefs just a mile off the Catalan coast from Emporda and the Montgri Massif. The area is one of exceptional biological and ecological worth. The varying depths of the sea water around the islands, and the contrast of the rocky and sandy areas of the seabed, combined with the rock-type which lends itself to the formation of tunnels and caves, all work together to attract a wide variety of species – as many as 1,345 have been recorded.
Ullastret The archaeological site of the ancient Iberian city makes this village of great interest.
Pals Here there are a number of notable historic buildings, including the two towers of the old walled town, and the church of Sant Pere.
Begur This really is an exclusive tourist resort and at the cove of Aiguablava there is a Parador hotel. Here there is a 15th century ruined castle set upon a hilltop offering spectacular views of the Costa Brava.
Palafrugell This area is 4km inland and has been shielded from tourist activity. On Sundays the town comes alive with the lively morning market. The aged streets and shops are huddled around the delightful 16th century church. There are three districts within Palafrugell:
Tamariu has a small beach and a small population to go with it! Llafranc is nestled into the next bay, with a stretch of beach and a marina. Calella de Palafrugell is mainly a fishing port, with ageing whitewashed houses slotted into narrow streets. It has a stunning rugged coastline interspersed with lots of petite sandy beaches, which can get quite packed on account of the enticing crystal clear waters.
Palamos A busy resort with a yacht-filled harbour and a notable 16th Century church. The town dates back to 1277, and as with many of the towns on the Costa Brava, the old town is separate to the new. Palamos is an important fishing village and often plays host to big yachting events.
Platja d’Aro and S’Agaro These are two of the most commercialised resorts on the Costa Brava. Here there is much for the tourist: hotels, campsites, shops, restaurants and bars, as well as numerous leisure facilities. But over and above this, the area is one of beauty with golden-sand beaches.
Sant Feliu de Guixols This town is at the heart of the Costa Brava, surrounded by pine and oak-filled woods. It has seen some commercialisation, but perhaps not as much as Platja D’Aro and S’Agaro. Of particular notability here is the hermitage of Sant Grau and the Gothic church with its celebrated iron gate, the Porta Ferrada. Water sports lovers are well catered for here, particularly in the nearby cove of Cala Salions.
Now we move on to the Selva Lowlands, starting at Tossa de Mar, and going southwards on to…. Lloret de Mar Lloret de Mar has a rather well known reputation for being one of the most lively resorts on the Costa Brava. It offers much to the party-lover: strings of pubs, clubs, amusement arcades and well-known fast food chains line the promenades while hotel upon hotel tower way above the palm trees.
Aside from these tourist attributes, Lloret does have some pleasant sites to behold, for example, the Santa Clotilde Gardens, open during the summer, and the ruined fortresses marking each end of the main beach, among other sites, monuments and beaches.
BlanesThe last town on the Costa Brava, with a substantial beach and harbour, and offering much for the tourist in the way of hotels, restaurants, bars and discos. Probably its most notable feature are the Mar i Murtra Botanical Gardens which are perched way above the sea, offering amazing views along the cove-studded coastline. Apart from showcasing over 4,000 species of plants from five continents, some of them threatened with extinction, the gardens also have a valuable research and study centre.
INLAND TOWNS As well as the coastal towns, this region has an abundance of notable inland areas that must be visited:
PeraladaThere are many fortified villages in this region and Peralada is one of them. It has several noteworthy buildings including the striking castle of the Rocaberti family which is set within a large park.
The castle, originally a Renaissance palace, is now home to the deluxe Casino of Peralada, the grounds of which are the site for an important summer Music Festival which brings the world’s top classical music talent to the Costa Brava.
The castle and its 14th Century walls, sits beside the 1206 Convent of Nuestra Señora del Carme, which has an attractive cloister and patio and exhibits a fine collection of glass, ceramics and paintings and has a library with over 60,000 books.
Figueres This town is located in the heart of Catalonia and is well known as being the birthplace of surrealist artist Salvador Dali. The town is much visited for its Dali Museum, where the artist is buried. Figueres is also the birthplace of the Sardana dance, the traditional dance of Catalonia. Also of interest in Figueres is the castle fortress of Sant Ferran, the parish church of Sant Pere, the Museum of l’Emporda and the Toy Museum.
Besalú This town was elected as Spain’s historical national property in 1966.
Its most striking feature is 12th Century roman bridge that spans the Fluvià River. There are two 10th Century churches and the Jewish baths, which date back to the Middle Ages.
Banyoles The big attraction here is the 6km lake, which reaches depths of 60m. Here you can swim, fish, canoe or hire a rowing boat. Banyoles hosted the rowing events of the 1992 Olympic Games.
Apart from the lake, there is also an archaeological museum, a 14th Century Gothic church and the neo-classical monastery of Sant Esteve de Banyoles.
Girona The Costa Brava capital is split into two by The River Onyar.
The old quarter is highlighted by the Cathedral, which, like many of Spain’s cathedrals, is a fusion of many different historical periods and styles. Also worthy of a visit is the Jewish Quarter, with it’s winding streets shaded by tall, stone walls and offering an abundance of shops.
The Twelfth Century Arab Baths, the old City Walls, and the museums of archaeology and history are of notable interest whilst the churches of Sant Nicolau, Sant Feliu and Sant Pere de Galligants highlight the religious background of the region.
The Costa Brava: rugged coastline; historical treasure; inset with cities, towns and villages that leave the visitor in awe of his surroundings. Forget the typecast brand and take in the intrinsic culture, scenery and traditions of this stunning part of Spain.