What the Press Say
COAST WITH THE MOST
By Gareth Morgan
January 20, 2008
The Daily Star
“Rugged beaches, charming villages...and a party spirit in Catalonia
THE Costa Brava boasts some of the most beautiful stretches of coast in Spain...but whatever you do, don`t tell the locals.
As far as the world`s seven million Catalans are concerned, their homeland is a nation in its own right. Separate and proud.
They`re not keen on speaking Spanish, they have their own government, their own police and consider Barcelona their national football team.
The 135-mile stretch of seafront running north from Barcelona up to the French border is their playground. And the prettiest stretch is just east of Girona, whose airport is a hub for cheap flights.
The entire region is dotted with charming old villages, each one the perfect base to explore the rugged beaches and coves. We stayed in the stunning hilltop village of Begur, whose cobbled streets are dominated by a 10th Century castle.
Lazing on the poolside terrace of our villa La Julivia, we could take in an entire panorama of golden coastline and rolling pine-covered hills inland.
It felt a million miles from the concrete jungle of fake English pubs and all-day breakfasts of near neighbour Lloret de Mar.
Begur grew thanks to the wealth of Catalans who made their fortunes in the American colonies and this trans-Atlantic heritage is marked with the annual Fira d`Indians festival.
The colourful Cuban-themed street party seemed to involve drinking copious amounts of mojitos, then dancing `til you`re fit to drop. The heady cocktail of rum, sugar, lime and mint is enough to inspire even the most wilting wallflower to join the fun.
The Caribbean party spirit – combined with countryside that looks more French Riviera than Spanish Costas – adds to the feeling you are in a new and exciting country. And after getting carried away at an all-night party Begur boasts the best beaches to cure even the worst hangover.
A short drive down the coast road and you will be paddling in the clear, shallow waters of Aiguablava. Another short hop and you can enjoy the watersports of Fornells – then there is Cala Fonda, Sa Tuna,Aiguafreda and Sa Riera.
Each beach has its own character and after a bit of experimenting you are sure to find one tailor-made for your seaside needs.If it tickles your fancy, you could even strip off on the pink-rocked nudist island of L`Illa Rosa. Although no amount of mojitos could inspire us to give that one a try.
But while it would be easy to pass a fortnight in the chic seafront cafés and splashing in the Med, beach life is not the be-all and end-all of Begur.
Time passes quickly wandering round the weekly market in the village centre, or watching the street artists at work. It`s just a short drive to the gracefully restored medieval walled town of Pals.
And serious food fans should be drawn to what is officially the world`s best restaurant, El Bulli, a few miles further north in the Golf de Roses.
I`ll have to take the critics` word for it because the €250-a-head price tag and 12-month waiting list for a table put me off trying it out.
Fortunately the Costa Brava is blessed with scores of great places to eat like a king for considerably less...a meal for two, with wine, will set you back around €30.
And of course, no trip to Catalonia would be complete without a visit to Barcelona. It was an easy hour-and-a-half drive down the A7 motorway to the capital.
While a day trip cannot do justice to one of the world`s great cities, a cheeky beer and tapas in town could prove the icing on the cake for your trip. You could even take in a tour of Barcelona`s Camp Nou stadium.
The team`s motto of “més que un club”(“more than a club”) could equally apply to Catalonia as a whole: “More than a country”.
Just don`t mention Spain.
* GARETH travelled with Haven On Earth who offer beachside apartments to villas for 16 people with private pool and sea views, ranging in price from £400 to £3,000 a week. They offer villa holidays in Spain, Greece and Portugal. Details are available on their website www.havenonearth.co.uk or by contacting 020 8941 1700.”
Spain without the Carry On
By Sandra Campos
May 25, 2008
The Sunday Express
“SIMPLY mention the Costa Brava and for many it conjures up an image of Elsbels – the fictional Spanish resort from Carry On Abroad. Anyone booking a holiday here would surely be as dim as the hapless tour guide played by Kenneth Williams: Stuart Farquhar. Or as each guest asked when our hero introduced himself: “Stupid what…?”
The coast is associated with package-holiday hell: theme pubs, all-day breakfasts and sprawling beachfront developments. I reflect on this as I sip my second glass of cava after tucking into a mouthwatering feast of fresh seafood. For here I am enjoying local bounty on the Costa Brava and I find the place more Charles Dance than Charles Hawtrey (who played the nerdy, bespectacled character Eustace Tuttle).
The smaller towns of the Catalan coastline have an effortless class – and Begur, where I am staying – is among the classiest. Europe`s most sophisticated take their holidays in Barcelona, and Barcelona`s most sophisticated take their holidays in Begur. For most of the year it has a population of 3,986, which can swell to more than 40,000 in the height of summer.
Built across three hills, its 16th-century castle dominating one of them, Begur has narrow, cobbled streets with smart boutiques, tapas bars and artists selling their wares. The town is blessed with spectacularly wild countryside on its doorstep – here the Costa Brava lives up to its name of “rugged coast”. Its centrepiece is the shell of the medieval castle that commands stunning views of orchards and olive groves as far as the eye can see.
Within a short drive there are a string of hill towns built of honey-coloured stone, with plenty of shady nooks in which to pass a lazy afternoon. And far below it all are the glittering coves. Just a 15-minute drive down the winding coast road and you will be paddling in the family-friendly, clear, shallow waters of Aiguablava with its small pebbly beach. Another short hop along the coast and you can enjoy the watersports of Fornells. Then there is Cala Fonda, reached via a winding hill path and Sa Riera, the largest beach in the area.
BEGUR itself is surrounded by villas mostly owned by Catalans, although many are available for rent. Lazing on the pool-side terrace of our villa, La Julivia, we could take in the entire panorama of golden coastline and rolling pine-covered hills. It felt a million miles from the concrete jungle of its near neighbour Lloret de Mar. But that is because Spain is changing. And nowhere is that change more dramatic than in the fiercely independent region of Catalonia. This is the home to Carme Chacón, Spain`s first female head of the armed forces. Having last week given birth, she will also be the first government minister to take maternity leave.
Once you could enjoy any meal here as long as it was battered, deep-fried and served with chips. Now it is home to the world`s best restaurant. The three Michelin-starred El Bulli, just up the coast from Begur in the town of Roses, is run by Ferran Adrià and his team of 42 superchefs. Adrià is a cook every bit as mercurial in the kitchen as that other local legend Pablo Picasso was on the canvas.
The tiny restaurant can handle only 8,000 diners a season who come for dishes such as freeze-dried shaved foie gras, cauliflower couscous and Spanish omelette served in a martini glass. With 800,000 people calling to make a reservation, that`s a lot of diners fighting for every table. On top of that, bookings for the £200-a-head home of molecular gastronomy are taken only on a single day in October, for the next year.
Luckily the region is blessed with scores of great restaurants, where you can eat for far less. A meal for two, with wine, will set you back around £24. The wait for a table will be minutes rather than the months required at El Bulli – that really is too much of a Carry On.
easyJet (0905 821 0905/www.easyjet.com) offers return flights from eight UK airports to Barcelona from £36.
Auto Europe (0800 358 1245/www.auto-europe.co.uk) offers car hire in Barcelona from £15 per day.
Haven On Earth (020 8941 1700/www.havenonearth.co.uk) offers arrange of villas and apartments on the Costa Brava. Seven nights at La Julivia costs from £1,185 per week (eight sharing).
Spanish National Tourist Office: 020 7486 8077/www.tourspain.co.uk.”
The Travel Issue: Costa Brava in May
By Laurence Earle
February 2, 2008
“Question: where do Europe`s most stylish people spend their summer holidays? Elsewhere in this issue you`ll find plenty of good suggestions, but when you stop to think, there is really only one answer. It goes like this: which is Europe`s most stylish city? Easy, it`s Barcelona, of course – everyone knows that. Next: so where do the smartest, most stylish people in Barcelona go when they want to get away?
The answer, you may be surprised to hear, is the Costa Brava – but lest those words conjure visions of package-holiday hell, let us add that we`re not talking about any old bit of the Costa Brava, and certainly not that southern sprawl that seems to stretch unbroken from Las Ramblas to the mega-resort of Lloret de Mar. No, we are heading further north, 100km or so from the city, towards the Cap de Begur and beyond, to the area called Baix Emporda, where the terrain gets wilder, and the Costa Brava lives up to its literal meaning of "rugged coast".
Here, rocky headlands break up the beaches, and the road twists and turns through forests of sweet-smelling pine and cork – which clear suddenly to reveal cliff-top views to crystalline coves accessible only by boat, or on foot along the Cami de Ronda, the ancient coastal path that picks its way between the granite crags and turquoise bays. Before long, the concrete Costa of popular memory seems very distant indeed.
And when the road zigzags down to the shore, you emerge blinking from the woods to discover one of Catalonia`s great holiday secrets – the hauntingly gorgeous fishing villages of Sa Tuna and, our favourite, Tamariu, with its picture-perfect seafront and glorious crescent of sandy beach. Here, the actual fishermen have long since sold up, and you`re more likely to find well-heeled families from Barcelona and Girona parking their 4x4s outside tastefully restored shacks and hillside villas, or taking the air along the tidy prom lined with chic cafés and buzzing restaurants. It`s all very relaxed and low-key – you`ll search in vain for nightclubs or big-name designer boutiques – but rest assured, this is stealth-wealth, Spanish-style.
We rented the very pretty Villa Chez Nous, a few hundred metres from the beach. With its lush, flower-filled garden and private, gated pool, it made the ideal base for a young family to explore the area – and despite the temptation not to move a muscle, we soon found plenty to do. We made our own tracks along the Cami de Ronda to snorkel in secluded coves; we wandered the botanical gardens at Cap Roig, home to a famous jazz festival; we browsed the market in bustling Palamos and bought cheap pottery in the local capital of La Bisbal; we took a boat to explore the Medes islands, Spain`s top marine reserve, and even ventured as far as the brilliantly bonkers Dali Museum in Figueres.
We couldn`t (of course!) get a table at El Bulli, Ferran Adria`s famous restaurant at Cala Montjol, a little further up the coast, but were left in no doubt that the locals take eating very seriously indeed. At one meal in Sant Feliu de Guixols, we sampled 14 kinds of seafood – from fried baby squid and thin slices of salt cod to the Catalan classics arroz negre, "black rice" coloured with cuttlefish ink, and suquet, the local answer to bouillabaisse. And that was just for lunch.
But despite all these diversions, the impression that sticks is of how unspoiled this corner of Catalonia remains. Baix Emporda may be one of the priciest places in Spain to buy property – but it has miraculously escaped the attention of the northern-European hordes who flock to the coast between Blanes and Tossa de Mar. Perhaps it`s the spectacular landscape. Perhaps the locals just want to keep it secret. Who knows? But one day Baix Emporda may even give the Costa Brava a good name"
By Rupert Wright
April 27, 2003
The Sunday Times
“When journalist Roger Cooper was released after more than five years in a Tehran jail on charges of spying, he was asked what conditions were like.
`Anyone who has been to an English public school and served in the ranks of the British army is perfectly at home in a Third World prison,` he said. Somewhere along the way he must also have learnt to appreciate the finer things in life. For once out of Iran, Cooper did not head back to England, but to Blanes, a small town on the Costa Brava. Here he runs a guesthouse, and rents out a villa and half a dozen apartments.
`Blanes is the beginning of the Costa Brava,` he says. `It`s a fabulous place, full of festivals - in July they let off enormous quantities of fireworks - fine beaches and good restaurants. I first came here when my uncle settled here in the 1950s. Blanes was as far up the coast as the train from Barcelona could get before the coast got too rocky.`
If your idea of the Costa Brava is `kiss me quick` hats, donkey rides and warm English beer served to people with handkerchiefs on their heads as they turn red in the sun, it is time to think again. There are still some ghastly developments on the Catalan coastline. Some of the most shocking crimes were committed north of Barcelona around Playa d`Aro, and worst of all to the south of Barcelona on parts of the Costa Daurada, which until the builders turned up was considered to be the most beautiful coastline in Spain. But the Catalans learned fast. They watched the excesses on the Costa Sol and Costa Blanca and were horrified. It is harder to get planning permission in parts of Catalonia than it is in central London or Paris, although people say you can still get things done if you know who to talk to. And if you want nasty concrete development and cheap holidays you can still find it, particularly in Lloret de Mar, but for the most part, the Costa Brava - the wild coast - is the most stylish place on the Mediterranean.
This is partly due to its location close to Barcelona. Most people heading south from France bypass the coast and stick to the A7 motorway going through Barcelona and beyond. The traffic visiting the coast comes from Europe`s coolest city. Head north from Barcelona on a Friday evening and you will follow a convoy of elegant people who are all going to their country homes for the weekend. Unlike the French, who for the most part shun the attractions of the countryside, the Catalans are very keen on getting out of the city.
The Costa Brava is the playground of the Catalans. They are a proud, industrious people, who like to work hard and play hard. The Romans landed in Blanes in 200BC and later made Tarragona their capital. Once Catalonia stretched up into France and the Pyrénées - Mont Canigou is still the spiritual home of the Catalans and many of them make an annual pilgrimage up its slopes - and was once one of the Mediterranean`s major sea powers. Even though its borders have been checked, the people are keen to emphasize their difference to the rest of Spain. For example, they insist on teaching their children in Catalan. Spanish is taught as a second language, often by Catalan speakers, something they may live to regret when half the population cannot speak the language of the country properly.
Most of the Barcelonese will drive north for one-and-a-half hours to towns and villages in the Baix Empordà region such as Begur, Llafranc and Calella de Palafrugell, where there are some of the finest bays and bars in the world. `The Baix Empordà part of the Costa Brava is extremely popular with the Pijos (posh people) of Barcelona,` says Maria Cinnamond - a Catalan property specialist. `It is a Catalan version of Tuscany, with beautifully kept orchards and farms, and every few kilometers a picturesque village like Peratallada, Begur, or Palau-Sator.`Unfortunately the prices already match the location. In Begur, for example, you can buy a small house with three or four bedrooms, and room to build a swimming pool for 510,000. The only house for sale in Sa Tuna, a tiny bay ten minutes from Begur that is full of bathers in the summer but deserted in the winter, will set you back 1 million.
Adrian McGinley and his wife Susan, who are both in their 30s, bought a four bedroom villa with a sea view in Sa Riera two years ago for 250,000. It is five minutes from Begur and two minutes from the sea. They moved four years ago from Islington with their two children, who are aged 10 and 8, initially to France in the Midi Pyrénées near St Antonin Noble Val.
`The house in France was fantastic, but while there was plenty of life in the summer, it was a bit desolate in the winter,` says Adrian. `We have found that the Catalans have a more open, more European outlook than many of the French people we met. And there is much more to do in the winter. There is horse riding, tenpin bowling, skiing a couple of hours away, as for me, I head down to the Nou Camp to watch Barcelona play football.`
McGinley deals in industrial food machinery on the Internet, so is lucky enough to be able to work from home. Others inhabitants in the area are mostly retired. Even so there are not many English people living on the Costa Brava. But from February Ryanair will be flying direct to Girona, a pretty town that has been compared to Avignon. And in the not too distant future the TGV fast train from Paris will stop here on the way to Barcelona and Madrid. Not only will this bring in British people, but also Germans and Italians. Some of them may end up buying properties in Girona. The best properties are those that overlook the River Onyar. They are tall and pastel coloured. On sunny days they are festooned with blinds and washing that blows in the wind.
Others will head north to Figueres, a market town where Salvador Dali was born and is buried. To the east is Cadaques, one of the most unspoilt spots on the coast that can only be reached by a single road, or by sea. All the houses are white, so from a distance it looks like a cool, cubist painting. This is where Dali lived for many years. In the 1960s Cadaques was known as the St Tropez of Spain. Young people and ageing roués flocked to watch the master paint, or twiddle his moustache. It is still possible to hire the barge that he built for Gala, his last mistress, and potter along the coast, swimming in the rocky bays.
But many travellers who arrive in Girona expecting to snap up a second home on the cheap will be disappointed. There is a great variety of property, from country farm houses, called masias, to villas and apartments on modern and stylish residential estates. But it is not a cut-price location like the Costa Blanca, though it compares favourably in terms of value-for-money with cramped beach property in the Costa del Sol and the Balearic Islands.
Maria Cinnamond claims the region`s cultural patrimony, diversity, and beauty, not to mention its proximity to the south of France, attracts more discerning buyers than the sun seekers of the Costa del Sol. `The Costa Brava is where Majorca was twenty years ago,` says Ronnie Miller, a retired property developer. He now lives near Begur, but spent fifteen years on Majorca. `I love it here,` he says. `When I left Mallorca I went all over Spain, but didn`t find anywhere I liked. Then I came here and fell in love with the place. The women are so stylish and immaculately dressed, you want to ask them what magazines they have been reading. I still love Mallorca, but it`s got so expensive there. Mind you, I reckon here will go the same way."
The 10 best beaches in the world?
By Chris Haslam
March 9, 2008
The Sunday Times
“We had to bully and bribe our team of writers to reveal their secrets, but, finally, here they are:
Let`s consider sand – and I`m going to be a bit controversial here. Sand is overrated: the mineral equivalent of Sienna Miller, it looks good on a beach, but quickly becomes rather irritating. Sand clouds the water, contaminates your sandwiches and exfoliates you where you`d prefer not to be exfoliated.
My favourite beach is called Cala d`Aiguafreda, and it doesn`t have sand. It has flat rocks as warm as electric blankets, and tiny rock pools that make perfect wine coolers. Wrapped in pine woods and sheltered from the tramontane wind, it smells intoxicatingly of ozone and resin, and is lapped by waters as clear as Bombay Sapphire.
That`s nothing special in these parts. The beaches of the Baix Emporda, as this part of the Costa Brava is known, belong in a superleague of their own; but, for my money, tiny Aiguafreda is number one. That`s due in no small part to the fabulous Hostal Sa Rascassa, located in heavenly isolation a few steps from the beach.
Owned by the ebullient Oscar Gorriz, this simple, stylish place (recently voted one of Spain`s best-decorated hotels), with a candlelit open-air restaurant, a beach bar and a Wednesday-night music club, is a diamond set in an emerald forest beside a sapphire sea. And did I mention that there`s not a grain of sand in sight?"
The perfect Spanish Costa
By Chris Haslam
January 13, 2008
“Tossa de Mar. Calella de Mar. Lloret de Mar. Yuck. But there`s an unspoilt side of the Costa Brava
With more than 3,000 miles of coastline, Spain boasts a costa for every taste. For pounding surf and sailors` graves, head to Rias Altas, in Galicia. If you`re allergic to the sun, hit the soggy, cloudbound sands of Cantabria. Or head south, for the empty and windswept beaches of the Costa de la Luz.
Head east from there, however, and you`ll see seaside horrors you`ll never forget. The names – Puerto Banus, Fuengirola, Torremolinos, Nerja – read like the index in a Dantean gazetteer, way stations on the road to hell. It`s an unending urbanisation of holiday-home sink estates, golf courses and charmless stretches of overdeveloped sand, reaching from the Rio Genal, in Andalusia`s deep south, via Malaga, Alicante, Benidorm and Barcelona, to the mouth of the Rio Ridaura.
Then Spain`s ravaged coastline changes. This is the Baix Emporda, the secret, undeveloped part of the Costa Brava – the Wild Coast – where Spain lit the first flames of package-holiday hell back in 1954. As the epicentre of the explosion of mutually assured destruction that has since engulfed the Spanish coast, this should be a neon-lit concrete wasteland populated by giant rats and sovereign-ring-wearing men called Big Frank.
But it`s not. At the north end of Palamos bay, the Costa Brava begins to live up to its name. The package-holiday airport at Girona is just 20 miles west as the seagull flies, but the steep-sided little hills the Catalans call puigs force the coast road inland. The hairpin lanes that lead to the beaches are inhospitable to coach transfers and construction traffic, miraculously sparing the tiny, pine-fringed coves from the horrors of mass tourism.
Indeed, between the stylish little resort of Llafranc – the sort of place where you`d expect to see Dean Martin chatting up Bardot – and the fishing port of L`Escala, to the north, you`ll find nothing but 25 miles of Spain`s most beautiful, dramatic coastline.
High-rise hotels? None. Karaoke bars? Zero. Full English? Not a sausage. Instead, think family-run pensiones, the casually elegant evening paseo and fresh grilled fish from a chiringuito on the beach. But where to enjoy it?
If your ideal is to rise late and take your breakfast alfresco before ambling down to your favourite spot on a pristine crescent, topped and tailed with pine-clad rocky headlands, Llafranc is for you. And there`s no need to rush: if you`re on the sand before 11.30am, you could be seen as too keen. German, even.
Because Llafranc dances to Catalan time, where dawn is seen not as the beginning of another gorgeous day, but as the end of the night before, even if the nearest nightclub is in Palamos, eight miles to the south. The idea here is to spend a couple of hours lazing before having a long, late lunch of fresh seafood – take the 20-minute walk around the headland to Calella for the extraordinarily good sea-urchin roe at Tragamar (00 34-972 615189), on the beach at Platja Canadell. Wash it down with a bottle of the local rosé – try the Lledoner 2005 or the Roigenc 2004 – before drifting back to the beach for a dreamy siesta. And, suddenly, it`s time for a cocktail, taken, of course, on the terrace of the Hotel Llafranch. Once famed for wild parties (the likes of Dali, Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas and Rock Hudson kicked off their shoes here), this elegant watering hole remains at the heart of Llafranc`s now rather genteel nightlife. How genteel? Put it this way: there`s one full-time policeman in town, and he only took the job because his last post – watching paint dry – was too taxing.
Over a postprandial glass of ron cremat (the local spin on Irish coffee), watching the stars reflected in the mirror of the bay, you`ll find your fellow holidaymakers to be somewhat proprietorial about Llafranc. Mainly Catalan or French, with a scattering of discerning Britons among them, most have been coming here since they were children, and are now bringing their own. They`ll beg you to keep Llafranc secret, and may the good Lord forgive you if you spill the beans in a national newspaper.
So, forget everything I`ve told you and head 10 miles north to Aigua Blava, another sandy sweep of pine-fringed, azure-lapped perfection. Or to Tamariu, where the wild beauty of the beach is at pleasing odds with the sweep of smart restaurants on the promenade. Or, for absolute exclusivity, pack a picnic and follow the coast path for half a mile from any of the above. I guarantee you`ll have the Costa Brava, the home of mass tourism, all to yourself.
THE SMART GUIDE
What`s the strategy? Base yourself anywhere you like between Llafranc, in the south, and Begur, in the north, but wherever you choose, insist on a sea view. There`s no point coming otherwise. Unless you`re a Sherpa, you`ll need a car. With the exception of Llafranc and Aigua Blava, where the best hotels are on the beach, the accommodation mostly hugs the high ground.”
Beauty Beside the Beasts
April 11, 2004
The Sunday Times
“Black spots like Benidorm are history — but the hot spots are right next door, says Mark Hodson
Hold on, though: don`t turn your back on the Costa Brava just yet. It`s not all high-rise hell — in fact, there are some wonderful, authentic parts of the coast that are well worth taking in on an independent holiday.
And that is true right across the Med. There are many other areas whose reputations are marred by ugly tourist development — and yet just around the corner lie some of the most unspoilt coastline and countryside in Europe. Here`s your guide to skipping the black spots without missing the hot spots.
The black spots: there is something infinitely depressing about Lloret de Mar, Tossa de Mar and Blanes. It is not only that they are dominated by low-rent British package holidaymakers content to exist on a holiday diet of greasy burgers, lager and karaoke — it is that everything looks so worn out and soulless.
The hot spots: away from the ruined resorts, northern Catalonia is one of the most delightful regions of Spain. Even the city of Gerona, where flights from the UK land, is an authentic treat with a stirring medieval centre.
Along the jagged coastline is a string of picturesque sandy beaches where locals outnumber tourists. Head for the pretty fishing village of Llafranc, then take the pleasant coastal path across the headland to Calella de Palafrugell. Both have attractive beaches to soak up some rays, or, if you`re feeling particularly adventurous, it`s just a short drive to the beautiful nudist beach at Illa Roja.
For culture, explore the Dali Triangle. Start in Figueres, at the Museu Dali, a former theatre turned “giant surrealist object”, then visit the chocolate-box town of Cadaques, where Dali lived, and the village of La Pera, where he converted a medieval castle into a shrine to his wife, Gala.”
Brava Beauty: Discover the Costa that Still Has Class
By David Wickers
June 26, 2005
From The Sunday Times
“With a few cunning twists and turns, you can leave the nastier side of the Costa Brava behind. David Wickers reveals the unspoilt options for style in the sun
The Costa Brava was the first stretch of the Mediterranean to embrace mass tourism, and, boy, does it show. In Lloret de Mar, there are more hotel beds than in the whole of Greece. Yet travel north beyond Palamos, where the coast road takes a turn inland, and it`s a very different story. Like a lorry that`s taken a bend too fast and shed its load, the landscape tosses aside unsightly development: high-rise hotels sink to their knees and farmland and forest recapture ground lost to concrete and tarmac. On the coast here, you`ll find fishing villages, craggy coves and fragrant headlands dipping into a sparkling sea. Nowhere in Spain can match it for scenery.
Of course, there are tourists — this is the Med — but most of them come from other parts of Spain. (One of the few UK tour operators to feature the area has a letter from a dissatisfied client complaining that she was “shocked to find myself surrounded by Spanish foreigners”.) On this northern stretch, the landscape has tended to repel developers — the only way you can actually reach the coast is to follow one of the spider-leg roads that lead down from the hill towns, dead-ending at the sea. Here is our complete south-to-north guide to the Rugged Coast`s wilder side.
CALELLA DE PALAFRUGELL
A very nice place to start. Calella de Palafrugell is small, simple and Spanish — not the set of S words that define most of the Costas. It has squinting-white, almost Andalusian architecture and two sandy beaches — Blue Flag clean and bordered by a prom and a line of arcaded passageways.
One of the beaches has a sailing school, Club Vela Calella, which specialises in two-week courses for children (about £100 for a total of 20 hours` teaching). On the next headland, you`ll find the Cap Roig botanic garden, created in the 1920s by a tsarist Russian colonel and his English wife. Reaching down to the sea in a series of terraces, it hosts a summer arts festival (mid-July to mid-August).
The Tragamar is one of several good places to eat beside the sea, which is where most of its dishes originate; main courses £12.
A stunning 15-minute walk along the old coastguards` cliff path from Calella brings you to Llafranc — you can stay in either village and sunbathe in both with ease. Here, you`ll find a more conventional seaside, defined by a coarse-sand beach — one of the best in the area — backed by a pine-shaded boulevard. There`s a line of pavement tables, belonging to bars, restaurants and cafes, where you won`t be able to get a decent cup of tea — a sure sign that you`ve found the “authentic” Med.
Llafranc is animated but never agitated, modern and old-fashioned at the same time, more like a dwarf clone of early Biarritz than a Spanish resort.
El Far, next to the lighthouse above town, is Llafranc`s best restaurant (main courses about £25).
Tamariu wraps itself around its half-circle bay, with sheltered swimming in well-protected waters, a beach of mostly fine pebbles and a string of taverna-like restaurants on the quayside. All very much like a Greek island, but with much better food.
You could walk to Tamariu from Llafranc in less than two hours, up and over the El Far headland. To drive there, however, you have to go back to Palafrugell and pick up a spur road to the village.
Most people who stay in Tamariu bed down in the assortment of villas and apartments in the hills around the resort.
The setting here — a sunset-pink rocky inlet where little boats ride on Smartie-coloured buoys against an amphitheatre of green hills — is Mediterranean perfection. But Aigua-blava also has a pair of tiny near-neighbours. Sa Tuna and Sa Riera, reached by corkscrew roads from Begur, are both the sort of places that impel painters to set up their easels.
A mile or so to the north is Pals, best known for its golf course (there are several other layouts in the area) and a hideous set of red-and-white radio masts that detract from the otherwise magnificent sands. The local tourist office assured me that these “sticks” are scheduled for demolition, but I was told the same thing seven years ago.
On the opposite claw of headland is a parador: a design horror, but well worth a trip to its terrace for a drink (and the only view of the bay without the parador).
This medieval market town, topped by the shell of its fortress, which has its origins in the 10th century, is a hub for several villas, most owned by Catalans, but nearly all avail-able for rent (see Travel brief, below). The countryside is delightful — a mix of woods, orchards, olive groves and farms dotted with golden-stone hill towns and villages.
Essential visits include stage-set Peratallada and La Bisbal, famed for its ceramics. Both are within easy reach.
Back in Begur, you`ll find top tapas at Blau de Begur (about £10 a head).”