Lively tourist resorts, supersized beaches, and Barcelona on the doorstep – holidays to the Costa Brava score on every count.
The northernmost Costa
The northernmost of Spain’s Costas, the Costa Brava is probably the prettiest of the lot. It’s made up of rugged cliffs and secluded coves, which give way to fishing villages and seaside towns. And in among it all are the long beaches that have been attracting holidaymakers here since the Fifties.
Blue Flag Beaches
Topping the list are Tossa de Mar’s two Blue Flag stretches. Lloret de Mar, meanwhile, offers up five sand-and-shingle sweeps and a waterfront lined with bars and pubs. Then there’s Calella de la Costa, where 3 kilometres of sands merge into neon-lit clubs and pubs. Family-friendly entertainment is out in force on the Costa Brava, too, in the shape of waterparks and nearby Port Aventura.
The bright lights of Barcelona
Traditional Spain shows its face along the coast, as well. Most resorts wrap around old towns of cobbled lanes, plazas and tapas bars. And inland there’s the town of Girona, where pretty, pastel-coloured buildings edge the river Onyar. But for a taste of city life, head for Barcelona. Catalonia’s trendy capital doesn’t do anything by halves, with its surreal Gaudi architecture, fashionable shops, and cobbled Gothic quarter.
Things to See and Do in Costa Brava
Summer holiday hot spots
There’s a variety pack of beaches in the Costa Brava. There are the touristy ones, which get lively in summer, and the quieter coves, which are perfect for picnics. The Costa Brava is also one of the best places in southern Spain to go scuba diving. Take a trip to the Medes Islands, an hour north of Tossa del Mar, and you can swim with shoals of grouper.
The big beach
Dimension-wise, Lloret de Mar is 1,630 by 45 metres. And it’s these proportions, along with a queue of sand side restaurants and the full range of watersports, that make the beach one of Spain’s top summer holiday destinations.
The secret beach
The Costa Brava wears its beaches on its sleeve, so there aren’t any real secret sands out here. But some, like Platja de Castell, are quieter than others. This beach, an hour’s drive from Tossa de Mar, is a wide band of caramel sand and almost nothing else. There’s a beach shack at one end, which sells line-fresh seafood, sandwiches and cold beers.
To really blow the budget, you’ll need to head to Barcelona. Label-lovers flock to the L’Eixample district, where Chanel, Gucci and co rule the roost – especially along the Avenida Diagonal. Pineda is also good for high-end buys. Its main shopping street, La Rambla Nova, is lined with a selection of exclusive Spanish fashion boutiques.
For souvenirs and gifts, point yourself in the direction of Passeig Agusti Font and Passieg Manel Bernat. These seaside streets in Lloret de Mar are full of trinket shops where you can buy everything from shot glasses to purses. For high street shopping, meanwhile, try Girona. In the Mercadel district, in particular, you’ll find Benetton, Bershka and Zara.
On a Thursday, a flurry of stalls pop up on Avenida Joan Maragall as the Tossa de Mar market rolls into town. Expect tables heaped with jewellery, ceramics and Dalí prints. You can stock up on the local produce here, too – juicy olives and mounds of tangy cheese are good buys. For more of the same, catch a bus to nearby Figueres on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. The market here is even bigger than Tossa de Mar’s.
Dig out your little black dress or dickey-bow and catch a show in the region’s cosmopolitan capital. With its gilt boxes and plush velvet seats, the Grand Theatre Liceu is reminiscent of the Moulin Rouge. The closer-to-home option is a walk into Tossa de Mar’s old town. There are a couple of traditional bodegas on Carrer de Sant Joseph. For live flamenco, meanwhile, head for the streets of Calle Sant Josep and Calle Sant Pepe.
Lloret de Mar is the nightlife capital of the Costa Brava. The bars and clubs here announce themselves with neon lights. The gin joints are most concentrated around Paseo Agusti Font, but you’ll also find clubs and bars around Avenida Vila de Tossa and Placa del Carme. In Tossa del Mar, meanwhile, you’ll need the names Esglesi and Calle San Jose in your address book if you want a night on the tiles.
Get your teeth into this regional favourite – juicy squid cooked in its own ink, tossed with red peppers, garlic and onion, and served with a mound of steaming rice. The flavours are fairly mild in this dish, so for an extra kick, copy the locals and ask for yours to be spiced up with paprika.
If you like pizza, you’ll want to try coca. This local favourite is usually served as a starter or a side dish, and it looks a lot like pizza – only it’s a lot thinner and crispier. It’s essentially a flatbread, and the toppings range from juicy olives and tomatoes to salty anchovies, spicy chorizo and mushrooms.
This fresh, summery salad is made with crunchy lettuce and salted, dried cod, which are mixed with the likes of tomatoes, onions and peppers. Olives are sometimes thrown in for an extra dimension, as are plump hard-boiled eggs.
Botifarra amb mongetes
Botifarra amb mongetes is a sausage stew, and it’s a simple, hearty dish that locals favour. White beans are tossed with onions, peppers and parsley and then drizzled in tons of olive oil, before a garlicky butifarra sausage is wrapped around the edges.
This is Cava country, so you can look forward to sampling some great versions while you’re here. Sparkling white Parellada is the most popular with Costa Brava residents – it’s got a fruity taste with hints of apple and pear.
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Calella de la Costa
Calella de la Costa on Spain’s sunny Costa Maresme is a two-sided town where a traditional old quarter vies for attention with a long stretch of golden sand and a bustling town centre. All over there’s a relaxed, friendly atmosphere – the bars and restaurants are geared towards a laid-back trip, but there are discos and clubs too. Plus the main shopping street is completely pedestrianised so it has that market feel.
Tossa de Mar
This typically Catalan town on the Costa Brava has bags of atmosphere, thanks to its old town. The Vila Vella, as it’s known, is all cobbled streets and traditional houses – there’s even an ancient castle. The surrounding countryside, meanwhile, is some of the prettiest in the Costa Brava, with mountains and valleys to explore. Plus you’ve got not 1 but 2 big, sandy beaches to hop between.
A beautiful town on the Costa del Maresme, Pineda is an all-in-one sort of place geared towards lazy breaks. Restaurants, bars and shops are all here, and the quaint main squares fill up every evening with local families. In the town there are whitewashed houses, tree-lined streets and an 11th-century church, while down by the water there’s a cute pint-sized harbour and a white sand beach that just runs on and on.