Thursday, 18 July 2013

Costa Brava travel guide

Our guide to Spain's Costa Brava covers the area's top attractions, best hotels and most highly recommended restaurants, as selected by our expert Eddi Fiegel. 

Eddi Fiegel
Eddi Fiegel Destination expert Eddi Fiegel is a travel and arts journalist and author specialising in Spain. She has written on Spain and Spanish food and culture for numerous newspapers and magazines. Whilst living in Barcelona for several years, she got to know the Costa Brava extensively and still visits the region regularly. 

Why go?Because it’s one of the most romantic, gorgeous, unspoilt stretches of coast in Europe. Where else, less than two hours’ flight from Britain, can you drive or walk alongside rugged pink rocks with the teal-coloured Mediterranean glimmering below, framed by grand, arabesquing pines? You can, of course, on the Cote d’Azur. But essentially what you find on the Costa Brava is the same coastline, a little farther south, generally at a fraction of the price.Gloriously wild in parts and tastefully manicured in others, the Costa has some of the finest Blue Flag beaches in Europe, broad and sandy stretches to elegant horseshoe bays and secluded smugglers’ coves.You’ll also find wonderful independent hotels and exceptional food. Any lingering associations there may be with egg and chips are well past their sell-by date. Yes, English menus may still be a fixture in the larger resorts on the southerly part of the coast, such as Lloret de Mar, but further north you won’t catch a glimpse of them. In fact this stretch of the coast is a foodie’s paradise and Catalonia – where the Costa Brava lies – has one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred chefs in Spain, not to mention superb, locally produced wines. Little wonder that this has been the holiday spot of choice for well-heeled Barcelonesas and in-the-know French for years.The weather is another key factor, and one of the things I most love about living here. Going for a walk along the beach on Christmas day in short sleeves without feeling chilly was a blissful revelation after British winters. Beyond that there’s art, history and outdoor activities aplenty. This is Dalí country and three excellent museums – including the painter’s home at Cadaqués – are devoted to him. The Costa is also home to some of the most scenic and important Greco/Roman and Iberian archaeological sites in Europe. Alternatively, if you just want to enjoy the spectacular surroundings, there are exceptional coastal walks and world-class golf courses, as well as extensive swimming, diving, snorkelling and sailing.

A decent dose of sunshine is reasonably guaranteed most of the year round 
A decent dose of sunshine is reasonably guaranteed most of the year round

When to go

A decent dose of sunshine is reasonably guaranteed most of the year round. If you’re not bound by school holidays and can visit during May, June or September, these are brilliant months to enjoy the joint benefits of warm temperatures and lower hotel rates while avoiding the crowds of July and August.
Having said that, if you’ve set your heart on perfecting a tan in sizzling heat, high summer is the time to choose. If you do come during those peak months, you’ll find the region busy but not over-run, and you can still enjoy relatively secluded beaches without having to knock elbows with half of Europe.
From February to April and October to November the weather is generally pleasant: you might catch springtime electric storms or autumn rains but these don’t usually last for many days.

Getting there

Ryanair ( flies from London Luton to Girona (flight time about two hours), which is the nearest airport to the prettiest parts of the Costa Brava.
Otherwise, the following airlines fly into Barcelona (about two hours south of the Costa by car or bus): BA (, Iberia (, easyJet (, Monarch ( and Air Europa (
The bus operator Sarfa ( runs regular air-conditioned coaches from Barcelona Airport to most key destinations along the Costa Brava, including Begur, Palafrugell and Pals.

Getting around

If you want to explore, renting a car is the easiest way. You’ll get a real sense of the landscape and countryside as well as being able to explore the hilltop villages and smaller towns.
Hire an open-topped convertible and pretend you’re Cary Grant or Grace Kelly in To Catch A Thief, breezing along winding coastal roads with the Mediterranean shimmering down below. Cars can be hired from Girona and Barcelona airports through companies such as Europcar , Hertz, Avisor and Atesa..
If, on the other hand, you just want to chill out on a beach and do some gentle walking, there are good public buses between many of the main towns and beaches. Several of the hotels I’ve recommended are also either on the beach or very close to it, so if you’re happy with staying put or coastal walks, you’ll be absolutely fine without wheels.

Know before you go

Flight time: Approximately two hours to Girona or Barcelona
Currency: Euro
Further reading:
Emergency numbers/contacts: Medical, fire and police: 112. Local police: 092.
British Consulate in Barcelona: Avenida Diagonal 477, 13a Planta, 08036 Barcelona. Tel: 00 34 902 109356 or 00 34 913 342194;

Local laws/etiquette

When it comes to tipping: about five per cent for taxis and restaurants, €1 for hotel porters. Bars and cafes don’t normally expect tips unless you’re sitting at an outdoor terrace, where it’s polite to leave €0.30-€0.50.
Keep your passport with you as some shops quite often ask to see it if you’re paying by credit card.
If you don’t have one, apply for a European Health Insurance Card so you’re eligible for state medical treatment, should you need it.

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