Costa Brava, Spain (2016). – I normally don’t give up secrets so easily but this one I will share
with you voluntarily, you don’t even have to ask. When it comes to vacation destinations there are really not many secrets left as it is anyway but I believe I just found what you might be looking for. There is this very cool piece of land in Southern Europe where relaxing on a secluded beach is still possible, without having to share the beautiful spot with half of Europe at the same time. You can swim, snorkel, dive, play or just refresh in crystal-clear water, explore the sea by boat or visit botanical gardens, medieval towns and well preserved castles in the area by foot, be drawn into the charm of the old traditional fishing villages and satisfy your hunger for art or traditional food on every corner. Any clue where I am going with that? Well, don’t be embarrassed if you don’t, that’s why they call it a secret. Not too long ago I didn’t know either. Close your eyes – well not while you’re reading – and think about the Iberian peninsula. Got it? Now forget about Portugal and focus on Spain. Right up there, on the north-east coast line , where Spain borders with France, there it starts and geographically stretches down south, almost to the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona: the Costa Brava, right out of Catalonia’s treasure chest. If you know Spain, because you’ve seen Madrid, Valencia or other places, don’t think a second you know also Catalonia. Trust me, you don’t. It’s very different. There is a reason why the Catalonians feel distinct from Spain.
Stone bridge in Canyet de Mar, Costa Brava, Spain

  – Costa Brava
Incredible Catalonia shows its treasure

Costa Brava, Spain (2016). – I normally don’t give up secrets so easily but this one I will share
with you voluntarily, you don’t even have to ask. When it comes to vacation destinations there are really not many secrets left as it is anyway but I believe I just found what you might be looking for. There is this very cool piece of land in Southern Europe where relaxing on a secluded beach is still possible, without having to share the beautiful spot with half of Europe at the same time. You can swim, snorkel, dive, play or just refresh in crystal-clear water, explore the sea by boat or visit botanical gardens, medieval towns and well preserved castles in the area by foot, be drawn into the charm of the old traditional fishing villages and satisfy your hunger for art or traditional food on every corner. Any clue where I am going with that? Well, don’t be embarrassed if you don’t, that’s why they call it a secret. Not too long ago I didn’t know either. Close your eyes – well not while you’re reading – and think about the Iberian peninsula. Got it? Now forget about Portugal and focus on Spain. Right up there, on the north-east coast line , where Spain borders with France, there it starts and geographically stretches down south, almost to the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona: the Costa Brava, right out of Catalonia’s treasure chest. If you know Spain, because you’ve seen Madrid, Valencia or other places, don’t think a second you know also Catalonia. Trust me, you don’t. It’s very different. There is a reason why the Catalonians feel distinct from Spain.
Bronze statue of Ava Gardner looking at panorama of Tossa de Mar, Catalonia, Spain
First came the French and English then came Hollywood
Costa Brava means “rough coast”. “Costa” is Spanish for coast and “Brava” stands for rough, wild or rugged. The rocky coves, the beautiful landscape and last but not least the gorgeous beaches of the Costa Brava lured in the 1950’s the French and English into the villages of the coastal region. These travelers not only enjoyed an inexpensive vacation in paradise then, they also were more or less the first tourists in this region. Even though there was money coming into the rather poor country from tourism which some of the old fishing villages used to turn all too quick into the classic vacation destinations, the better part of Costa Brava’s villages remained traditional and kept their charm and natural beauty. Their charm lured another kind of people onto their land, some of the greatest artists of our time. Especially the very picturesque town of Cadaques turned into an inspiration point for not only Salvador Dali, who lived close by, but also for Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro. Glamour came to the Costa Brava a bit later with the arrival of the film and movie people, the Hollywood crowd with Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, Orson Welles, Yves Montand and such. The Costa Brava beaches and villages were stage for great movies like “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman”, “Suddenly last Summer”, “Some Girls do”, “Valentino”, “Shooting Elizabeth”, ” 1492 – Conquest of Paradise” and “Savage Grace” only to name a few.
The Monastir Sant Pere de Rodes in Catalonia, Spain
Studying Catalonia before visiting it is a must
It’s a must to study what the Costa Brava offers before to visit. There is not enough time in a vacation as it is and no one likes to waste some of it. Even though there is beauty all around you in Catalonia, being on a prepared schedule helps to actually see some of the best the Costa Brava is known for. In the big cities like Figueres, the birthplace of Salvador Dali, for example the “Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dali”, an absolute must see. Or the botanical garden in Lloret de Mar, “Santa Clotilde Gardens”.

One of the highly frequented little towns but an absolute must see is Port Lligat. Salvador Dali lived there with his wife Gala, their house has been converted into the “Casa Museo Salvador Dali” and is today nothing less than a tourism magnet. To get to visit Dali’s house you need to have a reservation not only for the day you would like to visit but also for the exact time. Dali loved this little town, he used to say that he would be the first in Spain to see the sunrise without having to leave his bed. The bay and the island are shown in several paintings of Dali (“The Madonna of Port Lligat”, “Crucifixion” and “The Sacrament of the Last Supper”).

A lovely town is Tossa de Mar, even though it is more of a tourism city with lots of hotels, stores and restaurants, it still gives one the vibe of an old fishing town. A beautiful castle and a lighthouse are the main sights of Tossa. If you feel like walking in the footprints of the old Greeks and Romans, the ruins of Empuries in L’Escala are a great chance to do so. The ruins are dating back to 580 BC and are truly something special. Just don’t go during the day when the sun has no mercy, you will be out in the fields for hours and won’t be back until you know every stone out there.
The charming medieval town of Peratallada in Catalonia, Spain in the evening hours
History and romance set in stone for eternity
History and beauty shake hands in the little fortified medieval town of Peratallada, a declared historic-artistic monument. The castle and the many old stone buildings, the stone streets and alleys were also stage for the “Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves” movie in 1991. Speaking of medieval towns, also very lovely is Besalu, designated as a historical national property in the 1960’s. Breathtaking is the 12th-century Romanesque bridge of the town. Once in town, a detour from the many shops and restaurants to the “Micromundi”, the Museum of Micro Miniatures, would for sure catch your interest. Have you ever seen a camel caravan in the eye of a needle? There in Besalu you can, if you check out the Museum.

The best gelato and the best view ever
The best gelato (highest quality of ice cream) you can buy in this area of the Costa Brava you can get in Calella de Palafrugell. In “La Croissanteria de Calella”, most of all known for great sandwiches, Sandro Desii offers on the same location (on the corner) incredibly yummy gelato, well worth the trip. If you don’t want to go only for ice cream to Calella, then also put the botanical garden “Cap de Roig” on your bucket list. If you’re there at the right time, overwhelming blooming beauty will be your reward. The “Cap de Sant Sebastian” around the corner and up on the mountain offers not only a gorgeous lighthouse but a breathtaking view onto the Catalonian landscape. At “Cap de Creus”, another lighthouse, located close to Cadaques, you experience the whole beauty of this land.  And in case you haven’t seen enough just yet. There is another beautiful sight very close to “Cap de Creus”, on a mountain in the inland, the “Monastir Sant Pere de Rodes”. To be there for the sunset is priceless. Not only will the setting sun perform a colorful spectacle, the view back to the “Cap de Creus” and over the bay of Llanca is something you won’t forget ever again.
Little English but lots of roundabouts
Coming as a first time tourist to the Costa Brava a few things immediately stand out. Let’s begin with the language. The locals speak mainly Catalan and only speak Spanish when must. Some of them, especially those in the hospitality field, understand or even speak French. Understandable since the border to France is so close and the main tourists come from the neighbor country. Oh man, how did I wish at times my French, once learned in school, would still be more…, let’s say useable. And for the first time I regretted not to have studied Spanish.  Never ever in my life before did I ran against brick walls with my English than in Catalonia. You would think at least in a big hotel in a big city like Figueres the hotel’s receptionist would understand and speak at least some English. Well, think again. No such luck. My questions regarding a wireless code where answered with “Sorry, no English, parlez-vous francais?” So be prepared to either study some basic Spanish, know some French or just be patient with the generally very nice Catalans, at one point you’ll get what you want.

Catalonia has a lot of everything, beautiful beaches, breathtaking coves, lots of hotels and restaurants, galleries, stores and so on. But I think what they have the most are roundabouts. Also the tiniest of all villages has at least three of them, one on each end and one in the middle. I don’t think I’ve seen and for sure never driven through so many roundabouts than I did during my visit of Catalonia in Spain. Roundabouts are a generally speaking a good thing, just not in high season and in high traffic areas. I learned in Catalonia about myself that roundabouts also can trigger the urge in me to scream and curse at people, I think you understand where I am going with that. If you ask for driving directions Catalonians tent to use the roundabouts as fix points, that’s how many they have.

The little hidden beach in Canyet de Mar, Catalonia, Spain
Driving up the mountain to reach the beach
Now I spill one of the best kept secrets for beach lovers: Canyet de Mar. Driving on the “Strada Panoramica Costiera” from Sant Feliu towards Tossa de Mar, there is somewhat in the middle of it, Canyet de Mar. Driving down to this particular cove rewards you to the fullest, believe me. Cristal clear water and a very secluded beach invite the visitor to spend an unforgettable day. Since we’re talking about the beaches: one more word to that. I never knew before this Catalonia trip, that you might have to conquer a mountain first in order to arrive at almost any cove. I understand now the meaning of “Costa Brava” fully. I’ve driven the car on roads which didn’t look like roads I should be on, only to arrive on top of a mountain and for to go downhill on the other side to arrive at a village or just a bay. Sometimes I thought, now you’re wrong but turning back wasn’t an option because it was too steep to go backwards and too tight. And good thing I kept going because at the end I always reached my destination. And the reward was pure beauty, the beauty of the now spilled secret Costa Brava in Catalonia.

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