The Rugged Coast of the Catalan Nation
The Costa Brava is the northernmost Mediterranean seafront in Spain. The 95-mile coastline stretches from just north of Barcelona and ends near the border of France. The Costa Brava translates as “the rugged coast,” but the name is a bit misleading. This is not the flat and sandy type of coast on which waves crash directly onto beaches. Instead, the Costa Brava is made up of innumerable bays and peninsulas that calm the sea before it hits land.
Our Favorite Towns
If you’re planning a trip yourself, try to avoid the overcrowded summer months of July and August. May, September, and October are good choices. Rent a car in Barcelona and plan stops in some of the following towns:
Tossa de Mar. This gleaming white coastal town was often the subject of paintings by Marc Chagall. He called Tossa de Mar “the blue paradise.” Walk through the 12th-Century walled town, the “Vila Vella,” with its narrow streets, turrets, massive walls, and medieval houses.
Cadaques. This remote and unspoiled seaside town, the last resort before the French border, features utterly spectacular scenery: the crystalline sea, sandy beaches, whitewashed houses, twisting streets, a 16th-Century parish on a hill. This is the perfect place for visitors who like to feel that they are off the beaten path. Salvador Dali once lived in the nearby village of Lligat.
Girona. A city rich with centuries of history, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to the Middle Ages as you stroll through the “old town,” which is separated from the “new town” by the River Onar.
Figueres. Inland in the heart of Catalonia, this town was the birthplace of surrealist Dali. The main reason to spend a day here is the internationally renowned Dali museum. This multi-level monument to Dali’s quirky, shocking, and/or brilliant creativity (depending on your artistic tastes) is topped with a glass geodesic dome and studded with Dali’s beloved egg shapes. Also, don’t miss dining at one what many gourmets around the world consider Spain’s best restaurant: The elegant Hotel Emporda is credited with being the birthplace of Catalan cuisine.
Speaking of the Catalan cuisine, it’s the very healthy Mediterranean-style, which means olive oil and fresh vegetables are nearly constant ingredients.
The Costa Brava’s inland area dishes revolve around meat, mostly fowl and pork. Specialties include chicken with pine nuts; butifarra (a Catalan sausage) with black plums; and “la escudella carn d’olla,” a meat stew, among many others.
The coastal cuisine is more fish-oriented. Some specialties include “el suquet de peix,” a fish casserole; a creamy soup called “la mariscada” with shellfish; and “las anchoas al estilo de las Medas,” for those who love anchovies. On the coast, after your meal, indulge in a popular “el cremat,” a coffee with burned rum.
Events and celebrations of interest to visitors include watching or participating in the the traditional Catalan dance known as “la Sardana.” It’s a dance performed in a circle while holding hands, and participants can enter or leave the circle whenever they want to (which is good, because the dance is fairly complex!). La Saldana is usually performed during summer weekends in village squares.
On the Thursday night before Easter each year (Maundy Thursday) you won’t want to miss the “Danza de la Muerte,” or the Dance of Death, in Verges, near Girona. It’s a macabre sight: Five adults and a child, dressed in black with skeletons painted on their tights, dance eerily—it looks as if they are flying—through the streets both in memory of and to ward off the return of the bubonic plague that decimated the population in medieval times.
Besides the usual venues available to tourists—discos, theaters, museums, cafes, and cinemas—the Costa Brava also offers bullfights in several towns and a couple of gambling casinos, as well.
Traditional crafts to shop for include Black Catalan pottery, produced with prehistoric techniques and forms as well as commercially produced ceramics in which techniques, colors (usually green, brown, and yellow), and designs incorporate Arab, French, and Italian influences. A myriad of products made of cork, including furniture, are also popular with the Costa Brava visitors who are seeking unique gifts and keepsakes to take home.
The Costa Brava Real Estate
After visiting the Costa Brava, you may just decide to live there permanently…or at least part of the year. Real estate prices are similar to those in any of the world’s “rivieras.” For example, one current listing for a villa in Port de la Selva with sea views is about $1,914,549. The two-level 3,369-square-foot villa on a plot of 12,981 square feet is close to the French border, 30 minutes from Figueres, and features a pool and 1,280 square feet of terraces. Another villa with sea views in Llafrach, 45 minutes from Girona, is currently listed at about $1,333,000. The villa is 2,153 square feet on a plot of 15,069 square feet and features a garden area and two summer porches.
An 18th Century Catalan farmhouse in Cassa de la Selva that has been completely restored is currently listed at about $1,196,566. Built on three levels, the country house features spectacular views to the Pyrenees. It’s just minutes away from Girona’s airport and 12.5 miles from the local Costa Brava beaches.
You can also purchase an apartment on the Costa Brava. One current listing in Marina Port D’ Aro just a few yards from the sea and 30 minutes from Girona is about $647,333. The fourth-floor 969-square-foot apartment features a covered terrace, garden and community swimming pool, plus access to the terrace on the top of the building.
Story by Jacqueline Shannon
Photography by Bob Thompson