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The ruggedly beautiful Costa Brava holiday coast stretches for 100 miles (160km), along the shores of Catalonia in Spain's northeastern corner, from Port Bou on the Franco-Spanish border to Tossa del Mar, just north of Barcelona.
The coast is filled with high-rise resort developments and modern marinas catering to package tourists, but retains enough green hillsides and lonely, wild cliffs, coves, and caves to belie its reputation as one of Europe's busiest holiday destinations.
Holidaymakers revel in the hidden delights of the craggy coastline, many venturing out in boats to discover deserted coves scented with pine and citrus trees, fragrant herbs, and bright flowers. Popular resorts and marinas lie in close proximity to relatively unspoilt fishing villages and towns.
Along with some old castles and fortifications, these resorts are evidence of the area's rich history. Offshore divers revel in the abundance of wrecks to explore in the crystalline waters, while seemingly endless sunshine pours down on stretches of sandy or shingle beach.
The undeveloped natural areas and fishing industry have also resulted in making a holiday here a gastronomic treat. Seafood reigns supreme, from sardines to delicious lobster, but specialities also include local wild game, like boar, duck, and rabbit, which can all be washed down with a variety of wines produced from the vineyards that clothe the hillsides.
The city of Girona, on the route from the Pyrenees to Barcelona, is one of the most important historical sites in Spain, founded by the Romans and later turned into a Moorish stronghold. Sitting astride the confluence of the Onyar and Ter rivers, this quaint medieval city attracts hordes of tourists from the Costa Brava resorts and Barcelona. All are lured by the experience of walking through the old quarter, the Call, with its narrow alleyways and ancient stone houses. Inside the ancient walls are such gems as the 12th-century Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants and the 14th-century cathedral built in the Catalonian Baroque style. The cathedral can be accessed by climbing up 90 steps. It includes a museum containing art works and rare manuscripts. Also of particular interest are the restored 12th-century Arab baths with their central octagonal pool, and the fascinating Jewish quarter where, between the 9th and 15th centuries, the culture and religion flourished on the narrow, steep streets. The arcaded promenade, the Rambla de la Llibertat, is lined with delightful cafes and shops selling souvenirs, crafts, antiques, and curiosities. In addition, the city is well supplied with museums and galleries.
The busy fishing village of Cadaques draws plenty of visitors, but they do not come for the local beach, which is rather narrow and stony. Rather, the resort town's attractions are its picturesque natural harbour, some excellent restaurants, numerous galleries, fashion, and art and craft shops, and the former home-turned-museum of world-renowned surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, situated in nearby Portlligat Bay. Dali's bizarre home consists of a labyrinthine cluster of fishermen's huts, added to the original building in various stages by the artist over a period of 40 years. Visitors must reserve a time for entry in advance as only about eight people are allowed in the museum at a time. You can book via the website, by phone, or by email and must arrive at the museum to collect your tickets at least half an hour before your appointed entry time. Touching any of the art is strictly forbidden. Despite how strict this all sounds, the staff are very friendly and the limited admission makes the experience more intimate and rewarding. Tours are not guided and the house is remarkable, as one would expect from Dali. The house is very prettily located and there are lovely sea views from some of the windows.
Situated scarcely a mile from the beach of the popular resort town of L'Estartit on the Costa Brava, the protected Medes Islands are seen as heaven for divers. It may not look like much above water, but the craggy little archipelago of seven islets and a few reefs form one of the most important and rich marine reserves in the Mediterranean. Meda Gran, the largest of the islands, is the only one of considerable size, and there is a 10th-century lighthouse on it. Most of the islands are just rocky outcrops jutting out of the sea, with little vegetation. However, the magic happens underwater: millions of fish and thousands of animal and plant species inhabit the shallows, crevices, and submarine caves at the base of the island cliffs, and are a delight to behold for divers of all levels of experience, whether splashing with a snorkel or descending to the depths in scuba gear. Visitors can take glass-bottomed boat trips around the islands, departing hourly in season from L'Estartit, or arrange a fully equipped diving trip through one of the numerous tourist diving centres in the resort town.
Just north of Girona, the historic lakeside town of Banyoles is well known for hosting international rowing events. But it is also a fun, attractive, and interesting place to visit and perhaps work off some energy in a pedal-boat or on a bicycle. The bright blue lake itself is the only one in the world fed by two merging subterranean rivers. There are numerous options available to those wanting to take to the water, from a swimming dock to cruises or hire boats, and a grassy bank for sunbathers or a network of shady footpaths for those who prefer the shore. The town of Banyoles dates from 812, having developed around a Benedictine monastery. Its old section is full of fascinating ancient buildings, including the Sant Esteve de Banyoles Monastery, the Gothic Church of Santa Maria dels Turers, and the Gothic palace called the Pia Almoina. The natural history and archaeological museums are worth visiting, and all are centred around a lovely arcaded square where a traditional market has been held every Wednesday since medieval times.
Visiting the dormant volcanoes is not one of the typical things to do in Spain. Yet they offer stunning scenery and a one-of-a-kind experience. Sandwiched between the Pyrenees and Costa Brava, the region of Garrotxa is home to a multitude of prehistoric volcanoes as well as many castles and country houses. Visitors wanting to experience more of Spain than the quintessential beach and city breaks should head to Garrotxa Nature Reserve, just outside of Girona, to experience a land of amazing and rugged landscapes, fire, and ash. The reserve showcases the best of rural tourism in Spain and is perfect for enthusiastic hikers. The volcanoes in this area formed over 11,000 years ago and the region is unique to Europe. Visitors can walk, hike, or horse ride along any number of tracks and trails in the reserve and enjoy a land of stark contrasts. There are also hot air balloon rides available in the reserve, which is a very exciting way to experience the beauty of the region. Some chefs in Garrotxa create what they call 'volcanic cuisine', trying to express the landscape through food, and Michelin-starred restaurants like Les Cols are the perfect place to sample these interesting meals.
The allure of the Costa Brava is the combination of crowded, manicured resorts, and rugged unspoilt coastline, offering tourists the best of both worlds: great amenities and luxury, as well as natural beauty. There are a number of Blue Flag beaches along the Costa Brava, and also some secluded, rocky coves.
The glorious beaches, in combination with the renowned food and restaurant scene, makes the Costa Brava ideal for resort holidays, and the most popular destinations include Roses, Lloret de Mar and Blanes. Tossa de Mar, a smaller, more authentic coastal resort village, is also a delight, and the bigger centres of Girona and Banyoles offer many attractions.
There are some wonderful coastal walks and numerous golf courses to enjoy in Costa Brava, as well as many fun water sports. There is also some quality cultural and historical sightseeing for those interested, including some impressive Roman and Iberian archaeological sites. The famous archaeological site of Empuries, a Greco-Roman site with extensive ruins, is the highlight for many visitors.
The nearby medieval village of Sant Marti d'Empuries is also lovely to explore. Lastly, Costa Brava is Dali country and there are three museums to visit for fans of the artist, including the fascinating Salvador Dali Museum House near Cadaques.
No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination
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