The Costa Brava has something for everyone, from long sandy beaches to coves hidden under rugged cliffs and numerous of types of beaches in between. You can choose between thriving touristic cities or quiet almost forgotten fishing villages, between modern luxury tourist towns to ancient medieval fortresses, from family-friendly to party scene. Whatever you choose, you will find yourself in some of the most scenic, picturesque spots in all of Spain.
Here are four very distinct choices if you are going to hit the Costa Brava. Choose one, or try them all.
Blanes-a family friendly town
Blanes is technically the gateway to Costa Brava. It was originally the getaway and 2nd home town for the residences of Barcelona. The last stop on Barcelona’s inter-city train line is Blanes. Back in the 1950’s residence from Barcelona would buy their 2nd home in Blanes, pack up the family and take the train out for the weekends and summer vacation. Some of the sections of the city are still from that era and not that exciting. However, Blanes makes up for lack of imagination in the architectural department with other charms such as excellent beaches (3 main beaches), an amazing botanical garden and plenty of vibes and activities continually happening. Unlike many of the beaches in Costa Brava, the beaches at Blanes are long and open, so are excellent for families. Just about every water and boat activity imaginable can be done here.
If you prefer camping, Blanes has a number of campgrounds, but one stands out as it is right on one of the main beaches. It is an excellent place to enjoy a family vacation. If you don’t want to drag your camping equipment with you on a flight, no problem—you can rent a fully-equipped cabin and you are all set.
Every year in the 3rd week in July Blanes has an annual fire works festival. This is a spectacular show of fireworks that you can watch from the beach. It goes on every night for five nights.
Blanes is only about 5 minutes away from Llorett de Mar which is a famous party resort. Llorett is the type of place I avoid. It is noisy, has no charm and has grown only due to being a cheap tourist trap. If you are into the night life and party scene and don’t care about culture, or an authentic Spanish experience, then by all means head over to Llorett, but for a much more traditional Spanish vacation, Blanes has everything one could hope for.
Tossa de Mar—history with charm
If you have been following my blog you will already know that I am in love with Tossa de Mar. I hope that I will be able to return and spend a week or two there on vacation. Here I will touch on some of the highlights, but for a full run-down of Tossa de Mar, you can read my article Trip planner—everything you need to know about visiting Tossa de Mar.
Tossa is the only medieval walled fortress still in tact along the Costa Brava. The walled part of the city is cobblestoned and full of hidden corners and ivy climbing along walls of old houses, quaint streets that echo the history from generations gone by. Just outside of the walled part of the city (I use the word city lightly, as it had only 80 houses in its prime- but it was called a city then, so I call it the same now) is the old town section. The old town was originally made up of an overflow of what was inside the walls and started with fishermen and commerce people. When I first read that it was fishermen I assumed incorrectly that the houses would be small and not well built, but most of the buildings were sturdy and beautiful and often with thick outside walls built for protection from pirates who frequented the coast.
Tossa has interesting shops, many top quality restaurants (remember the food from Cataluna is famous around the world, and Tossa keeps up to that reputation), small town feel and beautiful beaches.
Empuria Brava is almost everything that Tossa is not—it is a modern city built in the past 40 years or so almost exclusively for tourism. Fortunately, it was built very tastefully. While much of Spain opted to market itself as a cheap destination with block style highrise hotels, Empuriabrava took on a different plan altogether. It was built with a 40 km system of canals that can be accessed by boat and has one of the largest marinas in Europe. Instead of high rise hotels, the dwellings along the canal systems are mostly beautiful villas and townhouses. You can rent a villa right on one of the canals and enjoy the view of the yachts coming and going throughout the day. (you could rent a yacht to go with your villa as well)
Empuriabrave is a water sportsman's paradise. Pretty much any sport imaginable that is done in or around water is available in Empuriabrava.
Cadaqués—hidden fishing village turned trendy
Cadaques is a small white village in the North East corner of the Costa Brava. Adding to the charm of Cadaques is the twisty, narrow mountain road you take to get in. As you come down the final curves you are rewarded with the view of the whitewashed village nestled along the aqua-blue waters of the cove. Due to its being a little more secluded, Cadaques doesn’t become as clogged with tourists as other spots along the coast. It is full but not to the extent of feeling overwhelmed. If you go slightly off season—June or early September—you will have the village almost to yourself.
Cadaqués in the past was famous for attracting artists. The seclusion along with stunning views of the water and the picturesque village breathed inspiration to the likes of Magritte, Matisse and Picasso. Although the distinction of being an art destination has passed, wandering through the maze of steep narrow streets, overlooking the crystalline waters of the cove and endless days of constant sunshine you may find some artistic inspiration yourself.
Spanish artist Salvador Dali made his home in a fishing village about five minutes from Cadaques. He bought a fishing hut in 1930 and as whim and money allowed he built up—adding a 2nd story—then added a few cabins and connected them to the house to end up with a rambling meandering home. The home is as it was when Dali and his Gala lived there, many of their personal items, furniture and decorations on display.
You can tour this house/museum, but only by making a reservation. : Salvador Dali home