What do the Costa Brava and the Girona have that make them unique? I asked Josep Maria but in contrast to other guides he stayed silent, thinking and did not give me an answer, rather a recommendation: “You should ask that one to Ava Gardner, Liz Taylor, Robert de Niro, Mike Olfield, Penélope Cruz and Kylie Minogue; and Messi and Gerard Piqué; and to writers like Vargas Llosa, Hemingway and García Marques. I am more than sure they’d have given a better answer than me”, he told me.
Intrigue or plain curiosity, investigating a little in Internet, I found out that the Costa Brava is one the favourite places for artists and intellectuals to rest, and it’s very normal to cross the path of a famous person in a restaurant or walking in the middle of nature. All this meant that without intending it I had wound up in one of the world’s most important tourist destinations, with some of nature’s most stunning scenes in Western Europe. From the megalithic monuments of the Bronze Age through to the works of the great painters of the twenty-first century, such as Picasso, Dalí and Matisse, the landscapes have been depicted in works of art displayed in the world’s most important museums.
So getting back to my question, what do the Costa Brava and the Girona have that make them unique? But this time I decided to find it out for myself.
After asking various guides , friends in Catalonia and making a few calls to other travellers specialized in Europe, I drew up a list of 5 wonders that are sure to make this area original, and that are unrepeatable in any other part of the world.
Let’s start with the principal places. They say the best way of getting to know a place is walking there, and I could not agree more. And the best start is a route that goes through the main towns and villages of the Costa Brava, the famous Camí de Ronda. Its eleven stages take in about 235 km and it starts out from the town of Blanes, where the Costa Brava begins, and ends on the French border, the place where the Pyrenees begin.
The Camino de Ronda route should be done on foot following the ancient path that winds along the Costa Brava coast. In its early days it was used by fishermen and by the constables and watchmen on the lookout for smugglers. The greatest part of the route runs along narrow sign posted paths, ideal for hiking, with ups and downs but very seldom too demanding.
All this adds up to the great beauty of the landscape, the flowers and greenery and the abrupt geography of the Costa Brava, to turn the Camino de Ronda into an authentic paradise for the hiker or walker on an excursion. Furthermore, in contrast to other similar routes, it is a trek that can be made all year round, doing just short and independent stretches. This means fitting in perfectly with the walkers’ tastes and necessities. Well, let get this straight: I can’t imagine Robert de Niro or Vargas Llosa walking 235 kilometres in one go, but I have been told they did do a few stretches.
All together the crossing has a difficulty rating between easy and moderated. It follows the sign posted paths and constantly passes through villages where you can find lodging, taverns and restaurants. Moreover it is important to bear in mind that all the towns passed through, such as Tossa de Mar, Sant Feliu de Guixols, Begur, Roses, Cadaqués, Port de la Selva and Portbou are connected by different types of public transport and you can easily reach the principal cities from them, like Barcelona, Girona and Figueres. Therefore one good option is to do excursions of just one day and in a few kilometres you can visit the most emblematic sites along the coast.
Our second recommendation and somewhere you must stop is Banyoles Lake. Its 107 hectares make it the biggest lake in Catalonia and one of the most extensive on all of the Iberian Peninsula. It is located in the county of Pla del Estany, and is the principal symbol of the town of Banyoles.
You can reach the lake easily by public transport from Barcelona (1 hour 20 minutes), Girona (30 minutes by bus) or from Banyoles itself, or by car. In addition to its attraction for the stunning landscape, it is a good opportunity to spend an afternoon navigating: there is a regular service of guided boat tours. It is recommended and very often linked up to Besalú so if you were thinking of visiting this village, it is very near and only 20 minutes in public transport or 10 minutes by one’s own car.
My third recommendation is to visit the Natural Park of the Volcanic area of la Garrotxa. Beyond doubt it is one of Girona’s most important protected nature reserves in all the county. It has over half a million visitors a year, fundamentally Catalans, Spaniards and French people.
Formed by 11 municipal areas, there are different entrances to the park, which makes it really easy to visit. In car from Barcelona it only takes one hour thirty minutes, Figueres (35 min) and Girona (30 min). All routes will take you through Besalú from the highways. It is also possible by bus from Barcelona and Girona.
In the Volcanic Nature reserve of la Garrotxa there are 28 routes of different lengths and difficulty. The majority of them are signposted, except for some of the longest ones, but then you can count on a professional guide and then they are easy to follow. All the routes usually connect with some point in the counties of la Garrotxa, el Ripollès and Alt Empordà.
The fourth recommendation is the visit to the Natural Park of Cap de Creus. Located in the north of the Costa Brava, it is one of the most singular places on the Iberian peninsula, both for its setting and its views, and one of its great attractions is that it is where the Pyrenees rise up. It takes in the towns of Port de la Selva, La Selva de Mar, Llançà, Cadaqués, Palau-saverdera, Pau, Roses and Vilajuïga, and has a surface area of 13,886 hectares.
The transport from nearby towns is very easy from Barcelona and Girona. However, when you come to the park itself it is preferable to enter it by car as the public transport is very limited, and even more so in the seasons other than summer.
Once inside the Natural Park of Cap de Creus there are a whole host of activities to be done and visits made. Those most remarked on are those on foot or mountain bike. The majority run along the old paths used by the shepherds, goats, sheep and cattle, linking up the nearby hamlets which turns it into an excellent opportunity to get to know the scenery and lie of the land.
All you need to know about the itineraries, routes, guides and tourism services, etc can be found in the “Centro de Información del Parque”, which is in the Palau del l’Abat (Palace of the Abbey) in the Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, one of the emblematic attractions in the area and one of the most famous images of the reserve.
The fifth and final recommendation, but no less for this, is to visit the Natural Park of Cadí-Moixeró. Created in 1983 its objective was to protect one of the areas richest in plants, trees, flowers and fauna in the Pyrenees. It is one of the biggest nature parks in Catalonia and characterised by its orographic structure and topographic relief being pre-Pyreneenic. It is integrated by the mountain ranges of el Cadí and Moixeró, the very famous massif of Pedraforca (2,500 meters of altitude), declared of national interest in 1982, and great part of the mountains of la Tosa (2,536 of altitude) and Puigllançada 2, 409 metres of altitude).
Easily accessible from Barcelona (150 km) and Girona (190 km), any village of la Cerdanya can be used as the starting out point for your excursions. It is one of the great unknown beauties for the foreign tourist and therefore it is seldom that you encounter them on treks or climbing up the park’s peaks and pikes.
As there are basic and short routes, going up to technically demanding climbs and long hikes, the Cadí-Moixero can be explored practically all year round, by any type of visitor, outdoor sports lover, families, couples, etc. I would urge you to visit this small and unspoilt treasure before “tourism” discovers it.
So what do the Costa Brava and the Girona have that make them unique? One can only answer with a suggestion: why don’t you give your own opinion after experiencing what the famous visitors saw and felt, but this time in the flesh?.
It is always good to begin a journey from something that marks a birth, and therefore the best way to explore the Pyrenees is to start out from where they first rise up: on the Costa Brava and the Pyrenees mountain range of Girona. Snow, sun, cuisine, culture, experiences, relaxation, total tranquility and beauty all at one.
When is the best time to visit? All year round, it depends on the type of tourism you are after.
Where should you go? Perhaps this is the most difficult question because there are so many places to visit. We recommend you take a look at the Official Website of the Patronat de Turisme de la Costa Brava (tourist board) and check out Pyrenees of Girona. There you will be able to find all the possibilities there are each month of the year. The offer is year round.
How to get there
Bus: There are daily bus services to Costa Brava from the Estació del Nord de Autobuses in Barcelona. It is a two hour ride to Blanes and the fare is €6.50. Check the link for the timetables.
Train: There is a regular train line from Barcelona to Girona and to Blanes. The train ride to Blanes takes an hour and a half and the fare is €6.15. Check the timetables at Renfe.
By car: This is the best way to see the natural route, in one’s own car, as there is no frequent transport service between the different natural parks.
From Barcelona to Blanes: Leave Barcelona via the C-31 and then follow the C-32 (direction Mataró/Girona) until you reach the exit to Blanes. It is an hour drive and the highway toll is €4.85.
Where to sleep
The Costa Brava offers it´s visitors an array of different accommodations, from camping sites to five star hotels.
Our personal recommendations:
- Mas Garganta Lodge in Vall d’en Bas; a charming rural house situated on the Carretera de la Pinya – the road leaving Olot to the west in the Garrotxa region.
- Cal Calsot for a quiet, rural experience and Cerdanya Resort & Wellness Spa for a relaxing spa experience in the Cerdanya region.
- Casa Cundaro Apartments located in the heart of the Jewish Call of Girona.
Where to eat
In the village of Olot in the Garrotxa region:
- Quinta Justa restaurant offers a Volcanic Cuisine with a variety of delicious and exquisite gourmet dishes created from produce grown in the Garrotxa area.
- Can Guix Restaurant is located in the centre of the village. It offers a variety of traditional and homely dishes. This family restaurant has been around for over fifty years and is bestowed with an authentic charm thanks to its small size and modesty. Address: Mulleras, 3, 17800 Olot
In the city of Girona: