The Sagrada Familia is a must-see; Begur is a village on the coast // © 2014 Thinkstock/ brckylmn
When the chef brought out his specialty, pescado a sal, a large whole fish cooked in an oven of crusted salt, he explained that the fish was caught a couple of hours earlier by a friend who knew that the chef could do something delicious with it. At the restaurant we visited for lunch the next day, a waiter explained that the olive oil at the table came from the olive trees our group had walked by a few minutes earlier. Another restaurant made its own dessert liquor in the cellar; at the next one, a recipe for homemade bread dated back 100 years.
These are common occurrences in Barcelona and along Spain’s Costa Brava, where the emphasis is on quality over quantity in all things, including food. Here they celebrate a way of life that draws from the very best traditions in food, wine, art and life.
For a visitor to this region, which runs roughly from Barcelona along the Mediterranean coastline northeast to the French border, it’s easy to feel like you have discovered a paradise of medieval towns, quaint fishing villages, stunning beaches and world-class vineyards. Probably the best way to experience the area is by renting a car in Barcelona and exploring on your own.
Clients who are interested in an active vacation with a focus on art and history will be especially pleased. And, of course, there is plenty of amazing food and wine to be had along the way.
For History Lovers
Barcelona has a rich history and many of its historic sites are still intact. Must-see spots include the La Seu Cathedral, the Gothic District and the City History Museum. One attraction clients will love talking about back home is the Mercat de La Boqueria (Boqueria Market). There are many markets in Barcelona, but La Boqueria, which dates back to 1835, is the most famous. Its dozens of food stalls are ideal for taking photos as well as for sampling local delicacies.
Beyond Barcelona, the Costa Brava boasts a range of attractions that history lovers will find fascinating. Tell clients to start in the town of Girona, about 60 miles from Barcelona. Here they will find a well-preserved medieval town where they can visit the 12th-century Arab Baths, the 11th-century Santa Maria Cathedral and what was once one of the most vibrant Jewish quarters in Europe. Best of all, visitors can simply stroll through the town and enjoy the way history mixes with everyday life.
Girona is also home to what some consider one of the best restaurants in the world — the three-Michelin-star El Celler de Can Roca. Clients who can’t get a reservation here can still check out the family’s original restaurant, Can Roca. It’s just up the street and serves delicious authentic Catalan dishes.
The Greek and Roman ruins at Empuries, dating back at least to the 7th century BC, is another historic attraction in the region. The Greeks called the settlement Emporian, which means “market,” and it was a thriving trading center in ancient times. Today, the ruins cover an extensive area and offer a look at the expansion of both empires.
For the traveler interested in art, the Costa Brava has plenty to discover. The artist most closely associated with the area is Salvador Dali, who spent most of his life working in the region. There are three main sites here related to Dali: the Dali Theater-Museum in Figueres, his home and studio in the town of Port Lligat and the Castle at Pubol that he bought for his wife and muse, Gala. All three attractions show different sides of this iconic artist. The museum features a complete retrospective of his work, while his home and studio are works of art in themselves and give visitors the opportunity to better understand Dali’s unique creativity. The Castle at Pubol celebrates his lifelong love affair with his beloved Gala.
Visitors to Dali’s home in Port Lligat should take a short walk to lunch in the quaint seaside village of Cadaques. There are many local restaurants here, each serving great food in the town that once was a vacation spot for Pablo Picasso, among others.
Visitors to Barcelona can enjoy other major artistic attractions as well — especially world-famous creations by the architect Antoni Gaudi. His Casa Batllo, Park Guell and La Sagrada Familia are musts for all visitors to the city. Also, the Museu Picasso de Barcelona has a fascinating collection of that artist’s works.
Every vacation needs nourishment for the body as well as the mind, and the Costa Brava has no shortage of activities for visitors, including hiking, cycling and watersports.
One of the most unique ways to enjoy the seemingly endless beaches and seaside cafes in small towns all along the coast is to hike the Camino de Ronda. Hugging the coastline of the Costa Brava, the Camino de Ronda is an old trail that was once used by smugglers. Today this 125-mile-long, well-marked and often paved path has become popular with hikers who want to experience the natural beauty of the Costa Brava and discover their own hidden coves and beaches. Visitors can hike the entire trail over several days, or break it up into day trips.
In the town of Llafranc, on the Camino de Ronda, visitors can have lunch at Casamar restaurant. This charming eatery has great food and amazing views of the beach and bay from up on a nearby cliff.
Another great way to experience the Costa Brava is by bicycle. Lance Armstrong once had an apartment in Girona and trained in the region. Many hotels have bikes that guests can borrow, and local outfitters can arrange bike tours.
Watersports activities along the coast include snorkeling, scuba, fishing and more. Clients can look into chartering a boat or booking a sailboat excursion out of the large marina in Palamos.
A visit to Barcelona and the Costa Brava provides an ideal combination of activities and attractions, punctuated by relaxation, delicious meals and great wine. Who could ask for more?
Where to Stay
The Melia Sky Barcelona offers modern guestrooms with easy access to all the major tourist attractions. Agents should look into booking The Level, a special concierge club on the upper floors of the hotel. www.meliahotels.com
The 75-room Hotel Miramar Barcelona is a modern, upscale property located in a renovated historic building not far from downtown Barcelona. Its proximity to the cruise ship port makes it an especially great pre- and post-cruise accommodation choice. www.hotelmiramarbarcelona.es/en
Mas de Torrent is a historic country inn that exudes an ambience reminiscent of a Tuscan farmhouse. Built in 1751, the hotel is a charming home base for exploring the small towns of the region. www.mastorrent.com
The Hotel Peralada is famous for its golf course and a top-notch spa that specializes in services using local wine. www.hotelperalada.com
Along the Coast:
The Hostal Empuries is a seaside retreat adjacent to the ruins at Empuries that is one of the first Gold LEED-certified hotels in Europe. It features 55 recently renovated rooms, great restaurants and an amazing setting on the ocean. www.hostalempuries.com