Destinations Featured Destinations Spain - The Costa Brava
Spain - The Costa Brava
Translated as the 'wild' or 'brave' coast, Spain's Costa Brava extends north from Blanes to the French border. Best known for the half dozen most established and popular resorts scattered along the shoreline – from Lloret de Mar to Calella – on closer inspection this rugged, 200km coast reveals many different faces, from untouched fishing villages and fragrant pine forests to ancient remains and artists' haunts.
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Spain is split into 17 regions and the Costa Brava is part of Catalonia, which has one of the strongest identities. Not only does it have its own yellow and red stripy flag, anthem and capital in Barcelona, it also has its own language – and more than a third of the population claim to speak Catalan more than Spanish. Like Wales, both languages feature on local road signs.
Castells and Cremat: Local Traditions
Aside from golden beaches and turquoise seas, the Costa Brava is also rich in culture. In summer, it's traditional for sailors to gather in the smaller fishing towns and sing the 'Havaneres' – sea shanties brought back across the high seas from Cuba. Alongside them is a burning barrel of rum, known as a 'cremat'. When it comes to naming a traditional Spanish sport, bullfighting tends to spring to mind. However, this controversial sport is about to be banned in Catalonia. The region's most popular spectacle is the building of 'castells' or human towers against the clock. Competition between local towns is fierce and it's even shown on TV.
Barcelona: Catalan Capital
Amazing architecture, fabulous food, a beach location and a vibrant atmosphere make Barcelona one of the world's best-loved cities. It's a multi-faceted place and each neighbourhood has its own distinct personality – from the shining skyscrapers of the district built for the 1992 Olympics to the historic Jewish quarter. This is the place to sample some of Spain's finest tapas; gastronomy is huge here, with the city boasting nine Michelin stars at the last count.
Seaside Surrealism: Catalonia's Artists
Some of the greatest names in Spanish art were inspired by the unique scenery here. Born in Figueras, Salvador Dali's more surreal landscapes don't look quite so strange when you see the moon-like terrain of some of his local beaches. The legacy of another local boy, Antoni Gaudi, is best seen in Barcelona, from his jaw-dropping and still unfinished cathedral, the Sagrada Familia (he began work on it in 1882) to the peaceful surroundings of the Parc Guëll. Other artists inspired here include Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró.
You Shouldn't Miss...
- Girona Cathedral
Boasting the widest vault in all of Christendom, Girona's cathedral is also a fantastic example of Spanish Gothic architecture. While you're in the city, look out for its ancient fortifications, which protected the city during 25 sieges. The Old Town is on the west side of the river.
- Tossa de Mar's Moorish tower
Tossa's abundance of natural beauty brought Ava Gardner and James Mason to film here during the fifties. Since then it's gone on to become one of the region's most popular resorts, not least because of its lovely beach. Head past Roman ruins to reach the Torre dels Moros, perching above the sea. If you can climb to the top, you'll be richly rewarded with panoramic views of the bay, town and pine-covered mountains.
- A local market
Every town along the Costa Brava boasts its own market and a visit is the best way to get a flavour of real Spanish life. You can buy almost anything if you look hard enough but if you're after something unique and truly Catalan, look for the stalls selling local delicacies, fresh produce and leather goods.
- Montserrat Monastery
Built high into the mountains, this Benedictine retreat occupies a breathtaking location so don't forget your camera. Pilgrims come for miles to see the Holy Grotto, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared.
- Local treats
If you can't spoil yourself on holiday, when can you? Cava is the Spanish version of Champagne – only much cheaper! Most bars will serve you a chilled flute of the local fizz for just a few euros. And those with a sweet tooth must sample a Crema Catalana – the local equivalent of a crème brulee.
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