The Costa Brava in Catalonia’s Girona Province attracts holidaymakers for all kinds of reasons: For families or young people out for fun in the sun there are resorts like Lloret de Mar and Blanes, laden with activities, nightlife and sandy beaches.
Sightseers can tour the walled medieval towns of Girona, Pals and Tossa de Mar, with centuries of heritage everywhere you look.
Epicurean delights also abound on the Costa Brava, which is replete with Michelin-starred restaurants and welcoming vineyards, while the rocky scenery away from the divine beaches will have you lacing up your hiking boots for a proper adventure.
Allow a day to see the best of Girona and its large medieval old quarter.
Girona straddles the banks of the Onyar, and the riverfront is one of the city’s most famous images, with its tightly-packed, painted buildings that come right to the water’s edge.
Step trhough the twisting alleys of the Call, Girona’s preserved Jewish quarter, where the 12th-century Arab are still here.
The curtain of old walls enclosing the old city is also still standing, dating to the 10th century and boasting a raised walkway for stunning views of the city.
But if you have to pick one sight make it the Basilica of Sant Feliu – recognised by its distinctive sheared spire.
At the northern edge of the Gulf of Roses is this upmarket resort that almost has it all: There are all sorts of beaches, either on the sweeping sandy bay that curves gently round to L’Escala, 20 miles to the south, or west along a rocky, indented coast where little coves are sheltered beneath cliffs.
In these spots you’ll discover the best local restaurants, high on the bluffs with inspiring views of the sea.
Take a look around the remnants of the citadel, built during the reign of Charles V in the 16th-century to fend off pirate attacks and the French.
3. Tossa De Mar
A gorgeous little coastal resort with fine sandy bays and carefully preserved medieval heritage, Tossa de Mar is at the southern edge of the Costa Brava region.
What catches the eye is the Vila Vella, taking up an entire cape at the south side of the resort.
This is a walled town that was built in the 1100s but reinforced with formidable defences and watchtowers in the 1500s because of the threat from North African pirates.
These fortifications are all perfectly preserved, which is quite rare on the coast, and inside is a web of cobblestone streets to wander around.
4. Salvador Dalí Theatre-Museum
If there’s one artist that can be associated with northeastern Catalonia it’s the 20th-centruy surrealist, Salvador Dalí.
There are three attractions in the area devoted to him, the most special being the Theatre-Museum in Figueres.
It has the largest collection of his works in the world, with pieces from every phase in his career and immersive installations taking up whole rooms.
Curiously, the artist is also interred in a crypt beneath the stage of this old converted theatre.
On display are also pieces from Dalí’s personal collection, including pieces by El Greco and Marcel Duchamp.
5. Wine tours
Wine has been produced in the northeastern corner of Catalonia since Roman times.
Everything is just right for it here, from the mineral-rich soils to the warm climate that is flushed in winter by a brisk northerly wind.
Several villages in the region also produce that famous Catalan speciality, Cava.
The local DO is Empordà, and if you’re an oenophile there’s a huge array of things you could get up to along the designated wine route at cellars, co-operatives, vineyards and wineries.
At Castillo de Perelada and Celler Can Sais you can even indulge in wine therapies, where grapes and wine are incorporated into spa treatments!
6. Lloret de Mar
For the unadulterated joy of Mediterranean sun, sea, and sand this is surely the destination for you.
Four of the beaches in the vicinity have the Blue Flag seal of approval.
The beachfront at Lloret is one of those classic Mediterranean resort scenes, with an arc of golden sand traced by a promenade, beyond which are modern apartment buildings above cafes, restaurants and seafront bars.
For nightlife LLoret de Mar is also the pick of the Costa Brava, with pubs, bars and nightclubs open ’til the wee hours.
And for day-time leisure you’ve got go-karting, mini- and traditional golf, horseback riding and a whole load more besides.
A few kilometes up from the resort of L’Escala on the Gulf of Roses is the largest ancient archaeological site on the Costa Brava.
The town was founded by Greek colonists 2,500 years ago and later developed by the Romans.
Empúries was originally an island but over time has become part of the mainland, and has been excavated since the start of the 20th-century.
You can investigate Greek and Roman mosaics, see the remnants of temples and early-Christian basilicas as well as following the course of the high Roman walls.
At the centre of the site is a small museum with artefacts including coins and ceramics, all dug up here.
8. Cap de Creus
The landscapes around this headland behind Roses are like nothing else on the Costa Brava.
Thanks to those northerly tramontana winds there’s little vegetation here beyond pine scrub and bushes, and definitely no trees to speak of.
And those winds are responsible for the eerily-shaped rocks for which the cape is famous.
These strange gnarled forms have even been given nicknames by the locals, like the eagle at Plan de Tudela and the lion at Cap Gros.
The crags of the shore though are totally sheltered and have tiny coves with transparent waters, calling for a swim on hot days.
Put your walking shoes on for an excursion through the winding streets of this medieval town set on a steep hill.
The streets here are like the floor of a canyon, passing between high walls of honey-coloured stone houses, through tunnels and under archways before leading out onto sun-kissed arcaded squares where locals and visitors sip coffee in the shade.
The highpoint of the town is the 12th-century romanesque Torre de los Hores (Tower of the Hours), so called because of its bell.
The castle that it once belonged to goes back to at least the 9th century during the reign of the Western Frankish King Odo.
Probably the world’s most famous haute cuisine restaurant, elBulli, was located on the Costa Brava near Roses up to 2011. Its head chef Ferran Adrià is Catalan and there are whole load of local chefs following in his hi-tech footsteps: 13 restaurants on the Costa Brava share 17 Michelin stars.
The current king is three-starred El Celler de Can Roca, regularly near the top of Restaurant Magazine’s list of the world’s best.
Traditionally the Girona province combines rural ingredients with coastal ones, so don’t be surprised to see dishes like cuttlefish and meatballs, or chicken with langoustines.
What really makes the cuisine though is the superb produce, where ingredients like onions, olives, olive oil, beef, anchovies and even apples have designation of origin.
11. Caldes de Malavella
If you’ve spent any time in Catalonia you’ll have seen or tried Vichy Catalan mineral water, which has strong, almost salty flavour.
It’s something you’ll either love or hate, but whatever your opinion a visit to its source is a must.
Caldes de Malavella has drawn a number of civilisations to its thermal waters, including the Romans who built the bath complex that is neatly preserved here.
There are several springs, including El Raig d’en Mel, where it comes out at 60°C and will have a taste similar to Vichy Catalan.
Afterwards, repair to one of the many spas in Caldes for some luxury R & R!
12. Water Sports and Active tourism
The Costa Brava’s 200 kilometre-long coast has more than 30 PADI-approved dive centres and 17 marinas.
Within reason, any water-based activity you can think of will be available, including kayaking, kitesurfing, water-skiing, cruises and sailing.
Windsurfers and kite-surfers can catch those strong northerly breezes a few hundred metres offshore in the Gulf of Roses or at Pals Beach.
Dryer but no less intrepid are the network of cycling and hiking routes that trail off into the foothills of the Pyrenees or along Greenways, historic railway trackbeds coursing through Mediterranean farmland.
13. Megalithic complexes
There is plenty of evidence of stone age activity around the Girona Province.
The biggest cluster of monuments can be seen just off the road from Roses to Montjoi.
There’s a marked trail with information about the dolmen, menhirs and burial cists.
The largest of the structures is the Creu d’en Cobertella dolmen, made up of seven large stones over which is a huge slab is laid.
You’ll be scratching your head working out how they put it all together.
In Santa Cristina d’Aro there’s another large dolmen about 4,500 years-old and with a slab-lined passageway leading to a burial chamber.
Laid out across the Costa Brava are nine courses that stay open throughout the year.
If you’re a serious player with a good handicap then the prestigious Club de Golf Costa Brava in Santa Cristina d’Aro is as good a choice as any.
Set around an old Masia (farmhouse) are two courses, one par-72 and one par-73, and the scenery is a real joy.
Tracing the fairways are thick groves of old-growth pines and holm oaks.
For casual players or people new to the game then a pitch & putt is what you’re after.
Lloret de Mar has a great one: Papalús, with 18 holes over some pretty tricky terrain and with greens like carpets.
15. La Garrotxa
An easy drive into the northeastern Catalan countryside via Olot will take you to the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone.
It’s a large volcanic field that last saw an eruption 11,000 years ago, but is still occasionally the source of an earthquake, the last big one hitting Barcelona in the 15th century.
The reason you have to come is for the scenery, with 40 telltale volcanic cones ensconced in oak, beech and pine woodland.
The whole park is laced with inter-connecting trails that will guide you over basalt lava flows and up extinct volcanoes in scenery that is unlike anything else in Iberia.