Many people confuse the Costa Brava with the Costa Blanca or the Costa del Sol. But it is really quite different. Unlike the places where thousands of British tourists go to get sun burnt and drink too much sangria, the Costa Brava is the rugged portion of the Mediterranean coast running south from the French border to Blanes. The name means brave or fierce coast, and it is characterized by mountains running right into the ocean and lots of wild pines, similar to those found along portions of the California coast. The area includes historic medieval towns and excellent beaches. While some towns have been over-developed with large hotel and apartment complexes and restaurants serving a full English breakfast, most have retained a more authentic charm.
We are staying in Begur, a coastal medieval village about an hour and a half from Barcelona, and 50 minutes from Girona. Dominated by a Romanesque castle, it is an extremely charming and vibrant town with a main square lined with cafes and restaurants, up-market shops and a few boutique hotels. The streets are spotlessly clean; there are beautiful gardens, and three excellent beaches nearby. Many of the buildings feature plaques describing their history, which help give the visitor a better understanding of the place. I think this is an idea that could be transported to Vancouver.
There are few English speaking tourists here. Most residents and tourists seem to be Spanish, Dutch or Belgian and the multi-million Euro homes overlooking the ocean are the kind you see illustrated in architectural magazines.
We are doing our 8th house exchange, this time with a professional couple who live in Barcelona; we are staying in their vacation home. It is located within a very attractive community at the end of a winding, single-lane road. The large, multi-level semi-detached unit has a front courtyard, terraces and garden area offering dramatic views over the Mediterranean Sea. It is very comfortable…so comfortable that we often enjoy staying home in the evening to barbecue sardines, chorizo, and unusual seafood and cuts of meat. We are also enjoying the very inexpensive wines.How inexpensive? While we ended up using the cloudy white wine that we bought at the fishmongers for one Euro for cooking, you can get very good wines for 4 or 5 Euros, and excellent wines for 11 or 12 Euros. In one shop we visited anything over 12 Euros was locked up in a glass case! Although to be fair, at the very large specialty wine store we explored, there were bottles of wine selling for $900 and more. (I might add that we were proud to find some Canadian wines on sale there too!)
We are particularly enjoying the local Emporda and Rioja reds and very full bodied whites from Priorat, a small region south of Barcelona recommended by Frances Bula. I am also enjoying the Muscatels, a wine I discovered during first year university with my friend John Hull, although the ones here are better quality than the one made by Brights Wines in Ontario in the mid sixties. John has promised me that we can come on a Muscatel tasting trip to Spain in 2015, the 50th anniversary of our first year of university….and my first Muscatel tasting.
At the tourist office we were given excellent brochures and maps which set out a number of routes around the region. So far we have travelled the medieval towns and villages route and visited the wonderful beaches. The beach communities are very picturesque, with both sandy and pebbly beaches carved into the rocks, usually lined with cafes and restaurants.
Still to go are the Great Romanesque Route, The Great Modernist Route, and Rediscovering the Jewish World. No, I’m not making this up! From the 11th to 15th Centuries, there was a significant Jewish presence in parts of Catalonia, which is still celebrated in tourist literature.
In addition to visiting towns and beaches, there are many very good golf courses at prices much less than Whistler. I was surprised at how few were playing in July, but was told the recession was to blame. As a general comment, we find Spain to be much less expensive than France or other parts of Northern Europe, and given the price of wine, a good restaurant meal can be had for much less than a comparable meal in Vancouver (if you could find a comparable meal in Vancouver!) Our house exchange partners have no doubt discovered this. But at least they got to see Spain win the Vancouver Celebration of Light fireworks competition!