Things to do in the Costa Brava
You’ll have a wonderful time on the Costa Brava simply taking the routes between beach, hotel, beach, café, beach, shops, beach…you get the picture. But there is so much to enjoy on and near Spain’s rugged north east coast that it really would be a shame to do not much more than getting the sand between your toes while on holiday.
There’s no shortage of ‘splashingaboutness’ on the Costa Brava, but if you feel the need for a change from the sea, neither is there any shortage of water parks to head to. Three of the best are:
Water World Lloret de Mar
You will have to take a deep breath – and probably close your eyes – to tackle Water World’s star ride, Xtreme Mountain, a terrifying switchback, unless, of course, you like that sort of thing. But there are rides aplenty for all stomachs and ages, including river rafting, wave and whirl pools, family pools, and there are even rides for babies. If Xtreme Mountain hasn’t shaken you up enough, the highest bungy jump in the world at 262ft just might.
Aqua Brava Water Park, Roses
Particularly good for kids, who have their own Tropical Island to go native on, with climbing frames, waterfalls, mini-slide and a flowing river, or the Kids’ Lagoon with its pirate ship at anchor, water slides and playgrounds in open green areas. There’s plenty for everyone, though, with one of Europe’s biggest wave pools, the 200 metre- long Anaconda that rafts through treacherous tunnels, and a host of other rides and swimming pools, as well as the Laberint Parc with its maze, gardens, towers and inflatable games for kids to bounce on.
Marineland is effectively two for the price of one, a waterpark with all the usual favourites of slidey, splashy, swimmy things, and a marine zoo with seal, dolphin and parrot shows. (Okay, parrots aren’t marine animals, but they put on a great show anyway.)
A budgetary note. Water and theme parks can be an expensive day out, although worth it if you plan to go for the whole day. Eye-watering prices for drinks and food makes it a good idea to take your own, or at least a few snacks to keep the kids happy.
Smile broadly when someone takes your photo as you enter, and ignore them when they try to flog you the photo later for the same price you would pay for a basic snap-and-go camera. Your own photos will say it all anyway. You will often find discount prices if you buy online and print the tickets off beforehand.
Camino de Ronda
The Camí de Ronda is a footpath originally built along the Costa Brava coastline to help the Guardia Civil control the coast and stop smuggling. These days, though, you are unlikely to meet this type of rapscallion on the route, most of which is now series of coastal walks often connecting tourist beaches and resorts.
The stretch from Sant Pol to Sa Conca beach is a casual seventy five minute stroll, with spectacular views at every stage of the way, so don’t forget your camera. Before heading back you might like to spend a while on this quiet beach and make the most of the two beach bars and toilets.
Do the walk in the opposite direction, Sant Pol to St Feliu, and you will find a walk of an hour and a half of ups and downs and terrain that constantly has you watching your step. Both routes are particularly stunning at dawn, as the rising sun casts its glow over blue sea, the red rock, and the green of the pine trees.
You may be tempted to slip into a bassinet, cuirass and schynbald* as you cross the moat and enter the gates of Peratallada, but the days of rescuing fair maids are long gone, even though the ancient rutted stone streets and passageways, and pretty squares of this delightful fortified medieval village may drift the thoughts back to more chivalrous times.
These days the art galleries, craft shops, cafes and restaurants, particularly those around the arcades of Plaça de les Voltes, provide the entertainment instead of knights lancing each other at a joust.
*Not other names for flip-flops, shorts and T-shirts, but part of a medieval knight’s armour.
Cap Roig Botanical Gardens, Palafrugell
In 1927, Colonel Woevodsky, an eccentric Russian, and his aristocratic English wife, Dorothy Webster, bought the estate in Cap Roig and began building a castle and a magnificent park. ‘They were probably barmy,’ says one Tripadvisor comment affectionately.
There are twenty-two interconnected terraced gardens, with such delightful names as the Mirador de la Lady (The Lady’s Viewing Point), Nuns’ Terrace and Lover’s Garden. These delightful gardens with glorious sea views have blossoms and aromas of every hue, but they particularly bloom with the open-air music festival held during the summer months, featuring major international performers of the likes of Kiri Te Kanawa, Bob Dylan, and Jose Carreras.
Marimurtra Botanical Gardens
Staying on the horticultural theme, but this one dedicated more to the study, teaching and research of botany than purely its enjoyment. Marimurtra is one of Europe’s foremost botanical gardens, with more than four thousand species on display, dedicated primarily to Mediterranean and sub-tropical flora.
There are also plants from southern Africa and Central America, and the collection has a good showing of the native flora of Cataluña. A long flight of steps leads to the Linnaeus temple, with dramatic views out over the coast and the sea. Part of the garden is built on pretty steep slopes, so be prepared to take it all in at a casual pace.
Gnomo Park, Lloret de Mar.
Built in a pine wood, this is a family day out with loads to do for kids, (and people who still think they are kids) both indoor and outdoor. Playgrounds, an assault course with a forest-style walkway and zip wire, craft room, mini-karts, trampoline, adventure golf (mini-golf with attitude), bowling, mini-farm with animals, et al, with an area adapted for babies. And yes, gnomes do rear their floppy-hat-covered heads and smirky smiles.
Glass-bottomed boats, Isles Medes, l’Estartit
Enthralling for all ages, these glass-bottom boats expose life below the waves of the seven small islands that make up the nature reserve of the Isles Medes. Sponges, crustaceans, algae, octopuses, crabs and a grand variety of fish appear behind the windows like an underwater TV adventure.
Cap de Creus National Park
Cap de Creus is the easternmost point of the Iberian Peninsula and the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees. This dry region has an extraordinary landscape of wind-beaten rocky terrain with almost no trees and impressive cliffs which contrast with tiny coves and the deep blue of the Mediterranean - the perfect place for walking and swimming. The most well-known village in the area is Cadaqués, near Port Lligat where Dalí built his home, which still retains a modestly bohemian atmosphere of artists and writers.
Tren Turístic, Roses
As naff as these trains usually are – not trains at all but gormlessly designed tourist pull-arounds – this one actually isn’t bad, and it’s probably the best way to see glorious views of the bays of Roses and Cadaqués, the Alt Empordà and the Cap Creus Nature Park. Kids in particular love it. A commentary in various languages including English.
And a final bit of nonsense.
You may demand ‘No anchovies!’ when you order your pizza, (although you will have sampled them in Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce if you’ve ever used it) but this tiny fish has been the making of many fortunes.
The Museum of Anchovy and Salt traces the history of L’Escala as a centre for anchovy fishing and salting – and you’ll see there are far more varieties of salt than you could shake a cellar at. There’s even an annual Salt Fair. Makes a savoury change from all the sickly sweet displays of yet another local history museum.