Travel Guide: Costa Brava, Spain
Many people visit Barcelona each year, but few make the short two-hour journey up north to the counties in the foothills of the Pyrenees, where beach towns, mountain lodges, and medieval towns await. Known collectively as the Province of Girona and the Costa Brava (rugged coast) region, this area offers immersive travel opportunities rich in Catalonian history, arts, and adventure. Below, we break down the different towns and sights to see along the way.
The name of the greater province is also the namesake of its central city. Girona is the site of very well preserved medieval remains, including a walled-in Old Quarter, a Roman fortress, and Gothic churches. Outside the old part of the city is a happening, sprawling modern Catalonian city, home to El Celler de Can Roca. It was voted the best restaurant in the world two of the last four years (it has been first or second each year since 2011).
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Ger is a tiny village, but it’s worth a stop to get a sense of what life was like in medieval times – and still is today to some extent – in this rural farm region. The stone village will charm you with its small population of just a few hundred people, many dedicated to farming and cheese making. Cal Jet Restaurant, right in the center of the village, used to be the old community oven, where all the villagers would come to bake their bread for the week. It showcases local products and produce and draws a good local crowd for lunch. The forested area surrounding Ger opens up massive opportunities for active days. The Malniu Lake area (pictured below) is an hour from the village and great for hiking and biking.
Where to Stay: If you want the experience of what the locals call “refugis,” or small mountain huts/hostels, book a bunk at the Refugi de Malniu (Malniu Mountain Hut). For a full-service mountain lodge/hotel just 15 minutes from Ger, try Hotel Muntanya, which sides on the hillsides and overlooks the valley.
Vall de Nuria
The Vall de Nuria is a pristine valley along the Spanish/French border in the Pyrenees, inaccessible by roads but an established natural area.
It is accessible via a scenic rail line that climbs into the high valley. Take the railway from RIBES VILA rack railway station to the final stop at the Vall de Nuria. There are stops along the way to get out and explore and/or hike. At the end of the line is the Vall de Núria Mountain Resort (see below), and surrounding that is a network of hiking trails. The footpaths in this area trace their history back to the Roman Empire, and were used by Roman soldiers to cross the Pyrenees into France.
Where to Stay: The Vall de Núria Mountain Resort. While not the most nostalgic or quaint a place – much more modern than mountain – this lodge is worth an overnight for its location alone. Surrounded by peaks approaching 9,000 feet, it puts you in prime position to enjoy and explore the beauty of the valley.
Figueres’ main draw is as Salvador Dali’s hometown and the site of his museum, the Dali Museum. Even for casual art fans, it is a must-do while in the area for a glimpse into the mind, life, and work of the world’s most famous surrealist.
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Where to Stay: Hotel Duran. We choose this hotel because of its Dali-related history. When Dali was living and painting in Figueres, he frequented this hotel for dinner and drinks. You can see old photos on the wall and even eat in the room where Dali preferred to dine. The Dali Museum is just a few minutes’ walk from the Hotel Duran, as are dozens are bars and restaurants along the town square.
The charming beachfront town of Cadaques sits at the end of a peninsula in the Costa Brava region, the eastern most point in Spain. Its beauty drew artists like Hemingway, Dali, and Picasso for inspiration and respite, and you’ll see why after a drink at one of the outdoor cafes on the waterfront Plaça Passeig in front of its whitewashed, red-roofed Mediterranean canvas.
Where to Stay: Horta d’en Rahola. Now that you’ve “come down the mountain,” this is the place to treat yourself. Cadaques is fit for a postcard, yet the hotel prices don’t seem to reflect that. Even the most exclusive experiences, like the seven-room Horta d’en Rahalo, will only run you about $125 per night (though not beachfront, it is in the middle of Cap de Creus Natural Park). If you’re craving views of the water, check out the Hotel Sol Ixent, Hotel Playa Sol, or the Hotel Llane Petit Cadaqués.
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