To a lot of people, the words ‘Costa’ and ‘Brava’ still conjure up nightmarish images of egg-and-chips style package holidays and hideous high rises. But if you’ve seen the Costa Brava away from resorts like Lloret however, you’ll know that that couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary, this stretch of coast from Tossa to Perpignan has been called the Spanish St Tropez and has got some of Spain’s most stylish and luxurious hotels. Not to mention some of the most spectacular and unspoilt coast on the Mediterranean. This is where Barcelona’s smart set come for their holidays and weekends along with an increasing amount of sophisticated, clued-up visitors who’ve worked out that the countryside and beaches here are easily as classy as anything in Tuscany, Provence or the Cote d’Azur. And the hotels are often a fraction of the price.
One of the great things about hotels here is the choice of style you get.There’s pretty much something for every taste - whether you prefer up-to-the-minute contemporary, Elle Decoration-style chic or if, like me, you like your hotels a little rougher round the edges with beamed ceilings, ancient architectural flourishes and characterful nooks and crannies. Or maybe you just want a straightforward family beach hotel with fabulous views, friendly service and the sea a couple of feet away.
As far as it’s possible to generalise, hotels often fall into one of a few distinctive types. As follows:
• The old-school Costa Brava ‘Grand Hotel’. These are usually built in the classic, Spanish hacienda style, with whitewashed walls, arches and picture windows looking out to a picture-postcard seaview. They were the original luxury hotels built in the 50s, when the Costa Brava was first ‘discovered’ by the jet-set and Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway came here.
• Medieval palacios converted into boutique hotels or characterful b&bs.
• Country house macias – what the Catalans call their stone built, country farmhouses - converted into usually luxury or, at the very least stylish, country hotels.
• Family-run hotels overlooking the sea or on the beachfront.
• Chic, city hotels in Girona, with cutting-edge design and arty Catalan flourishes.
• Basic, but spotlessly clean pensions - often family-run for generations, with granny at the helm.
Things to consider before booking
One of the main things to know about Costa Brava hotels is that most of them close between October and February or March. The ones that don’t can often be very good value in low season, when the weather’s still warm in late September or is getting that way in late March or early April.
Because everything tends to be focused on the summer though, this does mean that the more popular hotels get booked up well ahead. So getting a sea-front room in the smaller towns like Cadaqués or Llafranc at the last minute is probably going to involve a lot of luck.
Location and Transport
Like anywhere in the world, your choice of hotel will depend a lot on whether you’re going to be in a car or not. Obviously, if you’re going to Girona for a city break, you’re not going to need one – everything’s easily accessible on foot and the old town is full of narrow, winding streets. But if you want to travel around the Costa Brava and see a variety of beaches and medieval hilltop towns, a car is pretty much essential. Parking, however, can be expensive as quite a lot of hotels charge extra for it – sometimes up to 12 Euros a day. Having said that, there are so many hotels that are within sneezing distance of the beaches themselves, with others easily accessible on foot, that if you just want to spend a week or so relaxing on the beach and going for coastal walks, you can indeed do so without trebling your carbon footprint in a car.
If that’s what you want, do specify and check that that’s what you’re getting when you book. Unsurprisingly, these rooms tend to get booked up first.
Lifts and staircases
Macias, palacios and castles are great for architectural splendour and original features but often not so great if staircases are a problem. A good number of Costa Brava hotels have rooms for guests with impaired mobility, and sometimes it’s just a question of making sure your room isn’t in the castle turret.