Costa Brava insider tips
How to save money plus other advice on Costa Brava
Eating and Drinking
• Menus del Día
As in most parts of Spain, you’ll find that many restaurants offer a Menu of the Day or ‘Menu del Día’. This is a fixed price, usually three course menu offering a short selection of choices for each course as well as a glass of wine and sometimes coffee. In smaller establishments, the ‘Menu’ will be posted on a blackboard outside but it’s often worth asking even in swankier places as these are generally much better value than eating A La Carte.
• Eating Hours
Unlike many other parts of Spain, restaurants tend to close earlier here in the evenings. You still won’t find many places opening before 8pm but they do tend to close around 10.30ish so whereas in Barcelona, Madrid or Seville you could happily roll up for dinner at 10pm and find yourself queuing for a seat, here you’ll find the kitchens about to close, so the best time to arrive is usually between 8 or 8.30 and 9pm.
• Double check menu items if you’re vegetarian
Because this stretch of the coast is very much geared up to tourism, unless you’re eating somewhere that’s aimed purely at locals, you’ll generally find vegetarian options. If however you’re very particular that no animal matter will have been near your food, it’s often worth double checking that your dish of casseroled peas doesn’t include what some Catalans might consider, negligible pieces of chopped ham. (This has been known to happen.)
Sights and Attractions
• I know it’s obvious but beware the sun in the middle of the day
If you’re on the beach or even just sauntering along a seafront promenade round these parts, the sea breeze can be deceptive. Whilst you may feel cool as a glass of chilled rosé, the sun could in fact be doing you no end of harm from sunburn to sunstroke and worse. I’d definitely avoid the hours between 12 noon and 3pm for both beach and sightseeing.
The Catalans themselves have lunch between around 2 and 4pm generally so after 3pm you’ll find the beaches both emptier and safer.
• Museums are often closed on Monday. Check details beforehand.
• Girona Museu card
If you’re visiting more than one of the five major museums in Girona, it’s definitely worth getting one of these. You pay the full price at the first participating museum you visit but then get 50% off entry at all the others.
• If you’re not in a car, the bus is often the best bet
As I’ve said elsewhere, to really explore the Costa Brava and explore its hidden coves and hilltop villages, a car is really your best bet. That doesn’t however mean that it’s not possible to have a perfectly enjoyable holiday without four wheels. But unlike other parts of the world where trains are often the quickest and most efficient way of getting around, this is not the case on the Costa Brava. With the exception of the route between Girona and Barcelona, other journeys within this stretch of Catalonia are much better served by bus. The main operating company is Sarfa (www.sarfa.com). See Getting Around for further details.
• Driving to Cadaquès
Don’t attempt the drive to Cadaquès in a hurry. Or at all, for that matter, if you’re not a very confident driver. Once you come off the motorway from Figueres, you’ve got nearly an hour of unbelievably winding, hairpin bends etc and rather than finding yourself blissfully alone on the roads, you’ll find yourself jostled along by coaches tearing along at breakneck speed. If you take that kind of thing in your stride – fine, but otherwise, if you want to spend your holiday driving around the Costa Brava and visiting different towns and beaches, I wouldn’t recommend Cadaquès as a base as you’ll spend half your time driving through those endless bends.
Other Useful Tips
• Shops close between around 2pm and 5pm
Don’t be surprised to find shops closed in the middle of the afternoon. With very few exceptions, shops close between 1.30 and 2pm before re-opening in the late afternoon around 5 or 5.30pm when they’ll stay open till about 8pm.
• Give an inch of Catalan phrases and you’ll get a mile of goodwill.
The Catalans are rightly proud of their culture and on this stretch of the coast (Girona in particular), you’ll often find people especially patriotic about their language. Make the effort to show off a couple of phrases in Catalan (bon dia – is good morning, bona nit – good evening, ‘parla anglès’ – do you speak English? Or even simply ‘gràcies’ – thank-you or ‘sisplau’ – please) will garner you untold appreciation and the occasionally frosty Catalans often turn out to be phenomenally helpful.