The sunshine and the extraordinary light
I love the way that even when it’s cold on the Costa Brava, it’s rarely grey. Most of the year the sun is amazingly bright and warming, so much so that I’ve gone out for walks on Christmas Day in short sleeves. It’s easy to see why painters like Dalí and Chagall were so taken with the light here.
The beaches are stunning
Forget the Caribbean, the beaches here are some of the most gorgeous, romantic and secluded I’ve ever seen. We’re talking fairytale sandy coves surrounded by wooded pines and rugged, rosy pink rocks. Whatever kind of beach you’re after, whether it’s a family-friendly stretch of sand that the kids can build castles on, somewhere to go diving or a discreet nudist cove, you’ll find it here.
The food and wine
If the Costa Brava still summons up thoughts of egg and chips, I’ve got news for you. This stretch of the coast is a foodie paradise and I’ve rarely eaten so well anywhere else in the world. For a start, you’ll be hard pushed to find anywhere that doesn’t serve extraordinarily fresh fish – usually simply but expertly grilled. Traditional Catalan cooking is rustic and hearty with stonking great stews and fabulous roasted meats. And then there are the Michelin-starred restaurants and fine dining establishments. After the Basque country, Catalonia has one of the highest concentrations of top-class restaurants in Spain and you’ll often pay significantly less than you might elsewhere in Europe. The Costa Brava’s Empordá region is also an up and coming wine-growing area and there are some superb local wines.
This stretch of the coast covers the complete history of Western civilisation. There’s everything here from the remains of the earliest Iberian settlements at Llafranc and stunning Greco-Roman ruins at Empúries, to more immaculately preserved medieval villages than you could visit in a week. Then you’ve got the medieval Old Town/Jewish Quarter in Girona as well as elaborate 17th-century palacios and mansions.
This is Dalí country, and the home of what they call the Dalí triangle – basically the Dalí Museum at Figueres, the Castell Gala at Púbol - the castle he built for his wife Gala which is now a museum, and finally the home he and Gala shared at Port Lligat near Cadaqués.
The spectacular scenery
The coastal walks here are unbelievably dramatic – sinewy, winding paths, crashing waves, rough-hewn, pink rocks and, in summer, the stunningly clear, teal-coloured Mediterranean glistening below you. I also love walking inland - the lower Empordá has wonderfully lush countryside.
The music festivals, bonkers street processions and fabulous fiestas
From May to July, the music festivals are an amazingly civilised way to spend a summer evening sipping a cremat (rum, cinnamon and coffee). At other times of the year, there are flower festivals, boating regattas and the Easter processions are wonderfully bizarre. See When to go to Costa Brava for more details.
The outdoor life and sports
The well-heeled Barcelonans who have their holiday homes here on the Costa love taking boats and yachts out on the Mediterranean in the summer. There’s also swimming, surfing, kayaking and diving or, if you prefer your sports land-bound, a great choice of fabulous golf courses and walking and cycling routes.
The super-hip style and design
Back in the 1980s, Barcelona invented the ‘designer bar’ - and the Catalans have long been acknowledged as maestros of the design world. You can see the evidence throughout the Costa Brava. Wander down any small town backstreet and before too long you’ll stumble across some super-hip looking designer bar or restaurant that would probably be touted in Wallpaper magazine as a major new arrival if it were anywhere else in the world. Here, however, it’s so commonplace that nobody bats an eyelid.
It’s as scenic and glamorous as the Cote d’Azur but a fraction of the price
The Costa Brava can easily equal its South of France neighbour for the beauty of its stunning, glittering coastline (it’s actually very similar as it’s essentially the same coast, just a bit further south) and the elegance and luxury of its bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. It’s also one of Europe’s best kept secrets. That’s why it still attracts mainly Catalan holidaymakers and a few in-the-know French.