Our writer in Spain, Sally Veal, takes us on a journey along the northern part of the Costa Brava, Catalonia.
While parts of Spain is currently under snow with sub zero temperatures, the north east coast is basking in blue skies, albeit with a chilly wind. The sun is shining brightly and though it’s not the weather for t shirts, a walk along the beach in Calella de Palafrugell is very pleasant, escaping the wind and enjoying the view.
Where exactly is this? The Costa Brava, Catalonia. A region which enjoys all four seasons and everything they have to offer, this region of Spain which runs from the border with France to Lloret de Mar, sees a varied landscape and coastline. Really, you need to describe the Costa Brava in two parts, so we will look first at the northern sector, from Portbou to Sant Feliu de Guixols.
Just 31 km south of the pleasant French city of Perpignan you cross the border into Spain. It immediately feels different from France and you should be aware that the speed limits on the motorways are also different: 130 kph in France and 120 kph in Spain. If you cross on that route, you descend a very steep, wooded mountain and once down on the fertile plain of Alt Empordà you know you are no longer in France from the buildings, the signs and the comparatively quiet road. La Jonquera is the first main town and here you can fill up with cheaper petrol, have a snack and do some shopping in the numerous commercial outlets.
You can also cross the border at Portbou on the coastal route. This, like most border towns is quite built up though the bay is pretty. To really know the Costa Brava you need to venture south but first, have a look at Roses.
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Roses, Empuriabrava and L’Escala
These three towns are popular with the French as they are within easy reach of the border. They are also popular with British people and others from around the world. Roses lies on the very pretty and large Bay of Roses and is a good place to stay if you want to explore more of the area. The town dates back to the time when the Greeks colonised this part of Spain and there is plenty to do. Water sports are available in all forms and there are numerous bars and restaurants to enjoy, including two with Michelin stars.
The fishing port is particularly interesting and for history buffs, it is worth taking time to visit La Ciutadella or citadel which dates back to the 11 Century. It includes a Roman town from 2nd Century and a Greek town, two centuries older. There are several excellent beaches, some with shallow waters for smaller people and some in little coves or offering an expanse of fine sand.
Girona and its airport are around a 50 minute drive from Roses. The AP7 motorway runs all the way down the coast to Barcelona and way beyond. Property starts at €189,000 for a two-bedroom apartment and €299,000 four-bedroom villa.
It is famous for its wonderful Greco/Romano archeological site which bring in tourists from all over the world. It is also home to Catalans and foreigners alike, many who are retired and has a population of just under 8000. There are around 300 days of sunshine a year and the winters are mild, the summers rarely too hot. The marina, one the largest residential ones worldwide, is really beautiful with its numerous canals. Unsurprisingly, the area is known as “Little Venice.”
Close by are the wetlands of Aiguamolls where bird watchers and nature lovers can gently walk and enjoy the views of the lake. The town itself offers every amenity you would need, and the nearest hospital is in Figueres, home to the Dalì museum. A 50-minute drive gets you to Girona and the Costa Brava airport. 3 golf courses serve the town.
Many people buy a second home here which they rent out when not in Spain. Property styles vary as do prices. A two-bedroom apartment is upward of €130,000.
Just 30 minitues or so south of Empuriabrava you arrive at L’Escala, one of the most important fishing ports on this part of the coast. Around the world it is known for its anchovies which are a delight. The port has been expanded over the years and now includes a marina.
The old town still retains some of its charm with narrow, winding streets and in the bays bars and restaurants abound. The population is around 10,000 but this swells considerably in the summer as L’Escala is a popular tourist spot. The largest beach, Riells, is ideal for children with its shallow waters whilst the other beaches offer more for the experienced swimmer. There is a beach just for dogs too. Water sports, especially diving, are available. The town has good medical services, shopping, and an abundance of eateries.
It tends to be very quiet during the off-season but gets pretty crowded in the summer. Many of the properties are outside the centre, allowing a more peaceful life. Girona and its airport are 45 minutes’ drive. For golfers, there are six courses within reach to choose from.
Property of all types are available with a two-bedroom apartment starting at €130,000 and four-bedroom houses from €275,00.
Torroella de Montgrí, L’Estartit
Torroella de Montgrí is situated on the river Ter just 5 kms from the coast and the town of L’Estartit. Both are in the same municipality and are very different in style and feel.
Torroella is a medieval town with a pretty centre opening onto two squares and with individual shops and cafés in the narrow streets. The rambla has several cafés and shops. The town is named after the Montgrí mountain which lies behind it, some say in the shape of a bishop, and at the top is fortress which you can reach via a path on foot. The Monday market is popular, and the town holds cultural events and fiestas throughout the year. It serves the coastal area of L’Estartit and has some good supermarkets in and around it. There are two golf courses very close by and a pich and putt.
Property prices are reasonable in the town, but you’ll pay more for a home in one of the urbanisations nearby. A two-bedroom apartment in the centre starts at just under €80,000 while a three-bedroom house with large terrace will cost from €220,000. A four-bedroom house with pool can cost €440,000 upwards.
The town is popular with British people and many have second homes there. It is quiet in the winter and busy in the summer. There is a long, flat promenade following the lie of the large bay, a marina, a port, and a sandy beach ideal for families. The beach looks on the protected Illes Medes, a protected nature reserve. All the usual water sports are available, and other beach activities too. There are numerous eateries and bars, the smarter ones are closer to the port.
In the summer, the town hold an excellent jazz festival located at the far tip of the bay with a view of the sea. There are 5 golf courses within reach, and it is 55 minutes from Girona and the airport. The main supermarkets lie between the town and Torroella and on that road there is a children’s activity centre open in season.
There are some expensive house in the hills and urbanisations behind the town where you could pay up to €725,000 but you will find more reasonable prices in the town. €160,000 buys a two-bedroom apartment with communal pool and €360,000 a four-bedroom house.
We will our continue our journey south on the Costa Brava next month when we will be looking at Palafrugell and its 3 beach villages, Palamòs and Platja d’Aro, Sant Feliu de Guixols, Tossa de Mar and Lloret de Mar.