Spain’s Costa Brava is an area of rocky coastlines, blue-green coves, and outdoor and gastronomic pursuits that begins an hour north of Barcelona and meanders its way to the French border. The region, whose name means wild or rough coast, lured famous artists like Dali, Miro and Picasso decades ago, and they left their artistic mark for visitors to experience today.
The Costa Brava landscape continually changes, and a short drive inland reveals Tuscany-like hills and medieval towns filled with cobblestone streets and weekly markets. Here, families can find farmhouse-style accommodations and room to run, with the beach a stone’s throw away.
The Costa Brava pairs well with a Barcelona family vacation, as both are part of the independent-minded Catalonia region where Catalan and Spanish are the official languages. Given the winding roads, the distances between cities and attractions on the Costa Brava can easily be an hour each way, and our three-night stay felt rushed; four or five nights would allow for more downtime. There are direct trains from Barcelona to Girona, the main city; however, a car is necessary to fully explore the region.
Surrealist artist Salvador Dali lived and worked in Port Lligat from 1930-1982, and his house, now a museum, is a good place for an introduction to his work. It’s easy to see why the artist chose this picturesque spot. The grounds will pique kids’ interest for the next stop at the Dali Museum, where they’ll be reminded of the things they learned at his house. Tickets must be purchased in advance and there are strict guidelines regarding how and when visitors can pick them up.
As Port Lligat is in the northern part of the Costa Brava, accessed by a winding road, it’s most convenient to build in a stop at the seaside town of Cadaques or the Monastery at Sant Pere de Rodes versus making the trip again.
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The second Dali site is the over-the-top Dali Museum in Figueres. This is the best museum visit we’ve ever had with our kids, who are 10 and 12. I’ve never seen them so engaged by art, and after 90 minutes, none us of wanted the tour to end. Dali captures kids’ imaginations, as they have to puzzle out what they are looking at and what the artist is conveying. The thought-provoking, sometimes outrageous artworks, combined with an exceptional kid-focused museum guide who came prepared with different types of lenses, magnifying glasses and other props, allowed us to view Dali’s work in ways we had not imagined.
In Spain, kids as young as eight can ride an e-bike, which, in the Costa Brava is fondly called a burricleta. The word is a cross between “bike” and “burro” — like a burro, the e-bike has saddlebags to carry gear. The Burricleta Center is located in Gualta by the par 3 Pitch and Putt, close to country roads and dirt paths that lead to the medieval towns of Fontanilles, Palau-Sator and Peratallada. Guests are given a GPS and map and go off on their own for a half or whole day, with private guide options available. Artisan lunches made with local ingredients can be ordered ahead for a picnic along the way.
TIP: This excursion is best for 10 years and older, as the combination of rocky dirt paths and the electric bike does require some concentration.
Palamos is a fishing port with a proud history and a lively fish auction and maritime museum. The fishing boats arrive between 4:30 and 6p each day, and the fish is immediately brought to the auction floor, which has a viewing window for visitors. For most kids, the fish market, with its deep-sea creatures and famous bright red Palamos shrimp, is an interesting experience filled with locals buying the day’s fresh catch. The Fish Museum staff are happy to help and explain how things work.
We also participated in a fish cooking show in the evening, though parents should know they only serve fish (no substitutes) and the purpose is to educate the public on eating different types (we tried catshark).
The Camino de Ronda is a coastal walking path once used as a lookout by smugglers and most often as a way to get from one seaside town to the next. Although the path runs the length of the Costa Brava, one of the most scenic and easy sections with kids is between Llafranc and Calella de Palafrugell. In the off-season, you’ll have the path mostly to yourself.
It seems like there is a Michelin-starred restaurant on every corner in this region, though of course that’s not true. However, the food in the Costa Brava is very good and generally well-priced. We stayed at Hotel Casamar, one of very fewLlafranc hotels open in November. The hotel has a kid-friendly staff, though it does not cater specifically to families. There is no room to roam, but the location on the cliffside walking path, and just a 2-minute walk into Llafranc, is exceptional.
Casamar has a one-star Michelin restaurant that’s very accommodating of kids. Their terrace is a great stop for lunch on a visit to Llafranc.
High tourist season in the Costa Brava, especially the coastal towns, is from Easter through September. It’s busiest in July and August and tapers off in October. Many hotels and restaurants close on November 1, and most attractions close by 5:30p. If traveling during this time, it’s important to have a plan and know which attractions are open. Girona, which we missed because of time, is always a good bet, because it’s a larger city with a year-round population and a vibrant, historical heart to explore.
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Editor’s Note: The Costa Brava Tourist Board hosted Kristi’s activities. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Kristi Marcelle except where noted.
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