Lunch by the beach in Sa Tuna.

At the end of our stay in Barcelona, we didn’t want to leave. I’d been there for a week (teaching an intensive graduate course), and Seth and the kids had arrived 3 days into my stay. We had so much fun in Barcelona (as documented in the kids’ most recent blog posts) that as we were leaving to drive up the Costa Brava, we wondered if we were making a mistake. Why not just stay in Barcelona for another few days? In the end, we loved everything about Catalonia (the region in the northeast of Spain) so much that we all wished we could have stayed longer both in Barcelona and in the Costa Brava. George Orwell’s book title is exactly right; this is a fantastic part of the world.

Lagoon at Sa Tuna.

Before planning our two nights on the Costa Brava, we really didn’t know very much about the area. My childhood friend Kathleen, who now lives in London with her family, vacationed there last summer and had mentioned it as a fun and beautiful destination. Our home and travels this year have been predominantly urban. And while I love interesting cities, I’ve wanted to do more exploring of the villages and coastlines in Southern Europe than we’ve managed to do thus far.  So the Costa Brava seemed like an ideal way to spend the last few days of the kids’ spring break.

Atop Begur, on the castle ruins.

One of the things that we’ve most enjoyed this year is not having a car. Driving in Rome strikes fear into my heart; I don’t even like being a passenger in taxis in Italian cities. We’ve relished our car-free existence, especially Seth, who is our family’s primary driver. To explore the Costa Brava, though, we needed to rent a car. In order to dull that blow, we decided to have some fun: we rented a convertible (a Mini – which was truly mini… despite packing light as always, with just carry-on bags, we still had to sit with suitcases under my feet and between the kids). Driving out of Barcelona and up into the hills and along the coast on a sparkling summery day was magical.

Walking the ocean path between towns.

As a home base, we followed Kathleen’s lead and stayed in a little town called Begur, about halfway to France from Barcelona (an hour and a half or so). It’s perched up in the hills with the ruins of an ancient castle up above the pedestrian town. Despite its diminutive size, Begur is quite happening, filled with fun tapas bars and Catalan cuisine.

At the Hotel Aiguaclara

We found our hotel via Trip Advisor (side note: while we’ve found Trip Advisor highly unreliable for restaurant recommendations in our Euro travels, the hotel recommendations have all been spot-on). The Hotel Aiguaclara is a colonial-style mansion built in 1866 that’s been renovated without losing any of its charm. The entry and hall are piled with vintage typewriters, suitcases, and other funky knickknacks. The restaurant is fantastic and has outdoor sofas and a wicker egg hanging chair for kids to lounge in. They have an honor bar set up with fresh pastries (including our new favorite, Ensaimada de Mallorca).

Beverage break by the beach in Llafranch.

After we arrived, the staff recommended that we drive down for lunch in one of the nearest beach villages, Sa Tuna, about 10 minutes down a very steep hill (reminding us of driving in Corsica last summer). We sat outside on a terrace overlooking an ocean lagoon and felt very far away from city life. Seth had a snooze on the beach (all that driving!) while the kids and I scampered around the rocks surrounding the lagoon. After we returned to Begur, we wandered around the town and arranged for dinner at the hotel restaurant. The kids were too tired to eat, but they are now old enough to just head upstairs and go to bed while the grownups enjoy the end of a meal. Nice!

Beach soccer!

The next day, we followed a touring itinerary created for me by one of the Ph.D. students in my Barcelona course, who is from the area (she kindly made us a powerpoint showing sites and restaurants to visit in the area; other guests at the hotel overheard us looking at it and asked for a copy!). We drove to another nearby beach town, Calella de Palafrugell, which has a paved path over the cliffs to the next beach town, Llafranch. It was a spectacular walk, with lots of opportunities for the kids to climb and leap over the rocks, and to admire the turquoise sea. While the grownups enjoyed a coffee in Llafranch, Nell played on the beach and Eli joined a beach soccer game with some of the local kids.

We then walked back along the path to Calella de Palafrugell, where we treated ourselves to a seaside lunch at a rice restaurant (Catalan rice with salt cod for us, mmm). After some more climbing on rocks, we drove to a medieval village near Begur called Pals, which was beautiful and pleasantly empty after the busy beach town.

Enjoying Dracula for dessert.

We returned to the hotel and walked to the town park, which is basically a full-size dirt soccer pitch. The local kids welcomed Eli into a pickup game, which he played enthusiastically until we dragged him away for our 8 PM dinner reservation. This scene has repeated itself across multiple cities and countries – soccer is a universal language and Eli has used it over and over as a way to connect with other kids with whom he shares no spoken language. I am very envious of this ability to connect across cultures via the playing field!

Dinner that night was at Can Climent Platillos. This tiny tapas bar (5 tables) is run by a chef who used to own a Michelin-starred restaurant, and who gave it up to run a tapas bar. While occasionally a little precious (squares of smoked salmon poking out of a tin sardine can), the food was delicious and the atmosphere totally hopping. Eli especially loved his desert, called the Dracula, which involved fresh vanilla gelato, berry sauce, and Coca Cola.

Roman column, with the sea and the hills of coastal France in the distance.

The next morning, we were quite sad to check out of our lovely hotel. Fortunately, our flight wasn’t until the evening, so we drove north to visit an ancient fortress on the sea. Empúries was originally a Greek colony (indeed, apparently the largest in the Iberian Peninsula), and then a Roman colony; both sets of ruins are being excavated. We are steeped in Roman ruins but have seen few Greek ruins this year, and so it was interesting to compare the construction techniques. We then walked along the ocean to the next town, Sant Marti, where we climbed high above the sea to enjoy our final meal in Catalonia.

– Jenny