Forget politics. If you want to start an argument with a group of Catalans, bring up the Costa Brava. A conversation about “the best” Costa Brava beach town is an invitation to controversy. The cynical traveler would suggest that the little villages dotting the rugged coast mostly seem the same. They’re all charming and lovely. They all have small restaurants with the obligatory Catalan pa amb tomaquet and pulpo. It goes without saying that all of them have been “discovered” to some extent or another by the sweaty tourist hordes. Yet, the Costa Brava towns do tend to each offer something unique. Once you discover it, you’ll be the first to jump into any conversation about Catalan beaches and defend your favorite (never promote because nobody wants more people to crowd up their favorite). Here’s what connected with us at each of these seven Costa Brava towns.
(Speaking of connections, rent a car. It’s truly the best way to travel the Costa Brava, although there are bus connections and ride share options.)
The Trip-tych: Begur, Sa Tuna, and Aiguablava
These three little towns in the Begur province are a microcosm of everything the Costa Brava has to offer: historic towns (complete with castle), secret coves, sandy and rocky beaches, and a leisurely attitude. Check out the Begur castle and take hikes along the cami de ronda (coastal path) that runs along the Mediterranean and offers stunning views of craggy cliffs, fishing villages, and the clear blue sea.
Begur has a strong Cuban connection thanks to several hundred Catalans who made their way to Cuba in the early 19th century due to the poor economic situation in Spain. Cuban restaurants and architecture dot the village and there’s even a yearly festival celebrating their Cuban heritage.
If you have sensitive feet or children or both, head to Aiguablava, where the sand is as fine as the water is blue. Most Costa Brava beaches have grainy/rocky sand, which is easy to wash off, but hard on tender feet. So unless you’re looking for free exfoliation, Aiguablava may be your best bet for a fine sand beach on the Costa Brava. It also offers nearby parking, plus plenty of restaurants around the bay. Of special note, Aiguablava has one of Catalunya’s few paradores, historic buildings that have been converted to hotels.
Sa Tuna is best reserved for lunch and Instagram photos. The tiny town has an equally tiny beach (although you can take a 15-minute walk on the cami de ronda coastal path to neighboring Aiguafreda). Parking is not a strong point here, so come early, especially on weekends. You’ll be rewarded with remarkable views and a relaxed atmosphere.
Here is more information about things to do in and around Begur, nudist beaches, plus options for shopping, accommodations, and restaurants.
The Artsy Hiker: Cadaqués
When you can’t decide whether to get a tan or some culture, head to Cadaqués. The little Costa Brava town that Salvador Dalí called home has drawn artists from around the world, thanks to its excellent natural light. In direct contrast to the fascinating and strange works in Dalí’s beach house is the natural beauty found in the nearby Cap de Creus. This park offers fourteen hiking trails, some of which take you to the lighthouse and others to a sheltered cove for a brisk swim after a hot walk.
Here’s more information about the Dalí house, things to do in and around Cadaqués, plus accommodations, shops, and restaurant options.
Make it a long weekend. Girona is a little more than an hour away by car. A world-renowned Michelin star restaurant, chocolate-themed hotel, and lots of history make for a great stop-over on your way back to Barcelona. The town also has a terrific flower festival, if you happen to visit in May.
The Amigos: Pals + Peratallada
Although technically not on the Costa Brava, these two little medieval towns are close enough for a side trip for lunch or dinner while staying on the coast. Pals and Peratallada are walled towns renowned for their old stone buildings and streets. A giant stone castle looms in the center of Peratallada, while the old protective moat (no crocodiles though) still circles the perimeter. Pals has a Romanesque tower and expansive views of the countryside.
If you really want to feel like you’re in the middle of a live-action history class, check out the medieval festival in autumn in Peratallada and the Christmas holiday market in Pals in December.
The Celebrities: Platja d’Aro and S’Agaro
Tired of going to yet another charming little fishing village with gorgeous sea views (no, seriously!)? Luxury brand shopping and upmarket real estate is where it’s at with these two Costa Brava mainstays. Platja d’Aro offers one of the few shopping districts on the Costa Brava. The town of high-rise condos is also filled with stores, many of them high end. (Don’t worry, there’s still a McDonald’s.) It’s a bit more commercial, so perfect for when you and your wallet are bored.
Once you’ve bought your new outfit(s), put on your celebrity-level privacy sunglasses and head over to S’Agaro. Hollywood A-listers have favored this Catalan beauty since the 1950s, with the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, and Ava Gardner vacationing there. In contrast to Platja d’Aro, S’Agaro is all mansions, villas and luxury estates. On cue, 5-star hotels in town give you a taste of the Hollywood-on-the-Med lifestyle, with the Hostal de la Gavina being the historic front-runner.
The Crowd Pleaser: Tossa de Mar
Exactly midway between Barcelona and the French border sits picturesque little Tossa de Mar. It’s hardly a well-kept secret, with tourists descending on it en masse during the summer months. Yet, the town makes our list because it offers something for everyone: three beaches (where some Costa Brava towns may have only one tiny spot), a preserved old, medieval section, Roman ruins, and a nice town. Besides, there’s something special about spending a day at a beach that’s closed off on one end by an old castle — a good reminder that you’re not just anywhere in Spain, but on the Costa Brava.
Of special note in Tossa de Mar is its under-appreciated municipal art museum, which houses pieces by contemporary artists who frequented the seaside town back in the 1930s and 40s.
Worth the Stop
Santa Clotilde Gardens – Lloret de Mar is just a concrete slab of a beach town on the Costa Brava (complete with tourists), but it hides a secret garden on a clifftop. The Santa Clotilde Gardens perch above Sa Boadella beach and offer spectacular views, cool shade, vine-covered stairs and sculptures, plus lots of pathways to explore. It makes for a perfect stop along the way to stretch your legs and get a preview of your weekend trip on the Costa Brava. The gardens open at 10:00am and have a 5 euro entry fee. Get there early because, you know, tourists in buses.