Stretching from Blanes, 60km north of Barcelona, to the French border, the unfairly maligned Costa Brava (Rugged Coast) boasts wooded coves, high cliffs, pretty beaches and deep blue water. Struggling under its image as the first developed package-tour coast in Spain, it is very determinedly shifting away from mass tourism. It is undeniable that the unharnessed tourist boom wreaked damage in some areas, but the old sangría-and-chips image is giving way to greater prominence for the area’s natural beauty and fascinating cultural heritage.
Broadly, the coast is split into three areas: La Selva at the southern tip, clustered around brash Lloret de Mar, and the medieval walled town of Tossa de Mar; the stylish central area of Baix Empordà between Sant Feliu de Guíxols and Pals, popular with the chic Barcelona crowd, which boasts some wonderfully scenic stretches of rolling coastline around Palamós, the beaches and villages of inland Palafrugell and hill-top Begur; and the more rugged Alt Empordà in the north. This area is marked by the broad sweep of the Golf de Roses, site of a nature reserve, the Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de l’Empordà, and the alluring peace of the ancient Greek and Roman settlement of Empúries, and extends to the bohemian Cadaqués, which attracts an arty crowd paying tribute to Salvador Dalí; the artist lived most of his life in the labyrinthine warren of converted fishermen’s huts in a neighbouring cove, now a fabulous museum.