Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Costa Living

Aiguablava Beach - a beautiful rocky cove
The last time I visited the Costa Brava, I was 18, and armed with an Inter-Rail ticket. This was a bit of a problem, as most of the beach resorts there weren't actually served by rail - but my friend and Inter-railing companion, J, wasn't fazed by that.

She wanted to go to the beaches where she'd camped with her family -- so, with our massive backpacks and her huge stereo, we took a succession of local buses from Girona and spent several nights in tiny "pensiones" close to the sea. We sunbathed, drank cheap sangria and ate paella, sat out late at night on the beaches getting chatted up by local boys, dragged our backpacks round the Dali Museum at Figueres and finally washed up in Barcelona, whereupon we almost got mugged and spent the entire day in a police station.

This time was a bit different. The Doctor and I arrived en famille with a car, two children, two suitcases, a large coolbox and various other items (including Littleboy 2's school uniform, having come straight from his end of term service). We arrived at a villa near Begur on the Costa Brava at the not-too-appalling hour of 7pm after a marathon day and a half's drive. Luckily our friends, with whom we were sharing the villa, had arrived first and had everything sorted - drinks, dinner and even inflatables for the pool.

The very popular diving board at Tamariu
Begur is a beguiling town (of which more later) and surrounded by some stunningly pretty little coves. Little being the operative word - don't go here if you want wide, sandy beaches where you can spread yourself out. The beaches are rocky, nestled at the foot of cliffs and accessed by winding roads - so parking is limited and you need to get there early to find a space. I dread to think what it's like in high season, as we were not even there within Spanish school holidays. Our first day, at Tamariu Beach, was a Saturday, and when we arrived at the beach there was barely room to lay down our beach towels. (Luckily having five rather lively kids who wanted to play beach ball helped -- after a few hours, all the neighbouring sunbathers had mysteriously moved away).

But the sun was warm, the water was clear and - best of all - there was a diving board on the rocks, allowing hours of endless fun for the children (and me) diving into the aquamarine sea. There was also surprisingly good snorkelling (or in our case, diving in goggles) -- I never think of the Med as a snorkelling or diving destination but we saw tons of fish when we dipped below the surface.

The beautiful coast around Begur
Aiguablava -- another of Begur's local beaches -- was an even prettier cove, lined by a seafood restaurants and with pedalos and kayaks for rent. The pedalos were the kind that have slides coming off them, so of course the children were desperate to go on one.

Medieval Begur; these towers were lookout posts for pirates
Begur itself is a pretty medieval hill town with a castle on its peak and crumbling towers from which the townsfolk used to watch for pirates. It has apparently become quite a destination for chic Barcelonians, and you could tell that from its range of boutiquey-type hotels, trendy bars and cool-looking restaurants that were more like something you'd expect in Manhattan than the Costa Brava. However, with five kids in tow, including a toddler, this wasn't for our party, and happily we found the kind of places that did a good pizza/ice cream option as well as some tasty tapas.

The nearby village of Pals was also a real find -- another medieval town with ancient walls and beautiful gothic architecture. We headed there on a rainy day and found it packed by fellow tourists flooding the souvenir shops - which, rather than selling cheap tat, were rather high quality, many selling the glazed artisanal pottery which is the local industry.

All in all the area was unexpectedly unlike the Costa Brava I remembered from years before -- and definitely unlike the much brasher Spanish Costas of Southern Spain, with their British fish and chip cafes, high rise blocks and sunburned clientele.

Lastly-- don't I always say this?-- you can drive there from the UK. It's only an hour from the French border and it's totally do-able, even with children. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire helped, and we had stop -offs in Cahors, in southwest France, and Blois in the Loire Valley on the way back. Even on the way down, where we could only stop one night, we managed dinner in the city of Chartres, right by the famous and very beautiful cathedral.

And, although we did spend many hours in the car, there was only a BIT of moaning about the drive. Although the cheers that the boys let out as our Channel Tunnel train pulled into Folkestone were rather revealing....


Circles in the Sand said...

Great write-up! (I would absolutely love to commission this for my travel column, if you fancy earning a little pocket-money and seeing it in print again!) We're back! Just getting acclimatised - the jet lag from the US gets me every time. Really looking forward to seeing you. Shall we get a date in the diary coz I know you're moving soon. xx

Aurora said...

I've followed your blog for a few years now and our paths have finally crossed. Although you are outing my secret getaway location. It's a fantastic and beautiful part of the world. We've been going there for over 10 years now and last year for the first time we took a boat/snorkelling trip along all the coves from lafranc up by Tamariu and onto Aiquablava. Mark was our very knowledgable Aussie guide. There are some beautiful spots only accessible by boat and some stunning houses on the coast. I trust you'll be venturing back out there. A short flight from stansted too. But Ssshhh don't tell everyone!

nappy valley girl said...

Of course you can use!
I'll try and give you a call today x

Iota said...

Yes, a great write-up.

It's always fun to revisit places as an adult with your own children. I'm doing the same in Normandy in a couple of weeks. I did wonder about taking them to the tiny village where I was an au pair, but it's a bit far from where we are, and I don't know that it would mean very much to them. Fun to have a peek at it all on Google Earth, though.

Trish Burgess said...

I remember carrying a stereo abroad too - what were we thinking?

I've heard such a lot about Costa Brava recently. Did you meet Jaume Marin at BritMums - from the Costa Brava tourist board? I was meant to go on a blogger trip last year organised by Jaume but couldn't because of Rory's exams. Would love to visit the area.

About Last Weekend said...

You guys were intrepid taking the stereo - that is hilarious!

Gosh that place is idyllic, the seas and the trees, Oh wonderful, sounds like the kids loved it too.

How great you have the Chunnel, Cy complains for days about flights or cars as he can't move around and chunnel would be perfect. I have yet to take it, can't wait

Lisa Sadleir said...

Great post! We too like to revisit places with our children. You see things through different, and often clearer, eyes ;-)
Many moons ago, we worked in l'Estartit and the Isles Medes ... excellent snorkelling there too!
We look forward to returning one day.