We arrived into Barcelona, which is currently the closest airport serving the Costa Brava although they expect Ryanair to recommence a flying programme for summer to Girona which is much closer.
We were blessed with really gorgeous weather during our stay although it was misty in the mornings but it lifted by about 10am
Our first two nights were staying in Girona itself but first of all we had lunch in the Es Blanc, a lovely restaurant overlooking the sea in Blanes. This was our first opportunity to sample the local specialities and the high standard of the cuisine and presentation was consistent throughout our stay. The ref and white wines were also of a very good quality with good Rioja, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
We had a unique opportunity to visit the Cava factory in Mont-Ferrant which is only open to the public for two months of the year. We learnt about the manufacturing process and bottling and storage of Cava. We discovered that a good Cava needs between 2 and 6 years to mature.
In the evening we arrived at AC Palau de Bellavista where we got a very warm welcome from Esther The hotel is in an elevated position overlooking the city of Girona. It is cleverly designed so that when the sun shines, the city also reflects into the side of the glass building. It is a modern hotel with some unique design features including a picture of the riverside on the glass bathroom wall, so it shines through to the bedroom. This hotel had free wi-fi and a free mini bar too. We discovered this is not unusual
Our dinner was at Els Jardins de la Merce. There was a big notice outside saying No Vegis, luckily it means something else in Catalan! We sampled some lovely Catalonian starters and again the ambience and food were excellent.
On Wednesday morning we had another busy day ahead of us. A workshop was organised for us in the Ultonia hotel in the heart of Girona. First we had a tour of the newly refurbished rooms in the hotel and once again they were of a really high standard. We met hoteliers, activity and ground handlers from the Catalonia region including Guitart Monterrey, Hipocrates, Terramar, Emporda Golf, San Jorge of the Silken Group, Hotel Garbi, Petits Gran Hotels, Hotel Santa Marta, Novotel Girona Airport, Nord 1901 – Girona, Burricleta – GPS bikes, Girona Greenways – cycle and walking tours, Tornasol Aventura, Concorsi de Vies Verdes, Gran Casino – Lloret. We had lunch in the hotel which was wonderful.
After our afternoon session we were shown the Palau de Congressos which is the conference centre in Girona which holds up to 1100 people in the largest seated auditorium, and there are two smaller lecture halls. There is also an exhibition hall and a rooftop venue which is suitable for summer events and wedding receptions
In the evening we had a walking tour of Girona. Legend has it that you should kiss the bottom of the lion opposite the cathedral upon entering the city. The trouble is that it is at the top of a pole so for those of us who are vertically challenged, this is not the easiest task, however this is said to extend your life by 10 years so perhaps the effort is worth it. Only the top three figures at the top of the cathedral are original, the rest of the façade is only around 60 years old but it does blend in well. Onwards past the very narrow alleyways of the Jewish Quarter, a very small area of the city.
We had a little time for shopping. There are some lovely shops in Girona but many of these are very familiar designer shops and not really any cheaper than London. Our evening finished with a tour of Carlemany hotel which again was a very high standard and recently refurbished. This is 4* but I have seen many 5* hotels worldwide that are inferior to this. We ate a selection of tapas in the new Indigo restaurant. These included one of the best calamares I have ever had. The Costa Brava region is famous for Gin and Tonic always served in a large bowl glass and each bar has its own techniques but watching it Indigo style is a real work of art, the way they twist the lemons and then pour the tonic round the swizzle stick.
On Thursday morning we were disappointed to see a thick mist hovering over Girona but we were assured by Jesus, our driver that it would lift within the hour. Jesus gave up the option of the scenic route to Garrotxa or the motorway. The scenic route is only about 15-20 mins longer and definitely worth the diversion. By the time we arrived at Lake Banyoles, used for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 the mist lifted right on cue, to reveal a crystal clear lake.
Once we reached Garrotxa, we followed Mike our expert guide originally from Norfolk, on a gentle hike round Croscat the highest volcano in the Iberian peninsula. He usually does school field trips and in fact there was a group of schoolchildren on the volcano at the same time as us but they were very well behaved. Mike told us about the geology, weather patterns and the flora and fauna around the volcano. We learnt that this is one of the few places that cork oaks grow and that they protect the tree from forest fires. We learnt that cork oak barks are stripped every 9 years for cork and then they take another 9 years to regrow. Mike told us that he had lived in the region for 28 years and currently lives in besalu. We recognised this name as being our lunch stop so he told us to spend some more time there.
Once we reached Besalu, we were not disappointed. It is a beautiful walled city and very like some towns across the border, just 20kms away in France, we fully appreciated the extra half hour to browse round the shops and buy handicrafts before stopping at La Curia Reial a restaurant with a beautiful view of the river. Sadly it was time to say goodbye to Jo from Travel Uni and also Chrissy and Polly who all had to go home early for different reasons
The remaining 8 of us went on to Figueres and straight to the Salvador Dali Theatre Museum. This was built on the site of the old burnt out theatre and Salvador Dali thought it was appropriate for him to have his own theatre of surrealism as well as his own burial on site. As it was almost closing time we rushed round the Dali Jewels museum first. The pieces were all commissioned by Dali himself and were all absolutely stunning then we went back to Dali’s Theatre museum. Even though most of the well known paintings are in the Florida museum or in private collections, you still could not fail to be impressed by the ones that remain including his own favourite painting of a simple piece of bread in a basket.
Dinner tonight was in our hotel Duran. Hotel Duran has been owned by the Duran family since 1910 and although only a 3* it is of a very high standard and could easily pass as a 4* but what makes this hotel so special is the restaurant and its associations with Salvador Dali. Our dinner was in an ante room off the main restaurant and we later discovered that were were eating at the very table where Salvador Dali frequently entertained his guests . Salvador Dali and his Russian wife Gala always used this restaurant because he was a friend of the Duran family and even went to school with the current owner’s father. He sometimes sketched in the restaurant on the tablecloth or on paper and these sketches can be seen around the hotel. The Durans have also made notes on their hotel blogspot. The Durans are very proud of their associations with Salvador Dali and are keen to preserve their special and unique heritage.
Friday was sadly to be our last day in the Costa Brava and this was to be a short hike along the coastal path from Calella de Palafrugell to llafranc This is one of many designated and signposted trails both on the coast and in the countryside. This is a short and easy walk although there are quite a lot of stairs. The scenery along the route is stunning and there are wild flowers and a lovely smell of pine. There are a few millionaire homes along the way and we end up in Llafranc which is a pleasant and fairly small resort. The menus are full of local specialities at very reasonable prices and as we were at the tail end of the short sea urchin season we got the chance to sample these as a very special starter before yet another tasty and well presented lunch in the Hotel Llevant in Llafranc.
Even if you did visit Estartit many years ago on a £39 late deal in the early seventies, there is not a hint of the sixties perception of Costa Brava fish and chips and tea like mother makes. It is time for a revisit to a mature and sophisticated region. We were all impressed by the cleanliness and quality of all the hotels and the food and wines we had been served were consistently excellent and so beautifully presented. The Costa Brava is still excellent value and is close and convenient enough for a weekend break or even a multi centre self drive holiday
If you are interested in finding out more and booking a trip to this region pleaase call me on 0845 058 7458