The Travel Issue: Costa Brava in May

Question: where do Europe's most stylish people spend their summer holidays? Elsewhere in this issue you'll find plenty of good suggestions, but when you stop to think, there is really only one answer. It goes like this: which is Europe's most stylish city? Easy, it's Barcelona, of course – everyone knows that. Next: so where do the smartest, most stylish people in Barcelona go when they want to get away?

The answer, you may be surprised to hear, is the Costa Brava – but lest those words conjure visions of package-holiday hell, let us add that we're not talking about any old bit of the Costa Brava, and certainly not that southern sprawl that seems to stretch unbroken from Las Ramblas to the mega-resort of Lloret de Mar. No, we are heading further north, 100km or so from the city, towards the Cap de Begur and beyond, to the area called Baix Emporda, where the terrain gets wilder, and the Costa Brava lives up to its literal meaning of "rugged coast".

Here, rocky headlands break up the beaches, and the road twists and turns through forests of sweet-smelling pine and cork – which clear suddenly to reveal cliff-top views to crystalline coves accessible only by boat, or on foot along the Cami de Ronda, the ancient coastal path that picks its way between the granite crags and turquoise bays. Before long, the concrete Costa of popular memory seems very distant indeed.

And when the road zigzags down to the shore, you emerge blinking from the woods to discover one of Catalonia's great holiday secrets – the hauntingly gorgeous fishing villages of Sa Tuna and, our favourite, Tamariu, with its picture-perfect seafront and glorious crescent of sandy beach. Here, the actual fishermen have long since sold up, and you're more likely to find well-heeled families from Barcelona and Girona parking their 4x4s outside tastefully restored shacks and hillside villas, or taking the air along the tidy prom lined with chic cafés and buzzing restaurants. It's all very relaxed and low-key – you'll search in vain for nightclubs or big-name designer boutiques – but rest assured, this is stealth-wealth, Spanish-style.

We rented the very pretty Villa Chez Nous, a few hundred metres from the beach. With its lush, flower-filled garden and private, gated pool, it made the ideal base for a young family to explore the area – and despite the temptation not to move a muscle, we soon found plenty to do. We made our own tracks along the Cami de Ronda to snorkel in secluded coves; we wandered the botanical gardens at Cap Roig, home to a famous jazz festival; we browsed the market in bustling Palamos and bought cheap pottery in the local capital of La Bisbal; we took a boat to explore the Medes islands, Spain's top marine reserve, and even ventured as far as the brilliantly bonkers Dali Museum in Figueres.

We couldn't (of course!) get a table at El Bulli, Ferran Adria's famous restaurant at Cala Montjol, a little further up the coast, but were left in no doubt that the locals take eating very seriously indeed. At one meal in Sant Feliu de Guixols, we sampled 14 kinds of seafood – from fried baby squid and thin slices of salt cod to the Catalan classics arroz negre, "black rice" coloured with cuttlefish ink, and suquet, the local answer to bouillabaisse. And that was just for lunch.

But despite all these diversions, the impression that sticks is of how unspoiled this corner of Catalonia remains. Baix Emporda may be one of the priciest places in Spain to buy property – but it has miraculously escaped the attention of the northern-European hordes who flock to the coast between Blanes and Tossa de Mar. Perhaps it's the spectacular landscape. Perhaps the locals just want to keep it secret. Who knows? But one day Baix Emporda may even give the Costa Brava a good name.

PCI Holidays (0845 130 1440; http://www.pci-holidays.com/) offers a wide choice of villas and apartments in Tamariu and the surrounding seaside resorts. A 7-night stay at Villa Chez Nous costs £514 in May, rising to £1,700 in August. A number of low-cost airlines fly into Girona (40 minutes' drive away), including Ryanair

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones