Spain’s ruggedly beautiful Costa Brava, the sunny “Wild Coast” stretches for 160 km along Catalonia’s northeastern shores from Port Bou on the Franco-Spanish border to Tossa del Mar just north of Barcelona. Lined with green hillsides, craggy, wild cliffs, sandy inlets and caves, this is an adventure travelers paradise, where all manner of water sports, cycling and hiking are found.
The rugged coastline is dotted with lovely resorts interposed with unspoilt fishing villages and vibrant marinas. Exploring the hidden delights of the craggy coastline by boat, you discover deserted pine and citrus scented coves, ancient castles and fortifications.
On this jagged coast, L”Estartit is a diver’s heaven with an abundance of wrecks to explore in the crystalline waters. Just a mile offshore, the Medes Islands, a small archipelago of seven islets and a few reefs, features one of the richest marine reserves in the Mediterranean. Here, snorkelers and divers of every level delight in the thousands of fish and plant species that inhabit the submarine caves and crevices. To the south, Tossa del Mar, with its 12th Century walled town, its narrow, twisting streets and its lovely sandy beaches is one of the most attractive of the coastal villages and offers excellent opportunities for windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling and boating.
On the northern coast, Figueres, the birthplace of Salvador Dali, houses a most unique museum created by the artist – a surrealistic fuchsia building topped with gigantic golden eggs. Dali is buried here in an unmarked crypt. Just a few miles away, Cadaques, Dali’s childhood home, is the epitome of a postcard-perfect Catalan seaside village, with its striking white houses with tiled red roofs, its splendid old church and winding cobblestone streets to the backdrop of towering mountains and the cobalt blue sea. Situated on a breathtaking bay, Rosas, Catalonia’s oldest town was a Greek trading post over 2000 years ago. Across the bay, the village of Empuries is the site of many ancient, romantic cultures: Originally a small Phoenician trading post, it was replaced by the Greek colonial village of Emporio in the 6th century BC and 4 centuries later it had become a Roman naval port. The ruins of an acropolis and of beautiful Greek and Roman villas dot the area.
Away from the coast, a very different Spain greets you. Here, you’re deep in Catalonia, with its ancient traditions and ambiance. Banyoles, a historic lakeside town north of Girona dates from 812, has developed around a Benedictine monastery. Its old town is crammed with fascinating ancient buildings centered on a lovely arcaded square, and its lake offers every kind of boating, from rowing to pedal boats.
En route from the Pyrenees to Barcelona, Girona, an unspoilt, more intimate urban center than its sister, Barcelona, is a quaint ancient city founded by the Romans which later became a Moorish stronghold. The meandering Onyar River runs through the town, flanked by pastel-colored houses from the Middle Ages perched on the site of the old city walls. This charming, medieval town, with its genuine Gothic character, has a present-day personality rooted in the Middle Ages. Wandering around its winding, old cobblestone streets, you suddenly discover a section of ancient Roman ramparts, or at another turning a magnificent 12th century cathedral or the ruins of the 12th century Arab baths. The “Call”, the old Jewish quarter, is a wonderful characteristic labyrinth of steep streets and ancient buildings, a perfectly preserved enclave which was the heart of Jewish life in the north and the seat of the Iberian Hebrew intellectual, Rabbi Moses Maimonides.