Costa Brava: From Tossa de Mar to L'Estartit (Section 1)
Updated: Aug 5, 2020
The first section of the trip lasted a total of 4 nights, in which we visited five different towns. Each town had its own special appeal, and was known for certain things. If you just popped into this post, and are a bit lost, wondering what I’m talking about, I invite you to head to this article: Costa Brava: Tons of Coast, Tons of Bravas (Itinerary).
One thing to note before giving details on the towns of this ‘Southern part of the Costa Brava’, is that we tried to keep the drive as coastal as possible, given that it is what this area of Spain is mostly known for. There were some towns though, that looked so beautiful (and were not too far from the coast) that they deserved a visit. Having said that, we definitely skipped a few locations such as: Lloret de Mar, Sant Feliu de Guixols, Palamós, Girona. These were places that we definitely read about but given our schedule were not able to visit.
Tossa de Mar
This coastal town was our first stop and having driven for a bit longer than an hour, we really wanted to stretch our legs and walk. We stayed at the Hotel Mar Blau, a wonderful small hotel with powerful AC, nice staff and breakfast included. We left the bags at the hotel, then parked the car in a 24-hour Parking that was about 5 minutes away walking. Please make sure that you look for these type of parking lots, as we first went into one, parked, got off the car, and saw a sign that said they closed at 9pm.
Tossa de Mar was a settlement colonized initially by the Romans. In the 12th century, the castle and wall were built to protect the Villa Vella, which is the oldest part of town. This is definitely a place to visit, due to how well it’s preserved, its beautiful streets and the lighthouse at the top. Going up to the castle and into the Villa Vella be done in two ways:
An uphill walk which you will instantly regret if done anytime between 11am and 5pm (too hot).
A little tour bus with wagons that looked super cute and fun but we could not find when we needed it. If you want this option, make sure that you ask for their schedule on the street near the beach where they have a little stand.
Additionally, you can decide to visit some of Caminos de Ronda, sometimes not very easy to walk through but can prove to be an adventure, or a way to get to a nearby Cala if you do not want to drive there. Here are the two Caminos and the nearby Calas that you can find around Tossa de Mar:
Camino de Ronda headed North, which can take you from the playa Grande of Tossa de Mar to two Calas, Cala Bona and Cala Pola.
Camino de Ronda headed South, which starts right at the end of the Villa Vella and has as a first stop Cala Es Codolar, right under the walls of the city. After that, you can climb some stairs (a lot of stairs actually) and get a great view of the ocean. Not sure where this ends though (sorry).
One last thing we definitely recommend doing here is eating, and if you have read this blog before, you knew this was coming, however we emphasize Costa Brava as a place where you will have to try really hard to find a restaurant that disappoints you. Some of our recommendations for restaurants & bars include:
Portal Restaurant: A restaurant that offers a great selection of plates to share with fresh ingredients and a Mediterranean influence.
Bar Cap D’Or: Overlooking the beach, located on the southern part of Passeig the Vila Vella you can find this bar that offers a nice view of the sunset, and good refreshing drinks.
Banys Claudi Bar: In playa Grande you can find this small outdoor bar which serves wonderful mojitos and offers a great view of the sunset over the ocean.
Lima Limón Pisco Bar: You would not expect to search (or find) good Peruvian food in Costa Brava, but this bar offers some wonderful Piscos, as well as delicious ceviches. Don’t forget to try their crispy quinoa croquette!
Pizzeria La Grotta: A famous local spot. For some reason pizza is very popular in the towns around the Costa Brava, and this pizzeria will not disappoint.
This was the longest trip we made into Cataluña, getting far from the coast, but still it was only about a 45 minute drive from Tossa de Mar (shorter if you drive from Begur). It was completely worth it, as the town offers a good selection of restaurants within a beautiful feudal façade that has been preserved perfectly since the medieval times. The town is small, therefore easy to walkthrough in an afternoon.
Our main recommendation here is to try one of the restaurants for either lunch or dinner, but do not miss the Gelat Artesá de Peratallada, a curious ice cream store that elaborates artisanal ice cream with exotic yet delicious flavours.
After our two nights in Tossa de Mar we moved to Begur, and stayed at Alta House Hotel, a boutique hotel with an amazing pool and a rooftop terrace. Both were amenities that we used, given the pleasant weather at this time a year. Definitely recommended, especially for couples.
The town stands atop of a hill, 20 minutes away from the nearest beach by car, and surrounded by a contrast of greenery and rocks. It all surrounds Begur castle, constructed in the 11th Century by Arnust de Begur, and was used a few centuries later to fight off pirates. To be honest, we did not go up the hill, as we were not very keen of walking on uphill slopes, but I am sure the view is spectacular.
An interesting place to visit in the center of town is the Church of Saint Peter (Iglesia de San Pedro) which holds a gothic style. From here you can walk and get lost in the streets of the old city center, stop for some tapas or a caña and maybe even shop from some of the local designers. On Wednesdays, the city holds a farmers market that is a must-see if you happen to be in town during that time.
Some of the places we recommend for food and drink are:
Alta House Rooftop: Great views of the city, and perfect for sunset during the summer.
Fonda Caner: Great Catalonian restaurant that offers the best of local cuisine.
Citric: Wonderful local lounge for some cozy drinks.
Tothora: A decent place for breakfast, or a coffee if you’re in need of a quick start to your morning.
Toc al Mar: Located in Platja Cala Aiguablava, this restaurant is 10 minutes away by car from Begur and offers wonderful arroces (rice dishes), perfect to share, and many other authentic Catalunyan plates.
This town is the most important stop in the Costa Brava. Ok, maybe I’m a bit biased, because I not only fell in love with the streets, the architecture and the way the light fell on the horizon, I also fell in love with a restaurant, and a specific dish.
The town of Pals has a been famous for its rice-plantations since the 15th Century. It could be argued that Pals is one of the best examples of a medieval town in the Mediterranean territory. This is shown by its walls, castle, watchtowers and churches. The best time to visit Pals is for sunset, as you will be able to walk the town while sunlight wanes down. For sunset, sit at any of the outdoor bars, or go to the Mirador Josep Pla which has a great view of the fields, extending all the way to L’Estartit and the Medes Islands.
The last thing you must do in Pals is eat. For this, there is ONE restaurant, and ONE restaurant only in which you need to make a reservation: Restaurant El Pedró. I might be hyping this up for you… but your expectations shall be met. The restaurant is owned by a family: the father tends to the bar, the mother and younger brother tend to the cuisine, with her doing the classical dishes and him focusing on more modern twists, and the older brother will most likely receive you and greet you at your table. The food in this restaurant was wonderful, from the meat to the varied desserts, and you will leave satisfied. The plate that I fell in love with was the Patatas Bravas… I consider these to be the best I have had in my life, and even though I have only been in Spain for under two years, I have tried a good amount of them. These were so good that I almost ordered a second round for dessert (now I regret that I didn’t).
In L’Estartit you will most likely feel that you have found yourself into a tourist trap of a town (and you might be right), but the reason we send you here is to explore the ocean, and the Medes Isles. The islands are small, but were used as a pirate refuge in the past. Now, they are a protected area, given the coral reef that can be found underwater and the different creatures that inhabit it. If you are into scuba diving, snorkeling or Kayaking, I would recommend to do it with Medaqua, a great local company that offers their services in various languages. I will also mention that this is not the most exciting snorkeling I have done, but it was a fun activity to enjoy a different kind of morning.
There is more to this trip, and you can read it here: Second Leg of the Trip. In this post you can read about what to do in Roses & Cadaqués.