Exploring Costa Brava and Girona, Spain
By Kerwin McKenzie
I had never heard about this region until I visited in June of last year; although I think National Geographic mentioned it as one of the places to visit in 2012 and they were right. The Girona-Costa Brava region has a lot to offer and is worth visiting.
Girona is located just about an hour north of Barcelona by car in the Catalonia area of Spain at a distance of about 103 kilometers (64 miles).
How to Get There
The Costa Brava area is easily accessible by a few methods:
Air – The Girona Airport is served by low-cost carrier Ryanair as well as Transavia, Thompson, and the national carrier of Spain, Iberia. The airport is easily accessible by bus, which takes you into the bus station in Girona.
Bus – Girona has a bus station located at the train station and one located at the Girona Airport. From the former there are local buses that run to the rest of the Girona-Costa Brava area, including the airport. There is even a bus to Andorra. From the airport station, you can get buses to Barcelona for €15 one-way and €25 return (Barcelona Bus). The bus to Girona city takes 10 to 15 minutes and costs €2.65 one-way and €5.10 return. Additional information can be found here:
The regional bus system is operated by Sarfa, from about €6 to €7. You can pay on the buses or at the tourist offices located in the cities along the coast.
Car – You can rent a car and drive the entire journey.
Rail – Spanish Railway operator, Renfe, runs between Barcelona Sants and Girona with frequent schedules. Visit the website for pricing and schedules.
What to Do
So what is there to do in Costa Brava region? Plenty. From the beaches of Roses to the mountains of the Pyrenees you will find there are many things to do for everyone. If you don’t want to leave the city of Girona, don’t worry, as you have lots of choices.
The city is picturesque with a few bridges—one of which was built by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame—running across the river that flows through the city. In addition, the Cathedral of Girona is a must see, plus you can sit on its steps and enjoy a view of the city and its people.
There are plenty of cobblestone streets in the old city so wear comfortable shoes as you explore. If you are a fan of Jewish history, Girona does not disappoint with its Jewish Quarter. Get a tour guide, though; it is much better as this way you can understand the history and check out the spots you would have normally missed if you were on your own. Just stop by the tourist office in town before you set out.
The city is full of surprises; there’s even an Arab Bath, which, although it is no longer used, gives you a flavor of the city back then. Get your cameras ready for this one.
Once you’ve seen enough of Girona—which will take some time by the way—you might want to venture out a bit. Remember, you can take a bus from the Girona bus station to almost everywhere in the region. If you want more control over your journey, then renting a car is perhaps your best choice.
Beaches – There is no shortage of beaches here since you are on the Mediterranean coast. Start in Roses and work your way down. In addition to buses, there are catamarans that run up and down the coast for a minimal cost.
Bike Riding/Hiking – The area has many hiking trails and national parks (Cap de Creus National Park is my favorite). At many of them, such as the Lake of Banyoles, you can rent electric bicycles if you don’t feel like pedaling. There are no bikes in Creus though; you have to walk, but it’s worth it.
Kayaking – The Fluvià River is located in Sant Pere Pescador and eventually joins the Mediterranean Sea at the estuary. When I visited, it was low tide so we were able to pull up on the riverside, then walk on sand and take a dip in the Mediterranean. Simply incredible. It was my first time kayaking so we had a class given by the tour company before we put on life jackets and entered our boats. You can rent a single or a two-person canoe depending on your needs. Bring your suntan lotion regardless of when you go, as there is zero shade in the area.
Museums – One cannot talk about this region and not mention one of its most famous residents: Salvadore Dalí. The Dalí Museum is located in Figueres, which is accessible by bus. His house, for which you will need a car to access, is now a museum in Portlligat. I did not make it to Figueres, but I did make it to Portlligat, and to be in the same house where Dalí lived is remarkable. Of all the sights there I enjoyed the old sundial the most and had fun trying to read it.
Sky Diving – The area is also known for skydiving so if you want a thrill—not to mention a view of the Bay of Roses—this is one of the most famous places to do it.
What to Eat
The region is a food paradise. There are local markets in Girona to visit, including the Saturday market where you can get fresh produce and fruits. Every corner seems to have a pastry shop, and the tapas are just to die for. You will have no trouble finding a place to eat in this region. If you get a chance, check out *lavinyeta Wineries or at least try a bottle of their wine.
Where to Stay
The area has countless accommodations, from hostels to bed-and-breakfasts to hotels. You can even go camping in one of the many campgrounds in the area. Just choose your favorite accommodation booking website or check the Girona Tourist Board website for details. On my visit, I stayed at the following places:
Equity Point Hostel, Girona – If you want a cheap place to stay literally in the heart of the city, this might be for you. The rooms are dorm-style with usually about four to 10 beds per room; toilets and bathroom are shared but are just down the hallway. The hostel does not have a washing facility but will direct you to one not too far away. Wi-Fi and breakfast are free, although you can’t get Wi-Fi from every room; it is available in the main lobby as well as the terrace. Some rooms have a balcony so you have spectacular views of the city below and in front of you. There is a terrace where you can relax, have a cocktail, and do nothing if you so desire.
Hotel Empúries, L’Escala – This is an eco-friendly hotel with spectacular views of the Mediterranean. It is a short walk to the quaint town of L’Escala, which is easily accessible by bus from the Girona bus station. If you want peace and quiet with a garden view and the Mediterranean in the background ask for a cabana, otherwise stay in a room with a view of the Mediterranean; it’s hard to choose which one you want. Did I mention the hotel comes with a spa? It’s an additional charge, but if you need a little extra, it’s there for you. Next door to the hotel is the Ruins at Empuries from the days when the Greeks and Romans co-existed in the area. The only thing I hated about the area is that I had to leave.
Hotel Terraza, Roses – This hotel and spa, although not directly on the beach, is just a short way away. It is easily accessible by bus, and you can arrange a hotel transfer from Girona at the time of booking.
Hotel Rural Mas del Joncar – To get to this this quaint wife-and-husband-run bed-and-breakfast, you do need a car. Located in Sant Pere Pescador, this is a house with many rooms, and one of them is yours. There are also outside cabins and a swimming pool. Best of all, enjoy a meal made with love by the owner couple. I did not get a chance to stay there, but the owners made our group lunch and showed us the property. Based on those two factors, I’d recommend staying there.
I thoroughly enjoyed Girona, and I know you will, too, so think Girona on your next European visit.
Additional information: You can contact the Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona Tourist Board at Av. Sant Francesc, 19 – 4t – 17001 GIRONA | Tel. +34 972 20 84 01 | Fax +34 972 22 15 70. The tourist board, which can also be found on Facebook, is more than happy to help you discover the region.