The peoples of the Mediterranean have a long history with invasions that stretches back millennia—recall the Vikings, and the Moors. In recent years, though, the marauding invaders generally tend to be English, Germans, or other sun-starved northern Europeans benton catching the rays that are in such short supply back home. Hence, their favorite destination is inevitably Spain, meaning that in most of the country, come summer, the sun-drenched beaches are overrun with desperate tourists, and the search for a towel-sized piece of real estate can often be in vain. But the Spaniards have been dealing with invasions for a long time, and they’re not about to have their summer plans spoiled by throngs of Brits. The wily Spaniards have an alternative plan, and it goes by the name of Costa Brava. Less than two hours north of Barcelona by car, Costa Brava is where the sea and the mountain melt into each other, creating picturesque little coves that are crowd-proof hidden natural secrets – even, remarkably, in August.
Timing is of the essence. One week is just right—neither too rushed nor too languorous for a road trip through this below-the-radar summer paradise. Striking out from the Catalan capital and start plying the coast to explore medieval pueblos. The locals say that up-close, the area resembles the Provence. But in truth, there’s really no comparison: Here, the sea puts the Côte d’Azur’s to shame, and the (chilly) water is a shade of warm blue that Pantone has yet to trademark.Start in Calella de Palafrugell, heading to Llafranc and then on to Aigua-xellida, Aigua Blava, Sa Tuna, and, finally, Aiguafreda, where the excellent Sa Rascassa restaurant, with its fantastic tomato salad with ventresca tuna, awaits.
There is beauty in this countryside, with its stone villages where time and the wind defy civilization and its implacable march. Gems sparkle up and down the road: Don’t miss the historical hulls of Begur, Pals and Peratallada, where Gloria Perez, the sunny owner of Mas Rabiol hotel welcomes you with a meal produced from ingredients that have traveled exactly zero kilometers. On the way to your three-star hotel, it’s worth a detour to Palamós to check out local vendors like Venimdelblau, a Mecca of raw cotton clothes, as well as La Bisbal d’Empordà’s ceramics. (Look for Annick Galimont tiny shop, in Carrer De L'Aigüeta.) After nightfall, dinner at hotel Mas de Torrent is a must. The hotel is under the tutelage of Fina Puigdevall, chef at Le Cols d’Olot, the Michelin 2-star that has helped turn nearby Girona into one of Spain’s top gourmet epicenters, after San Sebastián.
Finally, you’ll come to the the end of the road. A stone’s throw from the border with France, you’ll hit the two most important cities on the Costa Brava—Figueres and Cadaqués. Figures has the distinction of being the birthplace of Salvador Dalí, and the small city now houses both a museum dedicated to the celebrated Surrealist and his foundation, which is housed in building—embellished with giant eggs and pieces of bread that crown the façade—that was designed by the artist himself.
Neighboring Cadaqués was Dalí’s seaside refuge. (It was also Picasso’s, Duchamp’s and Miró’s).Colorful, delicate, and romantic, it’s a den of narrow streets, houses and boats, bougainvilleas, and cats, which appear to be expectantly awaiting the day’s meal to materialize from the kitchens of what happen to be the region’s best restaurants. Ferran Adrià broke the secret to the world with hisnow-shuttered El Bulli, which captured the title of World’s Best restaurant for five years running. Adrià’s contemporary, Mateu Casañas, has since taken up the mantle, with his Compartir restaurant serving up the famous liquid olives that explode in your mouth—a masterpiece of molecular culinary that could only have been born in the breeding ground for Surrealisms of all forms.
Where to Stay: Mas Rabiol (masrabiol.com), El Far (hotelelfar.com)
Where to eat: Mas de Torrent (hotelmastorrent.com), Sa Rascassa (hotelsarascassa.com), Compartir (compartircadaques.com)
What to Buy: Annick Galimont’s ceramics (annickgalimont.wixsite.com/ceramics), Venimdelblau’s raw cotton pieces (facebook.com/Venimdelblau)