Costa Brava: To visit, or not to visit?

We were wined, dined, and fêted. The entire region was open to us like an oyster – a gold-gilded oyster, with a big, fat pearl. We stayed at luxury hotels, were led about by the region’s best guides, fed until we couldn’t eat another bite, plied with insider tips, thrilled by hot air balloon rides and cycling adventures, and drowned in delicious local wine, cava (sparkling wine), and a particularly dangerous flaming rum concoction called cremat.


A flaming cremat

A flaming cremat


So this is the point in the story where I would naturally tell you that the Costa Brava region is really fab, and you should go visit as soon as you get a chance. And you’d forgive me for losing my objectivity because, after all, I’m only human.


But no, I’m not going to recommend that you visit.


You should move there.


A sudden and serious immigration influx is probably not what the earnest, kind-hearted people at the Costa Brava Tourism Board had in mind when they welcomed me with open arms (and yes, in my own private imaginings, that’s how influential this blog is). But perhaps they should have thought through the logical consequences of their actions.


This region of Spain’s Catalonia province has – in the technical language of our industry – got it going on.


Obviously it’s a fantastic place to visit (in fact, it made the list of National Geographic’s “Best of the World 2012”). Are you a foodie? An art lover? An adventure-outdoorsperson? A sun worshiper? A history buff? There’s something for every interest and a hospitality industry that is no joke. If great service in well-appointed boutique hotels and renovated palaces is as much of a joy to you as it is to me, you’ll have a tough time narrowing your choices.


Interior Palau lo Mirador hotel in Torroella de Montgrí

Inside the Palau lo Mirador hotel in Torroella de Montgrí


But there’s something about the region that elevates it above holiday status and into the realm of expat fantasy. It’s eminently livable, a quintessential Mediterranean destination that feels undiscovered yet inviting, traditional and progressive.


Have you ever been to, say, a vineyard in Northern California designed to look like someplace in Tuscany, and you feel transported even though you know you’re still at home? This is the same, but reversed: you know you’ve found the real deal, and yet it feels as comfortable and convenient as what you’re used to. Best of all, there’s enthusiasm. It’s in the midst of a reinvention upswing, buzzing with energy and optimism.


If you don’t have a clear picture in your mind about the Costa Brava region, think Provence, with its stone cottages and rolling hills, blend in some Spanish siestas and late-night dining, back it with the Alps, and line it with a Mediterranean coastline that rivals the best of France and Italy. For good measure, populate it with friendly people blessed with an innate sense of cool and a tremendous eye for design who are so proud of their unique and tiny paradise that they automatically share all their best secrets with anyone interested enough to ask.


While parts of the coastline have unfortunately been plagued with the same overdevelopment found on southern Spanish coasts, it is still possible to find pristine areas thanks to the craggy rocks that shelter secluded coves and inspire the region’s name: “the Rugged Coast.” And just five minutes inland you can find towns that look like they’ve never seen a tourist (more on that in the weeks ahead).


Costa Brava coastline by night

coastline by night


Whether you would consider relocating permanently or just want to vacation in an up-and-coming destination, I’ll close with 7 fast facts to pique your interest:


  • With over 300 sunny days a year, winters stay mild near the coast. However, you can literally ski in the Pyrenees in the morning and be on the beach by the afternoon.


  • Southern Europe’s first particle accelerator is located in Catalonia, as well as two of Microsoft’s innovation centers.


  • Barcelona, easily one of the top cultural capitals of Europe, is the province’s capital and home to one of Europe’s busiest and best-connected airports. But why venture abroad? Spain is Europe’s most diverse country, so there will be plenty to see in your own backyard.


  • Thanks in large part to the vision of El Bulli’s Ferran Adria, this area leads the world in gastronomical innovation. Think molecularly infused proteins, unexpected ingredients, and whimsical presentation. However, virtually all local chefs credit the rich diversity of traditional Catalan cuisine as their inspiration.


  • Surrealist Salvador Dali called the Costa Brava home, and artists still flock to the area for its culture and beautiful light. Barcelona alone has a whopping 50 design schools.


  • The Ebre Delta is one of the most important wetlands in the Mediterranean and home to half of the Mediterranean’s bird species. There’s a complex system of nature trails for cycling or hiking help you explore the rest of the region’s natural areas, too.


  • As the wealthiest province of Spain, Catalonia has a high standard of living, and prices are elevated compared to many other parts of the country, though still lower than many places in Europe. This prosperity fuels the (peaceful) separatist movement, which hopes to bring about “Europe’s next independent state.” In turn, the mood of independence translates to a very strong sense of community.


Do you know other interesting facts for Catalonia or the Costa Brava region? Share them with other readers below:


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Where is the Costa Brava?

The region known as the Costa Brava occupies just less than 2,300 square miles of the northeastern corner of the Iberian Peninsula. It is separated from France by the Pyrenees.



  1. As a lover of rum, the rum concoction sounds decadent! On another note, Spain is in a lot of turmoil economically. What did you hear from the inhabitants of the Costa Brava?

  2. The economic turmoil is a huge contributor to the region’s separatist leanings. Although there is a long history independent of central Spain and therefore independence has always been a topic of conversation, these cries are vastly amplified during times of economic crisis. Catalonia sees itself unduly burdened by the less-prosperous provinces to the south, reflecting the same north-south conflict you see throughout many areas of our hemisphere.

  3. OK, you’ve convinced me. I want to move there!

  4. I laughed when I read your article. I’m on my way back there in two days to stay three more weeks. And yes, it’s to see if I might want to move there.

  5. Wow! I want you to be my tour guide!

  6. @Barbara – I thought of you when I wrote it!

  7. @Jessica – Now there’s an added incentive: right when I posted this, Spain announced plans to give away residency to foreign home buyers. Things that make you go hmmmmmm

  8. I love your blog. It’s great seeing people take the plunge and follow what truly makes them happy.

  9. Sincere thanks, Mike. I look forward to reading more of yours, too

  10. Residency if you buy a house?! Uh oh, gotta go make an adjustment to my life goal plans! Let’s see… take spanish class, get real estate listings, practice drinking flaming alcohol and getting used to all elements of the good life… what else… 🙂

  11. Great post, guys! We know how fortunate we are to call this region “home”. Glad to hear you had such a wonderful visit. I’ve shared your post on our company Facebook page (Spanish Trails Adventure)…thanks!

  12. Spanish Trails – You are indeed blessed! Thank you for sharing our post, and keep up the good work 🙂

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