Tossa de Mar and Palafrugell, Spain
We were excited to be back in Spain and to be heading to Costa Brava, which is the coastline between Barcelona and France. This area of Catalonia is very scenic with its dramatic coastline, pristine sandy coves, aqua blue Mediterranean water, quaint seaside towns and coastal hiking paths in between. Our good friends Lisa and John Reynolds had recommended it based on their last visit, and another friend Kim Dahlquist had sent us a TV travel show that featured the area, so we were excited to “Feel the Costa Brava”, as the marketing here says and get a break from the heat in the cool Mediterranean Sea.
Our first destination was Tossa de Mar, a small town on a large bay guarded by an impressive medieval castle at one end. It has a beach area around most of the bay, and luckily for us, paddle board rentals. As with many old towns, you can't drive right to your hotel due to the narrow winding streets, but typically you can drop your luggage close by and then go park outside the old town. We knew that going in but getting to the luggage drop off point proved challenging, so we just parked and carried all our stuff through the town in approximately 35C/95F heat! Ugh! (The good news is that Margo doesn't hot flash anymore, she is just hot all the time now!) We finally arrived at our lovely hotel right on the beach. It had an incredible view over the bay and was right beside the castle. It is a family run hotel and the staff was very friendly and welcoming, we really enjoyed our stay (especially the AC).
We lucked out on getting two amazing tickets to the sold-out Sting concert at the Cap Roig Festival in Calella de Palafrugell! The setting was amazing at Jardins de Cap Roig (botanical gardens with approximately 1000 floral species set around a castle/palace from the 1800s) which hangs on the jagged Costa Brava coastline. The festival is held on an open-air stage within the 17 hectares of garden facing the Mediterranean Sea and with only 2000 seats, it is quite the special place to see! For a guy who is 67 years old, Sting puts on an amazing concert! He did all his old Police hits, Roxanne, Message in a Bottle, Every Little thing She Does is Magic, Walking on the Moon to name a few, along with some of his own songs, new and old. Margo and I could not have asked for a better evening, within an incredible setting....well other than the time I saw the Police 35 years ago with Marc Perras and Don Rawson in Edmonton!
Beating the heat on our paddle boards gave us some great views of the coves and beaches around Tossa de Mar. We enjoyed paddling through the coves along the coast, which at times was like paddling through tall canyons. One got so narrow we had to lift the boards over to get through. The cool blue water was pretty nice too!
We moved on to Palafrugell next, a town further up the coast about 4 km inland. It is very central to all the beaches and things to visit in the area, but we did miss not being right on the water, especially given the heat. It was a very cool penthouse apartment with a large terrace, newly renovated in an old building in traditional Spanish style. Palafrugell is a cozy, fun little town, with a vibrant street market held every morning. We enjoyed the vibe of the town.
We found an amazing enoteca (wine shop) full of fabulous food and of course tons of Spanish wines from every region of the country. I was expressing my excitement to Henry (who I found out after that he was the owner) over the selection of wines when he said what I believe would translate into "you ain't seen nothing"! He proceeded to call one of his assistants over to take us through the velvet ropes at the back of the store that lead to a set of stairs down to the real goods in the cellar. Wow, I was blown away by the amount of wine, not only from Spain but all around the world that he had collected in this massive cellar below the stairs. Some incredible wines and some excellent vintages. I asked him if we could open a few, he just laughed, I was serious! Need to spend a little more time getting to know Henry and then just maybe...
The access to picturesque beaches in Costa Brava seemed to be endless. We headed out to Tamariu to see how the paddle boarding was in this region of the coast and it did not disappoint! Tamariu was 10km/6mile drive from Palafrugell tucked neatly into a postcard picture cove. The water was so translucent that it was like looking into an aquarium, crystal clear to see every sea creature and plant. We paddled along the coast which had a walking trail that ran about 5km/3.1miles in either direction. We never got a chance to walk it, but I can only imagine how wonderful the views would be. The paddling was outstanding in the coves, it was however a little challenging paddling through the rollingwaves in the open sea when we paddled to the next cove, but it was worth all the effort!
Llafranc was another fabulous town on the sea, (minutes from Palafrugell) with a sandy beach and a beautiful promenade to stroll along in the evening.
Very close by is Calella de Palafrugell, an easy 15 minute walk from Llafranc. This is where the Sting concert was held as well.
Karin and Hans Peter (the Dutch couple we met in Montpellier) were vacationing with their daughters in Llafranc and invited us out for a wonderful dinner full of great stories and laughs. Thank you very much for treating us to dinner! Karin has a very interesting profession as a "Sub Judge" in the high court for social security cases in Holland. She reviews all the facts and details from cases that are appealed by Dutch citizens, determines the outcome and sends her findings to the Judge to review and give the final verdict. It was very interesting to learn about her role and the process. (I hope I explained this correctly Karin). Hans Peter in a plastic surgeon and gave me a great technical run down on all the parts that severed in my arm when I accidentally slit my wrist 18 years ago in Canmore. Their daughters Anne-Laure (first year med student) and Fleurine (in high school) were great to talk to and find out what life is like for teenagers/young adults in the Netherlands. Did I mention they spoke excellent English?! We had to talk pets and they have two rabbits at home named, Blue and Berry! Karin and Hans Peter have traveled extensively and were able to give us a “thumbs up” or “you might want to think about that idea” on places we will be traveling to during our yearlong adventure. It’s incredible to get firsthand information like that, it is so helpful, especially when they seem to enjoy similar things to us. They are a wonderful family and we hope to meet up with them again sometime, somewhere!
You can't go to the beach every day, well you can but we thought we would have a day of culture. Based on a recommendation from Lisa and John Reynolds, we headed to the medieval town of Pals about 15 minutes from Palafrugell. Pals is a gorgeous walled city that we guided ourselves on a walking trip with 9 points of interest. The sites included a clock tower that was built between the 11th and 13th century, the towers of the town wall that date back to 4th century and of course a church dating back to the 12th century! There were many restaurants and dozens of shops that we had to look in! It was the epitome of a quaint medieval village. Karin and Hans Peter recommended an amazing restaurant nearby in the village of Palau-Sator. Very traditional Spanish restaurant from décor to the menu. Clearly, we were too busy eating and forgot to take pictures! If you are nearby, don't miss this little gem!
Enough culture (and heat), back to the beach! We made three trips to Pladja de Roca which was a 25-minute drive from our apartment. (Pladja is beach in Catalan). The beach was different then the coved beaches we had been visiting. This beach stretched for 5km/3miles and had a very nice sandy beach. Both of our trips paddle boarding was wonderful. We enjoyed early morning paddles with the sea as calm as glass, it would have been great water skiing as well. The sea life was quite abundant, with a huge amount of Jellyfish in some area. Not the Manowar version of Jellyfish! Margo got some great pictures of them and it reminded us of the video she took at the aquarium in Monaco, which we included below. The local renter of paddle boards, Lewis had great local knowledge of where to paddle and not. He recommended an awesome paddle that was 2 hours return to wonderful coves and beaches. We set out given his advice and realized that we might not be as strong of paddle-boarders as we thought when the 2-hour trip took us 3.5 hours given the strong winds and waves we encountered; we were tired but enjoyed the paddle. We told Lewis about the strong winds we came into and he looked at us quite puzzled. We thought our trip was lost in translation until Lewis said slowly, "you didn't go around the Cape?" Aw, yes, we did, we overshot the directions hence the 3.5-hour paddle! If Lewis was Italian, he would have said, "Mama Mia!" as he explained how dangerous it was for us to have gone around the Cape....not that slow of paddleboarders after all!
Close by are two other spectacular beach coves, Sa Tuna and Aiguafreda (~cold water):
Seafood and meat paella from Restaurant Solimar (~sun and sea), right on the beach and highly recommended by Lewis. They specialize in rice, fish and Mediterranean cuisine using all local products from the sea and land. We had driven by fields that looked like rice paddies but didn’t know what they were until we ate at Solimer and learned that they used locally grown rice for their famous paella. Apparently people travel from Barcelona to have their paella, lucky for us we able to snag a table for two!
Of course we met some wonderful Spanish dogs: Cooper, a Spanish Water Dog, really! Here I thought the only water dog breed was Portuguese! Enzo's owner was a very proud Italian who made sure that I knew Enzo was named after the famous car designer Enzo Ferrari! Enzo was quite a sharp looking dog, not quite as sleek as a Ferrari thought, a few too many treats!