Game of Thrones, Segwaying and sunshine: Discover Costa Brava and Costa Barcelona
A trip to the lesser-known areas of Costa Brava and Costa Barcelona, which include some stunning coastal towns dotted around Barcelona itself, will open your eyes to the hidden beauty of these regions.
Situated just an hour north of Barcelona city is Lloret de Mar, the region’s second most-visited tourist area. Lloret combines the nightlife and culinary offerings of Barcelona with a more reserved feel, with a much calmer pace of life than its frantic neighbour to the south.
The magnificent Santa Clotilde gardens are located just minutes from the centre of Lloret. The Italian-style Renaissance gardens offer panoramic views of the rugged Costa Brava coastline – be careful, though, you might just see an enthusiastic local jogging on the beach while working on his all-over body tan.
Santa Clotilde’s main attraction are the gardens themselves, of course. Elegantly-crafted hedges line hidden paths woven through the gardens, providing ample entertainment for curious children, while impressive statues adorn the ivy-coated stairways. For the entry price of €5, you can enjoy the gardens in their entirety for the day while informative guided tours are also available from the town’s tourist office.
A view of the private houses surrounding the Santa Clotilde gardens
A quick drive up the coast brings you to Tossa de Mar, though you may want to take your time to enjoy the amazing views from the road which is carved into the hilltop that separates the two towns.
The oldest part of Tossa, Villa Vella, is contained within the old walls of a castle. From here, you can walk to the town’s highest point to look down upon the gleaming ocean which laps onto Tossa’s main beach.
The town has two more beaches, both of which are sure to be choc-full during high season. Like all the coastal regions surrounding Barcelona, the sun still splits the stones well into October in Tossa.
Avoiding the town in August for a more peaceful, spacious break later in the year is advisable – as is making the trip to the historic area where the region’s signature dish, Cim y Tomba, is a must-try. Combining an Irish favourite, the humble spud, with a thick, tasty Mediterranean sauce, it is almost the Spanish seafood version of a homemade stew.
A view from Villa Vella onto the main beach in Tossa de Mar
Another half-hour down the road will bring you to S’Agaro, a small coastal village that possesses an absolutely stunning coastal walk. It is sort of similar to one of the many coastal walks on our emerald isle, though the painted wall running along the full length of the wide path provides makes you feel much safer than those times when a skimpy fence is the only thing between you and the water.
The Balearic Sea glistens on one side of the six-kilometre walk, while great mansions protrude from the other. At the end of the spectacular path, you reach a small beach which provides the perfect resting spot for weary legs.
Not far from S’Agaro and just over an hour from Barcelona is the city of Girona – if you have ever flown with Ryanair on a trip to the Catalan capital, you will probably know Girona’s airport well. There is no question, however, that Girona is well worth a visit before making your way to Barcelona itself.
While the kids will be delighted that both Nestle and Haribo have factories in the area, Girona’s real surprise lies in the fact that parts of the latest season of Game of Thrones was filmed in the city.
Any of the city’s tour guides will be able to lead you the exact location of the filming, where the likes of Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) and John Bradley-West (Samuel Tarly) were involved in some of the series’ most memorable scenes.
A small building just off the rising stone stairway leading to the city’s Cathedral (which is the High Sparrow’s headquarters in King’s Landing), contains huge HBO images of all the scenes filmed in Girona. Make sure you’ve seen Season 6 before entering, even though it is bereft of serious spoilers.
Upstairs, lifesize replicas of White Walkers lurk in dark crevices while some of the most dazzling wardrobe choices in Game of Thrones hang elegantly, including Jon Snow’s Castle Black coat. Unfortunately, you cannot try them on.
A replica of Jon Snow's infamous Game of Thrones coat
Just outside the city walls, Girona is an expanse of greenery that offers great opportunities for walking and cycling, for those who like a bit of adventure on their excursions. The John Lennon gardens, so-named by a former Mayor of Girona and avid Beatles fan, sit just behind the Saint Miguel castle.
Over a kilometre of walking can be done around the city walls, which offers tourists some incredible views of a truly beautiful city. When you’re in need of some sustenance after trekking around Girona, tapas in El Boira or any of the city’s cafes are recommended to get a real taste of the local cuisine.
Situated south of Barcelona is Colonia Guell, a modernist colony originally set up to house a factory and its workers away from the big city and closer to the energy-providing capabilities of the El Llobregat river.
The colony is now a small, thriving town that is famously known for being the home of Gaudi’s crypt. Most people who have been to Barcelona will have visited La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s stunning emblematic temple on which work is still being completed.
Less than a half hour from Barcelona, Colonia Guell houses a lesser-known but still spectacular church created by the “Lionel Messi of architecture”. The crypt’s unrestrained beauty emanates from incredible stained-glass windows, beneath which lie a reserved space quiet clearly crafted by the mind of a genius. Striking stone arches hold up the picturesque ceiling, while a semi-circle of wooden pews face a beautiful altar.
Gaudi’s crypt was one of the factors which helped the famous architect in his plans for La Sagrada Familia, meaning the trip out to Colonia Guell is more than worthwhile for any architecture buffs keen on visiting the crypt’s more illustrious counterpart.
Half an hour south from Colonia Guell is the beautiful seaside town of Sitges, one of the jewels in the Costa Barcelona crown. A commuter town for those working in Barcelona, Sitges is easily accessible from the Catalan capital.
Due to planning laws, the town possesses some beautiful old-style hotels which must remain untouched. As pools and other modern conventions such as elevators can’t be installed in these premises, they are rated as one and two-star hotels.
However, this means you can stay in what are otherwise beautiful accommodations for extremely reasonable prices. With the sun beaming down on the town’s main beach just minutes from most of these businesses, Sitges represents an affordable and advisable visit during your holidays.
Birthplace of Facundo Bacardi, founder of one of the world’s biggest spirit brands, Sitges houses a museum dedicated to the iconic Bacardi rum which includes a cocktail-making masterclass as part of an engaging tour. Despite being a relatively small town, Sitges is also home to three museums including one dedicated to famous Catalan artist Ramon Casas. Offering 300 days of sunshine per year, there’s never really a bad time to pay the thriving town a visit.
A short trip inland from Sitges brings you to Santa fe del Penedes, home of the famous Giro Ribot vineyards. One of the main producers of Cava in Catalonia, Giro Ribot has acres upon acres of vineyards beyond its production site. It also offers one of the more special experiences in Costa Barcelona – a Segway tour through the sprawling vineyards which offers a perspective like no other.
While a €60 outlay might bite the budget a little hard, Segwaying through a vineyard is something your unlikely to get the chance to do again. Carried out by trained professionals, the thrilling tour brings you on a six-kilometre route through the Giro Ribot vineyards.
The view of the vineyards from the factory, where the Segway tour begins
With steep inclines, daring descents and some open road for speedsters, the tour is sure to ramp up your adrenaline while it weaves through the vineyards. Despite all of this, it is extremely safe and watched over by Segway instructors the whole way.
A mid-tour glass of Cava (or two) also helps to calm the nerves. While getting used to the motorised machine for beginners is certainly tricky, you won’t want to step off it by the end of the tour!
For more information on all of these wonderful destinations, go to www.spain.info/en_IE/