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Travel & Holidays in later life


Today the Costa Brava is trying to live down its image as cheap and noisy. Instead, the smaller resorts are promoting their more durable assets - rugged coast, crystal-clear waters, marine reserves, ancient cities, culture and gastronomy. Thirtyfour coves and beaches qualify for Blue Flag status - more than any other Mediterranean area. 

Reg Butler flew to Barcelona, picked up a self-drive Renault and drove two hours via Girona to Llafranc, near Palafrugell. The seaside resort was hard to find on the map, but he made it by nightfall.

When British holidaymakers discovered the Costa Brava in the 1950s, the first shoebox hotels and apartments mushroomed in flat areas ideal for quick building. The glory days of Lloret de Mar swung into lager-happy action. 

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For package holidays, the major tour operators concentrate on resorts like Lloret, Tossa and L'Estartit, where they can make large block bookings. 


For apartment or villa rentals, Holiday Home Rentals have hundreds of peaceful Costa Brava properties on their books.

More information: Spanish National Tourist Office.

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The beach at Llafranc, facing the cliffBut rocky coves and little fishing villages like Llafranc were left almost untouched by the waves of concrete. Instead, much slower development was tightly hemmed in by a pie-dish crescent of steep hills and cliffs.

Along the waterfront at Llafranc are just a few low-profile hotels half-hidden behind a promenade belt of shady palm trees. 

Up the hillsides are villas used as weekend and August retreats for well-off city-dwellers from Barcelona. Spacious campsites are located two or three miles back from the sea.

The off-season atmosphere was tranquil. Llafranc certainly offered no chance of beating it up every night till dawn, though there was mention of a weekend disco in high season. 

At a seafront bar I had a light supper of six freshly-grilled sardines, much larger than the tiddlers which get squeezed into a tin, bread, Catalan omelette and half a litre of red wine. Two waterfront cats came foraging for the bones, which they triumphantly carried off to some secret den. 

Llafranc is more expensive than other parts of Spain but it still won't break the bank. Even so, supermarket prices were the same as elsewhere and on another occassion a litre cardboard box of rosť wine, a long loaf, tomatoes and some sliced Spanish ham made up a tasty picnic. 

I stayed a week at the 3-storey 3-star Hotel Llafranc, located on the waterfront with no lifts, but with friendly reception. Our breakfast waiter was another Manuel of Barcelona. He greeted the German guests with a cheerful "Good morning," the Dutch with "Bon jour" and the English with "Guten Morgen." 

By daylight, Llafranc was very appealing. Sunbathers began settling on the fine golden sand, and fishermen tinkered with their boats. Cliff steps wound up for a seagull's-eye view of the broad, Blue Flag beach.

Prickly Pear on the clifftop Special for walkers, the tourist-office kiosk offered sketch maps of a footpath network into the pine-wooded hills, and out to great walls of limestone cliffs topped by a lighthouse. Cactus clung for dear life to ledges which also doubled as nesting sites for sea-gulls. Far below, tiny boats explored the caves.

Scuba-diving is a popular local activity, with three diving centres in Llafranc. Equipment is easily hired. At weekends Spanish devotees stream in from Girona and Barcelona.

Along this entire coast, there is no heavy industry to pollute the waters. Exploring the coastline, I was charmed by Tamariu - a delightful cove with a half-moon sandy The beach at Tamariu beach. Some snow-white apartments, a small hotel and a few cafes catered for visitors, with another diving school. 

Even fewer facilities were available at a cove called Aiguafreda - cold water. Here is the Ses Negres Marine Reserve for fish and biodiversity. Only small sailing boats and kayaks are permitted access. Scuba-diving, fishing, anchoring, use of motor engines and spear-fishing are banned. 

Further up the coast, L'Estartit is closer to the traditional image of a family-style Costa Brava resort, with the flatter terrain spread with lines of hotels, apartments and beachfront restaurants. There's three miles of sandy beach.

But L'Estartit now also qualifies as a nautical resort, offering all marine sports, including a dozen diving centres. The underwater activities have grown in recent years, thanks to creation of a marine reserve around the Medes Islands, located just offshore. 

Based on Llafranc, my 7-day exploration of the Costa Brava was possible only with a self-drive car. Bus transport was spasmodic. 

A fortress tower at TossaFor anyone without wheels, Tossa de Mar would be a better bet - an attractive medium-size resort, two Blue Flag beaches, a bus station, plentiful boat trips and coach excursions to Barcelona, Girona and Figueres. 

The fortified old town, with its walls and turrets, cobbled streets and flowers everywhere, is the best man-made highlight along the entire coastline. For anyone desperate for discos, Lloret de Mar is eight winding, hilly miles away - well out of earshot from Tossa.

Consider these alternative Spanish destinations:

CATALONIA - the inland and coastal riches

MADRID - why you should go off-season

MALLORCA - Breakaway to the Spanish grandee rural life

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Costa Brava Insight Pocket Guide - Features 18 recommended itineraries, along the coast and inland, with a pull-out map.

Lonely Planet: Catalunya and the Costa Brava  by Damien Simonis - An in-depth guide that looks deeper into the culture and background of the entire province of Catalonia, including good coverage of the capital, Barcelona. 

Detail Map: Costa Brava - an essential road map for the self-drive visitor, helping you reach the more peaceful off-trail locations. 

The Rough Guide to Costa Brava - An excellent guide which shows that there's much more to the famous coastline than the lager-lout image of mass tourism.

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