My family came out to join me on the Costa Brava in Spain while I was at a travel blogger conference at the tourist town of Lloret de Mar. We rented a car and went exploring along the coast of the Costa Brava in search of more traditional Catalan towns than you get in Lloret de Mar. We chose to drive north further up the coast away from Barcelona, a city we knew and loved well. Time for something new!
Why did my children love the Costa Brava? Here are their top 5 reasons.
The Fantastic Beaches of Costa Brava
There are some fantastic beaches sprinkled along the coves of the coast. Sheltered by coves, the water is fairly tranquil and clear. Occasionally we could see all the way to the bottom even though the water was quite deep.
Similar to the beach at Lloret de Mar, the beach at Tossa de Mar is made of coarse sand. Clambering along the rocks lining the coves in Tossa de Mar the children spent time looking for sea anemones in the rock pools.
The little town of Begur is blessed with 8 different beaches. We were planning on stopping by for a few hours but loved it so much we spent the entire day. The beach at Ca Tuna has pebbles great for skimming stones while the beach at Aiguablava had soft sand perfect for playing. Beach hopping along the coast, we also stopped by the pretty little coves in the towns of Llafranc and Palafrugell.
Although it was a holiday weekend in Spain as well, the beaches were not crowded. Fellow tourists seemed to be well-dressed, sunglass-shod urban types chattering away in Spanish. Along the beaches, the children played while their parents grazed on fresh fish and sipped wine at a nearby restaurant. I can definitely get into this sort of beach holiday!
Fresh Air and Outdoor Fun in the Costa Brava
Sometimes I think my children are part mountain goat. If there is something to climb, scramble or jump over, I know where I will find them.
They clambered over rocks at the beach shoring up the coves and cliffs, balanced on stone walls, and climbed up hilly mountains. For example, in Begur the castle, located high above the town, has a paved road as well as a shortcut through the wildflowers on the hill. Guess which one the children took?
Also, did I mention the views were spectacular?
Interesting Walks Around the Costa Brava
We found many cliff walks along the coast such as that in Lloret de Mar and Begur. These paths were originally used by customs officials to watch out for smugglers. Nowadays they are a nice walk – nothing too strenuous but there are the occasional steps. In some cases you can even walk from village to village.
We walked along the stone paved paths, a soft breeze carrying the scent of orange blossom and sea air and the cry of sea gulls. The different rock formations stuck out like craggy teeth into the ocean and on which you could see the occasional person sunbathing or fishing.
In the village of Begur, the warren of side streets beckon you to explore with occasional flashes of colour, a grand entranceway or a mosaic wall.
In Tossa de Mar, there is a nice walk up the ruins of the old fortress and the lighthouse.
Afterwards, you can walk along the city walls of the Vila Vella which is the old walled city. My children were completely envious of all the families who got to live in the Vila Vella still.
“They can climb on the walls every day, mummy! How much fun would that be?” my daughter remarked. How much fun, indeed.
The Cool History of the Costa Brava
In the Tossa de Mar, the Villa Ametlers are the ruins of a Roman villa which are free to explore. The ruins of the villa are in pretty good condition and attest to its owner’s wealth and importance. We could see fragments of the old mosaic floors, the baths and the heating system.
Measures such as look-out towers, fortified city walls and the security doors all showed the fear the villagers in Tossa and Begur had of North African pirates. For children, pirates are the stuff of swashbuckling stories. I can’t imagine though how terrifying it must’ve been though for these villagers when the call went out that pirates had been spotted.
We fell in love with the farmhouses with the towers as well. Far from the safety of towns, farmers would have a tower of their own to keep watch for pirate raids and also barricade themselves for safety. My daughter decided that these towers would be perfect for a modern-day Rapunzel. When she is a teenager, I’m thinking I could not agree more. She can stay in the tower and out of my hair until she heads to university.
The Great Food of the Costa Brava
We ate well in both Tossa de Mar and Begur where the options for dining were plenty. My son is a complete foodie and insisted on trying out all the fresh fish, calamari and steak on offer.
In the video you can see when he ordered a salt encrusted baked bacon/steak dish at Restaurant Can Pini in Tossa de Mar. They brought it to the table and cracked it open in front of us. It was the most expensive thing on the menu, even more costly than the paella my husband and I shared. The food was excellent and the restaurant is deservedly proud of having hosted the current King and Queen of Spain when they visited Tossa years ago.
My daughter, on the other hand, stuck with basic Spanish tapas and pasta at the restaurants. Her choices were probably a good thing because two children with my son’s appetite and flair for ordering would drive us into the poorhouse!
In Lloret de Mar, the Happy Food Truck Tour in the center of town was a lot of fun. The food trucks were old fashioned camper vans decorated in sweet vintage fabric and bunting. For obvious reasons, the most popular food truck was simply called “Cupcake.”
We had a great weekend with the children in the Costa Brava in May. The children were disappointed (but we were not!) that the water parks were not yet open. I’m sure the water parks would have made their top 5 list. Instead we had fun the old-fashioned way – beach combing, hiking and eating lots of ice cream. A perfect long weekend in the sun in my opinion!
The lurid neon sign above the entrance to the club in Lloret de Mar on the Costa Brava shouted total striptease and for added emphasis, “sexy sexy sexy.” Presumably the inebriated punters the club was trying to lure needed help in equating striptease with sexy.
I find the main drag in Lloret depressing. You may have seen any number of similar towns along the Spanish coastline – a brash, budget beach town for sun-starved Northern Europeans with an unlimited appetite for drink.
Pick your poison!
I had to laugh when my friend, Rachel, who blogs at Rachel’s Ruminations, showed me the sign in her hotel room which stated clearly that the hotel would need to be compensated for any towels ruined by tattoo ink. And, this hotel is billed as one of the luxury options in town.
In case you are wondering, I found myself in Lloret de Mar for a few days in May for the TBEX conference. Deciding to explore further, I wondered if there could be more to Lloret than a cursory first look would suggest?
What’s Good About Lloret de Mar?
I tried dinner at, La Lonja, a restaurant recommended by a friend. The restaurant appears charming with its blackboard menu and cheerful blue tables on a little stone side street in the centre of town. Some of the charm is ruined though if you look further down the street and spot the sign that says “sex shop.”
Sort of like your family, you really have little control over your neighbour’s choice of retail operation. For all I know, the restaurant was in place long before the other store opened.
The owner of the restaurant was behind the bar ringing up the tapas orders of which there were plenty. The waiters served up the food fast and furious. The small tapas portions fuel communal sharing of plates and convivial talk all washed down with jugs of wine. I ogled a paella being served to a neighbouring table and felt a slight pang of regret that I did not order it. In all honesty, though, I was very happy with the tapas I ordered.
Charming but don’t look further down the street.
A delicious pan of paella
The owner chats with customers.
The cliff walks starting from the beach at Lloret are handy to walk off any big meals. Rocky outcrops, crashing waves, and seagulls flying overhead create an idyllic stroll. The attractive contemporary villas lining the cliff walk suggesting a more genteel clientele than along the main strip.
You have a choice of beaches at Lloret from the wide coarse sandy one in the center of town to the little coves such as Santa Cristina.
The parish church of Santa Roma is a surprising burst of colour in the centre of town. Originally constructed in the Gothic style in the 16th century, the church was rebuilt by wealthy citizens in the early 20th century. The church became a frothy confection influenced by Modernism and Byzantine elements as well as the original Gothic.
What’s Fantastic About Lloret de Mar?
The Maritime Museum, located in a former mansion built by one of the town’s returning sons who made their fortune in Cuba, weaves a rich tapestry of Lloret’s history. The museum describes the town’s early years as a humble fishing village, the building of frigates for the Spanish trade with the New World and the influence of the Americanos who flaunted their wealth.
With explanations in English, Catalan and Spanish, the museum is a fantastic multimedia look at Lloret. This museum is so great it deserves its own future post. I don’t know how many of Lloret’s package holiday visitors will visit this museum (a real shame in my opinion).
Lloret’s days as small fishing village and then a chic home for the returning nouveau riche are long gone. I was heartened though to see small pockets of beauty amidst the sun, sea and party atmosphere of the town.
My children loved our trip to South Africa. Of course, the extra bit of summer sunshine and pool time in the middle of an English winter was a big hit. There are lots of places in the world you could get that though.
What made it a cut above the rest of the winter sun destinations? Pure and simple – the wildlife in South Africa. It was such a treat seeing so many different types of animals in their natural habitat doing their thing.
Seals at Seal Island
We took a boat to see the seals off the coast of Hout Bay on a nature reserve nearby. There were hundreds of seals just hanging out playing in the water.
Penguins at Boulders Beach
The visit to Boulders Beach was hands down the favourite thing we all did on our entire holiday. The penguin colony nearby regular wander over to the beach and walk and swim alongside humans.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect on a beach popular with penguins. To my surprise, the beach was clean, penguin poop-free and didn’t smell. Moreover, the water was fairly shallow which made splashing about fun for young children.
Baboons at Cape Point
We saw baboons in several places most notably at the Cape Point reserve but also wandering along the highway. They are considered pests but we kept our distance and enjoyed watching the young ones play.
Animals on Safari
Our 2 day mini-safari experience was a fabulous introduction to a full-blown safari. The children loved seeing all of the different animals up close and personal.
We had the elephants who spent their time munching on leaves and playing with each other.
We chuckled at the young giraffe who insisted on walking a certain distance away from his parents. He was not ready to wander off on his own but he also wanted his space.
Did you know that a giraffe has really long eyelashes?
We felt sorry for the white rhinos who had to be under constant surveillance because of the threat of rhino poachers coming to hack of their horns.
The lions just hung around looking majestic. The male lion was fairly complacent with his little harem of female companions.
The springboks were beautiful to watch especially when they were running.
We discovered that zebras are actually black with white stripes. They can also be pretty bad-tempered and kick smaller animals.
We saw several skirmishes between the cape buffalo males who were constantly butting heads (literally) for dominance.
We caught only a glimpse of a cheetah in the underbrush. He had just feasted on a small antelope and was passed out in a food coma. The children were remarkably sanguine about seeing a half-eaten antelope on the ground.
Other Animal Interactions
Much to my dismay, my son was desperate to go in a shark cage tour. Frankly, my husband wasn’t enthusiastic either because my son assumed his father would go with him. We managed to pacify him by saying he could go when he was older (in his mind, that meant aged 10 but I’m thinking closer to say… oh, never!). Right about that time, too, I’ll let him go bungee jumping in South Africa too.
My daughter would have loved to go horseback riding in the Cape Point area. Unfortunately, the minimum age was 14 years old.
You needed to be 14 as well to go walking with cheetahs at their sanctuary as well. (Cheetahs consider children small prey so there are age and height restrictions). Other interesting wildlife expeditions we would have liked if there was only time were the elephant sanctuary and whale watching. The Cape Venues website has a good list of many different animal-centered activities.
If your children love animals (and most of them do!), South Africa is a great introduction to wildlife in Africa especially for the younger set. You don’t have the worry about malaria. It’s easy to get around and convenient. There are lots of variety of animals to see. You really just can’t beat seeing wild animals in their natural habitat.