Costa Brava -- the Spanish East Coast
I just returned from a golf trip to Costa Brava and I was impressed. So impressed, that I have to tell you about it. To be honest, I didn't expect much. What could possibly compete with the Costa del Sol with its Valderrama, site of the 1999 Ryder Cup, and Marbella's nightlife? It also has Granada with its Moorish palaces (Alhambra & Generalissimo), historic Ronda and Caseres and beaches and chic yacht harbors on its Mediterranean coast. Costa Brava, however, has no need to hang its head.
Bear with me while we bone up on our geography. Costa Brava is the eastern coastal region of Spain located north of Barcelona and running to the French border. The area is within the province of Girona, which is part of Catalonia an autonomous entity of Spain with its own government, history, language and cultural traditions. Catalan, a Romance language, is still spoken though Spanish is the official one.
My trip was short, just five nights on the ground, but I saw and experienced a lot. I played five golf courses that ranged from charming to championship and visited ten hotels including resort properties, ultra modern/chic boutique hotels, converted farmhouses and family owned properties with spectacular locations. I sampled the local gastronomy ranging from simple tapas to haute cuisine and drank quantities of wonderful local wine. I even gained greater understanding of the works of Dali, the surrealist Catalonian painter, and Gaudi the architect of Barcelona's unusual cathedral. I wandered through a charmingly restored, living 13th century town and admired grand vistas and cozy beaches. I was busy.
An ideal itinerary to this area must include a couple of nights in Barcelona. I suggest this stay at the end of your trip. Second to Madrid in size, Barcelona has much to offer the visitor. The Old Town area has interesting restaurants and bars. Catalonians are social and evenings find many locals enjoying their tapas, sherry or wines. La Rambla, a grand avenue and popular for strolling (mind the pickpockets) is busy well into the morning.
Most flights from the States arrive in Barcelona in the morning. Traveling north to Girona in your rental car or economical transfer service takes about an hour and a half. My choice for your first two or three nights is the Hotel Aiqua Blava in Begur. This family owned hotel, built in the 1930's, but nicely remodeled, has stunning views of the Mediterranean from virtually every room. The service is tops. I suggest you take all your meals at the hotel, as the food is noteworthy. From here, you have easy access to several good courses. The Emporda Golf Club has two courses. Play both. The Links is reminiscent of a Scottish course and is host to the European Tour. The Forrest is also a fine course that meanders through the most unusual pines. The Golf Platja de Pals is also nearby, but its sister course Golf Serres de Pals is better. The best course in the area is a bit further south -- Club Golf d'Aro-Mas Nou. Situated 1,000 feet above sea level, it has spectacular views of the Mediterranean.
From Aiqua Blava Hotel, move inland to the 17th century Hotel Mas Salvi. This beautifully restored country manor house sits on 17 acres of wooded land and supports a 5-star restaurant on its 4-star premises. From here, take a side trip to Girona. This charming city of 84,000 has a delightful old city section. Consider taking a Sedgway tour of it. Sedgways are personal transporters that move backwards and forwards as you lean in a complementary direction. This was my first Sedgway experience; it was easy and a ball. Girona also has a golf course. Golf Girona is a hilly course, but don't stress. Like all the courses I visited, it has carts.
Another side trip worth making is to Figueres, Salvador Dali's hometown. The artist donated the Dali museum and its contents and he personally directed its completion. You may want to play golf while there. Two courses await you - Torremirona Golf and Club de Golf Peralada. Each course has a hotel on property. The 5-star Hotel Golf Peralada, which has the better course, also has a fine wine cellar and a Wine Spa based on therapy with the derivates of wine. Hmmm! I hope that they don't use the good stuff.
On your way back to Barcelona, you should play PGA Golf de Catalunya. The Green Course is among the top ten in European. It opened in 1999 and was to host the Ryder Cup of that year, but lost out to Valderrama when officials determined it was not ready for play. The resort has another course (the Red) and a modern well-appointed 4-star hotel.
With great golf, culture and history, wonderful accommodations, special food and wine Costa Brava is truly worth a visit. Oh, did I mention? It is also a great value. It's half the price (or better) of Costa del Sol.