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From Barcelona to the Costa Brava

If you leave directly from Barcelona Airport then you simply follow the blue signs for the A-7 marked "Girona" and "Francia". This will lead you around metropolitan Barcelona and the Province of Girona begins in 70 kilometers, 90 kms to the town of Girona.

If you are staying in Barcelona before heading north, the best way to get out of town is to take the Barcelona ring road to either the A-7 or the A-19 going north. From the old town, you can get on the ring road, called the Cinturon Litoral, from the Pla de Palau, the large plaza separating Barceloneta and the beaches from Barcelona's old town. The access ramp (marked nº 22) is on your left just before the Olympic twin towers, about 100 meters after leaving the wide Pla de Palau traffic circle. If you miss it, don't worry. There is another ramp (nº 23) a kilomter further on.

Once you are on the Cinturon Litoral, you must choose between the two highways. Look for the distinctive blue signs for Autopistas, or toll roads. The A-19 comes up first. It is new, inexpensive, and becomes increasingly scenic as it follows the coastline north... But it ends just below Blanes and is only convenient to those going to the lower Costa Brava. The A-7 from Barcelona is faster and more expensive, and is recommended for those in a hurry to get to the northern Costa Brava. You can always switch over to the A-7 a few kilometers after where the A-19 ends.

While much of the coast, like elsewhere on the Mediterranean, has suffered the effects of tourism, this is still one of the most stunningly beautiful parts of the Mediterranean anywhere. Choose well your route and you will be able to bypass some of the tourist traps that mire an otherwise gorgeous coastline.

Blanes- quite a built up resort town with an old center fronted by long beach-front promenade, then a marina, then and fishing port with good seafood restaurants. Above town is the magnificent Botanical Gardens of Marimurtra, a splendid way to start your visit to the Costa Brava. Just beyond the Marimurtra Gardens is the first real cala, or sandy cove beach of the Costa Brava - far more romantic than Blanes' wide beach.

Lloret de Mar- a fairly tacky tourist trap which has only its beach to recommend it. A resort town full of discoteques and fast food joints best seen at 30 km per hour on your way to Tossa de Mar.

Tossa de Mar- a pleasant low-key resort town that has retained much of its charm due to good urban planning. The Vila Vella with its 12th C walls is a gem, and the old town is full of good restaurants. The beach has nice coarse sand, and there is a very handy municipal parking lot just below the old town walls on the beach.

The Corniche- the winding 22-kilometers between Tossa de Mar and Sant Feliu de Guíxols is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful stretches of coastline you are likely to see anywhere. The road twists and turns through red cliffs of luxuriant pine and cork groves, affording splendid views of jutting headlands and small calas of sparkling blue water. Take your time to explore the beaches along here.

Sant Feliu de Guíxols- is another pleasant town with a difference. Like Blanes, this isn't just a resort but a real town with a busy fishing port as well as a fine beach, and there is an attractive market place surrounded by good and moderately priced restaurants in the old town behind the attractive sea-front promenade. The town museum has a interesting exhibit dedicated to the town's important cork industry, with all manner of artifacts fashioned from this spongy bark.

Santa Pol- is a tiny resort just above Sant Feliu with a wide dune-backed beach. At the northern part of this beach lies the semi-private up-scale resort of S'Agaro, playground of Hollywood stars in the '50's. You can walk in to reach some very nice calas, but car access is restricted to guests and residents.

Platja d'Aro- is the second biggest tourist trap on the coast, and is saved from being utterly hideous by the low pines that line the streets - effectively hiding much of the urban blight. Very long nice beach here, though... particularly between Platja d'Aro and Sant Antoni just north of town.

Palamós- used to be nice, but the old town has been swallowed up by sky scrappers that stick up everywhere like sore thumbs. Much nicer is the tiny resort of La Fosca just to the north of town. To be fair, Palamós does still have an old town and some very reputable restaurants, a the daily catch is still auctioned to the public on the quaysides in the afternoons.

Palafrugell- is slightly inland and distributes traffic to some of the coast's best small-scale resorts. Calella de Palafrugell is genuinely charming, with its low-rise and arcaded whitewashed houses, its five little beaches, and its Botanical Garden at Cap Roig. The nearby towns of Llafranc and Tamariu are also very appealing, with good if somewhat pricey restaurants. The view from the lighthouse at el Far de Sant Sebastiàis well worth the climb.

Begur- like Palafrugell, distributes traffic to a hand-full of small upscale resorts such as Aiguafreda, sa Tuna, Fornells, and Aiguabrava, all but the latter of which deserve their stars. The detrimental influence of a ill-conceived Parador Nacional has all but ruined the charming site of Aiguabrava. The hilltop town of Begur itself is somewhat dull but charming, full of turn-of-the-century villas, some of which have recently been restored.

L'Estartit- deserves its star not for its English and German pubs, nor for its souvenir shops, but perhaps for its wide beach and whitewashed old town - and especially because it where one departs by boat to the wonderful Illes Medes, a cluster of seven ecologically protected islands with coral reefs that are a diver's - dare I say it - wet dream. Whether you scuba, snorkel, or simply sit in a glass-bottom boat looking down, be sure to visit these islands. Torroella de Montgris* is five kilometers inland from l'Estartit, and is well worth a visit, with its porticoed plazas and narrow streets all under the watchfull eye of its 13thC castle.

L'Escala- is another village which is bloated with tourists in summer... but there is something about this fishing village which refuses to succumb to the onslaught. I don't know what it is - probably the excellent restaurants like the one on the quayside - but I find I'm often drawn back to this rather drab town. Just north of town is one of the coast's premiere historical sites, the Greco-Roman ruins at Empúrias. The site and the ruins are a winning combination.

Roses- is the largest town on the wide golf of Roses. This area offers a bit of everything to everyone. For the beachcomber, there is the long white beach; for the ecologist and bird-watcher there is the important nature reserve at Aiguamolls de l'Empordá, for hapless campers there are some mosquito-ridden trailer lots, and for the Mittel-European tourist with a bit of money to spend, there is the horrendous Empúriabrava resort, an enormous concrete pseudo-Venice of identical chalets backed by canals so that you can yacht from your back yard. The town of Roses doesn't stand a chance in such surroundings, despite the old town and the ruins of its large Citadel, you would probably do well to press on to the nice beaches and good restaurants beyond Roses on the Cape towards Cadaqués.

Cadaqués- is undoubtedly the nicest of the resorts on the Cape, along with Port de la Selva and Llançà. The town is delightful, particularly in the off season. Beyond Cadaqués is Portlligat and the Cap de Creus, the eerily beautiful, barren and wind-swept landscape which inspired the region's most universal son, Salvador Dalí. Above Llança are the 10thC remains of Benedictine Sant Pere de Rodes. Once again, the site is a impressive as the sights. Inland from Sant Pere de Rodes is a wine-growing area renowned for its megalithic monuments and ruined Romanesque monasteries (like the almost inaccessible Sant Quirze de Colera).

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