The name Costa Brava literally means ‘rugged coast’, a reference to the spectacular cliffs and hundreds of coves that line the coast. While the coast is a perennial favourite amongst many Europeans looking for sun, sand and sangria, there’s a lot more to discover starting just a few miles inland in the Baix Empordá region and further inland in the hills of the Garrotxa Volcanic region, such as the gorgeous medieval towns and villages. Steeped in history and home to well-preserved medieval architecture, these towns and villages each have their own charm and attractions. Due to the short distances, many of these medieval villages and towns can easily be explored by means of a leisurely day trip from any point in Costa Brava. Car hire is available in almost every major town, making it a breeze to discover the many historic, cultural and gastronomic highlights that Costa Brava has to offer.
There are dozens of medieval towns and villages in the Costa Brava region but I’ve chosen to highlight five; three near the coast and two in the hills of the Garrotxa. I’ve also added additional tips for things to do and see in the surrounding areas, including some of my favourite restaurants.
Begur and the coast
Begur is a colourful hillside town overlooked by a beautifully restored 16th century castle. It’s a popular town, especially in the summer, due to its proximity to the beaches and a variety of summer festivals. There’s a lovely square, packed with terraces, and cobblestone alleys with a good choice of restaurants and cafés, some tucked away in beautiful courtyards.
From Begur, take the road to Sa Tuna, a hamlet on the coast with a small beach. The road winds through quiet neighbourhoods and thick forests, and offers beautiful vistas of the rugged coast. A great place to stop for a drink and a meal is the Vintage Lounge – or you can stay at the adjacent Vintage Hotel. Located under a canopy of pine trees on a cliff-edge, Vintage Lounge is a great place to simply chill and watch the waves crash on the rocks below.
Hotel Aigua Blava, one of my favourite hotels on the Costa Brava is located a 15-minute drive away from Begur. It’s a great base from which to explore the coast: the famed Camins de Ronda or the Costa Brava coastal trail passes the hotel’s front entrance; and it is along the trunk road that connects the towns of Begur, Tamariu, Llafranc and Palafrugell.
For an amazing gastronomic experience with a spectacular view, head for El Far, a restaurant and hotel located on a clifftop near Llafranc, a short drive from Begur. The food (local Catalan and Empordá fare) is absolutely divine and the view of the blue Mediterranean is unforgettable.
Cap de Creus
The Cap de Creus peninsula is a rocky, mountainous region of wind-swept slopes covered by thick gorse; quaint coastal villages; and crystal-clear coves. The mountains extend from the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees to the turquoise coast of the Mediterranean sea and are now part of the Cap de Creus national park. The rugged natural beauty of the Cap de Creus peninsula was a major source of inspiration for one of the greatest artists of our time, Salvador Dalí, who lived in nearby Port Lligat. Places to visit on the peninsula include the gorgeous harbourside town of Cadaqués and the imposing Sant Pere de Rodes monastery. Read more about Cap de Creus.
Pals is one of the most impressive medieval towns in the Costa Brava. Situated in the Baix Empordá, a short distance from Begur and a few kilometers from the coast, Pals’ main attraction is its beautifully restored medieval quarter. Dominated by the Torre de les Hores, an 11th century Romanesque tower, the medieval quarter features quaint alleys lined by ancient stone houses and charming squares. The medieval town wall with its four towers offers stunning views of the Empordá countryside.
Pals is also the location of one of my favourite restaurants in Costa Brava. If you’re looking for a casual dining experience with simply fabulous food, I highly recommend Vicus. Situated at the corner of the main road that leads into the centre of Pals (if you’re approaching from Begur), Vicus serves Catalan fare with a modern twist in a contemporary ambiance.
Peratallada is a small, fortified medieval town in the Baix Empordá region. The town, with its 11th century castle (now home to a luxury hotel), 13th century Romanesque church, gorgeous cobblestone streets and picturesque squares, is an absolute delight. It’s a popular place for day-trippers who come here to soak up the medieval atmosphere but stick around in the evenings for a romantic dinner at one of the numerous restaurants.
For a dose of indulgence, I can highly recommend the Mas de Torrent Hotel and Spa, the Costa Brava’s most luxurious hotel, which is situated a short drive away from Peratallada.
Other medieval towns in the Empordá region that are worth a visit include La Bisbal (with its castle, Jewish quarter and porticoes – it’s also a centre of ceramics and pottery) and the nearby villages of Monells, with its gorgeous medieval square lined by beautiful arches, and Púbol, home of the Gala Dalí castle.
Girona is the largest city in the Costa Brava region. Often overlooked by tourists, it’s a gorgeous medieval city located smack in the middle of the confluence of four rivers. As a consequence of its strategic location, Girona became a wealthy trading town centuries ago and was occupied at different times in its history by the Romans, Visigoths, Moors and the French. The city remains till this day one of the wealthiest in Spain and boasts a myriad of historical and cultural attractions that can easily keep visitors occupied for days.
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you may recognise several of the city’s most important monuments. Girona is also home to El Deller de Can Roca, constantly voted as one of the best restaurants in the world (read about my visit to Celler de Can Roca). One thing you shouldn’t miss is a walk along Girona’s medieval walls. Read about things to see and do in Girona.
Besalú and the Garrotxa region
Besalú is a stunning medieval town in the hills of the Garrotxa region. The first thing that will grab your attention as you approach the town is the magnificent 12th century Romanesque bridge over the Fluviá river. The bridge leads visitors into the town, with its arcaded streets, cobblestone alleys and squares. There’s a wonderful array of shops selling local produce and handicraft – my favourite shop, at 10, Pont del Besalú, sells all sorts of tea, coffee and chocolates. Other historic monuments in the town include the 11th century Sant Pere church and 12th century Jewish bath (mikveh).
Santa Pau is another medieval village in the Garrotxa region that I absolutely love. Located near the Garrotxa Volcanoes, Santa Pau is tiny but boasts gorgeous porticoes, alleys and arcades as well as a 15th century Gothic church. Moreover, this wonderfully atmospheric village is home to another of my favourite restaurants in the Costa Brava: Cal Sastre.
You can easily combine a visit to Besalú with the Garrotxa Volcanoes and Santa Pau. From Besalú, follow the A26 motorway in the direction of Olot. Take the Castellfollit de la Roca exit to see this stunning clifftop village, then continue along the A26 motorway to Olot or Santa Pau.
The best time to visit Costa Brava is in May/June or in September/October. This way, you avoid the summer crowds and you’ll truly get to enjoy the natural, historical and culinary highlights of Costa Brava at a leisurely pace. I’ve pinned the locations of the places mentioned above in the map below. I hope it helps you to discover some of my favourite medieval towns in Costa Brava.
View Medieval towns Costa Brava in a larger map
This itinerary can easily be combined with my idea of: the ultimate Euro food trip.