Fodor's Spain (2015)
Main Table of Contents
Welcome to Catalonia, Valencia, and the Costa Blanca
The Costa Brava
Southern Catalonia and around Valencia
The Costa Blanca
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Top Reasons to Go | Getting Oriented | What’s Where | Planning | Eating and Drinking Well in Catalonia, Valencia, and the Costa Blanca
Updated by Jared Lubarsky
The long curve of the Mediterranean from the French border to Cabo Cervera, below Alicante, encompasses the two autonomous communities of Catalonia and Valencia, with the country’s second- and third-largest cities (Barcelona and Valencia, respectively). Rivals in many respects, the two communities share a language, history, and culture that set them clearly apart from the rest of Spain.
Girona is the gateway to Northern Catalonia and its attractions—the Pyrenees, the volcanic region of La Garrotxa, and the beaches of the rugged Costa Brava. Northern Catalonia is memorable for the soft, green hills of the Empordàn farm country and the Alberes mountain range at the eastern end of the Pyrenees. Sprinkled across the landscape are masías (farmhouses) with austere, staggered-stone roofs and square towers that make them look like fortresses. Even the tiniest village has its church, arcaded square, and rambla, where villagers take their evening paseo (stroll).
Artist Salvador Dalí’s deep connection to the Costa Brava is literally enshrined in the Teatre-Museu Dalí, in Figueres: he’s buried in the crypt beneath it. His former home, a castle in Púbol, is where his wife, Gala, is buried. His summer home in Port Lligat Bay, north of Cadaqués, is now a museum of the Surrealist’s life and work.
The province of Valencia was incorporated into the Kingdom of Aragón, Catalonia’s medieval Mediterranean empire, when it was conquered by Jaume I in the 13th century. Along with Catalonia, Valencia became part of the united Spanish state in the 15th century, but defenders of its separate cultural and linguistic identity still resent the centuries of Catalan domination. The Catalan language prevails in Tarragona, a city and province of Catalonia, but Valenciano—a dialect of Catalan—is spoken and used on street signs in the Valencian provinces.
The huerta (a fertile, irrigated coastal plain) is devoted mainly to citrus and vegetable farming, which lends color to the landscape and fragrance to the air. Arid mountains form a stark backdrop to the lush coast. Over the years these shores have entertained Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, and Roman visitors; the Romans stayed several centuries and left archaeological remains all the way down the coast, particularly in Tarragona, the capital of Rome’s Spanish empire by 218 BC. Rome’s dominion did not go uncontested, however; the most serious challenge came from the Carthaginians of North Africa. The three Punic Wars, fought over this territory between 264 and 146 BC, established the reputation of the Carthaginian general Hannibal.
The coastal farmland and beaches that attracted the ancients now call to modern-day tourists, though a chain of ugly developments has marred much of the shore. Inland, however, local culture survives intact. The rugged and beautiful territory is dotted with small fortified towns, several of which bear the name of Spain’s 11th-century national hero, El Cid, commemorating the battles he fought here against the Moors some 900 years ago.
TOP REASONS TO GO
Pax Girona: Explore a city where the monuments of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic cultures that coexisted for centuries are only steps apart.
Valencia reborn: The past 20 years has seen a transformation of the Turia River into a treasure trove of museums, concert halls, parks, and architectural wonders.
Great restaurants: Foodies argue that the fountainhead of creative gastronomy has moved from France to Spain—and in particular to the great restaurants of the Empordà and Costa Brava.
Dalí’s home and museum: Surreal doesn’t begin to describe the Dalí Museum in Figueres or the wild coast of the artist’s home at Cap de Creus.
Las Fallas festival: Valencia’s Las Fallas, in mid-March, a week of fireworks and solemn processions and a finale of spectacular bonfires, is one of the best festivals in Europe.
Year-round, Catalonia is the most visited of Spain’s autonomous communities. The Pyrenees that separate it from France provide some of the country’s best skiing, and the rugged Costa Brava in the north and the Costa Dorada to the south are havens for sunseekers. The interior is full of surprises, too: an expanding rural tourism industry and the region’s growing international reputation for food and wine give Catalonia a broad-based appeal. Excellent rail, air, and highway connections link Catalonia to the beach resorts of Valencia, its neighbor to the south.
Northern Catalonia. Inland and westward from the towns of Girona and Figueres is perhaps the most dramatic and beautiful part of old Catalonia; it’s a land of medieval villages and hilltop monasteries, volcanic landscapes, and lush green valleys. The ancient city of Girona, often ignored by people bound for the Costa Brava, is an easy and interesting day trip from Barcelona. The upland towns of Besalú and Ripoll are Catalonia at its most authentic.
Costa Brava. Native son Salvador Dalí put his mark on the northeasternmost corner of Catalonia, where the Costa Brava (literally “rugged coast”) begins, especially in the fishing village of Cadaqués and the coast of Cap de Creus. From here, south and west toward Barcelona, lie the beaches, historical settlements, and picturesque towns like Sant Feliu de Guixols that draw millions of summer visitors to the region.
Southern Catalonia and Around Valencia. Spain’s third-largest city, with a rich history and tradition, Valencia is now a cultural magnet for its modern-art museum and its space-age City of Arts and Sciences complex. The Albufera Nature Park, just to the south, is an important wetland and wildlife sanctuary. North of Valencia, the monastery of Montserrat is a popular pilgrimage, Sitges has a lovely beach, and Santes Creus and Poblet are beautiful Cistercian monasteries. Roman remains, chief among them the Circus Maximus, are the reason to go to Tarragona, and to this the Middle Ages added wonderful city walls and citadels.
Costa Blanca. Culturally and geographically diverse, the Costa Blanca’s most populated coastal resorts stretch north from the provincial capital of Alicante to Dénia. Alicante’s historic center and vibrant night-owl scene occupy the hub of a rich agricultural area punctuated by towns like Elche, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Dénia, capital of the Marina Alta region and a port for ferries to the Balearic Islands, is a charming destination and has a well-deserved reputation for gastronomy.
WHEN TO GO
Come for the beaches in the hot summer months, but expect crowds and serious heat—in some places up to 40°C (104°F). The Mediterranean coast is more comfortable in May and September.
February and March are the peak months for skiing in the Pyrenees. Winter traveling in the region has other advantages: Valencia still has plenty of sunshine, and if you’re visiting villages and wineries in the countryside you might find you’ve got the run of the place! A word of warning: many restaurants outside the major towns may close on weekdays in winter, so call ahead. Museums and centers of interest tend to have shorter winter hours, many closing at 6 pm.
The Costa Blanca beach area gets hot and crowded in summer, and accommodations are at a premium. In contrast, spring is mild and an excellent time to tour the region, particularly the rural areas, where blossoms infuse the air with pleasant fragrances and wildflowers dazzle the landscape.
PLANNING YOUR TIME
Not far from Barcelona, the beautiful towns of Vic, Ripoll, Girona, and Cadaqués are easily reachable from the city by bus or train in a couple of hours. Figueres is a must if you want to see the Dalí Museum. Girona makes an excellent base from which to explore La Garrotxa; for that, you’ll need to rent a car. Tarragona and its environs are definitely worth a few days; it’s easily reached from Barcelona via RENFE, or allow 1½ hours to drive, especially on weekends and in summer. If you’re driving, a visit to the wineries in the Penedès region en route is well worth the detour. Most of Spain’s cava comes from here. Tarragona’s important Roman wonders are best seen on foot at a leisurely pace, broken up with a meal at any of the fine seafood restaurants in the Serallo fishing quarter.
Valencia is three hours by express train from Barcelona; if you have a flexible schedule, you might think about stopping in Tarragona on your way. From Tarragona, it’s a comfortable one-hour train ride to Valencia; by car, you have the option of stopping for a meal and a walkabout in one of the coastal towns like Peñiscola or Castellon. Historic Valencia and the Santiago Calatrava-designed City of Arts and Sciences complex can be covered in two days, but you might well want one more to indulge in the city’s food and explore the nightlife in the Barrio del Carmen.
A day trip to the nature reserve at Delta de l’Ebre, outside Valencia, is also highly recommended.
Travel agencies in Alicante can arrange tours of the city and bus and train tours to Guadalest, the Algar waterfalls, the Peñón de Ifach (Calpe) on the Costa Blanca, to the nearby island of Tabarca, and inland to Elche.
In Valencia, the Las Fallas fiestas begin March 1 and reach a climax between March 15 and El Día de San José (St. Joseph’s Day) on March 19, which is Father’s Day in Spain. Las Fallas originated from St. Joseph’s role as patron saint of carpenters; in medieval times, carpenters’ guilds celebrated the arrival of spring by cleaning out their shops and making bonfires with scraps of wood. These days it’s a 19-day celebration ending with fireworks, floats, carnival processions, and bullfights. On March 19, huge wood and papier-mâché effigies, typically of political figures and other personalities, the result of a year’s work by local community groups, are torched to end the fiestas.
GETTING HERE AND AROUND
El Prat de Llobregat in Barcelona is the main international airport for the Costa Brava; Girona is the closest airport to the region, with bus connections directly into the city and to Barcelona. Valencia has an international airport with direct flights to London, Paris, Brussels, Lisbon, Zurich, and Milan as well as regional flights from Barcelona, Madrid, Málaga, and other cities in Spain. There is a regional airport in Alicante serving the Valencian region and Murcia.
Boat and Ferry Travel
Many short-cruise lines along the coast offer the chance to view the Costa Brava from the sea. Visit the port areas in the main towns and you’ll quickly spot several tourist cruise lines. Plan to spend around €15–€27, depending on the length of the cruise. Many longer cruises include a stop en route for a swim. The glass-keeled Nautilus boats for observation of the Islas Medes underwater park cost €19 and run daily between April and October and weekends between November and March.
The shortest ferry connections to the Balearic Islands originate in Dénia. Balearia sails from there to Ibiza, Formentera, and Mallorca.
Boat and Ferry Information
Balearia. | 902/160180 | www.balearia.com.
Creuers Badia de Roses. | Carrer Gravina 4, | Roses | 608/431762.
Iscomar. | 902/119128 | www.iscomar.com.
Nautilus. | Passeig Marítim 23, Toroella, | L’Estartit | 972/751489 | www.nautilus.es.
Roses Serveis Marítims. Two departures are scheduled daily, for diving excursions (€36 with equipment rental) to the Cap de Creus Natural Park. | Carrer Eugeni D’ors 15, | Roses | 609/893389 | www.rosesub.com.
Viajes Marítimos. | Carrer de Sant Pere 5, | Lloret de Mar | 972/369095.
Bus travel is generally inexpensive and comfortable. Private companies run buses down the coast and from Madrid to Valencia, and to Alicante. Alsa is the main bus line in this region; local tourist offices can help with timetables. Sarfa operate buses from Barcelona to Blanes, Lloret, Sant Feliu de Guixols, Platja d’Aro, Palamos, Begur, Roses, and Cadaqués.
Alsa. | 902/422242 | www.alsa.es.
Barcelonabus. | 902/130014, 93/593–1300 | www.barcelonabus.com.
Sagalés. | Passeig Sant Joan 52, | Barcelona | 902/130014 | www.sagales.com.
Sarfa. Sarfa buses connect the towns along the Costa Brava and the Empordà with Barcelona. | Estació del Nord, Alí Bei 80, | Barcelona | 972/301293, 902/302025 | www.sarfa.com | Station:Arc de Triomf.
A car is a practical necessity for explorations inland, where much of the driving is smooth, uncrowded, and scenic. Catalonia and Valencia have excellent roads; the only drawbacks are the high cost of fuel and the high tolls on the autopistas (highways, usually designed with the letters AP). The coastal N340 can get clogged, however, so you’re often better off on toll roads if your time is limited.
Most of the Costa Brava is not served directly by railroad. A local line runs up the coast from Barcelona but takes you only to Blanes; from there it turns inland and connects at Maçanet-Massanes with the main line up to France. Direct trains stop only at major connections, such as Girona, Flaçà, and Figueres. To visit one of the smaller towns in between, you can take a fast direct train from Barcelona to Girona, for instance, then get off and wait for a local to come by. The stop on the main line for the middle section of the Costa Brava is Flaçà, where you can take a bus or taxi to your final destination. Girona and Figueres are two other towns with major bus stations that feed out to the towns of the Costa Brava. The train serves the last three towns on the north end of the Costa Brava: Llançà, Colera, and Portbou.
Express intercity trains reach Valencia from all over Spain, arriving at the new Joaquin Sorolla station; from there, a shuttle bus takes you to the Estación del Norte, the terminus in the center of town, for local connections. From Barcelona there are 15 trains a day, including the fast train TALGO, which takes 3½ hours. There are 22 daily trains to Valencia from Madrid; the high-speed train takes about 1 hour 40 minutes.
For the Costa Blanca, the rail hub is Alicante; for southern Catalonia, make direct train connections to Tarragona from either Barcelona or Valencia.
The beaches on the Costa Brava range from stretches of fine white sand to rocky coves and inlets; summer vacationers flock to San Pol, Roses, and Palafrugell; in all but the busiest weeks of July and August, the tucked-away coves of Cap de Creus national park are oases of peace and privacy. Valencia has a long beach that’s wonderful for sunning and a promenade lined with paella restaurants; for quieter surroundings, head farther south to El Saler.
The southeastern coastline of the Costa Blanca varies from the long stretches of sand dunes north of Dénia and south of Alicante to the coves and crescents in between. The benign climate permits lounging on the beach at least eight months of the year. Altea, popular with families, is busy and pebbly, but the old town has retained a traditional pueblo feel with narrow cobbled streets and attractive squares. Calpe’s beaches have the scenic advantage of the sheer outcrop Peñón de Ifach (Cliff of Ifach), which stands guard over stretches of sand to either side. Dénia has family-friendly beaches to the north, where children paddle in relatively shallow waters, and rocky inlets to the south.
South of Tarragona, Salou has the best beaches, with a lively, palm-lined promenade.
Bus tours from Barcelona to Girona and Figueres (including the Dalí Museum) are run by Julià Travel. Buses leave Barcelona Tuesday through Sunday at 8:30 and return around 6. The price is €71 per person. Pullmantur runs tours to several points on the Costa Brava.
Hiking, cycling, and walking tours around Valencia and the Costa Blanca are an alternative to relaxing at the beach. The Sierra Mariola and Sierra Aitana regions are both easily accessible from the Costa Blanca resorts, and many companies—including Ciclo Costa Blanca and Mountain Walks—plan itineraries with hotels included.
There are also riding schools in a number of towns in the region, which provide classes as well as trekking opportunities. Pick up brochures at the local tourist offices.
Water sports are widely available, and you can learn to sail in most of the major resorts. Kite surfing is becoming increasingly popular; the necessary gear is available for rent at many of the beaches, including Santa Pola, and the same applies to windsurfing. A wide range of companies offer scuba-diving excursions, and in the smaller coastal towns it’s possible to dive in the protected waters of offshore nature reserves if you book ahead.
If pedal power is more your thing, several companies offer a range of cycling holidays: Ciclo Costa Blanca is a good place to start.
Abdet. | www.abdet.com.
Ciclo Costa Blanca. | Comercio Enara 2, Camino Viejo de Altea 24, | Alfaz del Pi, Alicante | 699/045475 | www.ciclocostablanca.com.
Julià Travel. | Ronda Universidad 5, | Barcelona | 93/317–6454, 902/024443 | www.juliatravel.com.
Mountain Walks. | 965/511044 | www.mountainwalks.com.
FARMHOUSE STAYS IN CATALONIA
Dotted throughout Catalonia are farmhouses (casas rurales in Spanish, and cases de pagès or masíes in Catalan), where you can spend a weekend or longer. Accommodations vary from small, rustic homes to spacious, luxurious farmhouses with fireplaces and pools. Sometimes you stay in a guest room, as at a bed-and-breakfast; in other places you rent the entire house and do your own cooking. Most tourist offices, including the main Catalonia Tourist Office in Barcelona, have info and listings for the cases de pagès of the region. Several organizations in Spain have detailed listings and descriptions of Catalonia’s farmhouses, and it’s best to book through one of these.
Confederació del Turisme Rural i l’Agroturisme de Catalunya. | www.catalunyarural.info.
Federació del Turisme Rural d’Unió de Pagesos de Catalunya. | www.agroturisme.org.
Catalonia’s eateries are deservedly famous. Girona’s El Celler de Can Roca was voted the best restaurant in the world in 2013 in the annual critics’ poll conducted by British magazine Restaurant, and a host of other first-rate establishments continue to offer inspiring fine dining in Catalonia, which began in the hinterlands at the legendary Hotel Empordà. You needn’t go to an internationally acclaimed restaurant, however, to dine well. Superstar chef Ferran Adrià of the former foodie paradise elBulli dines regularly at dives in Roses, where straight-up fresh fish is the day-in, day-out attraction. Northern Catalonia’s Empordà region is known not only for seafood, but also for a rich assortment of inland and upland products. Beef from Girona’s verdant pastureland is prized throughout Catalonia, while wild mushrooms from the Pyrenees and game from the Alberes range offer seasonal depth and breadth to menus across the region. From a simple beachside paella or llobarro (sea bass) at a chiringuito (shack) with tables on the sand, to the splendor of a meal at Celler de Can Roca, playing culinary hopscotch through Catalonia is a good way to organize a tour. Prices in the reviews are per person for a main course, or a combination of small plates, at dinner.
Lodgings on the Costa Brava range from the finest hotels to spartan pensions. The better accommodations are usually well situated and have splendid views of the seascape. Many simple hotels provide a perfectly adequate stopover. If you plan to visit during the high season (July and August), be sure to book reservations well in advance at almost any hotel in this area, especially the Costa Brava, which remains one of the most popular summer resort areas in Spain. Many Costa Brava hotels close down in the winter season, between November and March. Prices in the reviews are for two people in a standard double room in high season, excluding tax.
EATING AND DRINKING WELL IN CATALONIA, VALENCIA, AND THE COSTA BLANCA
Catalonia and Valencia share the classic Mediterranean diet, and Catalans feel right at home with paella valenciana. Fish preparations are similar along the coast, though inland favorites vary from place to place.
The grassy inland meadows of Catalonia’s northern Alt Empordà region put quality beef on local tables; from the Costa Brava comes fine seafood, such as anchovies from L’Estartit and gambas (jumbo shrimp) from Palamós, both deservedly famous. Romescu—a blend of almonds, peppers, garlic, and olive oil—is used as a fish and seafood sauce in Tarragona, especially during the calçotadas (spring onion feasts) in February. Allioli, garlicky mayonnaise, is another popular topping. The Ebro Delta is renowned for fresh fish and eels, as well as rossejat (fried rice in a fish broth). Valencia and the Mediterranean coast are the homeland of paella valenciana. Arròs a banda is a variant in which the fish and rice are cooked separately.
The winter calçotada is a beloved event in Catalonia. The calçot is a sweet spring onion developed by a 19th-century farmer who discovered how to extend the edible portion by packing soil around the base. On the last weekend of January, the town of Valls holds a calçotada where upward of 30,000 people gather for meals of onions, sausage, lamb chops, and red wine.
Paella valenciana (Valencian paella) is one of Spain’s most famous gastronomic contributions. A simple country dish dating from the early 18th century, “paella” refers to the wide frying pan with short, sturdy handles that’s used to cook the rice. Anything fresh from the fields that day, along with rice and olive oil, traditionally went into the pan but paella valenciana has particular ingredients: short-grain rice, chicken, rabbit, garrofó (a local legume), tomatoes, green beans, sweet peppers, olive oil, and saffron. Artichokes and peas are also included in season. Paella marinera (seafood paella) is a different story: rice, cuttlefish, squid, mussels, shrimp, prawns, lobster, clams, garlic, olive oil, sweet paprika, and saffron, all stewed in fish broth. Many other paella variations are possible, including paella negra, a black rice dish made with squid ink; arròs a banda made with peeled seafood; and fideuá, paella made with noodles in place of rice.
Sèpia amb pèsols is a vegetable and seafood mar i muntanya (surf and turf) beloved on the Costa Brava: cuttlefish and peas are stewed with potatoes, garlic, onions, tomatoes, and a splash of wine. The picadillo—the finishing touches of flavors and textures—includes parsley, black pepper, fried bread, pine nuts, olive oil, and salt. Es niu (“the nest”) of game fowl, cod, tripe, cuttlefish, pork, and rabbit is another Costa Brava favorite. Stewed for a good five hours until the darkness of the onions and the ink of the cuttlefish have combined to impart a rich chocolate color to the stew, this is a much-celebrated wintertime classic. You’ll also find suquet de peix, the Catalan fish stew, at restaurants along the Costa Brava.
Fruits and Vegetables
Valencia and the eastern Levante region have long been famous as Spain’s huerta, or garden. The alluvial soil of the littoral produces an abundance of everything from tomatoes to asparagus, peppers, chard, spinach, onions, artichokes, cucumbers, and the whole range of Mediterranean bounty. Catalonia’s Maresme and Empordà regions are also fruit and vegetable bowls, making this coastline a true cornucopia of fresh produce.
The Penedès wine region west of Barcelona has been joined by new wine Denominations of Origin from all over Catalonia. Alt Camp, Tarragona, Priorat, Montsant, Costers del Segre, Pla de Bages, Alella, and the Empordà all produce excellent reds and whites to join Catalonia’s sparkling Cava on local wine lists; the rich, full-bodied reds of Montsant and the Priorat, especially, are among the best in Spain.
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Girona | Figueres | Besalú | Olot | Ripoll
Northern Catalonia is for many the reason to visit Spain. The historic center of Girona, its principal city, is a labyrinth of climbing cobblestone streets and staircases, with remarkable Gothic and Romanesque buildings at every turn. El Call—the Jewish Quarter here—is one of the best preserved in Europe, and the Gothic cathedral is an architectural masterpiece. Streets in the modern part of the city are lined with smart shops and boutiques, and the overall quality of life in Girona is considered among the best in Spain.
The nearby towns of Besalú and Figueres couldn’t be more different from each other. Figueres is an unexceptional town made exceptional by the Dalí Museum. Besalu is a picture-perfect Romanesque village on a bluff overlooking the River Fluvià, with at least one of the most prestigious restaurants in Catalonia. Less well known are the medieval towns in and around La Garrotxa: Ripoll, Rupit, and Olot boast arguably the best produce in the region.
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97 km (60 miles) northeast of Barcelona.
At the confluence of four rivers, Girona (population: 96,000) keeps intact the magic of its historic past—with its brooding hilltop castle, soaring cathedral, and dreamy riverside setting, it resembles a vision from the Middle Ages. Today, as a university center, Girona combines past and vibrant present: art galleries, chic cafés, and trendy boutiques have set up shop in many of the restored buildings of the Old Quarter, known as the Força Vella (Old Fortress), which is on the east side of the River Onya. Built on the side of the mountain, it presents a tightly packed labyrinth of medieval buildings and monuments on narrow cobblestone streets with connecting stairways. You can still see vestiges of the Iberian and Roman walls in the cathedral square and in the patio of the old university. In the centermost quarter is El Call, one of Europe’s best-preserved ancient (12th- to 15th-century) Jewish communities and an important center of cabalistic studies.
The main street of the Old Quarter is Carrer de la Força, which follows the old Via Augusta, the Roman road that connected Rome with its provinces.
The best way to get to know Girona is on foot. As you wander through the Força Vella you will be repeatedly surprised by new discoveries. One of Girona’s treasures is its setting, high above where the Onyar merges with the Ter; the latter flows from a mountain waterfall that can be glimpsed in a gorge above the town. Regardless of your approach, walk first along the west bank of the Onyar, between the train trestle and the Plaça de la Independència, to admire the classic view of the Old Town, with its pastel yellow, pink, and orange waterfront facades. Many of the windows and balconies—always draped with colorful drying laundry—are adorned with fretwork grilles of embossed wood or delicate iron tracery. Cross Pont de Sant Agustí over to the Old Quarter from under the arcades in the corner of Plaça de la Independència and find your way to the Punt de Benvinguda tourist office, to the right at Rambla Llibertat 1. Then work your way up through the labyrinth of steep streets, using the cathedral’s huge baroque facade as a guide.
Getting Here and Around
There are more than 20 daily trains from Barcelona to Girona (continuing on to the French border). Bus service to the city center is limited, but there are frequent Barcelonabus buses to Girona airport that take an average of 75 minutes and cost €16 one-way, €25 round-trip. Getting around the city is easiest on foot or by taxi; several bridges connect the historic old quarter with the more modern town across the river.
Discounts and Deals
The GironaMuseus card is good for discount admission to all the city’s museums. TIP Some are free on the first Sunday of every month. Check with the tourist office or at the Punt de Benvinguda welcome center, which can also arrange guided tours.
Punt de Benvinguda.
Look for this visitor information center—where you can also get help with hotel bookings—at the entrance to Girona from the town’s main parking area on the right bank of the Onyar River. | Carrer Berenguer Carnisser 5 | 972/211678.
Barcelona Bus. | Passeig de Sant Joan 52, | Barcelona | 902/130014 | www.barcelonabus.com.
Girona Office of Tourism. | Carrer Joan Maragall 1 | 972/975975 | www.girona.cat/turisme | Rambla de la Llibertat 1 | 972/226575.
Fodor’s Choice | Cathedral.
At the heart of the Old City, the cathedral looms above 90 steps and is famous for its nave—at 75 feet, the widest in the world and the epitome of the spatial ideal of Catalan Gothic architects. Since Charlemagne founded the original church in the 8th century, it has been through many fires, changes, and renovations, so you are greeted by a Rococo-era facade, “eloquent as organ music” and impressively set off by a spectacular flight of 17th-century stairs, which rises from its own plaça. Inside, three smaller naves were compressed into one gigantic hall by the famed architect Guillermo Bofill in 1416. The change was typical of Catalan Gothic “hall” churches, and it was done to facilitate preaching to crowds. Note the famous silver canopy, or baldaquí (baldachin). The oldest part of the cathedral is the 11th-century Romanesque Torre de Carlemany (Charlemagne Tower).
The cathedral’s 12th-century cloister has an obvious affinity with the cloisters in the Roussillon area of France. Inside the Treasury are a 10th-century copy of Beatus’s manuscript Commentary on the Apocalypse (illuminated in the dramatically primitive Mozarabic style), the Bible of Emperor Charles V, and the celebrated Tapís de la Creació (Tapestry of the Creation), considered by most experts to be the finest tapestry surviving from the Romanesque era. It depicts the seven days of Creation as told in Genesis in the primitive but powerful fashion of early Romanesque art. Made of wool, with predominant colors of green, brown, and ocher, the tapestry once hung behind the main altar as a pictorial Bible lesson. The four seasons, stars, winds, months of the year and days of the week, plants, animals, and elements of nature circle around a central figure, likening paradise to the eternal cosmos presided over by Christ. In addition to its intrinsic beauty, the bottom band (which appears to have been added at a later date) contains two iudeis, or Jews, dressed in the round cloaks they were compelled to wear to set them apart from Christians. This scene is thought to be the earliest portrayal of a Jew (other than biblical figures) in Christian art. | Pl. de la Catedral s/n | 972/427189, 972/215814 | www.catedraldegirona.org | €7 (free Sun.) | Apr.–Oct., daily 10–7:30; Nov.–Mar., daily 10–6:30.
Girona is especially noted for its 13th-century Jewish Quarter, El Call, which can be found branching off Carrer de la Força, south of the Plaça Catedral. The word call (pronounced “kyle” in Catalan) may come from an old Catalan word meaning “narrow way” or “passage,” derived from the Latin word callum or callis. Others suggest that it comes from the Hebrew word qahal, meaning “assembly” or “meeting of the community.” Owing allegiance to the Spanish king (who exacted tribute for this distinction) and not to the city government, this once-prosperous Jewish community—one of the most flourishing in Europe during the Middle Ages—was, at its height, a center of learning. An important school of the Kabala was centered here. The most famous teacher of the Kabala from Girona was Rabbi Mossé ben Nahman (also known as Nahmànides), who wrote an important religious work based on meditation and the reinterpretation of the Bible and the Talmud.
The earliest presence of Jews in Girona is uncertain, but the first historical mention dates from 982, when a group of 25 Jewish families moved to Girona from nearby Juïgues. Today the layout of El Call bears no resemblance to what this area looked like in the 15th century, when Jews last lived here. Space was at a premium inside the city walls in Girona, and houses were destroyed and built higgledy-piggledy one atop the other.
Banys Arabs (Arab Baths).
A misnomer, the Banys Arabs were actually built by Morisco craftsmen (workers of Moorish descent) in the late 12th century, long after Girona’s Islamic occupation (714–797) had ended. Following the old Roman model that had disappeared in the West, the custom of bathing publicly may have been brought back from the Holy Land with the Crusaders. These baths are sectioned off into three rooms in descending order: a frigidarium, or cold bath, a square room with a central octagonal pool and a skylight with cupola held up by two stories of eight fine columns; a tepidarium, or warm bath; and a caldarium, or steam room, beneath which is a chamber where a fire was kept burning. Here the inhabitants of the old Girona came to relax, exchange gossip, or do business. | Carrer Ferran el Catòlic s/n | 972/190797 | www.banysarabs.cat | €2 | Apr.–Sept., Mon.–Sat. 10–7, Sun. 10–2; Oct.–Mar., daily 10–2.
Centre Bonastruc ça Porta.
Housed in a former synagogue and dedicated to the preservation of Girona’s Jewish heritage, this center organizes conferences, exhibitions, and seminars. The Museu de Història dels Jueus (Museum of Jewish History) contains 21 stone tablets, one of the finest collections in the world of medieval Jewish funerary slabs. These came from the old Jewish cemetery of Montjuïc, revealed when the railroad between Barcelona and France was laid out in the 19th century. Its exact location, about 1½ km (1 mile) north of Girona on the road to La Bisbal and known as La Tribana, is being excavated. The center also holds the Institut d’Estudis Nahmànides, with an extensive library of Judaica. | Carrer de la Força 8 | 972/216761 | www.girona.cat/call/eng/museu.php | €4 | Sept.–June, Tues.–Sat. 10–6, Sun. and Mon. 10–2; July and Aug., Mon.–Sat. 10–8, Sun. 10–2.
Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants.
The church of St. Peter, across the Galligants River, was finished in 1131, and is notable for its octagonal Romanesque belfry and the finely detailed capitals atop the columns in the cloister. It now houses the Museu Arqueològic (Museum of Archaeology), which documents the region’s history since Paleolithic times and includes some artifacts from Roman times. | Carrer Santa Llúcia 8 | 972/202632 | €3 | Museum: June–Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10:30–1:30 and 4–7, Sun. 10–2; Oct.–May, Tues.–Sat.10–2 and 4–6, Sun. 10–2.
The Episcopal Palace near the cathedral contains the wide-ranging collections of Girona’s main art museum. You’ll see everything from superb Romanesque majestats (carved wood figures of Christ) to reliquaries from Sant Pere de Rodes, illuminated 12th-century manuscripts, and works of the 20th-century Olot school of landscape painting. | Pujada de la Catedral 12 | 972/203834 | www.museuart.com | €2 | May–Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10–7, Sun. 10–2; Oct.–Apr., Tues.–Sat. 10–6, Sun. 10–2.
QUICK BITES: La Vienesa.
Fortify yourself for sightseeing with some superb tea and plump pastries at La Vienesa. One of the town’s best-loved gathering points for conversation, this cozy spot is good place to regroup and reorient. | Carrer La Pujada del Pont de Pedra 1 | 972/486046.
FAMILY | Museu del Cinema.
An interactive museum, this spot has artifacts and movie-related paraphernalia starting from Chinese shadows, the first rudimentary moving pictures, to Lyon’s Lumière brothers. The Cine Nic toy filmmaking machines, originally developed in 1931 by the Nicolau brothers of Barcelona and now being relaunched commercially, allow even novices to put together their own movies. | Carrer de la Sèquia 1 | 972/412777 | www.museudelcinema.cat | €5 (free 1st Sun. of month) | May, June, and Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10–8, Sun. 11–3; July and Aug., Tues.–Sun. 10–8; Oct.–Apr., Tues.–Fri. 10–6, Sat. 10–8, Sun. 11–3.
Museu d’Història de la Ciutat.
On Carrer de la Força, this fascinating museum is filled with artifacts from Girona’s long and embattled past. From pre-Roman objects to paintings and drawings from the notorious siege at the hands of Napoleonic troops, to the early municipal lighting system and the medieval printing press, there is plenty to see here. You will definitely come away with a clearer idea of Girona’s past. | Carrer de la Força 27 | 972/222229 | www.girona.cat/museuciutat | €4 (free 1st Sun. of month) | Tues.–Sat. 10:30–5:30 (until 6:30 May–Sept.), Sun. 10:30–1:30.
The landscaped gardens of this stepped archaeological walk are below the restored walls of the Old Quarter (which you can walk, in parts) and have good views from belvederes and watchtowers. From there, climb through the Jardins de la Francesa to the highest ramparts for a view of the cathedral’s 11th-century Charlemagne Tower.
Placeta del Institut Vell.
In this small square on Carrer de la Força you can study a tar-blackened 3-inch-long, half-inch-deep groove carved shoulder-high into the stone of the right-hand doorpost as you enter the square. It indicates the location of a mezuzah, a small case or tube of metal or wood containing a piece of parchment with verses from the Torah (declaring the essence of Jewish belief in one God). Anyone passing through the doorway touched the mezuzah as a sign of devotion. Evidence of the labyrinthine layout of a few street ruts in the Old Quarter may still be seen inside the antiques store Antiguitats la Canonja Vella at Carrer de la Força 33.
The vast bulk of this structure is landmarked by one of Girona’s most distinctive belfries, topped by eight pinnacles. One of Girona’s most beloved churches, it was repeatedly rebuilt and altered over four centuries and stands today as an amalgam of Romanesque columns, Gothic nave, and Baroque facade. It was founded over the tomb of St. Felix of Africa, a martyr under the Roman emperor Diocletian. | Pujada de Sant Feliu 29 | 972/201407 | Included with €7 Cathedral admission | Mon.–Sat. 10–5:30, Sun. 1–5:30.
Torre de Gironella.
A five-minute walk uphill behind the cathedral leads to a park and this four-story tower (no entry permitted) dating from the year 1190; the tower marks the highest point in the Jewish Quarter. Girona’s Jewish community took refuge here in early August 1391, emerging 17 weeks later to find their houses in ruins. Even though Spain’s official expulsion decree did not go into effect until 1492, this attack effectively ended the Girona Jewish community. Destroyed in 1404, reconstructed in 1411, and destroyed anew by retreating Napoleonic troops in 1814, the Torre de Gironella was the site of the celebration of the first Hanukkah ceremony in Girona in 607 years, held on December 20, 1998, with Jerusalem’s chief Sephardic rabbi Rishon Letzion presiding. | Ctra. Sant Gregori 91.
WHERE TO EAT
Bubbles Gastro Bar.
TAPAS | Excellent Catalan cuisine with Mediterrean-fusion touches is served here in an elegant setting just across the river from the Old City. Try the innovative tapas, or choose from two dinner tasting menus for €25 or €45. | Average main: €15 | Passeig José Canalejas 6 | 972/226002 | www.gastrobubbles.com | Closed Sun. and Mon.
CATALAN | Tucked under the arcades just behind the north end of Plaça de la Llibertat, this restaurant combines ancient stone arches with crisp, contemporary furnishings and cheerful lighting. The menu changes regularly, featuring organically raised local produce in season and fresh fish, in updated versions of traditional Catalan cuisine. Rice dishes are a speciality. | Average main: €18 | Carrer Cort Reial 9 | 972/219176 | www.calros-restaurant.com | Closed Mon., also Tues. in winter. No dinner Sun., and Wed. in winter.
Fodor’s Choice | Celler de Can Roca.
CONTEMPORARY | Annointed in 2013 by an international panel of food critics and chefs as the best restaurant in the world, Celler de Can Roca is a life-changing experience for anybody persistent enough to get a reservation. The Roca brothers, Joan, Josep, and Jordi, showcase their masterful creations in two tasting menus, at €155 and €190; consider your visit blessed if yours includes signature dishes like lobster parmentier with black trumpet mushrooms, or Iberian suckling pig with pepper sauce and garlic and quince terrine, or Dublin Bay prawns with curry smoke (the Rocas pioneered the technique of roasting in the aromas of spices during the cooking process). For dessert, try any of maître confectioner Jordi’s spectacular innovations. Don’t be embarrassed to ask Josep, the sommelier, for guidance through the encyclopedic wine list. | Average main: €38 | Can Sunyer 48 | 972/222157 | Reservations essential | Closed Sun., Mon., and Aug.
CATALAN | Contemporary architecture and cuisine in the old part of Girona make for interesting dining at this sleek and streamlined restaurant just below the Colegiata de Sant Feliu and the Monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants. Croquetes casolanes (homemade croquettes) of ham, seafood, and wild mushrooms or melòs de vedella amb foiegras a la planxa amb salsa de vi negre (beef grilled with foie gras in red wine sauce) are typical entrées on this rapidly changing seasonal menu. | Average main: €15 | Pou Rodó 12 | 972/202124 | www.mimolet.net | Closed Mon. and 1st two weeks Aug. No dinner Sun.
WHERE TO STAY
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Alemanys 5.
RENTAL | Award-winning architect Anna Noguera and partner Juan-Manuel Ribera transformed a 16th-century house steps from the cathedral into two extraordinary apartments: one for up to five people, the other for six. Preserving the original stonework and exposed-beam ceilings, Noguera used modern materials to create the pair of spacious interiors that are luxuriously simple, open, and comfortable. The first-floor flat has a private garden with a plunge pool; the two-level flat above has a sunken bathtub, working fireplace, and a huge patio–dining deck with a view of the medieval city. Book well in advance: the minimum stay is between two and six nights, depending on the season, and many visitors take these gems for longer. Pros: perfect for families or small groups; ideal location. Cons: difficult to reach by car; minimum stay required. | Rooms from: €250 | Carrer Alemanys 5 | 649/885136 | www.alemanys5.com | 2 apartments | No meals.
B&B/INN | This pretty little hostal in the old city, on the edge of the Jewish Quarter, makes up in value and location what it lacks in amenities and services; when there’s no staff on call, you come and go with your own key. Pros: steps from the important sites; charming sitting room; good value. Cons: bedrooms are small. | Rooms from: €75 | Carrer Bellmirall 3 | 972/204009 | www.bellmirall.eu | 7 rooms | Closed Feb. | Breakfast.
Fodor’s Choice | Hotel Històric y Apartaments Històric Girona.
HOTEL | Perfectly placed for exploring the Jewish Quarter, this boutique hotel occupies a 9th-century house, with remnants of a 3rd-century Roman wall and a Roman aqueduct on the ground floor and in one of the apartments. The suite has Gothic vaulting overhead and views of the cathedral. One dining room even contains a wall made in the pre-Roman opus spicatum herringbone pattern. Wooden furniture fills the simply but pleasantly furnished rooms. Casilda Cruz rents the good-value apartments in the Old Quarter for as many days as you’d like, from one day to one month. Pros: good location; historical features; top amenities and comforts. Cons: rooms and apartments are a little cramped; difficult to get a car in; no pets. | Rooms from: €114 | Carrer Bellmirall 4A | 972/223583 | www.hotelhistoric.com | 6 rooms, 7 apartments, 2 suites | No meals.
HOTEL | In a handsomely restored early-20th-century building across the Onyar River, with views into Girona’s historic Old Quarter, this modest but useful hotel occupies a strategic spot at the end of the Pont de Pedra (Stone Bridge), a Girona landmark in the center of the shopping district. Pros: good location at the hub of Girona life; near the stop for the bus from Girona airport. Cons: smallish rooms; can be noisy on Friday and Saturday nights. | Rooms from: €70 | Carrer Nou 3, Av. Sant Francesc 6 | 972/203800 | www.novarahotels.com | 48 rooms | No meals.
NIGHTLIFE AND PERFORMING ARTS
Girona is a university town, so the night scene is especially lively during the school year.
This nightspot, popular with students and visitors alike, has both disco and live bands in concert, depending on the day of the week. | Carrer Jeroni Real de Fontclara 4 | 972/227288, 972/411902 | Wed.–Sat. 10 pm–5:30 am.
Designer Anna Casal’s original jewelry seems at first sight to be rough-hewn; it takes a second look to realize how sophisticated it is. This shop is also her studio. | Carrer de les Hortes 18 | 972/410227.
Boutique Carlos Falcó.
Men will find fine plumage here, from suits to accessories. | Carrer Josep Maluquer Salvador 16 | 972/207156.
Jazzy women’s clothes are sold here. | Carrer Nord 20 | 972/214388.
Young people stock up on threads at Despiral. | Carrer Santa Clara 43 | 972/221448.
Painter and sculptor Dolors Turró knows her angels: making them—in all shapes, sizes and styles—is what she does best. Drop in to her quirky atelier in the old city. | Carrer de les Ballesteries 19 | 972/410193.
This chocolatier and confectioner has been in business since 1880. | Carrer Santa Clara 44 | 972/201989.
Candles are the specialty here. | Carrer Ballesteries 22 | 972/205914.
All manner of masks, dolls, pottery, and other crafts are available here. | Carrer Ballesteries 37 | 972/212002.
Girona’s best bookstore has travel guidebooks and a selection of English fiction. | Carrer Hortes 22 | 972/212395 | www.llibreria22.net.
For shoes, go to one of Peacock’s four Girona locations—the others are at Carrer Migdia 18, Plaça de Vi 4, and Carrer Pare Claret 29. | Carrer Nou 15 | 972/226848 | www.peacock.cat.
Couldn’t get a table at El Celler de Can Roca? Keep trying, but in the meantime there’s Rocambolesc, the latest of the Roca family culinary undertakings: an ice-cream parlor in the heart of the city that serves up master confectioner Jordi Roca’s exquisite helados and takeaway desserts. Expect long lines. | Carrer Santa Clara 50 | 972/416667.
Torrons Victoria Candela.
Tasty nougat is the specialty here. | Carrer Anselm Clavé 3 | 972/211103.
37 km (23 miles) north of Girona on the A7.
Figueres is the capital of the comarca (county) of the Alt Empordà, the bustling county seat of this predominantly agricultural region. Local people come from the surrounding area to shop at its many stores and stock up on farm equipment and supplies. Thursday is market day, and farmers gather at the top of La Rambla to do business and gossip, taking refreshments at cafés and discreetly pulling out and pocketing large rolls of bills, the result of their morning transactions. What brings the tourists to Figueres in droves, however, has little to do with agriculture—unless, of course, you use a broader definition of fertilizer: the jaw-dropping Dalí Museum, one of the most visited museums in Spain.
Artist Salvador Dalí is Figueres’s most famous son. With a painterly technique that rivaled that of Jan van Eyck, a flair for publicity so aggressive it would have put P. T. Barnum in the shade, and a penchant for shocking (he loved telling people Barcelona’s historic Barri Gòtic should be knocked down), Dalí enters art history as one of the foremost proponents of Surrealism, the movement launched in the 1920s by André Breton. His most lasting image may be the melting watches in his iconic 1931 painting The Persistence of Memory. The artist, who was born in Figueres and died there in 1989, decided to create a museum-monument to himself during the last two decades of his life. Dalí often frequented the Cafeteria Astòria at the top of La Rambla (still the center of social life in Figueres), signing autographs for tourists or just being Dalí: he once walked down the street with a French omelet in his breast pocket instead of a handkerchief.
Catalonia’s National Dance
The sardana, Catalonia’s national dance, is often perceived as a solemn and measured affair performed by older folks in front of the Barcelona Cathedral at midday on weekends. Look for an athletic young colla (troupe), though, and you’ll see the grace and fluidity the sardana can create. The mathematical precision of the dance, consisting of 76 steps in sets of four, each dancer needing to know exactly where he or she is at all times, demands intense concentration. Said to be a representation of the passing of time, a choreography of the orbits and revolutions of the moon and stars, the circular sardana is recorded in Greek chronicles dating back 2,000 years. Performed in circles of all sizes and by dancers of all ages, the sardana is accompanied by an ensemble called the cobla: five wind instruments, five brass, and a director who plays a three-holed flute called the flabiol and a small drum, the tabal, which he wears attached to his flute arm (normally the right).
Getting Here and Around
Figueres is one of the stops on the regular train service from Barcelona to the French border. Local buses are also frequent, especially from nearby Cadaqués, with more than eight services daily. The town is sufficiently small to explore on foot.
Figueres. | Pl. del Sol s/n | 972/503155 | en.visitfigueres.cat.
Castell de Sant Ferran.
Just a minute’s drive northwest of Figueres is this imposing 18th-century fortified castle, one of the largest in Europe. Only when you start exploring can you appreciate how immense it is. The parade grounds extend for acres, and the arcaded stables can hold more than 500 horses; the perimeter is roughly 4 km (2½ miles around. This castle was the site of the last official meeting of the Republican parliament (on February 1, 1939) before it surrendered to Franco’s forces. Ironically, it was here that Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero was imprisoned after his failed 1981 coup d’état in Madrid. TIP Call a day ahead and arrange for the “Catedral de l’Aiguas” 2-hour guided tour in English (€15), including a trip through the castle’s subterranean water system by zodiac pontoon boat. | Pujada del Castell s/n | 972/506094, 972/514585 | www.lesfortalesescatalanes.info | €3 | Apr.–June and mid-Sept.–Oct., daily 10–6; July–mid-Sept., daily 10–8; Nov.–Mar., daily 10–3. Last admission 1 hr before closing.
FAMILY | Museu del Joguet de Catalunya.
Hundreds of antique dolls and toys are on display here—including collections owned by, among others, Salvador Dalí, Federico García Lorca, and Joan Miró. It also hosts Catalonia’s only caganer exhibit, from mid-December to mid-January in odd-numbered years. These playful little figures answering nature’s call have long had a special spot in the Catalan pessebre (Nativity scene). Farmers are the most traditional figures, squatting discreetly behind the animals, but these days you’ll find Barça soccer players and politicians, too. Check with the museum for exact dates. | Hotel Paris, Carrer de Sant Pere 1 | 972/504585 | www.mjc.cat | €6 | June–Sept., Mon.–Sat. 10–7, Sun. 11–6; Oct.–May, Tues.–Sat. 10–6, Sun. 11–2.
Fodor’s Choice | Teatre-Museu Dalí.
“Museum” was not a big enough word for Dalí, so he christened his monument a “Theater.” And, in fact, the building was once the Old Town theater, reduced to a ruin in the Spanish Civil War. Now topped with a glass geodesic dome and studded with Dalí’s iconic egg shapes, the multilevel museum pays homage to his fertile imagination and artistic creativity. It includes gardens, ramps, and a spectacular dropcloth Dalí painted for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. Don’t look for his greatest paintings here, although there are some memorable images, including Gala at the Mediterranean, which takes the body of Gala (Dalí’s wife) and morphs it into the image of Abraham Lincoln once you look through coin-operated viewfinders. The sideshow theme continues with other coin-operated pieces, including Taxi Plujós (Rainy Taxi), in which water gushes over the snail-covered occupants sitting in a Cadillac once owned by Al Capone, or Sala de Mae West, a trompe-l’oeil vision in which a pink sofa, two fireplaces, and two paintings morph into the face of the onetime Hollywood sex symbol. Fittingly, another “exhibit” on view is Dalí’s own crypt. When his friends considered what flag to lay over his coffin, they decided to cover it with an embroidered heirloom tablecloth instead. Dalí would have liked this unconventional touch, if not the actual site: he wanted to be buried at his castle of Púbol next to his wife, but the then-mayor of Figueres took matters into his own hands. All in all, the museum is a piece of Dalí dynamite. | Pl. Gala-Salvador Dalí 5 | 972/677500 | www.salvador-dali.org | €12 | July–Sept., daily 9–7:15 (with night visits late July–late Aug., 10–12:15); Mar.–June and Oct., Tues.–Sun. 9:30–5:15; Nov.–Feb., Tues.–Sun. 10:30–5:15.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Casa-Museu Gala Dalí.
The third point of the Dalí triangle is the medieval castle of Púbol, where the artist’s wife, Gala, is buried in the crypt. During the 1970s this was Gala’s residence, though Dalí also lived here in the early 1980s. It contains paintings and drawings, Gala’s haute-couture dresses, elephant sculptures in the garden, furniture, and other objects chosen by the couple. Púbol, roughly between Girona and Figueres, is near the C255, and is not easy to find. If you are traveling by train, get off at the Flaçà station on RENFE’s Barcelona–Portbou line; walk or take a taxi 4 km (2½ miles) to Púbol. By bus, the Sarfa bus company has a stop in Flaçà and on the C255 road, some 2 km (1¼ miles) from Púbol. | Pl. Gala-Dalí s/n | Púbol | 972/488655 | www.salvador-dali.org | €8 | Mid-Mar.–mid-June and mid-Sept.–Oct., Tues.–Sun. 10–6; mid-June–mid-Sept., daily 10–8; Nov.–Dec., Tues.–Sun. 10–5. Last admission 45 mins before closing.
WHERE TO STAY
HOTEL | Dalí had his own private dining room in this former stagecoach relay station, and you can take a meal amid pictures of the great Surrealist. Try the mandonguilles amb sepia al estil Anna (meatballs and cuttlefish), a mar i muntanya (surf and turf) specialty of the house. Rooms are pretty standard. Pros: good central location; family-friendly. Cons: rooms lack character; parking inconvenient; no pets. | Rooms from: €80 | Carrer Lasauca 5 | 972/501250 | www.hotelduran.com | 65 rooms | No meals.
Fodor’s Choice | Hotel Empordà.
HOTEL | Just a mile north of town, this hotel houses the elegant restaurant run by Jaume Subirós that’s been hailed as the birthplace of modern Catalan cuisine and has become a beacon for gourmands. Try the terrina calenta de lluerna a l’oli de cacauet (hot pot of gurnard fish in peanut oil) or, if it’s winter, llebre a la Royal (boned hare cooked in red wine). Guest rooms have a modern, comfortable ambiance, with parquet floors and sparkling bathrooms. The “Figueres” rooms overlook the hotel garden, with a view of the town. The hotel terrace is a prime spot to sit and enjoy a drink before dinner. Pros: historic culinary destination; convenient to the Teatre-Museu Dalí. Cons: on an unprepossessing roadside lot beside the busy N11 highway. | Rooms from: €80 | Av. Salvador Dalí i Domènech 170, 1.5 km (1 mile) north of town | 972/500562 | www.hotelemporda.com | 39 rooms, 3 suites | No meals.
34 km (21 miles) north of Girona, 25 km (15 miles) west of Figueres.
Besalú, the capital of a feudal county until power was transferred to Barcelona at the beginning of the 12th century, remains one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Catalonia. Among its main sights are the 12th-century Romanesque fortified bridge over the Fluvià river; two churches, Sant Vicenç (set on an attractive, café-lined plaza) and Sant Pere; and the ruins of the convent of Santa Maria on the hill above town.
Getting Here and Around
With a population of just over 2,400, the village is easily small enough to stroll through, with all the restaurants and sights within easy distances of each other. There is bus service to Besalú from Figueres and the surrounding Costa Brava resorts.
Besalú. | Carrer del Pont Vell 1 | 972/591240 | www.besalu.cat.
Guided tours of Besalú, offered by the visitor information center (daily at 1 pm in English, setting out from Carrer Major), cover the churches of Sant Pere and Sant Vincenç, archaeological sites, the Jewish Quarter, and the bridge. A nighttime Medieval Tour (July and August, Wednesday at 10 pm), is led by a knight on horseback and a retinue of various characters in costume. Phone reservations are recommended. TIP At the Church of Sant Pere, which has a 13th-century ambulatory, you may hear Gregorian chant. | 972/591240 | Day tours €2.20 (30 mins) and €4.50 (1 hr), night tours €15.
Convent de Santa Maria.
The ruins of the Santa Maria Convent on a hill just outside of town make a good walk and offer a panoramic view over Besalú.
Església de Sant Pere.
This 12th-century Romanesque church is part of a 10th-century monastery, still in an excellent state of preservation. | Pl. de Sant Pere s/n.
Església de Sant Vicenç.
Founded in 977, this pre-Romanesque gem contains the relics of St. Vincent as well as the tomb of its benefactor, Pere de Rovira. La Capella de la Veracreu (Chapel of the True Cross) displays a reproduction of an alleged fragment of the True Cross brought from Rome by Bernat Tallafer in 977 and stolen in 1899. | Carrer de Sant Vicenç s/n.
Jewish ritual baths.
The remains of this 13th-century mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath, were discovered in the 1960s. It’s one of the few surviving in Spain. A stone stairway leads down into the chamber where the water was drawn from the river, but little else indicates the role that the baths played in the medieval Jewish community.
The town’s most emblematic feature is this Romanesque 11th-century fortified bridge with crenellated battlements spanning the Fluvià River.
WHERE TO EAT
Fodor’s Choice | Els Fogons de Can Llaudes.
CATALAN | A faithfully restored 10th-century Romanesque chapel holds proprietor Jaume Soler’s outstanding restaurant, one of Catalonia’s best. A typical main dish is confitat de bou i raïm glacejat amb el seu suc (beef confit au jus with glacé grapes). There is no à la carte menu; call at least one day in advance to reserve the €60 menú de degustació (tasting menu). | Average main: €25 | Prat de Sant Pere 6 | 972/590858, 629/782388 | Reservations essential | Closed Tues. and last 2 wks of Nov.
21 km (13 miles) west of Besalú, 55 km (34 miles) northwest of Girona.
Capital of the comarca (administrative region) of Garrotxa, Olot is famous for its 19th-century school of landscape painters and has several excellent Art Nouveau buildings, including the Casa Solà-Morales, which has a facade by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, architect of Barcelona’s Palau de la Música. The Sant Esteve church at the southeastern end of Passeig d’en Blay is famous for its El Greco painting Christ Carrying the Cross (1605).
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
CATALAN | Chefs Jordi and Isabel Juncà have become legends in the town of La Vall de Bianya just north of Olot, where symposia on culinary matters such as woodcock preparation have inspired prizewinning books. Cuisine firmly rooted in local products, starring game of all sorts, is taken to another level here. What’s on offer varies with the season; order the tasting menu (€90), and sample a full range of the Juncàs’s virtuosity. | Average main: €30 | N260, Km 91, La Vall de Bianya | 972/290015 | www.calenric.net | Reservations essential | Closed Mon., Jan.1–17, and 1st 2 wks in July. No dinner Sun.–Wed.
CATALAN | Off the road east to Figueres, Fina Puigdevall has made this ancient masía (Catalan farmhouse) a design triumph. The sprawling 18th-century rustic structure is filled with glassed-in halls, intimate gardens, and wrought-iron and steel details. The cuisine is seasonal and based on locally grown products, from wild mushrooms to the extraordinarily flavorful legumes and vegetables produced by the rich, volcanic soil of La Garrotxa. There are five rooms for overnight stays. | Average main: €85 | Mas les Cols, Ctra. de la Canya s/n | 972/269209 | www.lescols.com | Reservations essential | Closed 1st 3 wks in Jan.
34 km (21 miles) west of Olot, 91 km (56 miles) north of Girona.
From Olot, it’s an easy drive farther west on Route N260 to Ripoll—the wellspring, in a sense, of Catalonia’s earliest history. The town’s principal attraction is the Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria, established in the late 9th century by Wilfred II—then Count of Barcelona—who wrested the independence of the province from the control of the Frankish Empire. Founder of the first dynastic line of Catalan kings, he rejoiced in the historical nickname Guifré el Pelós: Wilfred the Hairy.
Getting Here and Around
RENFE has 16 commuter trains daily from Sants Station in Barcelona—the trip takes about 2 hours. By car, it’s quicker—you can drive to Ripoll from Barcelona on the C17/C33 highways in about 90 minutes, traffic permitting.
Monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll.
Earthquakes, local wars, and neglect have taken their toll on the monastery; it was largely rebuilt in the 19th century, but the sculptured portico is original—a Romanesque masterpiece—and the cloisters are a haven of peace. The family mausoleum of the counts of Barcelona, the building houses the tombs of Wilfred (“the Hairy”) and his descendants in the dynastic line of Ramón Berenguer I. In medieval times, the monastery was the spiritual center of Catalonia; the better-known and grander Benedictine Abbey of Monserrat, where the Black Virgin is enshrined, was ancillary to it until 1409. | Pl. de l’Abat Oliba s/n.
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Costa Brava Beaches and Sites
The Costa Brava (Wild Coast) is a nearly unbroken series of sheer rock cliffs dropping down to clear blue-green waters, punctuated with innumerable coves and tiny beaches on narrow inlets, called calas. It basically begins at Blanes and continues north along 135 km (84 miles) of coastline to the French border at Portbou. Although the area does have spots of real-estate excess, the rocky terrain of many pockets (Tossa, Cap de Begur, and Cadaqués) has discouraged overbuilding. On a good day here, the luminous blue of the sea contrasts with red-brown headlands and cliffs, and the distant lights of fishing boats reflect on wine-color waters at dusk. Small stands of umbrella pine veil the footpaths to many of the secluded coves and little patches of white sand—often, the only access is by boat.
Getting Here and Around
From Barcelona, the fastest way to the Costa Brava by car is to start up the inland AP7 tollway toward Girona, then take Sortida (Exit) 10 for Blanes, Lloret de Mar, Tossa de Mar, Sant Feliu de Guíxols, S’Agaró, Platja d’Aro, Palamós, Calella de Palafrugell, and Palafrugell. From Palafrugell, you can head inland for La Bisbal and from there on to Girona, in the heart of Northern Catalonia. To head to the middle section of the Costa Brava, get off at Sortida 6, the first exit after Girona; this will point you directly to the Iberian ruins of Ullastret. To reach the northern part of the Costa Brava, get off the AP7 before Figueres at Sortida 4 for L’Estartit, L’Escala, Empúries, Castelló d’Empúries, Aïguamolls de l’Empordà, Roses, Cadaqués, Sant Pere de Rodes, and Portbou. Sortida 4 will also take you directly to Figueres, Peralada, and the Alberes mountains. The old national route, N11, is slow, heavily traveled, and more dangerous, especially in summer.
COSTA BRAVA BEACHES AND SITES
60 km (37 miles) northeast of Barcelona, 45 km (28 miles) south of Girona.
The beaches closest to Barcelona are at Blanes (60 km [37 miles] northeast of Barcelona; 45 km [28 miles] south of Girona). The Costa Brava begins here with five different beaches, running from Punta Santa Anna on the far side of the port—a tiny cove with a pebbly beach at the bottom of a chasm encircled by towering cliffs, fragrant pines, and deep blue-green waters—to the 2½-km-long (1½-mile-long) S’Abanell beach, which draws the crowds. Small boats can take you from the harbor to Cala de Sant Francesc or the double beach at Santa Cristina between May and September.
The town’s castle of Sant Joan, on a mountain overlooking the town, goes back to the 11th century. The watchtower on the coast was built in the 16th century to protect against Barbary pirates. Most travelers skip the working port of Blanes.
FAMILY | Fireworks Competition.
The summer event in Blanes that everyone waits for is the fireworks competition, held every night at 11, July 21–27, which coincides with the town’s annual festival. The fireworks are launched over the water from a rocky outcropping in the middle of the seaside promenade known as Sa Palomera while people watch from the beach and surrounding area as more gunpowder is burned in a half hour than at the battle of Trafalgar.
TOSSA DE MAR
80 km (50 miles) northeast of Barcelona, 41 km (25 miles) south of Girona.
The next stop north from Blanes on the coast road—by way of the mass-market resort of Lloret de Mar—is Tossa de Mar (80 km [50 miles] northeast of Barcelona, 41 km [25 miles] south of Girona), christened “Blue Paradise” by painter Marc Chagall, who summered here for four decades. Tossa’s walled medieval town and pristine beaches are among Catalonia’s best.
Set around a blue buckle of a bay, Tossa de Mar is a symphony in two parts: the Vila Vella, or Old Town—a knotted warren of steep, narrow, cobblestone streets with many restored buildings (some dating back to the 14th century)—and the Vila Nova, or New Town. The former is encased in medieval walls and towers, but the New Town is open to the sea and is itself a lovely district threaded by 18th-century lanes. Girdling the Old Town, on the Cap de Tossa promontory that juts out into the sea, the 12th-century walls and towers at water’s edge are a local pride and joy, the only example of a fortified medieval town on the entire Catalan coast.
Ava Gardner filmed the 1951 British drama Pandora and the Flying Dutchman here (a statue dedicated to her stands on a terrace on the medieval walls). Things may have changed since those days, but this beautiful village retains much of the unspoiled magic of its past. The primary beach at Tossa de Mar is the Platja Gran (Big Beach) in front of the town beneath the walls, and just next to it is Mar Menuda (Little Sea), where the small, colorfully painted fishing boats—maybe the same ones that caught your dinner—pull up onto the beach.
The main bus station (the local tourist office is here) is on Plaça de les Nacions Sense Estat. Take Avinguda Ferran and Avinguda Costa Brava to head down the slope to the waterfront and the Old Town, which you enter via the Torre de les Hores, and head to the Vila Vella’s heart—the Gothic church of Sant Vicenç—for a journey back in time to the Middle Ages.
One of only three Chagall paintings in Spain, Celestial Violinist, is in the Museu Municipal. In a lovingly restored 14th-century house, this museum is said to be Catalonia’s first dedicated to modern art. | Pl. Pintor Roig i Soler 1 | 972/340709 | €3 | Tues.–Fri. 9–1 and 3–5, Sat. 10–2 and 4–6, Sun. 10–2.
Where to Eat and Stay
La Cuina de Can Simon.
CATALAN | Elegantly rustic, this restaurant right beside Tossa del Mar’s medieval walls serves a combination of classical Catalan cuisine with up-to-date innovative touches. The menu changes with the season; two tasting menus (€68 and €98) provide more than enough to sample. The service is top-shelf, from the welcoming tapa with a glass of cava to the little pastries accompanying coffee. | Average main: €20 | Carrer del Portal 24 | 972/341269 | Closed Mon. and Tues., Nov. 7–26, last 2 wks of Jan., and Oct.–May. No dinner Sun.
HOTEL | The hotel is on the beach, in hailing distance of the old quarter in the medieval fortress, and proprietor Maria-Eugènia Serrat, a native Tossan, lavishes warm personal attention on every guest. The excellent restaurant has canopied seating on the promenade, and specializes in traditional fish stews, with ingredients fresh off the boat. Rooms are simple, and those with sea-views have private terraces. Pros: family-friendly; perfect location; good value. Cons: rooms a little small; minimal amenities; no private parking. | Rooms from: €93 | Passeig del Mar 17 | 972/340358 | www.hotelcapritossa.com | 22 rooms | Closed Nov.–Mar. | Breakfast.
Fodor’s Choice | Hotel Diana.
HOTEL | Built in 1906 by architect Antoni Falguera, this Art Nouveau gem sits on the square in the heart of the old town, steps from the beach. Painted coffered ceilings, a stunning carved stone fireplace, and stained-glass double doors enhance the interior and there’s an inner courtyard—a lush garden with palm trees, flowers, and fountains—that’s a perfect place to cozy up with a glass of sherry and while away the early evening. Some guest rooms have private terraces; the suite is a duplex with spectacular panoramic views. Pros: attentive service; ideal location. Cons: minimal amenities; room rates unpredictable. | Rooms from: €165 | Pl. de Espanya 6 | 972/341886 | www.hotelesdante.com | 20 rooms, 1 suite | Closed Nov.–Mar. | Breakfast.
Hotel Sant March.
HOTEL | This family hotel in the center of town is two minutes from the beach. Rooms open onto a pleasant interior garden that’s an oasis of tranquillity in a sometimes hectic town. The comfortable lounge gives access to the pool. Rooms are simply furnished, with minimal amenities. Pros: warm personal touch; good value. Cons: no elevator; rooms a bit small; few exterior views. | Rooms from: €95 | Avda. del Pelegrí 2 | 972/340078 | www.hotelsantmarch.com | 29 rooms | Closed Oct.–Mar. | Breakfast.
SANT FELIU DE GUIXOLS
23 km (15 miles) north of Tossa de Mar.
The little fishing port of Sant Feliu de Guixols, 23 km (15 miles) north of Tossa de Mar, is set in a small bay; handsome Moderniste mansions line the seafront promenade, recalling a time when the cork industry made this one of the wealthier towns on the coast. In front of them, a long crescent beach of fine white sand leads around to the fishing harbor at its north end. Behind the promenade, a well-preserved old quarter of narrow streets and squares leads to a 10th-century gateway with horseshoe arches (all that remains of a pre-Romanesque monastery); nearby, a church still stands that combines Romanesque, Gothic, and baroque styles. To get here, take the C65 highway from Tossa del Mar—though adventurous souls might prefer the harrowing hairpin curves of the G1682 coastal corniche.
Where to Eat and Stay
CATALAN | Half a block in from the beach at Sant Feliu de Guixols, this restaurant serves home-cooked seafood and upland specialties; the pimientos de piquillos rellenos de brandada (sweet red peppers stuffed with codfish mousse) are first-rate, as are the rice dishes and the escudella. The dining room is always full, with customers waiting their turn in the street, but the staff is good at finding spots at the jovially long communal tables. Lunch menus at €11, €14, and €16 are a bargain. There are very basic rooms (doubles at €80, without breakfast) available for overnight sojourns. | Average main: €11 | Carrer de Sant Pere 11 | Sant Feliu de Guixols | 972/321009 | Closed Nov.–June (except New Year’s Eve weekend) | No meals.
Fodor’s Choice | El Dorado.
CATALAN | Lluis Cruañes, who once owned superb Catalan restaurants in Barcelona and New York, returns to his roots in Sant Feliu. With his daughter Suita running the dining room and Iván Álvarez as chef, this smartly designed restaurant with contemporary lines, a block back from the beach, serves tasty dishes from llom de tonyina a la plancha amb tomàquets agridolços, cebas i chíps d’escarchofa (grilled tuna with pickled tomato, baby onions, and artichoke chips) to llobarro rostít amb emulsió de cítrics i espàrrecs trigueros (roast sea bass with a citric emulsion and wild asparagus), all cooked to perfection. Try the patates braves (new potatoes in allioli and hot sauce). | Average main: €20 | Rambla Vidal 19 | Sant Feliu de Guixols | 972/821414 | Closed Tues. No lunch Oct.–Easter.
El Dorado Mar.
SEAFOOD | Around the southern end of the beach at Sant Feliu de Guixols, perched over the entrance to the harbor, this superb family restaurant offers fine fare at unbeatable prices. Whether straight seafood such as lubina (sea bass) or dorada (gilt-head bream) or revuelto de setas (eggs scrambled with wild mushrooms), everything served here is fresh and flavorful. | Average main: €12 | Passeig Irla 15 | Sant Feliu de Guixols | 972/321818 | No dinner mid-Oct.–Easter.
CATALAN | This Moderniste villa on the coast road from Sant Feliu to S’Agaró, with a lovely turn-of-the-20th-century zinc bar, serves up typical Catalan and seasonal Mediterranean dishes like arròs a la cassola (deep-dish rice) with shrimp brought fresh off the boats in Palamos, just up the coast. The terrace is a popular and shady spot just across the road from the beach. | Average main: €25 | Passeig de Sant Pol 95 | 972/822526 | Closed Mon. and mid-Dec.–mid-Jan. No dinner Tues.–Thurs. and Sun. Oct.–Mar.
Hostal del Sol.
HOTEL | Once the summer home of a wealthy family, this Moderniste hotel has a grand stone stairway and medieval-style tower, as well as a garden and a lawn where you can take your ease by the pool. Rooms are modestly furnished with just the basic amenities, though a few have ornate antique headboards and private balconies. The sumptuous buffet breakfast (€10 extra) is a bargain. Pros: family-friendly; good value. Cons: bathrooms a bit claustrophobic; far from the beach; on a busy road. | Rooms from: €98 | Ctra. a Palamós 194 | Sant Feliu de Guixols | 972/320193 | www.hostaldelsol.cat/en | 41 rooms | Breakfast.
3 km (2 miles) north of Sant Feliu.
An elegant gated community on a rocky point at the north end of the cove, S’Agaró is 3 km (2 miles) north of Sant Feliu. The 30-minute walk along the sea wall from Hostal de La Gavina to Sa Conca Beach is a delight. Likewise, the one-hour hike from Sant Pol Beach over to Sant Feliu de Guixols for lunch and back offers a superb view of the Costa Brava at its best.
Where to Stay
Fodor’s Choice | L’Hostal de la Gavina.
HOTEL | Orson Welles, who used to spend weeks at a time here, called this the finest resort hotel in Spain. Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Peter Sellars, and Sean Connery have all tasted the hospitality of La Gavina. Opened in 1932 by farmer-turned-entrepreneur Josep Ensesa, the original hotel grew from a cluster of country villas into a sprawling complex of buildings of extraordinary splendor. Guest rooms have marble floors, Oriental rugs, oak paneling, and ebony wardrobes inlaid in ivory. (The hotel employs craftsmen who do nothing but restore and care for the museum-quality furniture.) Adolfo Florensa, the last architect to work on La Gavina, added the elegant sea-water pool and terrace; the view of the Mediterranean from here is sublime. Pros: in a gated community; impeccable service and amenities; sea views. Cons: hard on the budget and habit-forming. | Rooms from: €410 | Pl. de la Rosaleda s/n | S’Agarό | 972/321100 | www.lagavina.com | 51 rooms, 23 suites | Closed Nov.–Easter | Breakfast.
CALELLA DE PALAFRUGELL AND AROUND
Up the coast from S’Agaró, the C31 brings you to Palafrugell and Begur; to the east are some of the prettiest, least developed inlets of the Costa Brava. One road leads to Llafranc, a small port with waterfront hotels and restaurants, and forks right to the fishing village of Calella de Palafrugell, known for its July habaneras festival. (The habanera is a form of Cuban dance music brought to Europe by Catalan sailors in the late 19th century; it still enjoys a nostalgic cachet here.) Just south is the panoramic promontory of Cap Roig, with views of the barren Formigues Isles.
North along the coast lie Tamariu, Aiguablava, Fornell, Platja Fonda, and (around the point at Cap de Begur) Sa Tuna and Aiguafreda. There’s not much to do in any of these hideaways (only Llafranc has a long enough stretch of seafront to accommodate a sandy beach), but you can luxuriate in the wonderful views and the soothing quiet.
Where to Eat and Stay
Fodor’s Choice | Pa i Raïm.
CATALAN | “Bread and Grapes” in Catalan, this excellent restaurant in Josep Pla’s ancestral family home in Palafrugell has one rustic dining room as well as another in a glassed-in winter garden. In summer the leafy terrace is the place to be. The menu ranges from traditional country cuisine to more streamlined contemporary fare such as strawberry gazpacho. The canelón crujiente de verduritas y setas (crisped cannelloni with young vegetables and wild mushrooms) and the prawn tempura with soy sauce emulsion are two standouts. | Average main: €18 | Torres i Jonama 56 | Palafrugell | 972/304572 | www.pairaim.com | Closed Mon. and mid-Dec.–early Jan. No dinner Sun.; no lunch Mon. and Tues. July and Aug.
FAMILY | El Far Hotel-Restaurant.
B&B/INN | Rooms in this 17th-century hermitage attached to a 15th-century watchtower have original vaulted ceilings, hardwood floors, and interiors accented with floral prints. The larger doubles and the suite can accommodate extra beds for children. Some rooms have terraces or balconies overlooking the lovely Bay of Llafranc. The restaurant specializes in paellas and local Empordàn cuisine. Pros: friendly service; graceful architecture; spectacular views. Cons: longish drive from the beach; a bit pricy for the amenities. | Rooms from: €255 | Muntanya de San Sebastia, Carrer Uruguai s/n | Llafranc–Palafrugell | 972/301639 | www.elfar.net | 8 rooms, 1 suite | Closed Jan. | Breakfast.
BEGUR AND AROUND
From Begur, you can go east through the calas or take the inland route past the rose-color stone houses and ramparts of the restored medieval town of Pals. Nearby Peratallada is another medieval fortified town with a castle, tower, palace, and well-preserved walls. North of Pals there are signs for Ullastret, an Iberian village dating from the 5th century BC.
The Greco-Roman ruins here are Catalonia’s most important archaeological site. This port is one of the most monumental ancient engineering feats on the Iberian Peninsula. As the Greeks’ original point of arrival in Spain, Empúries was also where the Olympic Flame entered Spain for Barcelona’s 1992 Olympic Games.
Parc Natural Submarí (Underwater Natural Park).
L’Estartit is the jumping-off point for the spectacular Parc Natural Submarí by the Medes Isles, famous for diving and underwater photography.
Where to Eat and Stay
CATALAN | This excellent pocket of authentic Costa Brava tastes and aromas serves everything from snails to woodcock in season. Wild mushrooms scrambled with eggs or stewed with hare are specialties, as are complex and earthy red wines made by enologist Jordi Oliver of the Oliver Conti vineyard in the Alt Empordà’s village of Capmany. The terrace is ideal for leisurely dining. | Average main: €19 | Carrer Valls 11 | Ullastret | 972/757108 | Closed Mon., and Tues.–Wed. Nov.–Mar. No dinner Sun. Nov.–Mar.
El Convent Hotel and Restaurant.
HOTEL | Built in 1730, this elegant former convent is a 10-minute walk to the beach at the Cala Sa Riera—the quietest and prettiest inlet north of Begur. Rooms have terracotta floors and rustic furniture; some have big, comfortable massage shower stalls and balconies that overlook the garden and pool. Pros: outstanding architecture; quiet and private. Cons: minimum stay required in summer. | Rooms from: €235 | Ctra. de la Platja del Racó 2 | Begur | 972/623091 | www.conventbegur.com | 24 rooms, 1 suite | Breakfast.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Hotel Aigua Blava.
HOTEL | What began as a small hostal in the 1920s is now a sprawling luxury hotel, run by the fourth generation of the same family. Traditional touches—rocking chairs and wooden furniture in the sitting rooms, black-and-white photos tracing the evolution of the hotel—blend pleasantly with breezy rooms and lovely views of the inlet at Fornells. The bright, sun-filled restaurant overlooks the water and serves Catalan-style fish dishes, including fresh-off-the-boat lubina (sea bass) served with oven-baked potatoes. The hotel is about 9 km (6 miles) north of Calella de Palafrugell. Pros: impeccable service; gardens and pleasant patios at every turn; private playground. Cons: lots of stairs to negotiate; no beach in the inlet. | Rooms from: €209 | Platja de Fornells s/n | Begur | 972/624562 | www.aiguablava.com | 66 rooms, 19 suites | Breakfast.
Parador de Aiguablava.
HOTEL | The vista from this modern white parador, 9 km (6 miles) north of Calella de Palafrugell, is the classic postcard Costa Brava: the rounded Cala d’Aiguablava wraps around the shimmering blue Mediterranean. The parador maximizes its cliff-top perch with large windows everywhere—in the cool-tone rooms (all with private terraces), the bright and airy restaurant, and the many comfortable sitting rooms. There’s a walkway down to the cala, where a second restaurant, the summer-only Mar i Vent on the beach, serves fine Costa Brava favorites like the much-heralded anchoas (anchovies) from nearby L’Escala. Pros: magnificent views; good-size rooms. Cons: building itself lacks character; minimum stays required in summer; service can be perfunctory. | Rooms from: €188 | Playa d’Aiguablava s/n | Begur | 972/622162 | www.parador.es | 68 rooms, 10 suites | Closed Jan. 6–Feb. 20 | No meals.
CADAQUÈS AND AROUND
Spain’s easternmost town, Cadaqués, still has the whitewashed charm that transformed this fishing village into an international artists’ haunt in the early 20th century. The Marítim bar is the central hangout both day and night; after dark, you might also enjoy the Jardí, across the square. Salvador Dalí’s house, now a museum, is at Port Lligat, a 15-minute walk north of town.
Cap de Creus.
North of Cadaqués, Spain’s easternmost point is a fundamental pilgrimage, if only for the symbolic geographical rush. The hike out to the lighthouse—through rosemary, thyme, and the salt air of the Mediterranean—is unforgettable. The Pyrenees officially end (or rise) here. New Year’s Day finds mobs of revelers awaiting the first emergence of the “new” sun from the Mediterranean. Gaze down at heart-pounding views of the craggy coast and crashing waves with a warm mug of coffee in hand or fine fare on the table at Bar Restaurant Cap de Creus, which sits on a rocky crag above the Cap de Creus.
Casa Museu Salvador Dalí.
This was Dalí’s summerhouse and a site long associated with the artist’s notorious frolics with everyone from poets Federico García Lorca and Paul Eluard to filmmaker Luis Buñuel. Filled with bits of the Surrealist’s daily life, it’s an important point in the “Dalí triangle,” completed by the castle at Púbol and the Teatre-Museu Dalí in Figueres. You can get here by a 3-km (2-mile) walk north along the beach from Cadaqués. Only small groups of visitors are admitted at any given time; reservations are required. | Port Lligat s/n | 972/251015 | www.salvador-dali.org | €11 | Mid-June–mid-Sept., daily 9:30–9; early Feb.–mid-June and mid-Sept.–early Jan., Tues.–Sun. 10:30–6.
Dalí’s former home is now the resting place of Gala, his perennial model and mate. It’s a chance to wander through another Dalí-esque landscape: lush gardens, fountains decorated with masks of Richard Wagner (the couple’s favorite composer), and distinctive elephants with giraffe’s legs and claw feet. Two lions and a giraffe stand guard near Gala’s tomb. | Pl. Gala Dalí s/n, on Rte. 255, about 15 km (9 miles) east of A7 toward La Bisbal | Púbol-la Pera | 972/488655 | €8 | Mid-June–mid-Sept., daily 10–8; mid-Mar.–mid-June and mid-Sept.–early Nov., Tues.–Sun. 10–6; early Nov.–Dec., Tues.–Sun. 10–5.
Fodor’s Choice | Sant Pere de Rodes.
The monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, 7 km (4½ miles) by car (plus a 20-minute walk) above the pretty fishing village El Port de la Selva, is one of the most spectacular sites on the Costa Brava. Built in the 10th and 11th centuries by Benedictine monks—and sacked and plundered repeatedly since—this Romanesque monolith, recently restored, commands a breathtaking panorama of the Pyrenees, the Empordà plain, the sweeping curve of the Bay of Roses, and Cap de Creus. (Topping off the grand trek across the Pyrenees, Cap de Creus is a spectacular six-hour walk from here on the well-marked GR11 trail.) One-hour guided visits to the monastery in English are available (€2.95). TIP In July and August, the monastery is the setting for the annual Festival Sant Pere ( | www.festivalsantpere.com | 972/194233, 610/310073), drawing top-tier classical musicians from all over the world. The website publishes the calendar of events (in Spanish); phone for reservations—and to book a postconcert dinner in the monastery’s refectory-style restaurant. | Camí del Monestir s/n | El Porte de la Selva | 972/387559 | www.mhcat.cat | €4.50 | June–Sept., Tues.–Sun. 10–8; Oct.–May, Tues.–Sun. 10–5:30.
Where to Eat and Stay
Fodor’s Choice | Casa Anita.
SEAFOOD | Simple, fresh, and generous dishes are the draw at this informal little eatery—an institution in Cadaqués for nearly half a century. Tables are shared, and there is no menu; the staff recites the offerings of the day, which might include wonderful local prawns and sardines a la plancha, mussels, and sea bass. There’s also a fine selection of inexpensive regional wines. The walls are plastered with pictures of the celebrities who have made the pilgrimage here, including Dalí himself. Call for reservations, or come early and wait for a table. | Average main: €25 | Carrer Miquel Rosset 16 | 972/258471 | Reservations essential | Closed mid-Oct.–Nov. and Mon. Sept.–May. No lunch Mon. in summer.
Hotel Playa Sol.
HOTEL | Open for more than 50 years, this hotel sits in the cove of Es Pianc, just a five-minute walk from the village center. Rooms are light and airy, with modern furnishings; all but two have a balcony or terrace, and some have wonderful views of the sea. Boaters will love this place—all types of craft tie up here, as Costa Brava chronicler Josep Pla spread its fame as the best place to drop anchor in Cadaqués. Pros: attentive, friendly service; family-friendly; great views. Cons: redecorated rooms in relentless white could use a splash of color; best rooms, with balcony and sea views, are hard to book. | Rooms from: €178 | Riba Es Pianc 3 | 972/258100 | www.playasol.com | 48 rooms | Closed mid-Nov.–mid-Feb. | Breakfast.
HOTEL | This intimate, typically Mediterranean bayside hotel caters to people who want to make the most of their stay in the village and don’t want to spend too much time in their hotel. Rooms are simple and serene, and so is the restaurant cuisine, which includes lots of grilled meats and fish. Pros: semiprivate beach next to the hotel is less crowded than the main beach. Cons: rooms on the small side; somewhat lightweight beds and furnishings. | Rooms from: €128 | Carrer Dr. Bartomeus 37 | 972/251020 | www.llanepetit.com | 37 rooms | Closed Nov.–Mar. | No meals.
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Tarragona | Montserrat | Sitges, Santes Creus, and Santa Maria de Poblet | Valencia | Albufera Nature Park
South of the Costa Brava, the time machine takes you back some 20 centuries. Tarragona, the principal town of southern Catalonia, was in Roman times one of the finest and most important outposts of the empire. Its wine was already famous and its population was the first gens togata (literally, the toga-clad people) in Spain, which conferred on them equality with the citizens of Rome. Roman remains, chief among them the Circus Maximus, bear witness to Tarragona’s grandeur, and to this the Middle Ages added wonderful city walls and citadels.
Farther south lies Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city and the capital of its region and province, equidistant from Barcelona and Madrid. If you have time for a day trip (or you decide to stay in the beach town of El Saler), make your way to the Albufera, a scenic coastal wetland teeming with native wildlife, especially migratory birds.
98 km (61 miles) southwest of Barcelona, 251 km (155 miles) northeast of Valencia.
With its vast Roman remains, walls, and fortifications and its medieval Christian monuments, Tarragona has been designated a World Heritage Site. The city today is a vibrant center of culture and arts, a busy fishing and shipping port, and a natural jumping-off point for the towns and pristine beaches of the Costa Daurada, 216 km (134 miles) of coastline north of the Costa del Azahar.
Though modern Tarragona is very much an industrial and commercial city, it has preserved its heritage superbly. Stroll along the town’s cliffside perimeter and you’ll see why the Romans set up shop here: Tarragona is strategically positioned at the center of a broad, open bay, with an unobstructed view of the sea. As capital of the Roman province of Hispania Tarraconensis (from 218 BC), Tarraco, as it was then called, formed the empire’s principal stronghold in Spain. St. Paul preached here in AD 58, and Tarragona became the seat of the Christian church in Spain until it was superseded by Toledo in the 11th century.
Entering the city from Barcelona, you’ll pass the Triumphal Arch of Berà, dating from the 3rd century BC, 19 km (12 miles) north of Tarragona; and from the Lleida (Lérida) autopista, you can see the 1st-century Roman aqueduct that helped carry fresh water 32 km (19 miles) from the Gaià River. Tarragona is divided clearly into old and new by Rambla Vella; the Old Town and most of the Roman remains are to the north, while modern Tarragona spreads out to the south. You could start your visit at acacia-lined Rambla Nova, at the end of which is a balcony overlooking the sea, the Balcó del Mediterràni. Then walk uphill along Passeig de les Palmeres; below it is the ancient amphitheater, the curve of which is echoed in the modern, semicircular Imperial Tarraco hotel on the promenade.
Getting Here and Around
Tarragona is well connected by train: there are half-hourly express trains from Barcelona (1 hour and 20 minutes; €7.50) and regular train service from other major cities, including Madrid.
The bus trip from Barcelona to Tarragona is easy; 7 to 10 buses leave Barcelona’s Estación Vilanova-Norte every day. Connections between Tarragona and Valencia are frequent. There are also bus connections with the main Andalusian cities, plus Alicante, Madrid, and Valencia.
The €18 Tarragona Card, valid for two days, gives free entry to all the city’s museums and historical sites, free rides on municipal buses, and discounts at more than 100 shops, restaurants, and bars. It’s sold at the main tourist office and at most hotels.
Tours of the cathedral and archaeological sites are conducted by the tourist office, located just below the cathedral.
Tarragona. | Carrer Major 39 | 977/250795 | www.tarragonaturisme.cat/en.
Tarragona—the Emperor Augustus’s favorite winter resort—had arguably the finest amphitheater in Roman Iberia. The remains of the amphitheater, built in the 2nd century AD for gladiatorial and other contests, have a spectacular view of the sea. You’re free to wander through the access tunnels and along the tiers of seats. In the center of the theater are the remains of two superimposed churches, the earlier of which was a Visigothic basilica built to mark the bloody martyrdom of St. Fructuós and his deacons in AD 259. TIP €11.05 buys a combination ticket valid for all Tarragona archeological museums and sites. | Parc de l’Amphiteatre Roma s/n | 977/242579, 977/242220 | €3.30 | Tues.–Sat. 10–7 (until 9 June–Sept.), Sun. 10–3.
Built between the 12th and 14th centuries on the site of a Roman temple and a mosque, this cathedral shows the transition from Romanesque to Gothic style. The initial rounded placidity of the Romanesque apse gave way to the spiky restlessness of the Gothic; the result is somewhat confusing. If no mass is in progress, enter the cathedral through the cloister, which houses the cathedral’s collection of artistic and religious treasures. The main attraction here is the 15th-century Gothic alabaster altarpiece of St. Tecla by Pere Joan, a richly detailed depiction of the life of Tarragona’s patron saint. Converted by St. Paul and subsequently persecuted by local pagans, St. Tecla was repeatedly saved from demise through divine intervention. | Pl. de la Seu s/n | 977/226935, 977/238685 | €5 | Weekdays 10–8, Sat. 10–7 (until 7:30 Apr.–Oct.), Sun. for Mass only.
Students have excavated the vaults of the 1st-century-AD Roman arena, near the amphitheater. The plans just inside the gate show that the vaults now visible formed only a small corner of a vast space (350 yards long), where 23,000 spectators gathered to watch chariot races. As medieval Tarragona grew, the city gradually engulfed the circus. | Pl. del Rei, Rambla Vella s/n | 977/251515 | €3.30, €11.05 combination ticket with Casa Castellarnau and Praetorium | Apr.–Sept., Mon.–Sat. 10–9, Sun. 9–3; Oct.–Mar., Tues.–Sat. 10–7, Sun. 10–3.
Now an art and historical museum, this Gothic palauet (town house) built by Tarragona nobility in the 18th century includes stunning furnishings from the 18th and 19th centuries. The last member of the Castellarnau family vacated the house in 1954. | Carrer dels Cavallers 14 | 977/242220 | €3.30, €11.05 combination ticket with Circus Maximus and Praetorium | Tues.–Sun. 10–3.
The always entertaining fishing quarter and harbor are below the city near the bus station and the mouth of the Francolí River. Attending the afternoon fish auction is a golden opportunity to see how choice seafood starts its journey toward your table in Barcelona or Tarragona. Restaurants in the port, like Manolo (Carrer Gravina 61 | 977/223484), are excellent choices for no-frills fresh fish in a rollicking environment.
In this small museum showcasing the life and work of the city’s most illustrious son, there are copies of the models Gaudí made for his major works and a replica of his studio. His original notebook—with English translations—is filled with his thoughts on structure and ornamentation, complaints about clients, and calculations of cost-and-return on his projects. A pleasant café on the third floor overlooks the main square of the old city and the bell tower of the Church of Sant Pere. The Centre also houses the Tourist Office; pick up information here about visits to two of Domènech’s most important buildings: the Casa Navàs (by appointment) and the Institut Pere Mata (€5). | Pl. del Mercadal 3 | Reus | 977/010670 | www.gaudicentre.cat/en | €7 | Early Jan.–mid-June and mid-Sept.–Dec., Mon.–Sat. 10–2 and 4–7, Sun. 11–2; mid-June–mid-Sept., Mon.–Sat. 10–8, Sun. 11–2.
Museu Nacional Arqueològic de Tarragona.
A 1960s neoclassical building contains this museum housing the most significant collection of Roman artifacts in Catalonia. Among the items are Roman statuary and domestic fittings such as keys, bells, and belt buckles. The beautiful mosaics include a head of Medusa, famous for its piercing stare. Don’t miss the video on Tarragona’s history. | Pl. del Rei 5 | 977/236209 | €2.40 combined ticket with the Necrópolis i Museu Paleocristìa | June–Sept., Tues.–Sat. 9:30–8:30, Sun. 10–2; Oct.–May, Tues.–Sat. 9:30–6, Sun. 10–2.
Museu Pau Casals.
The family house of renowned cellist Pau Casals (1876–1973) is on the beach at Sant Salvador, just east of the town of El Vendrell. Casals, who left Spain in self-imposed exile after Franco seized power in 1939, left a museum of his possessions here, including several of his cellos, original music manuscripts, paintings and sculptures. Other exhibits describe the Casals campaign for world peace (Pau, in Catalan, is both the name Paul and the word for peace), his speech and performance at the inauguration of the United Nations in 1958 (at the age of 82), and his haunting interpretation of El Cant dels Ocells (The Song of the Birds), his homage to his native Catalonia. Across the street, the Auditori Pau Casals holds frequent concerts and, in July and August, a classical music festival. | Av. Palfuriana 67 | 977/684276 | www.paucasals.org | €6 | Mid-June–mid-Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 5–9, Sun. 10–2; mid-Sept.–mid-June, Tues.–Fri. 10–2 and 4–6, Sat. 10–2 and 4–7, Sun. 10–2.
Necrópolis i Museu Paleocristià.
Just uphill from the fish market is the fascinating early Christian necropolis and museum. | Avda. Ramon y Cajal 84 | 977/236209, 977/251515 | €2.40 combined entry with Museum Nacional Arqueològic | June–Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 4–8, Sun. 10–2; Oct.–May Tues.–Sat 9:30–1:30 and 3–6, Sun. 10–2.
A 1.5-km (1-mile) circular path skirting the surviving section of the 3rd-century-BC Ibero-Roman ramparts, this walkway was built on even earlier walls of giant rocks. On the other side of the path is a glacis, a fortification added by English military engineers in 1707 during the War of the Spanish Succession. Look for the rusted bronze of Romulus and Remus. | Access from Via de l’Imperi Romà.
This towering building was Augustus’s town house, and is reputed to be the birthplace of Pontius Pilate. Its Gothic appearance is the result of extensive alterations in the Middle Ages, when it housed the kings of Catalonia and Aragón during their visits to Tarragona. The Praetorium is now the city’s Museu d’Història (History Museum), with plans showing the evolution of the city. The museum’s highlight is the Hippolytus Sarcophagus, which bears a bas-relief depicting the legend of Hippolytus and Fraeda. You can access the remains of the Circus Maximus from the Praetorium. | Pl. del Rei | 977/221736, 977/242220 | €3.30, €11.05 combination ticket with Casa Castellarnau and Circus Maximus | May.–Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10–9, Sun. 10–3; Oct.–Apr., Tues.–Sat. 10–7, Sun. 10–3.
Reus: Birthplace of Modernisme
No city matches Barcelona for the sheer density of its Modernisme, but it all began in Reus (13 km [8 miles] northwest of Tarragona), where Antoni Gaudí was born and where his contemporary, Lluís Domènech i Montaner—lesser known but in some ways the more important architect—lived and worked for much of his early career. The oldest part of the city—defined by a ring of streets called ravals, where the medieval walls once stood—has narrow streets and promenades with many of Reus’s smartest shops, boutiques, and coffeehouses. Inside the ring, and along the nearby Carrer de Sant Joan, are some 20 of the stately homes by Domènech, Pere Caselles, and Joan Rubió that make Reus a must for fans of the Moderniste movement.
Getting Here An express bus service operates some 30 daily buses between Tarragona (main bus station) and Reus (Avenida Jaume I); the trip takes about 30 minutes each way. There are five buses daily between Barcelona and Reus (only two on Saturday, one on Sunday), and regular train service connects Reus with Tarragona and other Catalonian and Andalusian destinations.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
CATALAN | If you have time for only one meal in the city, take it at this elegant little restaurant in the heart of historic Tarragona. The menu is bursting with both mountain and Mediterranean fare. Start off with the canelons d’auberginia amb ànec (eggplant and duck cannelloni); seafood fans should try the tronc de lluç al forn amb patates (oven-baked hake with potatoes). The prix-fixe lunch at €18 is a bargain. | Average main: €24 | Carrer Sant Llorenç 15 | 977/228300 | Closed Sun.
Fodor’s Choice | Les Voltes.
CATALAN | Built into the vaults of the Roman Circus Maximus, this out-of-the-way spot serves a hearty cuisine. You’ll find Tarragona specialties, mainly fish dishes, as well as international recipes, with calçots (spring onions, grilled over a charcoal fire) in winter. (For the calçotadas, you need to reserve a day—preferably two—in advance.) | Average main: €11 | Carrer Trinquet Vell 12 | 977/230651 | www.restaurantlesvoltes.cat | No dinner Sun.; no lunch Mon. Oct.–Mar.
HOTEL | Large and white, this half-moon-shape hotel has a superb position overlooking the Mediterranean. The spacious public rooms have cool marble floors, black-leather furniture, marble-top tables, and Oriental rugs. Guest rooms are plain but comfortable, and each has a private balcony. Insist on a sea view. Pros: facing the Mediterrranean and overlooking the fishing port and the Roman amphitheater. Cons: on a very busy intersection with heavy traffic. | Rooms from: €85 | Passeig Palmeres s/n | 977/233040 | www.hotelhusaimperialtarraco.com | 151 rooms, 19 suites | No meals.
Plaça de la Font.
HOTEL | The central location and the cute rooms at this budget choice just off the Rambla Vella in the Plaça de la Font make for a comfortable base in downtown Tarragona. A public parking lot under the square is a boon for those with rental cars, and the rooms with balconies afford a sense of being part of the street life. Pros: easy on the budget; comfortable, charming rooms. Cons: rooms are on the small side; rooms with balconies can be noisy on weekends. | Rooms from: €55 | Pl. de la Font 26 | 977/240822 | www.hotelpdelafont.com | 20 rooms | No meals.
NIGHTLIFE AND PERFORMING ARTS
Nightlife in Tarragona takes two forms: older and quieter in the upper city, younger and more raucous down below. There are some lovely rustic bars in the Casc Antic, the upper section of Old Tarragona. Port Esportiu, a pleasure-boat harbor separate from the working port, has another row of dining and dancing establishments; young people flock here on weekends and summer nights.
For a dose of culture with your cocktail, this laid-back bar hosts readings, art exhibits, and occasional screenings of classic or contemporary movies. | Carrer Santa Anna 3 | 977/241843.
This is Tarragona’s center for music, dance, theater, and cultural events ranging from castellers (human-castle formations, usually performed in August and September) to folk dances. | Rambla Nova 46 | 977/244795.
You have to haggle for bargains, but Carrer Major has some exciting antiques stores. They’re worth a thorough rummage, as the gems tend to be hidden. | Carrer Major.
50 km (31 miles) west of Barcelona.
Getting Here and Around
If you’re driving, follow the A2/A7 autopista on the upper ring road (Ronda de Dalt), or from the western end of the Diagonal as far as Salida 25 to Martorell. Bypass this industrial center and follow signs to Montserrat. Alternatively, you can take the FGC train from the Plaça d’Espanya metro station (hourly 7:36 am–5:41 pm, connecting with the funicular leaving every 15 minutes), or go on a guided tour with Pullmantur or Julià.
Fodor’s Choice | La Moreneta.
A favorite side trip from Barcelona is a visit to the shrine of La Moreneta (the Black Virgin of Montserrat), Catalonia’s patron saint, in a Benedictine monastery high in the Serra de Montserrat, west of town. These dramatic, sawtooth peaks have given rise to countless legends: here St. Peter left a statue of the Virgin Mary, carved by St. Luke; Parsifal found the Holy Grail; and Wagner sought musical inspiration. Montserrat is as memorable for its strange topography as it is for its religious treasures, so be sure to explore the area. The monastic complex is dwarfed by the grandeur of the jagged peaks, and the crests above bristle with chapels and hermitages. The hermitage of Sant Joan can be reached by funicular. The views over the mountains to the Mediterranean and, on a clear day, to the Pyrenees are breathtaking; the rugged, boulder-strewn terrain makes for dramatic walks and hikes.Although a monastery has stood on the same site in Montserrat since the early Middle Ages, the present 19th-century building replaced the rubble left by Napoléon’s troops in 1812. The shrine is world famous and one of Catalonia’s spiritual sanctuaries—honeymooning couples flock here by the thousands seeking La Moreneta’s blessing on their marriages, and twice a year, on April 27 and September 8, the diminutive statue of Montserrat’s Black Virgin becomes the object of one of Spain’s greatest pilgrimages. Only the basilica and museum are regularly open to the public. The basilica is dark and ornate, its blackness pierced by the glow of hundreds of votive lamps. Above the high altar stands the famous polychrome statue of the Virgin and Child, to which the faithful can pay their respects by way of a separate door. TIP The famous Escolania de Montserrat boys’ choir sing the Salve and Virulai from the liturgy Monday–Saturday at 1 pm and Sunday at noon. | Montserrat | Daily 7–10:30 and noon–6:30.
SITGES, SANTES CREUS, AND SANTA MARIA DE POBLET
This trio of attractions south and west of Barcelona can be seen in a day. Sitges is the prettiest and most popular resort in Barcelona’s immediate environs, with an excellent beach and a whitewashed and flowery old quarter. It’s also one of Europe’s premier gay resorts. Monolithic Romanesque architecture and beautiful cloisters characterize the Cistercian monasteries west of here, at Santes Creus and Poblet.
Getting Here and Around
By car, head southwest along Gran Via or Passeig Colom to the freeway that passes the airport on its way to Castelldefels. From here, the freeway and tunnels will get you to Sitges in 20 to 30 minutes. From Sitges, drive inland toward Vilafranca del Penedès and the A7 freeway. The A2 (Lleida) leads to the monasteries. Regular trains leave Sants and Passeig de Gràcia for Sitges; the ride takes a half hour. To get to Santes Creus or Poblet from Sitges, take a Lleida-line train to L’Espluga de Francolí, 4 km (2½ miles) from Poblet; there’s one direct train in the morning at 7:37 and four more during the day with transfers at Sant Vicenç de Calders. From L’Espluga, take a cab to the monastery.
43 km (27 miles) southwest of Barcelona.
The pristine, fine white sand of the Sitges beach is elbow-to-elbow with sun-worshippers April through September. The eastern end of the strand is dominated by an alabaster statue of the 16th-century painter El Greco, usually associated with Toledo, where he spent most of his professional career. The artist Santiago Rusiñol is to blame for this surprise; he was such an El Greco fan that he not only installed two El Greco paintings in his Museu Cau Ferrat but also had this sculpture planted on the beach.
This is the most interesting museum in Sitges, established by the Bohemian artist and co-founder of the Els Quatre Gats café in Barcelona, Santiago Rusiñol (1861–1931), and containing some of his own paintings together with two El Grecos. Connoisseurs of wrought iron will love the beautiful collection of cruces terminales, crosses that once marked town boundaries. Next door is the Museu Maricel de Mar, with more artistic treasures; Casa Llopis, a romantic villa offering a tour of the house and tasting of local wine, is a short walk across town, at Carrer Sant Gaudeni 1. | Carrer Fonollar s/n | 93/894–0364 | www.museusdesitges.cat | €3.50, €6.40 ticket valid for all 3 museums (free 1st Wed. of the month) | June 14–Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 3:30–7, Sun. 11–3; Oct.–June 13, Tues.–Sat. 11–8, Sun. 11–3.
Where to Eat
SEAFOOD | Perched on a rocky point above the bay, Vivero specializes in paellas and seafood; try their mariscada, a meal-in-itself ensemble of lobster, mussels, and prawns. Inside, the dining areas are geared up for banquets and large groups, but weather permitting, the best seats in the house are on the terraces, with their wonderful views of the water—especially on the night of August 23rd, when the fiesta major of Sitges is ushered out with a spectacular display of fireworks. | Average main: €22 | Passeig Balmins s/n, Playa San Sebastián | 93/894–2149, 608/942474 | www.elviverositges.com | Closed Mon. No dinner Sun. Dec. 20–May.
EN ROUTE: Bodegas Miguel Torres.
After leaving Sitges, make straight for the A2 autopista by way of Vilafranca del Penedès. Wine buffs may want to stop here to taste some excellent Penedès wines; you can tour and sip at the Bodegas Miguel Torres (Finca Mas la Plana). | Ctra. St. Martí Sarroca, Finca El Maset s/n | Pacs del Penedès | 93/817–7568, 93/817–7330 | www.torres.es | €6.60 includes standard tour and a single wine tasting.
Vinseum (Museu de les Cultures del Vi de Catalunya). This interesting wine museum in the Royal Palace has exhibits describing wine-making history in Catalonia. | Pl. Jaume I 5 | Vilafranca | 93/890–0582 | www.vinseum.cat | €10, includes tastings and audioguide | Mon.–Sat. 10–2 and 4–7, Sun. 10–2.
95 km (59 miles) west of Barcelona.
Sitges, with its summer festivals of dance and music, film and fireworks, is anything but solemn. Head inland, however, some 45 minutes’ drive west, and you discover how much the art and architecture—the very tone of Catalan culture—owes to its medieval religious heritage.
The ancient gates are too narrow for cars, and a walk through its tiny streets reveals Gothic churches with stained-glass windows, a 16th-century hospital, and medieval mansions. | Off A2 at Exit 9.
Founded in 1157, Santes Creus is the first of the monasteries you’ll come upon as A2 branches west toward Lleida; take Exit 11 off the highway. Three austere aisles and an unusual 14th-century apse combine with the newly restored cloisters and the courtyard of the royal palace. | Pl. Jaume el Just s/n | Aguamúrcia | 977/638329 | €4.50 | Tues.–Sun. 10–6:30 (until 7 June–Sept.).
SANTA MARIA DE POBLET
8 km (5 miles) west of Santes Creus.
Fodor’s Choice | Santa Maria de Poblet.
This splendid Cistercian foundation at the foot of the Prades Mountains is one of the great masterpieces of Spanish monastic architecture. The cloister is a stunning combination of lightness and size, and on sunny days the shadows on the yellow sandstone are extraordinary. Founded in 1150 by Ramón Berenguer IV in gratitude for the Christian Reconquest, the monastery first housed a dozen Cistercians from Narbonne. Later, the Crown of Aragón used Santa Maria de Poblet for religious retreats and burials. The building was damaged in an 1836 anticlerical revolt, and monks of the reformed Cistercian Order have managed the difficult task of restoration since 1940. Today, monks and novices again pray before the splendid retable over the tombs of Aragonese rulers, restored to their former glory by sculptor Frederic Marès; they also sleep in the cold, barren dormitory and eat frugal meals in the stark refectory. | Off A2 | 977/870254 | www.poblet.cat | €7, €10 with guide | Guided tours available by reservation daily 10–12:30 and 3–5:30.
This town, famous for its early spring calçotada held on the last Sunday of January, is 10 km (6 miles) from Santes Creus and 15 km (9 miles) from Poblet. Even if you miss the big day, calçots are served from November to April at rustic and rambling farmhouses such as Cal Ganxo in nearby Masmolets (Carrer Esglèsia 13 | 977/605960); and also the Xiquets de Valls, Catalonia’s most famous castellers, might be putting up a living skyscraper.
351 km (210 miles) southwest of Barcelona, 357 km (214 miles) southeast of Madrid.
Valencia is a proud city. During the Civil War, it was the last seat of the Republican Loyalist government (1935–36), holding out against Franco’s National forces until the country fell to 40 years of dictatorship. Today it represents the essence of contemporary Spain—daring design and architecture along with experimental cuisine—but remains deeply conservative and proud of its traditions. Though it faces the Mediterranean, Valencia’s history and geography have been defined most significantly by the River Turia and the fertile huerta that surrounds it.
The city has been fiercely contested ever since it was founded by the Greeks. El Cid captured Valencia from the Moors in 1094 and won his strangest victory here in 1099: he died in the battle, but his corpse was strapped into his saddle and so frightened the besieging Moors that it caused their complete defeat. In 1102 his widow, Jimena, was forced to return the city to Moorish rule; Jaume I finally drove them out in 1238. Modern Valencia was best known for its frequent disastrous floods until the River Turia was diverted to the south in the late 1950s. Since then the city has been on a steady course of urban beautification. The lovely bridges that once spanned the Turia look equally graceful spanning a wandering municipal park, and the spectacularly futuristic Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (City of Arts and Sciences), most of it designed by Valencia-born architect Santiago Calatrava, has at last created an exciting architectural link between this river town and the Mediterranean. If you’re in Valencia, an excursion to Albufera Nature Park is a worthwhile day trip.
Getting Here and Around
By car, Valencia is about 3½ hours from Madrid via the A3 motorway, and about the same from Barcelona on the AP7 toll road. Valencia is well connected by bus and train, with regular service to and from cities throughout the country, including nine daily AVE high-speed express trains from Madrid, making the trip in 1 hour 40 minutes, and six Euromed express trains daily from Barcelona, taking about three-and-a-half hours. Valencia’s bus station is across the river from the old town; take Bus No. 8 from the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Frequent buses make the four-hour trip from Madrid and the five-hour trip from Barcelona. Dozens of airlines, large and small, serve Valencia airport, connecting the city with dozens of cities throughout Spain and the rest of Europe.
Once you’re here, the city has an efficient network of buses, trams, and metro. For timetables and more information, stop by the local tourist office. The double-decker Valencia Bus Turístic runs daily 9:45–7:45 (until 9:15 in summer) and departs every 20 to 30 minutes from the Plaza de la Reina. It travels through the city, stopping at most of the main sights: 24- and 48-hour tickets (€17 and €19 respectively) let you get on and off at eight main boarding points, including the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Museo de Bellas Artes, and the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències. The same company also offers a two-hour guided trip (€16) to Albufera Nature Park, including an excursion by boat through the wetlands, departing from the Plaza de la Reina. In summer (and sometimes during the rest of the year) Valencia’s tourist office organizes tours of Albufera. You see the port area before continuing south to the lagoon itself, where you can visit a traditional barraca (thatch-roofed farmhouse).
Valencia. | Av. Menendez Pidal 3 | 963/466266.
Valencia–Estación del Norte. | Xativa 24 | 902/240505, 902/240202.
Valencia. | Pl. de la Reina 19 | 963/153931 | www.visitvalencia.com | Pl. del Ayuntamiento s/n | 963/524908 | www.turisvalencia.es.
Valencia Bus Turístic. | Pl. de la Reina 8 | 963/414400, 699/982514 | www.valenciabusturistico.com.
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Fodor’s Choice | Cathedral.
Valencia’s 13th- to 15th-century cathedral is the heart of the city. The building has three portals—Romanesque, Gothic, and Rococo. Inside, Renaissance and Baroque marble was removed to restore the original Gothic style, as is now the trend in Spanish churches. The Capilla del Santo Cáliz (Chapel of the Holy Chalice) displays a purple agate vessel purported to be the Holy Grail (Christ’s cup at the Last Supper) and thought to have been brought to Spain in the 4th century. Behind the altar you can see the left arm of St. Vincent, who was martyred in Valencia in 304. Stars of the cathedral museum are Goya’s two famous paintings of St. Francis de Borja, Duke of Gandia. To the left of the cathedral entrance is the octagonal tower El Miguelete, which you can climb (207 steps) to the top: the roofs of the old town create a kaleidoscope of orange and brown terra-cotta, with the sea in the background. It’s said that you can see 300 belfries from here, many with bright-blue cupolas made of ceramic tiles from nearby Manises. The tower was built in 1381 and the final spire added in 1736. TIP The Portal de los Apostoles, on the west side of the Cathedral, every Thursday at noon is the scene of the 1,000-year-old ceremony of the Water Tribunal. The judges of this ancient court assemble here, in traditional costume, to hand down their decisions on local irrigation-rights disputes. | Pl. de la Reina s/n, Ciutat Vella | 963/918127 | www.catedraldevalencia.es | Cathedral and museum €4.50, tower €2 | Mon.–Sat. 10–6:30, Sun. 2–6:30.
A Good Walk
A good place to begin your stroll through Valencia’s historic center is at the cathedral in the Plaza de la Reina (climb the Miguelete Tower for good city views). Cross the Plaza de la Virgen and in front of you to the left stands the Gothic Palau de la Generalitat. Continuing down Calle Caballeros, you pass Valencia’s oldest church, San Nicolás. After spending time inside, walk to the Plaza del Mercado and the 15th-century Lonja de la Seda. Opposite are the Iglesia de los Santos Juanes, the interior of which was destroyed during the civil war, and the spectacular produce market Mercado Central. Walk down Avenida María Cristina to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, one of the city’s liveliest areas. A five-minute walk down Avenida Marqués de Sotelo takes you to the Moderniste Estación del Norte (North Train Station), next to which is the Plaza de Toros. Head back to the city center via the bustling Plaza del Ayuntamiento and then walk along Calle Poeta Querol to the wedding-cake facade of the Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas. Cross the Calle Poeta Querol to Plaza Patriarca and enter the Real Colegio del Patriarca. Wander Old Town’s streets on your way north toward the Turia River—cross by Puente de la Trinidad to see the Museo de Bellas Artes, adjoined by the Jardines del Real (Royal Gardens). Walk up Calle San Pio V to the Puente de Serranos and cross back to the 14th-century twin Torres de Serranos, which once guarded the city’s entrance. Turn right for the Casa Museo José Benlliure, and continue west to the Institut Valèncià d’Art Modern (IVAM). On a separate outing, cross the Turia and stroll south to the Palau de la Música and Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències.
Allow a day to tour the old quarter, the Museo de Bellas Artes, and the IVAM. Tack on a few hours the next day for the Palau de la Música and Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències.
Designed mainly by native son Santiago Calatrava, this sprawling futuristic complex is the home of Valencia’s Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe (Prince Philip Science Museum), L’Hemisfèric (Hemispheric Planetarium), L’Oceanogràfic (Oceanographic Park), and Palau de les Arts (Palace of the Arts). With resplendent buildings resembling combs and crustaceans, the Ciutat is a favorite of architecture buffs and curious kids. The Science Museum has soaring platforms filled with lasers, holograms, simulators, hands-on experiments, and a swell “zero gravity” exhibition on space exploration. The eye-shaped planetarium projects 3-D virtual voyages on its huge IMAX screen. At l’Oceanogràfic (the work of architect Felix Candela), the largest marine park in Europe, you can take a submarine ride through a coastal marine habitat. Recent additions include an amphitheater, an indoor theater, and a chamber-music hall. | Av. Autovía del Saler 7 | 902/100031 | www.cac.es | €8 Museu de les Ciències, €27.90 L’Oceanogràfic, €8.80 L’Hemisfèric, €36.25 combination ticket | Museu de les Ciències: early Jan.–mid-Apr., Mon.–Thurs. 10–6, Fri.–Sun. 10–7; mid-Apr.–June and early Sept.–Dec., daily 10–7; July–early Sept., daily 10–9. L’Oceanogràfic: early Jan.–mid-June and Oct.–Dec., Sun.–Fri. 10–6, Sat. 10–7; mid- to late June and mid- to late Sept., Sun.–Fri. 10–7, Sat. 10–8; early to mid-July and mid- to late Sept., daily 10–8; mid-July–Aug., daily 10–midnight. L’Hemisfèric: Sun.–Thurs. 10–8, Fri.–Sat. 10–9, with shows hourly from 11.
Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange).
On the Plaza del Mercado, this 15th-century building is a product of Valencia’s golden age, when the city’s prosperity as one of the capitals of the Corona de Aragón made it a leading European commercial and artistic center. The Lonja was constructed as an expression of this splendor. Widely regarded as one of Spain’s finest civil Gothic buildings, its facade is decorated with ghoulish gargoyles, complemented inside by high vaulting and slender helicoidal (twisted) columns. Opposite the Lonja stands the Iglesia de los Santos Juanes (Church of the St. Johns), gutted during the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War, and, next door, the Moderniste Mercado Central (Central Market), with its wrought-iron girders and stained-glass windows. The bustling food market (at 8,160 square meters, one of the largest in Europe) is open Monday through Saturday 8 to 2; locals and visitors alike queue up at the 1,247 colorful stalls to shop for fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and confections. | Pl. del Mercado s/n, Ciutat Vella | 963/525478, 926/085143 | www.lonjadevalencia.com | €2 | Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 4:30–8:30, Sun. 10–3.
Fodor’s Choice | Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts).
Valencia was a thriving center of artistic activity in the 15th century—one reason that the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, with its lovely palm-shaded cloister, is among the best in Spain. To get here, cross the old riverbed by the Puente de la Trinidad (Trinity Bridge) to the north bank; the museum is at the edge of the Jardines del Real (Royal Gardens; open daily 8–dusk), with its fountains, rose gardens, tree-lined avenues, and small zoo. The permanent collection of the museum includes many of the finest paintings by Jacomart and Juan Reixach, members of the group known as the Valencian Primitives, as well as work by Hieronymus Bosch—or El Bosco, as they call him here. The ground floor has a number of the brooding, 17th-century Tenebrist masterpieces by Francisco Ribalta and his pupil José Ribera, a Diego Velázquez self-portrait, and a room devoted to Goya. Upstairs, look for Joaquín Sorolla (Gallery 66), the Valencian painter of everyday Spanish life in the 19th century. | Calle San Pío V 9, Trinitat | 963/870300 | www.museobellasartesvalencia.gva.es | Free | Tues.–Sun. 10–7, Mon. 11–5.
Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas (Ceramics Museum).
This building near Plaza Patriarca has gone through many changes over the years and now has elements of several architectural styles, including a fascinating baroque alabaster facade. Embellished with carvings of fruits and vegetables, the facade was designed in 1740 by Ignacio Vergara. It centers on the two voluptuous male figures representing the Dos Aguas (Two Waters), a reference to Valencia’s two main rivers and the origin of the noble title of the Marqués de Dos Aguas. Since 1954, the palace has housed the Museo Nacional de Cerámica, with a magnificent collection of local and artisanal ceramics. Look for the Valencian kitchen on the second floor. | Calle Poeta Querol 2 | 963/516392 | www.mceramica.mcu.es | Palace and museum €3 (free Sat. 4–8 and Sun.) | Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 4–8, Sun. 10–2. Night visits July–Aug., Sat. 10–midnight.
Casa Museo José Benlliure.
The modern Valencian painter and sculptor José Benlliure is known for his intimate portraits and massive historical and religious paintings, many of which hang in Valencia’s Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts). Here in his elegant house and studio are 50 of his works, including paintings, ceramics, sculptures, and drawings. On display are also works by his son, Pepino, who painted in the small, flower-filled garden in the back of the house, and iconographic sculptures by Benlliure’s brother, the well-known sculptor Mariano Benlliure. | Calle Blanquerías 23 | 963/911662 | €2 (free Sun.) | Mid-Mar.–mid-Oct., Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 3–7, Sun. 10–3; mid-Oct.–mid-Mar., Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 3–6, Sun. 10–3.
Estación del Norte.
Designed by Demetrio Ribes Mano in 1917, the train station—declared a National Historical-Artistic monement in 1983—is a splendid Moderniste structure decorated with motifs of Valencia oranges. The tops of the two towers seem to sprout like palm trees. | Calle Xátiva 24 | 902/240202.
Institut Valèncià d’Art Modern (IVAM).
Dedicated to modern and contemporary art, this blocky, uninspired building on the edge of the old city—where the riverbed makes a loop—houses a permanent collection of 20th-century avant-garde painting, European Informalism (including the Spanish artists Antonio Saura, Antoni Tàpies, and Eduardo Chillida), pop art, and photography. | Carrer de Guillem de Castro 118, Ciutat Vella | 963/863000 | www.ivam.es | €2 (free Sun.) | Tues.–Sun. 10–7; Closed Mon.
Palau de la Generalitat.
On the left side of the Plaza de la Virgen, fronted by orange trees and box hedges, is this elegant facade. The Gothic building was once the home of the Cortes Valencianas (Valencian Parliament), until it was suppressed by Felipe V for supporting the losing side during the 1700–14 War of the Spanish Succession. The two salones (reception rooms) in the older of the two towers have superb woodwork on the ceilings. Don’t miss the Salon de los Reyes, a long corridor lined with portraits of Valencia’s kings through the ages. Call in advance for permission to enter. | Calle Caballeros 2 | 963/863461 | Weekdays 9–2.
Palau de la Música (Music Palace).
On one of the nicest stretches of the Turia riverbed is this huge glass vault, Valencia’s main concert venue. Supported by 10 arcaded pillars, the dome gives the illusion of a greenhouse, both from the street and from within its sun-filled, tree-landscaped interior. Home of the Orquesta de Valencia, the main hall also hosts touring performers from around the world, including chamber and youth orchestras, opera, and an excellent concert series featuring early, baroque, and classical music. For concert schedules, pick up a Turia guide or one of the local newspapers at any newsstand. To see the building without concert tickets, pop into the art gallery, which hosts free changing exhibits. | Paseo de la Alameda 30 | 963/375020 | www.palauvalencia.com | Gallery daily 10–1:30 and 5–9:30.
Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
With the massive baroque facades of the Ayuntamiento and the Correos (central Post Office) facing each other across the park, this plaza is the hub of city life. City Hall itself houses the municipal tourist office and a museum of paleontology. TIP Pop in just for a moment to marvel at the Post Office, with its magnificent stained-glass cupola and ring of classical columns. They don’t build ‘em like that any more. | Pl. del Ayuntamiento 1 | 963/525478 | Ayuntamiento weekdays 8:30–2:30.
Plaza de Toros.
Adjacent to the train station, this bullring is one of the oldest in Spain. The best bullfighters are featured during Las Fallas in March, particularly on March 18 and 19. | Calle Xátiva 28, Ciutat Vella | 963/519315
Museo Taurino (Bullfighting Museum).
This museum has bullfighting memorabilia, including bull heads and matador swords. | Pasaje Dr. Serra 10, Ciutat Vella | 963/883738 | €2 | Tues.–Sat. 10–6, Sun. and Mon. 10–2.
Real Colegio del Corpus Christi (Iglesia del Patriarca).
This seminary, with its church, cloister, and library, is the crown jewel of Valencia’s Renaissance architecture and one of the city’s finest sites. Founded by San Juan de Ribera in the 16th century, it has a lovely Renaissance patio and an ornate church, and its museum holds works by Juan de Juanes, Francisco Ribalta, and El Greco. | Calle de la Nave 3 | 963/514176 | €1.20 | Daily 11–1:30.
A small plaza contains Valencia’s oldest church, once the parish of the Borgia Pope Calixtus III. The first portal you come to, with a tacked-on, Rococo bas-relief of the Virgin Mary with cherubs, hints at what’s inside: every inch of the originally Gothic church is covered with exuberant ornamentation. | Calle Caballeros 35 | 963/913317 | Free | Mon. 7:30 am–8 pm, Tues.–Sat. 9:30–11 and 6:30–8, Sun. 10–1.
Playa las Arenas.
When it gets hot in Valencia—and it gets hot—it can often seem like half the population has taken itself to this grandest of municipal beaches. Unusually wide (nearly 450 feet), it stretches north from the port and the America’s Cup marina more than a kilometer (½ mile), before it gives way to the even busier and livelier Platja de Malvarossa. The Paseo Marìtimo promenade runs the length of the beach and is lined with restaurants and small hotels, including the Neptuno. Las Arenas is a baking beach: there’s no shade anywhere, but the fine golden sand is kept pristine, the water is fairly calm and shallow, and the bottom is clean and smooth. There are three lifeguard posts and three first-aid stations. Brisk offshore winds can make this ideal for wind surfing and small-craft sailing; there’s a sailing school on the beach to meet the demand. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: sunset; swimming; walking; windsurfing. | Las Arenas, 10 mins west of the city center by car, bus, or tram.
WHERE TO EAT
SEAFOOD | Decorated—nay, festooned—with nautical motifs, this restaurant two blocks east of the bullring serves outstanding shellfish. The cooking is simple but makes use of the freshest ingredients; try the grilled lenguado (sole) or lubina (sea bass). Also top-notch are the eight different kinds of rice dishes, including paella with lobster and arroz a banda, with peeled shrimp, prawns, mussels, and clams. For a sweet finale, try the house special naranjas a la reina, oranges spiced with rum and topped with salsa de fresa (strawberry sauce). Lunch attracts businesspeople, and dinner brings in a crowd of locals and visitors. | Average main: €18 | Carrer Félix Pizcueta 13, L’Eixample | 963/526300 | www.eltimonel.com.
SPANISH | Locals regard this bustling informal restaurant, on the promenade at the El Cabanyal beach, as the best in town for seafood paella. Founded in 1898, the walls of the establishment are covered with signed pictures of appreciative visitors, from Ernest Hemingway to King Juan Carlos and the royal family. Try the arroz marinero (seafood paella) topped with shrimp and mussels or hearty platters of calamares (squid) and langostinos (prawns). Save room for the delectable tarts made with fruit in season. | Average main: €15 | Paseo Neptuno 6 | 963/710366 | www.lapepica.com | Closed last 2 wks Nov. No dinner Sun., and Mon.–Thurs. Sept.–May.
SPANISH | A favorite with Valencia’s well connected and well-to-do since 1982, this family-run restaurant a few steps from the Plaza de la Reina specializes in seafood dishes like anguilas (eels) prepared with all i pebre (garlic and pepper), pulpitos guisados (stewed baby octopus), and traditional paellas. Lunch begins at 2 and not a moment before. The walls are covered with decorative ceramics and the gastronomic awards the restaurant has won over the years. | Average main: €13 | Carrer del Mar 27, bajo | 963/914571 | www.lariua.com | Reservations essential | Closed Sun., Easter wk, and last 2 wks Aug. No dinner Mon.
MEDITERRANEAN | This thoroughly modern but comfortable restaurant in the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern is likely to put a serious dent in your budget, but it’s unlikely you’ll sample venison carpaccio anywhere else or partake of an arroz caldoso de bogavante (soupy rice with lobster) any better. All dinner menus are prix fixe, costing €45, €55, or €65. A great choice for lunch is the informal downstairs eatery, on the terrace of the museum, where the €12 prix-fixe lunch gets you a three-course feast. | Average main: €45 | Carrer Guillem de Castro 118, El Carmen | 963/746665 | www.restaurantelasucursal.com | Reservations essential.
BASQUE | The upstairs dining room at this popular Basque restaurant is dominated by two huge wooden cider barrels, long rustic tables for 10—they’re geared to groups and big families but tables can pull apart at need—and half-moon windows overlooking San Vicente Mártir, the busy street between the plazas of the City Hall and the Cathedral. Indulge here in market-fresh fish, charcoal-grilled a la donostiarra (oven-baked, San Sebastian-style, with garlic, cayenne pepper, and apple cider vinegar) or mollejas (sweetbreads) of beef with artichokes; wash down your selection with ample servings of Txakoli Talai Berri wine. Prefer something lighter? Try the tapas bar downstairs (or a table on the sidewalk) for Basque-style pinchos of cod, sweet red peppers, anchovies, and other delicacies on slabs of crusty bread. | Average main: €24 | C. San Vicente Mártir 6, Ciutat Vella | 963/910668, 902/520522 | www.sagardi.com | Reservations essential.
WHERE TO STAY
HOTEL | This nicely designed 19th-century town house sits on a quiet street at the edge of the old city, a minute’s walk from the Plaza Almoina and the Cathedral in one direction, and steps from the Turia gardens in the other. Owner Luis García Alarcón is an antiquarian, and the hotel reflects his eye for classic design and architectural elegance: original decorative brickwork, geometric tile floors, and curved ceiling beams. A buffet breakfast is included. Pros: close to sights but quiet; courteous, helpful staff; great value. Cons: parking can be a nightmare; not especially family-oriented. | Rooms from: €241 | Carrer Boix 4, Ciutat Vella | 963/919140 | www.adhochoteles.com | 28 rooms | No meals.
Fodor’s Choice | Antigua Morellana.
B&B/INN | Run by four convivial sisters, this 18th-century town house provides the ultimate no-frills accommodations in the heart of the old city. Rooms have ochre walls, terra-cotta floors, and somewhat narrow beds; bathrooms are small. Despite the lack of amenities, this hostal is arguably the best value in Valencia. Pros: friendly service; excellent location; complimentary tea in the lounge. Cons: no parking; soundproofing leaves much to be desired. | Rooms from: €50 | C. En Bou 2, Ciutat Vella | 963/915773 | www.hostalam.com | 18 rooms | No meals.
Fodor’s Choice | Caro Hotel.
HOTEL | A triumph of design, opened in 2012, this elegant modern hotel is seamlessly wedded to an important historical property: a 14th-century Gothic palace, built on the 12th-century Arabic wall and over the Roman circus, fragments of which, discovered during the renovation, are on display. The marble staircase and coffered wood ceilings are original; the rooms and furnishings, deck-style terraces on the first and second floors, and the lounge/library are all cutting-edge contemporary. Big, round bathtubs on platforms in the bedrooms may not be to everyone’s taste, but they do lend a romantic touch. Alma del Temple, the hotel’s innovative restaurant, serves up creative riffs on Mediterranean standards, like fillets of monkfish with shrimp ravioli in seafood bisque and lamb with polenta, at surprisingly affordable prices. Pros: good location, a few minutes’ walk from the cathedral; spot-on, attentive service; oasis of quiet. Cons: the two top-floor rooms have low, slanted ceilings; valet parking is rather pricy; decidedly not family-friendly. | Rooms from: €150 | C. Almirante 14 | 963/059000 | www.carohotel.com | 24 rooms, 2 suites | No meals.
Hotel Husa Reina Victoria.
HOTEL | Valencia’s grande dame is an excellent choice for traditional atmosphere and good location, just steps from the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. The spacious public rooms upstairs (there’s no lobby to speak of) have cool marble floors and Belle Epoque–style interior design, as does the elegant restaurant. The smallish guest rooms have parquet floors and gold-patterned bedspreads. Pros: ideal location; walking distance to train station and major sights. Cons: soundproofing not up to par; not especially family-oriented. | Rooms from: €81 | Carrer Barcas 4 | 963/520487 | www.husareinavictoria.com | 96 rooms | No meals.
FAMILY | Neptuno.
HOTEL | This beachfront hotel is a slick, modern addition to the city’s accommodations options. Giant colorful abstracts decorate the public spaces, and the rooms are stylish and minimalist with excellent amenities—including hydromassage tubs—that appeal both to families and business travelers. A spacious sun terrace overlooks the tempting swath of beach (sea-view rooms come at a premium), while the gourmet restaurant has made its mark on the local culinary scene. Pros: superb restaurant; great location for families; hydromassage baths and showers. Cons: extremely long walk to the historic center; gets booked up early in the summer. | Rooms from: €154 | Paseo de Neptuno 2 | 963/567777 | www.hotelneptunovalencia.com | 48 rooms, 2 suites | Breakfast.
Palau de la Mar.
HOTEL | In a restored 19th-century palace, this boutique hotel looks out at the Porta de La Mar, which marked the entry to the old walled quarter of Valencia. White marble and frosted glass provide a sense of light and quiet elegance, and the urban spa is truly luxurious. Ask for a room facing the interior courtyard. The restaurant, Senzone, serves creative Mediterranean cuisine and a sumptuous breakfast (extra charge). Pros: big bathrooms with double sinks; great location. Cons: top-floor rooms have low, slanted ceilings. | Rooms from: €250 | Av. Navarro Reverter 14,Ciutat Vella | 963/162884 | www.hospes.com | 61 rooms, 5 suites | Breakfast.
FAMILY | Rooms Deluxe.
HOTEL | A good choice if you’re traveling with family or friends, these budget accommodations are easy on the wallet. Rooms Deluxe is billed as “luxury hostel,” and it is a big step up from the usual backpacker fare. Rooms are designed by local artists and have whimsical “themes,” from Enchanted Forest to Pop Art. Also run by the same management, and in the same building, are the Valencia Flats—apartments with full kitchens. This place has become a favorite with musicians on tour, performing at the nearby Palau de la Música. Pros: near the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies; friendly staff. Cons: rooms on street can be noisy; a bit far from city center and beaches. | Rooms from: €80 | Avda. Instituto Obrero de Valencia 20, L’Eixample | 963/356793, 963/815339 | www.roomsdeluxe.com | 28 rooms | No meals.
HOTEL | Built in the 18th century as the grand posesión (mansion) of the duques of Cardona, this hotel stands almost precisely at midpoint between the Plaza del Ayuntamiento and the Plaza de la Reina, the two focal points of the old city. Premium doubles look out on the ornate facade of the Ceramics Museum in the Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas. The ample rooms are done in muted tones of beige and brown, unremarkable but with all the basic amenities. Pros: perfectly situated for shopping and sightseeing; excellent value for price. Cons: no parking, no public spaces to speak of; surrounding streets can get noisy. | Rooms from: €80 | C. Marqués de Dos Aguas 6, Ciutat Vella | 963/516426 | www.sh-hoteles.com/en/ingles-hotels.html | 63 rooms | No meals.
HOTEL | Built in 1921 as a cotton mill, with successive recyclings as a fire station and a stable for the mounted National Police Corps, this classic property was transformed in 2006 into the odds-on premier luxury hotel in Valencia. Pride of place goes to the astonishing 20,450-square-foot interior garden, with pavilions set among towering palms and lemon and olive trees. Rooms and suites are huge, with comfy armchairs and writing desks, and armoirs that open and close with a satisfying thunk. The marble in the lobby, the dark paneling and armchairs in the main bar, the elevators that only work on your electronic room card: all tell you that you have arrived. lBook online (and early) for best rates. Pros: attentive, professional, multilingual staff; location steps from the metro that connects directly to the airport; pet-friendly. Cons: rates are high—and climb to astronomical levels during special events like Las Fallas and the Formula One races. | Rooms from: €207 | Av. Amadeo de Saboya 16, Pl. del Reial | 963/625900 | www.westinvalencia | 124 rooms, 11 suites | Breakfast.
NIGHTLIFE AND PERFORMING ARTS
Valencianos have perfected the art of doing without sleep. The city’s nocturnal way of life survives even in summer, when locals disappear on vacation and vie with the hordes of visitors for space on the beach. Nightlife in the old town centers on Barrio del Carmen, a lively web of streets that unfolds north of Plaza del Mercado. Popular bars and pubs dot Calle Caballeros, leading off Plaza de la Virgen; the Plaza del Tossal also has some popular cafés, as does Calle Alta, off Plaza San Jaime.
Some of the funkier, newer places are to be found in and around Plaza del Carmen. Across the river in the new town, look for appealing hangouts along Avenida Blasco Ibáñez and on Plaza de Cánovas del Castillo. Out by the sea, Paseo Neptuno and Calle de Eugenia Viñes are lined with loud clubs and bars most active during the summer. The monthly English-language nightlife and culture magazine 2/7 Valencia is free at tourist offices and various bars and clubs around the city; leisure guides in Spanish include Hello Valencia and La Guía Go.
Café de la Seu.
For quiet after-dinner drinks, try this jazzy, lighthearted bar, with contemporary art and animal-print chairs, open daily from 6. | Carrer Santo Cáliz 7, Ciutat Vella | 963/915715 | www.cafedelaseu.com.
Café del Duende.
For a taste of el ambiente andaluz (Andalusian atmosphere), tuck into tapas and cocktails at this flamenco club in the heart of the Barrio del Carmen. It’s open Wednesday to Saturday from 10 pm, with live performances on Thursday and Friday nights. | C. Túria 62, El Carmen | 630/455289.
Café Tertulia 1900.
A tertulia is a social gathering or a group discussion; lots of Valencianos out to make a night of it start here, to plan the rest of the evening over a mojito or two or maybe one of the café’s 18 different gin-and-tonics. | C. Alta 4, El Carmen | 963/922068.
Need tangible proof that Valencia never sleeps? Find it at this Barrio del Carmen disco (Friday and Saturday only, from midnight), where a young-to-thirtysomething crowd grooves to house and techno music in a restored 17th-century palacio. Drop in at 6 am, if you want: Calcutta will still be open. | C. Reloj Viejo 6, La Seu | 637/488505.
Jimmy Glass Jazz Bar.
Aficionados of modern jazz gather at this bar, open daily 8 pm to 3 am, which books an impressive range of local and international combos and soloists. Cover charge usually runs €10 to €20. | C. Baja 28, El Carmen | www.jimmyglassjazz.net.
Fodor’s Choice | Las Fallas.
If you want nonstop nightlife at its frenzied best, come during the climactic days of this festival, March 15–19, when revelers throng the streets and last call at many of the bars and clubs isn’t until the wee hours, if at all. | www.fallas.com.
The airy, perennially popular, bar–club–performance space Radio City offers eclectic nightly shows featuring music from flamenco to Afro-jazz fusion. | Carrer Santa Teresa 19, Ciutat Vella | 963/914151.
A few steps from the Cathedral, off the upper end of Calle San Vicente Mártir, the newly restored Plaza Redonda (literally “Round Square”) is lined with stalls selling all sorts of souvenirs and traditional crafts. Browse here for ceramics, and especially for embroidered table linens and children’s clothing designed in the intricate Valencian style.
The world-famous porcelain figurines of Lladró originated and are still made not far from Valencia. If you can’t spare time in your itinerary for a (free) tour of the factory and museum in Tavernes Blanques (Ctra. de Alboraya s/n | 963/187008 | Weekdays 9:30–5, Sat. 9:30–1), then at least make a visit to the flagship salesroom in the old town. | C. Poeta Querol 9, Ciutat Vella | 963/511625.
Browse here, in the heart of the old city, for abanicos (traditional silk folding fans), hand-embroidered mantillas (shawls), and parasols. | C. San Vicente Màrtir 2, Ciutat Vella | 963/923023.
ALBUFERA NATURE PARK
11 km (7 miles) south of Valencia.
Getting Here and Around
From Valencia, buses depart from the corner of Sueca and Gran Vía de Germanías every hour (every half hour in summer) daily 7 am to 9 pm.
Albufera Nature Park.
This beautiful freshwater lagoon was named by Moorish poets—albufera means “the sun’s mirror.” Dappled with rice paddies, the park is a nesting site for more than 250 bird species, including herons, terns, egrets, ducks, and gulls. Admission is free, and there are miles of lovely walking and cycling trails. Bird-watching companies offer boat rides all along the Albufera. For maps, guides, and tour arrangements, start your visit at the Park’s information center, the Centre d’Interpretació Raco del’Olla in El Palmar. | Ctra. de El Palmar s/n | 961/627345 | www.albufera.com | Tues.–Sun. 9–2.
This is the major village in the area, with restaurants specializing in various types of paella. The most traditional kind is made with rabbit or game birds, though seafood is also popular in this region because it’s so fresh.
WHERE TO EAT
SPANISH | With its white garden walls and rustic interior, this restaurant is a culinary island in the rice paddies. Valencian families come here on Sunday, when many of the city’s restaurants are closed. Host-owners Maria Dolores Baixauli and Rafael Gálvez preside over evening meals on the terrace, even as the next generation (Rubén Ruiz Vilanova in the kitchen and Helena Gálvez Baixauli as maître d’) begin to contribute new energy. Fish fresh off the boats is grilled over an open fire, and the traditional main dish is the paella de pato, pollo, y conejo (rice with duck, chicken, and rabbit). Choose from 50 types of olive oil on the sideboard for your bread or salad. | Average main: €16 | Ctra. Alfafar–El Saler (CV1045), Km 4 | 962/112184 | www.lamatandeta.es | Closed Mon.
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Dénia | Calpe (Calp) | Altea | Alicante (Alacant)
The stretch of coastline known as the Costa Blanca (White Coast) begins at Dénia, south of Valencia, and stretches down roughly to Torrevieja, below Alicante. It’s best known for its magical vacation combo of sand, sea, and sun, and there are some excellent albeit crowded beaches here, as well as more secluded coves and stretches of sand. Alicante itself—with two long beaches, a charming Old Quarter, and mild and sunny weather most of the year—is a favorite destination for visitors from northern Europe.
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Dénia is the port of departure on the Coast Blanca for the ferries to Ibiza, Formentera, and Mallorca—but if you’re on your way to or from the islands, you would do well to stay at least a night in the lovely little town in the shadow of a dramatic clifftop fortress. At the very least, spend a few hours wandering in the Baix la Mar, the old fishermen’s quarter with its brightly painted houses, and exploring the historic town center.
Dénia. | Calle Jorge Juan 7 | 966/422367 | www.denia.net.
Castillo de Dénia.
Dénia’s most interesting architectural attraction is the castle overlooking the town, and the Palau del Governador (Governor’s Palace) inside. On the site of an 11th-century Moorish fortress, the Renaissance-era palace was built in the 17th century and was later demolished. A major restoration project is underway. The fortress has an interesting archaeological museum as well as the remains of a Renaissance bastion and a Moorish portal with a lovely horseshoe arch. | Calle San Francisco s/n | 966/420656 | €3 | Apr. and May, daily 10–1:30 and 3:30–7; June, daily 10–1:30 and 4–7:30; July and Aug., daily 10–1:30 and 5–8:30; Sept., daily 10–1:30 and 4–8; Oct., daily 10–1 and 3–6:30; Nov.–Mar., daily 10–1 and 3–6.
FAMILY | Cueva de las Calaveras (Cave of the Skulls).
Inland from Dénia, this 400-yard-long cave was named for the 12 Moorish skulls found here when it was discovered in 1768. The cave of stalactites and stalagmites has a dome rising to more than 60 feet and leads to an underground lake. | Ctra. Benidoleig–Pedreguera, Km 1.5 | Benidoleig | 966/404235 | www.cuevadelascalaveras.com | €3.50 | June–Oct., daily 9–8; Nov.–May, daily 9–6.
WHERE TO EAT
SEAFOOD | In the old fishermen’s quarter just across from the port, this classic dining spot features all kinds of fish fresh off the boats. There are also shellfish dishes and a full range of rice specialties, from arros negre (black rice) to a classic paella marinera (seafood and rice). The tapas here are ample and excellent. El Port is a favorite with locals, resident expats, and tour groups alike; in summer high season it gets hectic, which can sometimes put a strain on service and consistency. | Average main: €10 | Esplanada Bellavista 12 | 965/784973 | Closed Thurs.
SEAFOOD | Across the harbor, this Valencian favorite has been serving traditional cuisine with a modern twist for about 25 years. From a terrace with views of the water you can choose from an array of excellent seafood dishes. House specialties include arroz en caldero (rice with monkfish, lobster, or prawns) and gambas rojas (local red prawns). À la carte dining can be expensive; set menus are easier on your wallet. The same owners run a very comfortable and modern hotel three houses down on the same street. | Average main: €16 | C. Bellavista 7 | 965/785040 | www.grupoelraset.com.
Fodor’s Choice | La Seu.
SPANISH | Under co-owners Fede and Diana Cervera and chef Xicu Ramón, this distinguished restaurant in the center of town continues to reinvent and deconstruct traditional Valencian cuisine. The setting is an architectural tour de force: a 16th-century town house transformed into a sunlit modern space with an open kitchen and a three-story-high wall sculpted to resemble a billowing white curtain. The tasting menus, available for lunch or dinner, include a selection of creative tapas—mini-courses, really, that might include a soup and/or a salad—and one rice dish or other main course, giving you a good idea of the chef’s repertoire at an unbeatable price. | Average main: €20 | Calle Loreto 59 | 966/424478 | www.laseu.es | Closed Mon. No dinner Sun.
WHERE TO STAY
Art Boutique Hotel Chamarel.
B&B/INN | Ask the staff and they’ll tell you that chamarel means a “mixture of colors,” and this hotel, built as a grand family home in 1840, is certainly a genial blend of styles, cultures, periods, and personalities. Public spaces can be a little dark, but there’s a tranquil interior courtyard, lush and green, where you can enjoy a drink. Suites have four-poster beds, beamed ceilings, spacious bathrooms, and the original tile floors. A suite in back is perfect for a family. The staff happily arranges museum visits, activities at the port, and wedding parties with flamenco performances. Pros: friendly staff; individual attention; pet-friendly. Cons: no pool; not on the beach. | Rooms from: €85 | Calle Cavallers 13 | 966/435007 | www.hotelchamarel.com | 10 rooms, 5 suites | Breakfast.
FAMILY | Dénia Marriott La Sella Golf Resort and Spa.
RESORT | This large hotel, a 10-minute drive from Dénia, is ideal if you want to combine sporting facilities and a fine spa with sightseeing and the beaches of the coast. Rooms are larger than what you usually find in the area, and the hotel is child-friendly, with on-site babysitting and plenty of activities. The hotel is near Jesus Pobre, 1½ km (1 mi) past the small town of La Xara. Pros: many amenities and activities; good for families. Cons: hard to find without a GPS. | Rooms from: €150 | Alqueria Ferrando s/n | Jesus Pobre | 966/454054 | www.lasellagolfresort.com | 178 rooms, 8 suites | Breakfast.
Fodor’s Choice | El Raset.
B&B/INN | Just across the esplanade from the port, where the Balearia ferries depart for Mallorca and Ibiza, this upscale boutique hotel has amenities that few lodgings in Dénia offer. Included are double-glazed French windows in the ample rooms, plate-sized shower heads, towel warmers for winter, and room service to 11:30 pm. Furnishings are modern, in warm tones of beige and brown. The restaurant of the same name along the street is under the same ownership (FSee Where to Eat). Pros: staff is friendly, attentive, and multilingual; good location. Cons: no pool; overhead lighting in rooms a bit dim; private parking is pricey. | Rooms from: €141 | C. Bellavista 1, Port | 965/786564 | www.hotelelraset.com | 20 rooms | Breakfast.
Fodor’s Choice | Hostal Loreto.
HOTEL | Travelers on tight budgets will appreciate this impeccable lodging, on a central pedestrian street in the historic quarter just steps from the Town Hall. Originally a nunnery, it’s been spruced up by its helpful and hospitable Dutch owners. Environmentally friendly, the Loreto has a solar hot water system and old-fashioned ceiling fans in lieu of a/c. One sign of its religious origins is a life-size statue of Jesus in the interior patio; the faithful come from miles around to see it. The rooms are nothing fancy, but the price is right. Pros: great location; good value; broad comfy roof terrace. Cons: no elevator; no amenities. | Rooms from: €70 | Calle Loreto 12 | Dénia | 966/435419 | www.hostalloreto.com | 43 rooms | No meals.
La Posada del Mar.
HOTEL | A few steps across from the harbor, this hotel in the 13th-century customs house has an inviting rooftop terrace and rooms with views. Inside, there’s a subtle nautical theme, most evident in the sailor’s-knot ironwork along the staircase. The original Tuscan stone arch has been preserved in the lobby—which, with its complement of antique vases, can feel a bit cluttered. Not so the rooms: most have generous balconies, and all have views of the harbor or the fortress above the town. Upscale amenities include comfy terry robes. La Posada’s rooftop terrace is particularly inviting. Pros: serene environment; close to center of town. Cons: pricey parking; no pool. | Rooms from: €180 | Pl. de les Drassanes 2 | Dénia | 966/432966 | www.laposadadelmar.com | 20 rooms, 11 suites | Breakfast.
EN ROUTE: The Playa del Arenal, a tiny bay cut into the larger one, is worth a visit in summer. You can reach it via the coastal road, CV736, between Dénia and Jávea.
35 km (22 miles) south of Dénia.
Calpe has an ancient history, as it was chosen by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Moors as a strategic point from which to plant their Iberian settlements. The real-estate developers were the latest to descend upon it: much of Calpe today is overbuilt with high-rise resorts and urbanizaciónes. But the Old Town is a delightful maze of narrow streets and small squares, archways and cul-de-sacs, houses painted in Mediterranean blue, red, ocher, and sandstone: wherever there’s a broad expanse of building wall, you’ll likely discover a mural. Calpe is, in short, a delightful place to wander.
Calpe. | Pl. del Mosquit s/n | 965/838532 | www.calpe.es.
The fishing industry is still very important in Calpe, and every evening the fishing boats return to port with their catch. The subsequent auction at the Fish Market can be watched from the walkway of La Lonja de Calpe. | Port | Weekdays 4:30–8 pm.
Choose here from a wide range of sailing trips, including cruises up and down the coast. Some of the vessels have glass bottoms, the better to observe the abundant marine life. | Esplanade Maritime s/n | 966/423066 | www.mundomarino.es.
The landscape of Calpe is dominated by this huge rock more than 1,100 yards long, 1,090 feet high, and joined to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. The area has more than 300 species of plants and 80 species of land and marine birds. A visit to the top is not for the fainthearted; wear shoes with traction for the hike, which includes a trip through a tunnel to the summit. The views reach to Ibiza on a clear day. Check with the local visitor information center (Centro de Interpretación, C. Isla de Formentera s/n | 679/195912) about guided tours for groups.
WHERE TO EAT
Patio de la Fuente.
MEDITERRANEAN | In an intimate little space with wicker chairs and pale mauve walls, this restaurant in the old town serves a bargain three-course, prix-fixe dinner, wine included. Try the pears baked in blue cheese sauce or the crispy confit of duck with ginger and plum sauce. In summer, dine on the comfortable patio in back. | Average main: €13 | Carrer del Dos de Maig 16 | 965/831695 | Closed Sun. and Mon. No lunch.
Playa y Lonja.
SEAFOOD | Quite simply, this ample and bustling eatery is a seafood and shellfish lovers’ paradise, offering a wide selection of dishes at competitive prices. Just opposite the fishing port, the terrace and rambling series of dining rooms serve everything from a few oysters for a handful of euros up to family-style combination plates for as much as €100 a throw. The “menu” consists of tables covered with examples of each dish currently available, so diners know exactly what they’re getting. | Average main: €15 | Carretera del Puerto s/n | 965/830032.
Pensión el Hidalgo.
B&B/INN | This family-run pensión near the beach has small but cozy rooms with a friendly, easygoing feel. Several have private balconies overlooking the Mediterranean. A major perk is the intimate breakfast terrace with a sea view for which you would normally have to pay a premium. Pros: beachfront location; reasonable prices. Cons: simple decor; you must book far ahead in summer. | Rooms from: €56 | Av. Rosa de los Vientos 19 | 965/839862 | www.pensionelhidalgo.com | 9 rooms | Breakfast.
11 km (7 miles) southwest of Calpe.
Overbuilt along the beachfront, like much of the Costa Blanca during its orgiastic days of development, Altea is still well preserved on the heights above a truly lovely little old quarter, with narrow cobblestone streets and stairways, and gleaming white houses. At the center is the striking church of Nuestra Señora del Consuelo, with its blue ceramic-tile dome, and the Plaza de la Iglesia in front.
Altea. | Pl. José Maria Planella 7 | 965/844114 | www.altea.es.
WHERE TO EAT
El Torreón de Paula.
SPANISH | This pleasant little restaurant specializes in the cuisine of Castile–Léon, especially lamb and suckling pig roasted on a spit in the asador (wood-fired oven), and sports a very Spanish interior to match, with stone arches and terra-cotta floors. Swords and antique farming tools adorn the walls—and there’s even a cannon. For the roast lamb, you have to order a day ahead. Well worth the effort, especially when your meal is served to you on the terrace overlooking the ocean and the magnificent Peñon d’Ifach peninsula. | Average main: €18 | Carrer Sant Josep 1, Casco Antiguo | 966/888098, 609/645149 | Reservations essential | No lunch July and Aug., or Mon.–Thurs. Sept.–June.
CATALAN | This popular restaurant focuses on fine French and Catalan fare, with such specialties as house-made foie gras, roasted lubina (sea bass), and fondue bourguignonne. There’s also a variety of game in season, including venison and partridge. Book a table on the small and leafy terrace for a particularly romantic dinner. | Average main: €18 | Costera del Mestre la Música 8 | 965/840230 | www.lacosteradealtea.com | Closed Mon.
Oustau de Altea.
EUROPEAN | In one of the prettiest corners of Altea’s old town, this eatery was formerly a cloister and a school. Today the dining room and terrace combine contemporary design gracefully juxtaposed with a rustic setting. Named for the Provençal word for inn or hostelry, Oustau serves polished international cuisine with a French flair. Dishes are named for classic films, such as Love Story (beef and strawberry coulis), and film stars, like the “Sophia Loren” tomato and mozarella salad. Contemporary artists display work here, so the art changes regularly. | Average main: €12 | Calle Mayor 5, Casco Antiguo | 965/842078 | www.oustau.com | Reservations essential | Closed Mon. and Feb. No lunch Oct.–June.
WHERE TO STAY
HOTEL | The pièce de résistance at this pleasant hotel, at the highest point of Altea’s historic center, is the roof terrace with its stunning view. From here, you look out over the church’s distinctive blue-tiled cupola and the surrounding tangle of streets, with a Mediterranean backdrop. Rooms are modest but squeaky-clean, with white walls and pine furnishings. The owners are friendly and multilingual. Pros: lovely views; top value. Cons: no pool or beach; small rooms; when reception is not staffed the door is locked, and you have to call to be let in. | Rooms from: €49 | Calle Beniardá 1, Casco Antiguo | 965/843005 | www.albir21-hostalfornet.com | 23 rooms | No meals.
82 km (51 miles) northeast of Murcia, 183 km (113 miles) south of Valencia, 52km (31 miles) south of Alctea.
The Greeks called it Akra Leuka (White Summit) and the Romans named it Lucentum (City of Light). A crossroads for inland and coastal routes since ancient times, Alicante has always been known for its luminous skies. The city is dominated by the Castillo de Santa Bárbara but also memorable is its grand Esplanada, lined with date palms. Directly under the castle is the city beach, the Playa del Postiguet, but the city’s pride is the long, curved Playa de San Juan, which runs north from the Cap de l’Horta to El Campello.
Getting Here and Around
Alicante has two train stations: the main Estación de Madrid and the local Estación de la Marina, from which the local FGV line runs along the Costa Blanca from Alicante to Dénia. The Estación de la Marina is at the far end of Playa Postiguet and can be reached by buses C1 and C2 from downtown.
The narrow-gauge TRAM train goes from the city center on the beach to El Campello. From the same open-air station in Alicante, the Line 1 train departs to Benidorm, with connections on to Altea, Calpe, and Dénia.
Tortuga Tours. Rent a bicycle by the hour (€3) or by the day (€12) from this company, which also organizes guided walking and jitney tours of the old town, as well as day trips to Calpe, Elche, and other Costa Blanca destinations. | C. Major 45 | 656/606676 | Daily 9–2 and 4–9.
TRAM. | 965/262233 | www.tramalicante.es.
Alicante. | Explanada de España 1 | 965/147038 | www.alicanteturismo.com.
Constructed between 1696 and 1780, the town hall is a beautiful example of Baroque civic architecture. Inside, a gold sculpture by Salvador Dalí of San Juan Bautista holding the famous cross and shell rises to the second floor in the stairwell. Ask gate officials for permission to explore the ornate halls and Rococo chapel on the first floor. | Pl. de Ayuntamiento | 965/149100.
Basílica de Santa María.
Constructed in a Gothic style over the city’s main mosque between the 14th and 16th centuries, this is Alicante’s oldest house of worship. The main door is flanked by beautiful Baroque stonework by Juan Bautista Borja, and the interior highlights are the golden Rococo high altar, a Gothic image in stone of St. Mary, and a sculpture of Sts. Juanes by Rodrigo de Osona. | Pl. de Santa María s/n | 965/216026 | Tues.–Sun. 4–8:30.
Concatedral of San Nicolás de Bari.
Built between 1616 and 1662 on the site of a former mosque, this church (called a concatedral because it shares the seat of the bishopric with the Concatedral de Orihuela) has an austere facade designed by Agustín Bernardino, a disciple of the great Spanish architect Juan de Herrera. Inside, it’s dominated by a dome nearly 150 feet high, a pretty cloister, and a lavish Baroque side chapel, the Santísima Sacramento, with an elaborate sculptured stone dome of its own. Its name comes from the day that Alicante was reconquered—December 6, 1248—which is the feast day of St. Nicolás. | Pl. Abad Penalva 1 | 965/212662 | Daily 11:30–12:30 and 5:30–6:30.
Museo de Bellas Artes Gravina.
Inside the beautiful 18th-century Palacio del Conde de Lumiares, MUBAG, as it’s best known, has some 500 works of art ranging from the 16th to the early 20th century. | Calle de Gravina 13–15 | 965/146780 | www.mubag.org | Free | July and Aug., Tues.–Sat. 11–9, Sun. 11–3; Sept.–June, Tues.–Sat. 10–8, Sun. 10–2.
Outside Old Town
Fodor’s Choice | Castillo de Santa Bárbara (Saint Barbara’s Castle).
One of the largest existing medieval fortresses in Europe, Castillo de Santa Bárbara sits atop 545-foot-tall Mt. Benacantil. From this strategic position you can gaze out over the city, the sea, and the whole Alicante plain for many miles. Remains from civilizations dating from the Bronze Age onward have been found here; the oldest parts, at the highest level, are from the 9th to 13th century. The castle is most easily reached by first walking through a 200-yard tunnel entered from Avenida Jovellanos 1 along Postiguet Beach by the pedestrian bridge, then taking the elevator up 472 feet to the entrance. Guided tours (€3) are offered Monday–Saturday at 11, 12:30 and 5, and a “theatrical tour” (€5), with performers in costume interpreting the history of the castle take place on Sunday at noon from March 17 to June 16—alas! only in Spanish. | Monte Benacantil s/n | 965/263131 | www.castillodesantabarbara.com | Free, elevator €2.50 | Apr.–Sept., daily 10–8; Oct.–Mar., daily 9–7. Last elevator up at 7:30.
Museo Arqueológico Provincial.
Inside the old hospital of San Juan de Dios, this museum has a collection of artifacts from the Alicante region dating from the Paleolithic era to modern times, with a particular emphasis on Iberian art. The MARQ, as it is known, has won recognition as the European Museum Forum’s European Museum of the Year. | Pl. Dr. Gómez Ulla s/n | 965/149000 | www.marqalicante.com | €3 | July and Aug., Tues.–Sat. 11–2 and 6–midnight, Sun. 11–2; Sept.–June, Tues.–Sat. 10–7, Sun. 10–2.
Museo de Fogueres.
Bonfire festivities are popular in this part of Spain, and the effigies can be elaborate and funny, including satirized political figures and celebrities. Every year the best ninots (effigies) are saved from the flames and placed in this museum, which also has an audiovisual presentation of the festivities, scale models, photos, and costumes. | Av. Rambla de Méndez Núñez 29 | 965/146828 | Free | Mid-Sept.–mid-June, Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 5–8, Sun. 10–2; mid-June 15–mid-Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 6–9; Sun. 10–2.
In the Plaza de Toros, the Bullfighting Museum is a must for taurine aficionados, with fine examples of matador costumes (the “suits of lights”), bull heads, posters, capes, and sculptures. | Pl. de España 7 | 965/219930, 965/217678 | Free | July–Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10:30–1:30 and 6–9; Oct.–June, Tues.–Sat. 10:30–1:30 and 5–8.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
TAPAS | The bar and the grill behind it are the center of attention at this historic eatery just off the Rambla, serving up what many claim are the town’s best tapas and montaditos. Try the melt-in-your-mouth solomillo con foie (sirloin with foie gras) or the sandwich made with marinated pork, mushrooms, and red peppers, accompanied by a glass of red from the excellent wine cellar. | Average main: €15 | Calle Teniente Coronel Chapuli s/n | 966/373655.
Fodor’s Choice | La Taberna del Gourmet.
TAPAS | This comfortable restaurant and wine bar in the heart of the casco antiguo earns high marks from locals and international visitors alike. Two dining rooms in back are furnished with thick butcher-block tables and dark brown leather chairs, and the subdued lighting adds to the quietly and casually elegant dining experience. The bar in front offers a selection of fresh seafood tapas—oysters, mussels, razor clams—to complement a well-chosen list of wines from La Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and the Priorat. Try the codfish with rucula and sun-dried tomatoes or the baby lamb chops, and order half portions to sample more of the menu. | Average main: €18 | C. San Francisco 10 | 965/204233 | www.latabernadelgourmet.com.
Fodor’s Choice | Eurostars Mediterránea Plaza.
HOTEL | You’ll find this elegant hotel tucked under the arches in the central plaza. The rooms have parquet floors and simple, soothing modern color schemes. lAsk for room 606 or 607—both have big private terraces with lounge chairs and stunning views of the Castillo and the Old Town. Pros: spacious bedrooms; double-glazed French windows; gym and sauna; good value. Cons: no lobby space to speak of; private parking a bit steep; no pets. | Rooms from: €99 | Pl. del Ayuntamiento 6 | 965/210188 | www.eurostarshotels.com | 50 rooms | No meals.
Hostal Les Monges Palace.
HOTEL | In a restored 1912 building, this family-run hostal is in Alicante’s central old quarter. Exposed stone walls and ceramic tile floors were lovingly preserved during the restoration. Rooms are furnished with eccentric artwork and quirky charm. The Japanese Suite is equipped with furniture from Japan, a hot tub, and a sauna. Pros: personalized service; ideal location; plenty of character. Cons: all services cost extra (breakfast is €6); must book well in advance. | Rooms from: €54 | Calle San Agustín 4 | 965/215046 | www.lesmonges.es | 22 rooms, 2 suites | No meals.
El Barrio, the old quarter west of Rambla de Méndez Núñez, is the prime nightlife area of Alicante, with music bars and discos every couple of steps. In summer, or after 3 am, the liveliest places are along the water, on Ruta del Puerto and Ruta de la Madera.
The hottest club in the casco antiguo area, this place rocks the otherwise tranquil Plaza Portal de Elche with house and pop music on Thursday to Saturday night, from 11:30 pm till the sun comes up. | C. Bailen 2 | 965/143893.
It’s an Alicante tradition to start an evening out here, with El Coscorrón’s generous mojitos. | Calle Tarifa 3 | 609/550749.
Look for distinctive one-off versions of traditional blue-and-white Alicantean ceramics at the potter’s own studio-gallery in the old town. | C. Toledo 27 | 645/501718.