For this post, I’m excited to team up with the Costa Brava Tourism Board to bring you a foodie’s guide to the region. I spent a week road tripping my way through Costa Brava in search of the best foodie experiences.
First off, for those of you wondering, “what/where is Costa Brava?” — Costa Brava is the coastal region of Catalonia, located in the northeastern part of Spain, which I’m sure you all know by now is one of my very favorite countries in the world.
Another interesting fact about the area, especially for fellow foodies, is that Costa Brava has one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred chefs in Spain!
When I visited, it was a fortuitous time to be in Catalonia, as it was when Catalonians were voting on whether to leave Spain and become an independent country.
This isn’t a political blog, and I’ll be the first to admit I don’t fully understand the discussions on both sides, so I won’t weigh in with an opinion. However, I will say it was all anyone talked about, and I was pleased I could visit during such an important, historic moment.
I flew in to Barcelona from Athens right after I had completed the Discover Syros press event. The first thing that struck me was the weather. I was visiting in October, and although summer had definitely ended on the Greek islands, it was still sunny and warm in Spain!
My first stop: the Hertz counter. You can’t take a road trip without a car, after all. I had a good time chatting up the guy at the counter, as his favorite basketball team is the Oklahoma City Thunder, which is from my hometown. Somehow, this conversation ended with my car being upgraded to this gorgeous Volvo SUV:
The car was seriously amazing, the interior was beyond comfortable, and it was so hi-tech that I felt like I was piloting a spaceship. As the trip unfolded, I found myself coming up with reasons to drive–often taking a long way just because I enjoyed driving the car so much.
Leaving Barcelona, I set a course for the town of Blanes, where I would spend my first night. As I cruised along, I found myself admiring the coastline and small towns I passed along the way.
I soon arrived in Blanes, the “Gateway to Costa Brava.” Proving my point about the better weather (77 degrees in October!), I saw people still on the beach as I looked for my hotel.
I planned to spend one night at the Hotel Horitzó, which I found to be perfectly situated within walking distance of everything I wanted to see and do, including the city center and the best restaurants. The room itself was large, clean, and modern. There was even an onsite spa that I sadly hadn’t set aside enough time to visit. Next time for sure.
To make my stay in Blanes even more enjoyable, my room was also advertised as having a sea view. As I peered off my balcony, this was the scene that unfolded below me:
That settled it, I was headed to the beach, at least for a couple of hours.
After spending a bit of time at the beach, I decided to grab lunch. Strolling back along the beach, I found Sorrall, a restaurant near my hotel that offered a set lunch. It was still busy– crowded with locals at 3 pm– and I took that as a good sign.
The employees were friendly and seemed happy when they found out I was a tourist. They carefully explained their menu to me and helped me make my selections. As with most set lunches in Spain, this one included wine for the same price as water or soda. I chose wine, of course.
The set lunch was 16 euro, or about $19 USD. To be honest, I’ve found set lunches throughout Spain that are as good or maybe even better for less money, but this one wasn’t bad at all, and I’d happily return because of the seafront location and friendly employees.
I returned to my room at the hotel for a quick siesta (when in Spain…) before my dinner reservations at Sa Lola, a fusion/concept tapas restaurant. I was really looking forward to this dinner, as I had read many reviews online and they all made the place sound amazing.
As I strolled along the beach toward dinner, I stopped to take in the view from the small hill along the way:
This overlooks the city center and really captures the charm of the town.
A short walk later, I entered the restaurant and was immediately impressed by the decor. I was seated on the outdoor patio, where chandeliers and birdcages hung throughout.
At first, I was a bit skeptical of the menu, as some of the plates sounded overly technical– emulsions, foams, etc. But this apprehension turned out to be entirely misplaced.
My dinner at Sa Lola proved to be a true high-end gastronomic experience. Course after course of intricate dishes came to the table. Every dish was perfectly executed.
Some of my favorites included (perfectly) roasted octopus, fall of the bone Iberian pork ribs, foie gras encrusted in frozen white chocolate, and a dessert of goat cheese ice cream with basil foam and tomatoes.
Sa Lola is a must-eat for foodies visiting Blanes. The food was amazing, the staff was friendly and attentive, and all of their wine pairings were on point. But be sure to call ahead for reservations, as the restaurant frequently books up.
Waking up the next morning, I was a bit sad to leave Blanes after only one night. I definitely hope to return and spend more time in the city. I grabbed breakfast at my hotel’s impressive buffet (made-to-order omelettes, cured meats, cheeses, fresh fruit, etc.) before setting off for my next destination.
Running slightly ahead of schedule, I decided to make a quick stop to check out Monells, a medieval village on the way to my next destination.
To be honest, there’s not much to see in Monells (and even less to do), but the village was quaint and charming and all the other superlatives we use to say “small.” It’s maybe not worth planning a trip around, but if you find yourself with an hour or two to spare, I’d say it warrants a visit.
I navigated to the village of Llofriu for lunch at La Sala Gran, another restaurant impressively filled with locals in the middle of the afternoon, in spite of the place being so isolated.
I also seemed to be the only non-local, another good sign. I checked out the menu, noting that all the plates emerging from the kitchen for the tables around me looked amazing. Fortunately I wouldn’t have to make any decisions, as the restaurant had prepared a special menu for me.
Although I legitimately loved all the dishes served, two stand out:
carpaccio of duck breast with strawberry jam and spicy croutons.
and easily my favorite:
These were maybe the best mussels I’ve ever had. They were so tender, full of smoky flavor, and paired perfectly with a glass (or two) of crisp white wine. I would return to Costa Brava just for another plate of these mussels.
My next stop was in Palamós, a port town famous for its fishing trade, to visit the fish market, auction, and museum.
I learned all about the area’s specialty– red prawns. The prawns are famous for their bright red color and firm/delicious meat.
I was able to watch the sorting of the fresh catch before taking in an auction.
It was interesting to see how the process is now automated, with bidders holding electronic buzzers. I learned that the bidders are mostly made up of restaurant and seafood shop owners. The bins, sorted with various catches that have been weighed and carefully graded for quality, make their way down a conveyor belt with video displays that link to where the bidding action takes place.
It’s was all fast and automated, completely different from what I expected.
Next, I toured the Museu de la Pesca (Fish Museum), which I thought would be touristic but was actually quite interesting. I was impressed by its focus on conservation. The museum also showed the different techniques and tools of the trade and how they’ve changed throughout time.
With their great access to the sea, Palamós is famous for their food, especially the famous red shrimp.
I embarked on a small tapas tour of the town and, at Taverna El Galeó I found a bacon tapas, something I’d never seen before.
Leaving Palamós I set off for Girona to check into the Hotel Carlemany, which would serve as my home base for the next 5 days as I explored the area.
The Carlemany is a four star hotel set at the center of Girona’s commercial downtown. All the best shops and restaurants, and even the city’s historical center are a quick walk from the hotel. The room was spacious, the front desk employees were friendly and knowledgeable, and there was even an H&M directly across from the hotel, which made me happy.
For dinner that night, the hotel was kind enough to host me in their restaurant Indigo. The chef had prepared a special menu and paired each course with a gin and tonic cocktail.
To be honest, I’m not the biggest gin drinker. I’ll have it if someone else is buying or when we’ve drunk all the vodka, but it’s never been my go-to choice. Still, I kept an open mind, as some of the combinations did sound very intriguing.
All of the food was impressive, and I even enjoyed most of the cocktail pairings. My favorite was the starter of grilled octopus with peppers over potatoes and a grilled scallop paired with a Japanese gin/sake blend with yuzu tonic.
After an engagement-free morning (mostly spent sleeping off all the gin cocktails from the night before) I set off for lunch at Es Portal in the small village of Pals.
The restaurant is located in the Es Portal Hotel, a gastro-boutique hotel. I was given a quick tour of the property and have put it high on my list of places I’d love to return to classy, elegant, and sophisticated without being fussy. Seriously impressive.
Once again, my difficult choice of what to eat had been made easy, as the restaurant informed me the chef had recommended I try the tasting menu. I didn’t have to be convinced.
I hate to pick a favorite, but Es Portal may have possibly been the best dining experience of my entire time in Costa Brava.
Every dish was flawless.
My favorite courses were the monkfish over seaweed
and the sous vide beef cheek, which was perfectly tender and full of flavor.
I always mention that I’m not a dessert person, but Es Portal sent out this tiramisu that I couldn’t help but finish:
It was light and tasted of chocolate and coffee. The server was kind enough to bring out (another) glass of red wine that complemented it perfectly.
Next I was off to check out Peratallada. I was fortunate enough to visit during their annual medieval fair. Peratallada is a small village-like town whose name means ‘carved stone’. Fittingly, most of the town buildings were constructed with stone carved from the same moat that still encircles part of the town.
The passageways are made of stone, and it seemed that this night the entire town had come out for the festivities.
The owner of Cireret was nice enough to invite me to her newly opened bistro to sample several local products and dishes.
The owner is very passionate and excited about her venture. Her enthusiasm really shined through as she explained the concept while pouring a glass of local wine she suggested.
She served a local charcuterie platter and a sandwich made of sausage and her award winning aioli, all while excitedly pouring more glasses of wine that she felt best accompanied each dish.
Her enthusiasm was even enough to convince me to try something new– a pig’s feet and pear chutney sandwich.
I actually really liked it! Little did I know that although it was my first time to try pig’s feet, it wouldn’t be the last time that I had them on this trip.
I returned to Girona for the night, and the next day, I woke up to join Girona Food Tours for a walking food tour of the city.
I’m sure by now, if you follow my site, you know I’m a huge fan of walking food tours. I feel they’re one of the best ways to get to know a city. You get to learn about the history of an area as you sample some of the best local dishes. It’s a win/win in my opinion.
This tour was no exception. I met the owner, Marc, and we walked the city together, him pointing out interesting things I would have otherwise missed. Marc isn’t a local, but has been living in the area long enough to be considered one.
We went from place to place, exploring the city and tasting dishes along the way, including xuixo, the famous Catalan breakfast pastry:
The tour did not disappoint. I walked away with a better understanding of not only Girona but the Catalan region itself. I also walked away full, very full.
That night, I dined at Divinum, where I had the 11-course tasting dinner. It was good– really good, actually. But, it was a consolation prize, nonetheless. What I really wanted was a coveted dinner spot at El Celler de Can Roca.
Not only is this the best restaurant in Girona, but it’s been voted the best restaurant in the world several times. IN THE WORLD. Sadly, because this trip came together last minute, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a reservation.
Pro tip: Reservations for El Celler de Can Roca open up eleven months in advance. If you want to get in, make your reservation as early as possible when planning your trip.
The next day, the good people at the Costa Brava tourism department had lined up a full day of tastings for me. First up was a stop at Masetplana, a vineyard and olive oil mill that has produced high-quality products since 1826! Masetplana is located in the tiny village of Garriguella. If you blink, you might miss it village.
In our tour of the plant, I learned about the production of both wine and olive oil and how the processes had changed over time. As a family-owned business, their production is considered to be small, producing only about 16,000 bottles of wine per year. The bottles are mostly sold in Girona and Barcelona. The vineyard actually produces enough grapes for 400,000 bottles of wine, but most grapes are sold to other vineyards.
Masetplana also processes over one million kilos of olives per year to make their premium olive oils. By keeping their production relatively low, they are able to focus extensively on quality.
Finally, after the tour, the best part– the tastings.
Masetplana isn’t just a business, it’s a legacy, and that becomes quite apparent when you try their products.
Masetplana would be a great stop on your road trip to stock up on wines and olives oils to take home with you.
Next, a stop for lunch in Capmany at the El Parral Agrobodega. El Parral is a cooperative showcasing the region’s best products.
First up, as soon as I sat down, the friendly waiter poured me vermouth tapped straight out of the barrels that lined the back wall.
As I sipped, he assembled a charcuterie platter for me and poured me glasses of a few of his favorite wines to accompany it:
As much as I love designer breakfasts, fussy ingredients, tasting dinners, and all things similar, this is my idea of a perfect lunch. Give me local meats and cheeses, a bit of bread, and several glasses of wine, and I’ll find my happy place.
This simple lunch really was perfect and did a great job highlighting the region’s local ingredients. Make sure to plan a stop here for lunch as you tour the area.
Before I left, I stopped at another vineyard next door to the agrobodega to check out where one of the wines from my lunch had been made.
Arché Pagès Wine Cellar is another family-owned winery. In fact, when the current owner took me on a tour of his property, we found his dad checking on grapes in the vineyard.
I had a great time touring both the factory and fields, and we were even able to tap several barrels to try wines still in the maturation process:
The owner told me that Archè Pagès has been growing grapes since 1894 and produces around 70,000 bottles of wine each year.
I found their wines to be complex, especially the reds, which were my favorites.
The next day, my last in town, I woke up genuinely sad that I had to leave the area. I had really fallen for Costa Brava. (With all these amazing foods and wines, is anyone really that surprised?)
I packed up my bag and began to make my way back toward Barcelona to return the car and catch my flight.
As it was a late flight, this left me with the entire afternoon to slowly work my way back. I had one more scheduled stop to make: a visit to the Mas Vida Winery in Cistella.
Mas Vida was a bit tricky to find, as it’s a bit outside the city, but I quickly found it was well worth the trouble.
Mas Vida is another family-owned, multi-generational vineyard and olive oil mill with a small production that focuses on high-quality products. (I feel like we’re seeing a pattern here!)
This time I met the owner, Adriana. It was my first time visiting a vineyard owned by a woman, which I thought was really great. She explained to me that the business had started as a passion project of her father’s and is now another legacy business that she is equally as passionate about.
There was a pleasant welcome waiting for me when I arrived:
Glasses in hand, we took off and explored the grounds of the vineyard, Adriana explaining the production process to me along the way. Much attention has been given to gradually convert the vineyard into a fully organic operation.
After we checked on plants, sampling grapes straight off the vines, we returned to open a few bottles.
Adriana, a great host, had provided a local herbed cheese produced by a neighbor of hers and a freshly made paté encrusted in goose fat to accompany the wines.
Everything about this day was perfect– great weather, great food, and delicious wines getting to be out on the vineyard learning about the process– definitely budget the time for a visit to Mas Vida when planning your Costa Brava visit.
Speaking of time, as I left Mas Vida, I knew now was my chance to finally see something I’ve always wanted to: the Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres. It was slightly out of the way, but I had the time.
Salvador Dali has always been one of my favorite artists, and even though I’ve been to Spain many times, I’ve never made it to the museum. I was going to change that this trip.
Even before I stepped foot inside, the museum had impressed me:
Once inside, the museum exceeded all expectations. I didn’t have time to take a guide, but just walking around and looking at his works at the various stages of his life was incredible.
But it wasn’t just his work hanging on the walls that was so amazing– check out this ceiling:
After leaving the museum, I stopped for lunch at Bocam, a restaurant near the museum that Adriana from Mas Vida had recommended. I strongly suggest you try Bocam if you get the chance. I felt the value was incredible, as the restaurant was high-end, but still affordable.
This was the second time this trip I had pig’s feet, this time in a new take on surf & turf– pig’s feet and grilled octopus.
I loved this dish– I would have never thought of pairing these proteins together, but not only did it work, but it also worked really well. 10/10, I recommend a visit to Bocam if you have the chance.
I made my way back to Barcelona, dropped off the rental car, and checked in for my flight, confident I would return in the future to further explore Costa Brava. This one-week overview was enough for me to know I need to see more.
What part of my visit to Costa Brava looked best to you? Have you ever visited the region yourself? Let me know in the comments section below!
Disclaimer: I would like to thank the Costa Brava Tourism Department for hosting me for much of my trip during my visit. All opinions remain my own, as usual.
Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.