As my elder son was starting school this September we decided to take our final term time holiday in early June and make the most of cheaper prices. Prior to parenthood, I worked in the travel industry specialising in family holidays and I kept a close eye on family-friendly destinations and accommodation options over the years in preparation for the time when I would have to put my more intrepid travels on the back burner. I now have a long list of places I want to visit which is likely to take longer than my children’s collective childhoods to get through.
As a travel agent, I sent quite a few families to the Costa Brava; it seemed to have the perfect mix of culture, beaches, food and weather as well as short flight times and easy transfers. Although this part of Spain is the birthplace of the original package holiday for Brits, Germans and other northern Europeans, the high rise resorts are restricted to the southern stretch around Lloret de Mar while the rest of the coast is less affected. Indeed, the area we stayed in was patronised predominantly by Spanish (particularly at the weekends) plus a few French as we were only 50 miles from the border. It was fairly quiet in June but the glut of empty restaurants and cafes did make me feel that we were visiting during the calm before the storm. I’m not sure I would be so keen to visit in August when the beaches are packed and the temperatures hit 40 degrees.
We hired a villa on the outskirts of Palafrugell, a pleasant market town 45 minutes from Girona and a short drive to countless beaches. Palafrugell is the stuff of middle class holidaymaker dreams; a colourful daily market, plenty of interesting shops, good value and child-friendly restaurants, a little bit of history and free WiFi in the town square where skilful Spanish youngsters play football while onlookers catch up with friends and family over coffee. An unexpected highlight of our stay was the town’s Pentecost carnival which most of the inhabitants seemed to take part in. The procession lasted several hours and our kids loved it, particularly the opportunity to throw handfuls of shredded paper at each other and at anyone who happened to be walking past.
One of the obvious attractions of holidaying abroad is sampling the local cuisine. Unfortunately one of my children is rather fussy so I was expecting to patronise the ubiquitous Italian restaurants. Imagine my delight therefore on visiting Mas Oliver, a charming eatery in Palafrugell which, as well as offering an impressive €12 three course menu del dia, serves up the Catalan botifarra, every British child’s favourite meal, pork sausages with potatoes.
The Costa Brava offers a stunning and ever-changing coastline with stretches of golden sand, rugged cliffs, hidden inlets and delightful fishing villages. For our first week we visited a different beach each day but we soon found our favourite and returned to it again and again: Aiguablava. A peaceful sandy cove located close to the town of Begur, Aiguablava is surrounded by craggy rocks and pine trees, with a laid back vibe and some good eateries. The gently shelving beach offers a safe paddling experience for toddlers while visitors of all ages can enjoy snorkelling, messing about on pedaloes or simply swimming which, in such crystal clear water, is an absolute delight. At all the beaches we visited there was a great mix of ages and a lovely family atmosphere with everyone smiling indulgently at each other’s children.
Although the beach was high on our holiday agenda we did endeavour to inject a modicum of culture into our holiday. This proved tricky at times as I hadn’t factored in the effect the daily 30 degree temperatures would have on my sightseeing stamina, I think my children actually faired better than me with naps taken here and there during the day. My three year old enjoyed our visit to the port of Palamos where he saw fishermen returning with sea creatures of all colours and sizes, the perfect compliment to his current Octonauts obsession. My one year old impressed me with his ability to remain inside a glass bottom boat for a whole hour when the water outside it looked so much more interesting.
Inland, those looking for a bit of light culture can have their fix with sleepy medieval towns such as stone-hewn Peratallada, small enough for a leisurely wander with young children in tow and offering plenty of inviting cafes for a rewarding ice cream. Meanwhile, the province’s capital Girona, somewhat overshadowed by neighbouring Barcelona, is an underrated delight. Under an hour from the coast, this gothic masterpiece offers shady cobbled alleyways, tree lined boulevards plus excellent restaurants and great shopping. Even in the middle of the day the streets felt relatively cool and inviting and the city had a great atmosphere. In spite of having two children under four with us, we enjoyed our most leisurely lunch of the holiday in Girona, picking a restaurant, El Pou del Call, with tables spilling out onto a quiet narrow lane where our children were able to burn off a speedily consumed meal of the aforementioned botifarra.