Why take a Costa Brava family holiday? Well, the obvious answer is the beaches. However, away from the coast, there’s a host of other attractions waiting to be discovered in this popular part of northern Spain. We sampled a few of the highlights of the Costa Brava when we visited the region with our two young children.
A Costa Brava family holiday has 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.
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 French 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 edge 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 the first week of our Costa Brava family holiday 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 Costa Brava family 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.
A day trip to Girona from the Costa Brava
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.
Costa Brava family holiday: best beaches
There are enough beaches on the Costa Brava that you could visit a different one each day but no doubt like us you’ll find your favourite. Here are a selection of beaches which we enjoyed:
Aiguablava, near Begur
I’ve already mentioned above how much we loved Aiguablava. The setting is mesmerising and we spent hours here playing in the sand and the sea.
Platja Canadell, Calella
This was one of our closest beaches from where we were staying in Palafrugell. Calella is a lovely little town with lots of bars and restaurants so it’s perfect if you want to combine a long lunch with a trip to the beach.
This is another great town beach which we loved. There’s a promenade in front of the beach and behind that is a selection of good restaurants.
Water parks on the Costa Brava
There are some brilliant water parks on the Costa Brava. As our children were quite young and the beaches worked so well we didn’t venture to any of the parks but we heard good reviews from other families who had. Here is a selection of some of the best ones:
Water World, Lloret de Mar
Water World, at the southern end of the Costa Brava, is vast and has some epic slides and great facilities. There are plenty of areas for little children and various places to eat including a churreria! This is one of the biggest water parks in Europe so it can get quite busy in July and August.
At the northern end of the Costa Brava, Aquabrava has more of a resort or village feel. It is set in a large green landscape with plenty of trees to provide shade.
Aqua Diver, Platja d’Aro
Aqua Diver is the smallest of the three but it also attracts fewer visitors as a result. If you’re staying in the central area of the Costa Brava and you have younger children, this is a good bet. It’s located just south of Palamos fishing port.
Where to stay on the Costa Brava
We stayed in the central part of the Costa Brava so I’ve concentrated my recommendations on this area.
Family friendly hotels on the Costa Brava
There are some really great small hotels in the Costa Brava region. During my years as a travel agent, I sent clients to some of the following properties:
Hotel Sant Roc, Calella
The Sant Roc has many things going for it: walkable to the beach, fab views of the coast, a lovely pool and play areas for children. The hotel has dedicated family rooms: two rooms which interconnect through a living room.
Hotel Aigua Blava, Begur
If I was to return to the Costa Brava with kids or without, I’d be tempted to stay here. The Hotel Aigua Blava offers rooms and apartments, both with sea views. It’s a short walk to the beach.
Hotel Llevant, Llafranc
Hotel Llevant is a great option for families with older children. It’s slap bang in the middle of Llafranc, a lovely little seaside town. Rooms have sea views and you can literally step outside onto the promenade in front of the beach. We had a lovely lunch at the hotel’s restaurant when we visited the town.
Self Catering on the Costa Brava
We stayed in a villa booked through Vintage Travel, a really reliable tour operator who we have used numerous times for our holidays. All of their villas feature a private pool.
Have you taken a family holiday on the Costa Brava? Let me know in the comments below.