Costa Brava Part 1: Aigua Blava, Begur and a Show-stopping Meal at Can Nasi
After my 5 day stint in Madrid, I had 4 days before my next commitment with friends (and Flyertalkers), which would be a 3 day weekend in beach town, Sitges. I toyed with doing Rioja or San Sebastian, but after talking to a very close friend who recently visited the Costa Brava, I was sold.
The Costa Brava is the coastal region north of Barcelona, which is popular with tourists, but has retained an "authentic" charm. My plan would be to hit three coastal towns for 1 night each to try and take in the flavor (and eat some good meals).
Day 1- Hotel Aigua Blava, which is near the town of Begur. This is about half-way up the coast, so only a 2 hour drive (or less) from BCN airport
Day 2- Hotel Rocamar, Cadaques which is pretty far north near the French border - 1.5 hours from Aigua Blava
Day 3- Drive back south closer to Barcelona and stay at "5 Star" Hotel Guitart Monterrey in popular town Lloret de Mar.
Day 4- Drive into Barcelona, spend the night and then on to Sitges.
How'd I put together that itinerary? I spoke with friends and did some research online. I wanted to get a mix of experiences and in the end I certainly did.
Many of you chastised me when I admitted I redeemed IberiaPlus points for the short Madrid to Barcelona flight and trust me - next time I am going to take your advice and take the Ave train. Coach on the Iberia A320 was excruciatingly tight. I know I'm borderline freakishly tall (6'7"/ 2 meters), but I physically could not fit my legs into the space provided. Luckily, no one was next to me, because I alternated between a spread eagle and severe slant for the entire flight - praying that the person in front of me would not recline. This was even more frustrating because the night before I had selected an exit row on Iberia.com, but there was a last minute equipment swap, so I ended up in a regular seat. As bratty as it sounds, I really just cannot fly coach and will do everything in my power to avoid it in the future (though business class on most intra-European flights is just regular coach seating with the middle seat blocked out).
Another experience with Iberia that moderately annoyed me is that they have great kiosks that print your luggage tags. Except you need to wait in the long check-in line to drop your luggage. What's the point? Even though I wasn't flying business class, I went up to an empty counter and dropped my bag as the agent agreed with me that it would be dumb to wait in a long line since I had done online check-in (but she said there generally was no other option). I wonder how long it is until we see bag tag printing in the US (I know its in trial mode now with a couple airlines).
Once we landed at BCN and I stretched my legs back to their original size, I got my baggage and headed towards the Europcar counter to pick up my convertible. I used Autoslash.com to get a pretty good rate for a convertible for 3 days for $368 total. I could have saved more money and gotten a basic car, but the weather was sunny and 80 degrees the entire week, so spending time with the top down would end up being one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Europcar ended up giving me a bright red Mini Cooper convertible and I have to say I laughed out loud when they pulled it around. It felt somewhat like a clown car and I worried about fitting in it with the top on, but surprisingly there was a good amount of head room. The trunk, however, was tiny and my full-size Tumi T-Tech suitcase (I generally travel much lighter, but this trip is 3 weeks long), had to go in the back seat.
Once the attendant showed me how to get the top down, I put the bad boy in gear, pumped up some Euro pop and was on my way. I had printed directions prior, but did get somewhat lost trying to find my way onto the right roads. I was supposed to take the main highway AP7, but ended up taking the smaller coastal roads C31/32. I have to say it was pretty liberating to be on the open road, top down on a gorgeous, sunny Spanish afternoon in my bright red Mini Cooper convertible.
I was hungry upon landing at BCN, but I just couldn't bring myself to eat airport food, when I knew delicious, authentic meals were available if I held off an hour. I ended up stopping in the beach town, Vilassar de Mar, just outside of Barcelona and I drove around town, but couldn't find any parking so I ended up stopping at a strip mall and went into the restaurant, Jardi. The meal was basic - grilled chicken and french fries, but it hit the spot and I was able to watch my convertible with suitcase exposed in the backseat.
I had seen some dark clouds before lunch, but there was no rain on the forecast. After my meal, I ran into the restroom and came out to a torrential downpour! I ran out to the car and fumbled with the key to get the top up, but the interior was soaked. My leather carry-on with laptop was luckily in the sealed trunk, so crisis averted there, but it was still a less than perfect situation. In fact, it started hailing like crazy, so I pulled the car under an overpass and waited for the storm to pass. I took the following video clip out of boredom: Hailstorm.
Anxious to get back on the road, I hopped back in the car and slowly drove back to the freeway. At one point I had to cross a street that had swells of water and I thought my little Mini might float away! But, she navigated the stormy waters like an oil freighter and my love affair with the Mini Cooper Convertible officially began.
20 minutes after getting back on the road, the skies opened up and it was sunny and warm again so I put the top back down - mostly to dry out the interior.
About an hour and 15 minutes later I was making my way to Aigua Blava and was stunned with the natural beauty of the area as I drove down the curvy mountainside road into the quaint seaside town.
I used hotels.com to book the hotel (since I basically get 10% back on all of my hotel stays and there were no points-earning hotels nearby). The room was decent - with two twin beds pushed together to make a king and a balcony with courtyard views. I generally don't pay for sea-view rooms, but I realized that was a big mistake for this trip. The views of the Mediterranean from the hotels were consistently stunning and I was mad I didn't pay the extra 20 euros to enjoy the natural beauty. I know that I am so spoiled with my top tier elite status with Starwood, Hyatt and Intercontinental that I forget that it's not normal to get the best room in the hotel when you pay the cheapest price. Once I learned my lesson, I decided to splurge on sea-view rooms for the next night in Cadaques.
I ended up walking down to the water and spending an hour or so just lounging on a rock outcove. There were no tourists - just a couple local kids sunning and swimming in the refreshingly cold, but clear water. The sun was strong, but not overbearing and the seaside breeze made it really enjoyable. However I forgot to bring towels, so when laying out with my t-shirt as my mini towel got a bit uncomfortable I ended up retreating to the resort pool area, which was very nice and filled with French and British tourists.
At night, I decided to venture into Begur, which would be the highlight of this trip. To say the town is picturesque would be the understatement of the century. There is an old fort on a hilltop within view of the main town, which provides an awe-inducing backdrop to a small town that seems to be caught in another, more genuine, era. In fact, the tagline for Begur is "Begur is authentic", which I couldn't agree with more. I walked down the small streets with the main intention of finding a really good, "authentic" restaurant.
I walked by Can Nasi, which struck me with it's neatly manicured outdoor patio and high-end menu. I had eaten a lot of good, but not necessarily - culinarily - amazing food, so I wanted to up it a notch in Begur. Can Nasi looked great, but I was confused why there was no one there when the town was buzzing with tourists. I put it on my list as a backup and went into the center of town. There were tons of tapas bars and cafes, but none that really stood out to me, so I went with my gut and walked back up the hill to Can Nasi. It's a good thing I did.
While I was the only person on the patio, it was a perfect place to watch the sun go down and have a glass of crisp Penedes (Segura Viudas Credu du lavit to be exact).
I ended up ordering seafood stuffed musrooms to start and duck Magret (breast). Dessert was TBD.
The mushrooms came out on a plate with fresh clams and shrimp which were a nice surprise. These stuffed mushrooms were fresh and nothing like the oversalted and super-baked stuffed mushrooms with cream sauce that are popular in the US. All around, phenomenal.
The duck was also spectacular - beautifully cooked and in a slightly sweet, but also savory, sauce. I dislike it when sauces are too sweet, so this was a perfect combination. The potato crisp side was a bit of a failure as it was really crunch and hard to eat, but I didn't really care because the duck was eye-roll inducing and it was a decent portion.
Throughout my whole meal, I was the only person at the restaurant, which was probably a good thing, since I may or may not have let out an audible moan of enjoyment at several points! I did, however ask the waiter and he said that its very hit or miss - some nights there is a line out of the door and sometimes it's empty. It is higher priced compared to other more family oriented restaurants and I was there on a Monday night, so I wasn't too surprised. When I got home and Googled the restaurant it seems to get very positive reviews, so I'm sure my great meal was not a fluke.
For dessert I went with the Crema de Catala on a bed of strawberries (I had no idea what crema Catalan was), and it was basically a sweet creme brulee-type dish. It was a perfect way to cap off the meal.
Overall, my first day on the Costa Brava was fantastic. It was filled with some shenanigans at first with the hail storm, but ended with one of the best meals I've ever had. For anyone considering the Costa Brava, I highly recommend a stop in Begur and Aigua Blava.
To be continued!