Magic On The Wild Coast – Costa Brava, Spain
We almost didn’t make it here.
It wasn’t because we didn’t want to. I mean it looked good and everything we’d read said it was a “must see”. It’s just that we were feeling a little lazy and it was a real twisty-turney slog of a road to get to the place we really wanted to see.
Plus we wondered, was it actually going to be worth it?
As with many pretty (and once forgotten) areas, this place has gotten a lot of social media publicity over the past few years (you know…the ‘ol Youtube & Instagram overload thing), so we were a bit worried it would disappoint when we finally got there. Would we like it? Or would it feel overly crowded and fake?
Well, thankfully we made the trip and I’m happy to report the magic is still here! Our last few days in Spain finished in the most perfect way. We saw the wildest, most gorgeous coastline, with almost no-one around. Plus we rented a car so we got to explore quite a bit more of the area than we would have in the mini-rig alone. It was properly, nomadic-epic…
The Inexplicable Beauty Of Costa Brava
For those who aren’t familiar with Costa Brava, it’s the bulbous piece of land that sticks out like the heel of a foot just below France on the northeastern corner of Spain. The whole area is rather large, extending a length of ~214 kilometer starting ~60 km north of Barcelona and running all the way to the French border.
What makes it particularly interesting is its natural beauty. This is know as the “wild coast” and it really does live up to that name. It contains no less than 24 protected areas, including 7 massive natural parks many of which can only be accessed by smaller roads. On paper, it’s exactly our kinda place.
We Concentrate On the Northernmost Part
Our sightseeing goal in this area was very specific. We decided to concentrate on the most remote coastal part, a little mushroom of land immediately below France.
This is a rough, mountainous area dotted by sleepy fishing villages along a wondrously craggy coast. It’s famous because of it’s white-washed houses and the fact that Dali lived here in his day.
Plus it’s not easy to get to.
The main freeway bypasses it completely, so you need to get well off the beaten track to even get there, and if you really want to explore it on wheels you have to be ready for a multiple miles of twisty roads simply to get from one spot to the next. Sailors love it here, as they can hop from calm harbor to calm harbor along the aqua-blue waters of the coast, but by land it’s a definitely bit more of a challenge.
That’s also naturally, why we wanted to see it…
We Choose Roses As Our Base
As the base for our exploration we chose the town of Roses, a moderately large town (~19,500 people) in the most accessible part of the area with a healthy French population, many of whom have vacation condos here. It’s not quite as old or historic as some of the other towns we’ve been to so it doesn’t have quite the same charm.
Plus it can get really WINDY. The infamous Tramuntana (North Wind) blows through here on a regular basis whipping up the sand and howling through the trees that line the beach. That makes it a popular spot for wind sports, but not quite as much fun if you’re a land-lover.
Still, it’s got its own appeal. There’s the ruins of La Ciutadella, the first pentagonal fortress to be built in Spain in the 16th century by Charles V. It’s an interesting visit in the south part of town, and one of the key historical remains in the area. On the north side of town, past the harbor and a rather dramatic castle (Castell De La Tinitat) you’ll find a lighthouse (Phare De Roses….yeah!!) and miles (and miles and miles) of hiking & biking trails which are very pleasant indeed. Plus there’s a wide sandy beach, a lovely large boardwalk, plenty of tourist-friendly restaurants, and (when it’s not windy) everything is beautifully calm and pretty.
It’s rather touristy, and doesn’t feel all that Spanish (literally 4 out of 5 folks we meet say “bonjour” here), but it’s still quite lovely. It’s a good place to call “home” for a few days.
Another ASCI Campground As Home
Yet again, our little ASCI discount card comes in handy.
We land at Camping Salatà, another fab little park with grassy pitches (= “sites” for my American friends), probably the nicest toilet/showers we’ve ever seen (the women’s shower had an indoor atrium with trees!), a lovely on-site grocery store (serving fresh daily bread no less), and an easy 10-min walk to the beach. All for only EUR 20 per day. Score!
Here you choose your site on arrival and then go pay after. We decide on one of their “comfort plus” sites, paying a smidgen extra (EUR 2.5/day) to have the bigger space. It’s a nice spot and we feel very comfortable.
I have to admit we’ve been pleasantly surprised by pretty much every campground we’ve been to so far. Having been spoiled by massive US-style campgrounds & state parks over the past 9 years I was worried we’d feel squished in like sardines here in Europe, but so far that hasn’t been the case at all. The sites have been bigger than I expected and the locations have been outstanding, typically walking distance to a great town with all the amenities you could want nearby. I’m actually liking it….
We Make Our First Car Rental
Travelling without a tow vehicle has been an adjustment, however.
It was SO nice to have the CR-V when we RV’d in the USA. We could just park wherever we liked, and then use the little car to zip around and sightsee as we pleased. Such a luxury!
Here in Europe, sans tow-car we’ve had to think a lot more about our travel route and stops, including en route stuff like grocery shopping and sightseeing. Our little rig can go just about everywhere, so size really isn’t the issue, but if we want to visit something that’s not walking (or biking) distance from camp we have to move LMB to do so. It requires a different kind of planning…
This little corner of the coast has several fab places to visit, but all are along twisty little roads many miles apart. It’s do-able in LMB, but perhaps not particularly pleasant especially for me (car sickness) and the paws (can you say cat puke anyone?). So, for the first time in our European motorhome travels we decide to rent a car. One simple phonecall to Ampuria Car, a mere EUR 25 charge and a car is delivered directly to our campsite. Wow…that was easy!
A Magical Day Of Exploration
The next day we set out with Polly in the mini-car for a big explore.
Our first goal is the world-famous village of Cadaqués, the white village of the north. Separated from civilization by the imposing Peni Mountain, it’s visually one of the most stunning places you’ll see with gleaming white houses and narrow pebblestone alleys that rise over a cobalt blue harbor.
It’s a white-washed dream of a painting so it’s no surprise that in the 20th century it became a magnet for artists, writers and intellectuals. Many famous names from Federico García to Luís Buñel have graced these streets, but the most notable is undoubtedly Salvador Dalí who famously declared Cadaqués the most beautiful village in the world, and brought surrealist friends to spend summers in the sleepy village. These days it’s much more of an upscale tourist destination than a fishing village, but that does not detract from it’s visual charm.
We stop at the carpark right outside of town (Saba Públic Car Park, which is motorhome friendly too, by the way) and walk in to explore. Low season makes this perfect, with almost no-one around and plenty of space to stroll with doggie and enjoy the views. We stop at a vegan farm-to-table cafe to have an almond-milk café con leche (yup, this is yuppy upscale alright), pop into the church above town (Santa Maria de
I don’t think I’d enjoy this place in the craziness of summer, but it is a sweet little visit this time of year.
From there we turn northwards, twisting upwards into the rugged mountains, rising high above the sea. It’s a gorgeous drive into a most remote and peaceful nature with a vegetation that reminds me of the low mountains of Nevada and California, dry and covered in sweet-smelling sage.
Our destination is a Monastery (Monasterio de Sant Pere de Rodes) an incredible stone building that rises dramatically from the landscape at the top of the mountain. It’s a fabulous piece of architecture the oldest parts of which date back to the 10th century, and the location is simply spectacular. It’s serene up here, totally zen with panoramic views in every direction, and the short walk from the car park to the Monastery is like a mini-pilgrimage in nature. It’s an interesting visit too with multiple levels to explore inside the structure itself. Plus there’s an on-site restaurant for those so inclined (not dog friendly unfortunately). It’s well worth the drive to see.
Our Last Day In Spain
Our last day in Spain we looked back on the few weeks we’d enjoyed in the area. It had been everything we’d expected and more. Our mini-RV had functioned beautifully, even better than we expected, and the beaches & coastline had been so much prettier than we’d imagined. Plus the culture, the food and the time of year made it an all-round top-notch experience. We could easily see ourselves coming back here for winter again and again.
As the sun set that night I felt that Nomadic zen-ness. You know the feeling? It’s that connection to everything, that indescribable feeling of being present in the world, not just passing through it. I don’t always manage to carry that feeling with me. It’s a fleeting thing, and hard to keep a hold of. But sometimes when I’ve had a few days or weeks like this, it comes to me. It’s a helluva feeling and why I’ll always (in some ways) look for travel to bring me home. Muchas Gracias Spain…..until next time….
Coming Up Next -> We make one final stop in France before heading back to baseSPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Sooooo! Nice to read your travel blogging again. I did not realize how much I missed it while you were adjusting to Europe. So glad you are back to this blogging and your enthusiasm is infectious. Now I want to give up the USA and move to Europe. Amazing photos, as usual. Thank you very much, Nina.
Thanks Laura! It’s taken time to adjust to everything here. We’ve already got our 2nd mini RV trip planned (coming up soon) so we’re getting back into the swing of things.
Marcia GB in MA says
What a picturesque area. You are certainly having some fine European adventures and it’s good to know that the camping areas are OK and not just in farmers’ fields.
Thanks for tuning us in on these lovely but little-known spots.
I’ve definitely been surprised by the camping. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I think I imagined teeny sites with no space. They’ve been nicer than I thought…and location has rocked.
Cate Jones says
I have been enjoying seeing Europe vicariously through you. Beautiful!! You have some amazing photos. My question is about your cats. When you go exploring, how long do you leave them in the RV by themselves? Are you afraid for their safety? Do you have some kind of monitoring system in place to make sure they are okay when you are away? We leave our cat for many hours in our sticks and bricks but for some reason I don’t feel as safe leaving her in the RV. Am I concerned over nothing?
We leave the cats in the RV by themselves. They are fine, just as they would be at home. It’s just a question of getting used to it for you…and them.
In the US we would always make sure to lock the door, leave windows cracked (screens closed), and either a fan on or the A/C (if you have it) set to auto-start at a given temp. Here in Europe we don’t have an A/C, but we travel in mild weather only, so we haven’t had to worry about heat yet. There are remote temp monitors you can buy if you want to monitor this more closely.
Jodee Gravel says
So glad you went here!! It looks perfect. I wondered if you might rent a car and how that worked – sounds like a great option for more exploring.
I always have a mis-guided view of what Europe looks like so I’m enjoying seeing these unique and special places through your eyes and words.
The monastery is magical!
The rental worked out great, and was way less hassle than I thought. This is a popular boating area, so that may be why it was so easy here, since I think lots of boaters rent for a day. It was so nice to be able to zip around for a day like this. We’ll certainly do it again.
Teri M says
Love seeing Spain through your eyes.
Loved the pictures and the post. Love seeing Spain through your eyes. Thank you.
Sandy Schlom says
Do you have to make up the bed every night? We have a 24 ft Chinook and putting the bed together every night got very old after a few years, especially as our two cats wanted to help every step of the way. Cleaning the 2 litter boxes was a nightmare as one of the cats wouldn’t use it unless it was scooped before he used it. Not so easy in the middle of the night. We have a bigger rig now and we are loving the space. So are the boys.
Our beds are fixed/permanent in the rear of the rig. That was one of our “must have” criteria when we bought the motorhome. We knew we’d get tired of making a bed everyday, plus the cats wouldn’t appreciate the disruption, as you know yourselves.
The fixed beds are awesome. We (and the cats) can lounge there during the day if we want, and we can just flop into bed at night without any hassle. Plus in the mornings either of us can get up, make coffee and roam around without disrupting the lie-in of the other. That’s key unless you have the exact same sleep cycle as your partner. Having fixed beds does reduce the open floor space in the rig, but we love them.
Abel Perez says
I have been following your blog for a couple of years now but i have never commented before. This blog is one of my favorites. The photos are awesome and i really enjoy the details in your posts. I sometimes go back and select a site from the US map and get details and helpful info you posted when you all camped there. I am really enjoying see Spain. Can’t wait for your next post. You all take care.
Tara Howard says
We SO enjoy your posts and photos! Thank you for all the quality content! We love it!