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Guide to the Costa Brava

The Costa Brava is Spain's ruggedly beautiful 'wild coast' that stretches for 160 kilometres between the French border and Barcelona. It's undoubtedly one of the most scenic coastal strips in the whole of mainland Spain, boasting endless miles of sandy beaches and countless rocky coves backed by pine-clad cliffs.

Home and inspiration to the surrealist artist Salvador Dali, the "wild coast" is dramatic around places such as Cadaques, at the tail end of the Pyrenees, where pine-covered hills run down to the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean. There are also spots such as the picturesque medieval village of Pals, with its miles of wide-open beach, where you can find your own private stretch of sand in mid-August.

A little inland, the Emporda region is anything but wild: this is some of Spain's most serenely beautiful countryside, leading to comparisons with Tuscany. It has traditionally been one of the country's richest regions, hence the well-tended farms, affluent villages and imposing country mansions, or masias. 

The location is difficult to beat. Just across the border from France, you can enjoy Gallic delights without having to live among the French. Hill-walking, mountain-biking and skiing are an hour's drive away in the Pyrenees, while Barcelona and Gerona are close enough for culture vultures and shopaholics. You can fly into either city's airport, or that of Perpignan in France. Soon a TGV-style fast train will also link London and Paris with Gerona and Barcelona.

Package holiday tourism took off here in the 1960s thanks to the region's proximity to France. As the gateway to mainland Spain the Costa Brava hooked millions of foreign visitors on the concept of affordable summer holidays in the Mediterranean sunshine. Tourists started to arrive en masse by car, by coach load and later on by cheap charter flights into Barcelona's international airport.

Sleepy fishing villages turned into bustling tourist resorts with high rise hotels, modern marinas and beaches awash with bronzing foreign bodies. But mercifully the Costa Brava has somehow managed to meet the demands of mass tourism whilst at the same time retaining a special beauty, character and charm which have been delighting visitors for decades.

Resorts such as Lloret de Mar, the party playground of the Costa Brava, offer round-the-clock entertainment for those wanting an action-packed holiday. Yet just a short hop inland there's another world of ancient castles and lush green valleys peppered with traditional, unspoilt villages.

The main resort at the Northern end of the costa is Roses, just 30 kilometres South of the French border. The resort sits at one end of the impressive, sweeping bay of Roses and offers a huge range of tourist entertainment along with many well preserved historic sites and ancient monuments. Nature lovers will enjoy the wealth of flora and fauna (including many unique species) to be found in the two protected reserves on the outskirts of town.

The next resort, to the South of Roses, is L'Estartit which is one of the quieter, more relaxed holiday spots on the Costa Brava. This low key resort retains much of its traditional character but tends to attract large numbers of day trippers during the summer months because of the famous Medes Islands which lie 1.5 kilometres offshore. Together the seven islands form one of the Mediterranean's most important nature and marine reserves, attracting scuba divers and visitors from all over the world.

Lloret de Mar lies just 60 kilometres South West along the coast from L'Estartit but it might as well be a million miles away. This is the entertainment centre with everything and depending on what you want out of your holiday, you'll either love it or hate it. The resort boasts an overwhelming range of international bars, clubs, pubs, discos, sports and leisure facilities. Top attractions include Europe's biggest water park, just outside the resort, and the Lloret de Mar Casino which is south of the town on the road to Blanes.

Blanes is the main resort at the Southern end of the Costa Brava, just 60 kilometres North of Barcelona. The resort is popular with both Spanish and foreign tourists and is the perfect place to combine a beach holiday with sightseeing in Barcelona which must rank as one of the most fascinating cities in the world.