This rugged Mediterranean shore in the north of Spain, almost on the French border, offers travellers the pleasure of discovering unexpected coves and pristine beaches along the craggy coastline that typifies the region. Don't miss the creeks and coves strung like a necklace of precious gems around the Cape of Begur – Sa Riera, Aiguafreda, Sa Tuna, (where the Catalonian writer Josep Pla described it as a delight “to feel time pass by, drop by drop”) – or Tamariu and Calella de Palafrugell.
For those who fancy discovering the treasure of the underwater world, there's nothing like scuba diving in the natural park of the Illes Medes, an archipelago of uninhabited islands and islets lying just off the coast from l'Estartit and granted protected status because of its great biodiversity.
But the beauty of the Baix Emporda region is not only due to its marvellous coastal scenery. Inland, the corn fields are dotted with poppies, picturesque farmhouses are scattered among poplar groves, and the enchanting towns and villages exude a timeless aura of welcome. This is a land with a deep historical legacy, as witnessed by the Iberian settlement of Ullastret, which takes you on an exciting journey back in time to the early stages of the Romanisation of the Iberian Peninsula.
As a starting point to discover the rural appeal of the Emporda landscape, there's nowhere better than the town of Peratallada. Stroll the winding streets and explore the medieval walls – don't miss the marvellous columned square of the church of Sant Esteve – while you soak up the tranquil charm of this ancient region. A little farther inland lies the village of Monells where the main square, set in the secluded castle district, is a wonder of medieval architecture.
For an unforgettable climax to a trip to Baix Emporda, the ultimate view to frame in memory, head for the medieval village of Pals, standing proud on a hilltop. After lazing round the village on a summer afternoon, strolling through tiny alleyways between ancient stone walls, climb the steep cobbled streets to the Mirador de Pedro viewpoint and look north to Toroella de Montgri, out to the coast with its stretches of sandy beaches, to l'Estartit and on out to the Illes Medes... As Pla wrote of his homeland. “In this land only one thing is finished, perfect, leaving nothing more to be said: the landscape, nature.”
Ryan Air is the main airline operating to and from Girona Costa-Brava Airport (also known as Gerona Airport or Girona Barcelona Airport) although Thomson Airways also operate services from Birmingham, Gatwick and Manchester. Barcelona Airport (El Prat de Llobregat) is about 100 kilometres to the south and connects by regional train to Girona.
Where to stay:
The five-star Mas de Torrent hotel and spa, a tastefully refurbished eighteenth-century farmhouse in beautiful gardens, sets the bar high in Emporda with its exquisite service and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Alternatively, the Mas Salvi, in Pals, offers a choice of 22 exclusive suites in a peaceful haven which boasts seven hectares of private forest and countryside. And for those who love unique hotels, El Far de Sant Sebastia, Llafranc; perched on a cliff top, its eight rooms and one suite are a priceless balcony over the Mediterranean.
Where – and what – to eat:
The best way to start to explore the cuisine of Emporda is with the typical mar i muntanya a dish that, as its name suggests, combines the best flavours of sea and land in a rich thickened sauce. Rather like a paella, the local arros a la cassola may be served drier or less set, but is delicious either way. The local fish markets brim with freshly-caught delights, rock fish from Begur, sea urchins from Palafrugell... And why not try a glass of sweet garnacha wine to accompany the local pastries and deserts: buñuelos, flaones, coques and tortes. For a taste of the most traditional Emporda cuisine, head to Peratallada, to La Riera. More authentic Mediterranean cuisine is served at the luxurious five-star restaurant at the Hostal de la Gavina in S'Agaro. And for gourmets who are in Girona itself, it's only a few kilometres on to the Michelin three-star Celler de Can Roca, considered by Restaurant Magazine the second best restaurant in the world.
Originally used to watch for pirate attacks and to give access to the shore in case of shipwrecks, the coastal trails bordering the craggy profile of Emporda are the best way to discover the hidden coves of this rugged Mediterranean coastline. From Cala Ferriol to Cap de la Barra, which looks out to the Illes Medes, is a five-kilometre stretch of road along one of the least spoiled areas of the Costa Brava, where the high cliffs offer exceptional views and are home to a unique range of flora and fauna. From the cape of Begur another walk takes in the coves of Aiguafreda, Sa Tuna and Platja Fonda en route to Aiguablava. This walk is just two kilometres but boasts the additional attraction of crossing through the natural marine reserve of Ses Negres.