Where to Stay on the Costa Brava, with Kids

The Costa Brava is a glorious morsel of Spanish coastline, stretching 85 miles from the French border down almost to Barcelona. Dotted with tiny, picturesque fishing villages, quiet calas, and peaceful, rocky coves, it is an ideal Spanish family travel destination.  However, the most beautiful and interesting section is the 35 miles between Begur and Tossa de Mar.  All of my recommended family beaches are here, as well as the gorgeous seaside village of Tossa de Mar.

Book your hotel or Airbnb within this stretch.  I made the mistake of staying way up in San Pedro Pescador, which is close to nothing at all except some boring sandy beaches that look like Atlantic City, but with less charm.  I don’t recommend it.  We ended up driving between 45 minutes (Begur) and 90 minutes (Tossa) each day to explore all the beguiling, secret coves on my list.  I didn’t want a roadtrip vacation, but that is what I got.

The whitewashed, Dali obsessed village of Cadaques is pretty much the only thing north of Begur worth a day trip.  Frankly, I would skip it- yes it is charming.  Yes, it has some great museums and excellent restaurants.  Yes, the charming cobbled streets are charming and cobbled.

It also has a blush of commercialism (day boat tour kiosks on the boardwalk, dive shops, and overpriced reservoirs of tourist crap ) which I find distasteful and inauthentic.  Rampant, unchecked development in the 1970’s uglified much of the Spanish coastline, and even in Costa Brava, it lurks round every new bend.

Tossa, with its glorious castle (walk up at sunset for a religious experience that will make you see god) out charms Cadaques.  It sees Cadaques’ cobbled streets and ups the ante with smaller streets that are equally cobbly and charming.  So eat it, Cadaques, you monolith lying seductively 90 minutes away, with your whitewashed come-hither stare.  You, Siren of the Mediterranean, temping exhausted families to a long, hot, windy drive with promises of Dali and National Parks.   I’m here to warn fellow parents not to listen to your Siren song.

The Cap de Creus National Park is a hard pass.  Do not waste your time.  Stunning? Yes.  But also: windswept, steep, and without an iota of shade.  There are a couple of adorable calas for swimming, sure.  But they require a lengthy hike straight down in the beating sun, with that and more on the return to your car, assuming you were lucky enough to find a parking spot.  The trails are not well marked, and it felt unkempt and forgotten to this American girl used to National Parks sporting visitors centers that rival Disneyland.  If you do go, prepare for a rocky moonscape with unrelenting sun and wind.

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