If you like road trips with great food, fascinating architecture, history and of course scuba diving, here is an adventure for you : from the city of Barcelona you can reach fantastic scuba diving spots while strolling around in fabulous places and picking up delicious Spanish food all along the way.
This article is also available in French.
Costa Brava is on the north coast of Catalonia, in the north-east province of Spain. From Barcelona to the French border, 4 main scuba diving areas and 3 city highlights are waiting for you to discover. Evenly distributed on a total 140 km, they are easily accessible by train and by bus, or by car with an hour of driving between each point. So if you are looking for a scuba diving holiday in Europe of about a week, don’t look further, this is the ideal destination.
To save time, it is best to fly to Gerona airport where many European low-cost companies are flying. This way you will be able to make a loop. Another option to consider is the high-speed train from Madrid, Paris or Milan.
Here is the itinerary I recommend: Barcelona (2 days), Palamos (1 day), Gerona & L’Estartit (2 days), and Cadaqués (2/3 days).
Barcelona & Palamos: cultural explosion & easy start in the water
How to summarize why you should visit Barcelona in only a short paragraph? Not so easy… it actually took me a while to put Barcelona on my bucket list as I was more attracted to more exotic locations. I thought “too touristy”… Well, this point might be true, but from my very first instant in the Catalan capital city, I understood why every person coming back from Barcelona was so enthusiastic and delighted, so much that they try to come back every year for most of them. Barcelona is an overwhelming explosion of art, culture, architecture, music and fiesta!
I’ve been astonished by the genius of Gaudi while looking at the vault of the Sagrada Familia Basilica, which architectural principle is inspired nature and, as a result, looks like a magical forest. I’ve been moved in the gothic district, while looking for some shadow cast, by the Spanish guitar player whose notes resonated on these century old walls. And I couldn’t stop exploring the different districts to find the best foodies’ destinations in town such as the market of la Boqueria next the Ramblas, or Calle de l’Argenteria in the district of El Born. Barcelona is also a very cosmopolitan city and if you want to eat something different, this is one of the best places in Europe to eat food from South America, there are many Mexican, Argentinian, Peruvian and Columbian restaurants.
After your visit of Barcelona, only a 1h30 drive north, you can find a nice port called Palamos, where you can get your fins wet very easily. To be honest, Palamos might not be the best scuba diving spot in the world but still, I loved it. It is charming, it has a nice sandy beach and a couple of nice, easy spots for scuba divers which are far from being boring.
I warmly recommend diving the wreck Boreas, a boat from the 1930’s where most parts are still visible, such as its engine, and where you find a lot of life hiding inside, such as lobsters and octopus. A bit further north, 10/15 min by boat, the small Formigues islands will give you the opportunity to attest the diversity of the underwater fauna and flora of the Mediterranean Sea; with gorgonians, barracuda, scorpion fish, many nudibranchs and more lobsters. After you dive, stay in the marina for lunch with some fried “chipirones” (small calamari) with fresh lemon, this is the cheapest and most delicious option.
Dive Medes Islands & enjoy your stay in Gerona
If you have a bit of time ahead of you, it is really worth it to spend one full day discovering Gerona. Only 1 hour drive north-west of Palamos, this beautiful medieval town is quite small but rich in history. For example, it has kept memories of its Arabic past with places such as the Arab baths. You can make a tour on the high fortress wall for a fantastic view on the old town, get lost in the small streets and then cross the red Eiffel Bridge over the Onyar River to finish on “Plaça de la Independencia”, to expand your knowledge in tapas for dinner.
After a 1 hour drive east from Gerona, you can find the famous scuba diving highlight of Costa Brava: Medes Islands. With a decent early wake-up time, you can easily make it from Gerona to l’Estartit for the first dive of the morning. Medes Islands are a natural protected area since 1990, so for more than 20 years the fauna and flora has been able to recover without any threat. The result is stunning: it is now one of the best places in the world to see huge grouper by the dozen. The 2 main islands are Meda Grande and Meda Petita: in total the archipelago has 7 islands. The entire area with a distance of 200m from the islands’ shores is protected; therefore fishing is forbidden and even night diving is not allowed. The main island is only less than a kilometer away from the port of l’Estartit, making this charming but not so exciting port a perfect base to organize the dives.
Beyond the possibility to see a very rich fauna and flora habitat, Medes Islands are an incredible playground for scuba divers with amazing caverns and swims through tunnels that cross the islands. Try your best to dive at “Cova de la vaca”, east side of Meda Grande. The tunnel is 30m long and covered with sea fans and sponges while the blue light at the other end of the tunnel makes the atmosphere very special. Another good spot for tunnels and caverns is “Cova del Delfi”, East side of Meda Petita, it has a short tunnel of 15m which is connected to a 50m long tunnel. A small statue of a dolphin marks the entrance. To meet many big grouper, it seems the spot called “Ferranelles” at the south tip of Meda Petita is a must. In my case, I wasn’t disappointed: Grouper are not scared at all and they like to stay next to you the entire dive!
After all these emotions, stay for lunch in l’Estartit and try some grilled fish or a fideua, a sort of Paella made with noodles and served with garlic mayonnaise – yummy! If you love the area and want to stay longer, you can extend your holiday by diving the “Costa del Montgri” from the port of l’Escala.
Love at first sight: Cadaqués & Cap de Creus
Here we come to my favourite part of Costa Brava. I have been really lucky to finish with Cap de Creus at the end of my first trip in Catalonia: it was totally the cherry on top! It is one of these places I consider as a scuba paradise: beautiful landscapes, chilled-out places with good food, not too expensive and really great diving. The kind of tiny places you can spend your whole holiday because of its unique atmosphere. No wonder why I came back for a full week the following week!
To go to Cap de Creus, where the village of Cadaqués lies, you will have to reach Figueres first. If you are not travelling by car, no problem the local train station of Figueres is just next to the bus station to go to Cadaqués. Be careful there is another high-speed train station outside of the center, there are very few buses and taxis are quite expensive, it’s better to walk for about 30 minutes. Contrary to Gerona, you don’t necessarily need to stay there but make sure to spend at least half a day to meet a local hero because of his artistic craziness: Dali! His heritage is very much alive thanks to his Theater-Museum in Figueres and his holiday home in Cap de Creus. After a nice breakfast or lunch on la Rambla, spend a couple of hours visiting this theater which was burned during the Spanish Civil war and turned into a museum by Dali himself in 1974. Immerse yourself in his art and try to understand the work of the artist, surprises are to be expected! Do not miss, once outside, the exhibition of Dali’s jewels, so beautiful and intriguing.
I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.
— Salvador Dalí
Ready to hit the road again? After 45 min of driving on the curvy roads of the mountainous landscapes of Cap de Creus, you can finally see this little white village: Cadaqués. Beautiful shoreline, many good, gastronomic tapas places, and a supermarket which has an excellent choice of the local Emporda red wine for the day you feel like having your own tapas party on your terrace.
The best base to enjoy underwater wonders of the area, is from the port of Portlligat, just on the other side of the hill, next to Dali’s holiday home (really worth visiting, but book by phone: they speak English, +34 972 251 015, a couple of days in advance as only a limited number of people can visit the house every day). Xavi and his team of Portlligat Diving will take you every day of the season to the best dive spots depending on the conditions but also the time of the year as the action can be quite different from a month to another. For example, if you are lucky to be there early June, you will be able to see some sun-fish (Mola-mola)! When I saw a family of 3 that was one of my best moment underwater.
Cap de Creus is a fantastic place for deep diving as well, down to 50m you can still see a lot of fauna, with walls and canyons covered with Mediterranean red coral, gorgonians and sponges. You will be able to see tons of lobsters everywhere, moray eels, octopus, barracuda and beautiful nudibranchs.
You can easily stay a week without being bored: if you add to your list scuba diving, hiking in Cap de Creus or wine tasting in the vineyards of Emporda. I would recommend going to Cadaqués in May, June or September to enjoy nice weather but away from the crowd.
If you want to understand by yourself why I love Cadaqués so much, contact www.diveportlligat.com and let them help you to organise your stay.
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