Last of the Summer Rays: Lazy beach days and lingering lunches are what Indian summer weekends were made for
Imagine the scene: a quiet, sandy beach glowing golden in the rays of a late summer sun; water the colour of a bottle of Bombay Sapphire; a handful of families, sun-kissed and happy, frolicking on the shore; laid-back beach shacks serving platters of seafood and rice as cava corks pop. It sounds like one of those idyllic, but impossible advertising scenarios, but this place really does exist. Welcome to the Costa Brava in early autumn, crowd-free but still warm enough for a day on the beach and lunch al fresco. Here’s a round-up of some of our favourite weekend getaways.
Although not positioned squarely on the beach it’s worth a stroll into the old town to eat at Compartir, opened in April 2012 by ex El Bulli Alumni Mateu Casañas, Eduard Xatruch i Oriol Castro. The shady terrace of this white-washed restaurant trimmed Greek-island blue scores full points for a gourmet lunch after a morning exploring the wilderness coves of the Cap de Creus – the most easterly point of Spain. Dishes were made for sharing so go with a gang of friends and start with oysters, moving onto tuna cannelloni, truffled eggs or a whole baked wild turbot, and hazelnut ice-cream with chocolate ‘dirt’ for dessert.
Bistró del Mar, Hostal Empúries, Empúries
Occupying a sheltered cove with sensational views across the Bay of Roses the eco-minded Hostal Empúries was the setting of Roger Gual’s 2013 film Tasting Menu where, none other than chef Joan Roca played a cameo role. The food may not have reached quite the starry heights of the World’s 50 Best, but it’s tasty, honest fare deeply entrenched in the KM0 ethos, which means all the fish and seafood came off boats in nearby Roses or L’Escala, and much of the rest of the produce is grown in the hotel’s own gardens. We like the bistro over the more formal Villa Teresita restaurant for lunch, where you can feast on fried fish and squid tentacles, crunchy fennel salad and grilled monkfish, while the kids dig around in the sand.
Toc al Mar, Aiguafreda
Situated right on the edge of the shore on one of the Costa Brava’s prettiest inlets, the corner of the wrap-around, wood-deck closest to the sea is the spot to bag if you’re dining a deux (or maybe three). Even on a blustery day, a thick shawl over your shoulders will make that crisp bottle of Empordà blanc with some grilled sardines and half a simply boiled lobster with some mayonnaise for dipping, seem like the food of the Gods. If it is truly horrid, bunker down in the surfer-chic dining room, all stripped wood, wickerwork fish and frilly lanterns, and breathe in the maddening perfume of seafood and paella cooked on a real-wood grill.
El Far, Llafranc
OK, so technically this lighthouse isn’t right on the beach, but it’s an easy drive (or a breath-shortening hike) up the hill to its vertigo-inducing perch on the cliffs above town, but oh those views. With its Scandinavian-inspired, bright and breezy interior of blonde wood accented in a whole gamut of Mediterranean blues, we’re particularly fond of it in a raging early Autumn storm when the drama of its position is increased a thousand-fold. Likewise, traditional Costa Brava dishes like meatballs with cuttlefish and prawns ramp up the comfort factor, and you’ll be happy you’re safe in the warm. If you don’t come for lunch, you can still grab a coffee or a Gin & Tonic as the sun goes down, and marvel at the wonder of it all.
Tragamar, Calella de Palafrugell
Scrambling along the narrow sea path that skirts around the old fishing quarter, narrowly missing the waves as they break on nearby rocks, is all part of the fun of lunch at Tragamar. Even better if you position yourselves out on the terrace on a warm, but choppy day when the odds are in favour of getting sprayed while you sip vermut and contemplate the menu. We like to keep it simple ordering up jamón croquettes and boquerones, Catalan classics like baby broad bean salad with blood sausage and prawns bathed in garlic, salt baked fish and the juiciest of burgers.