Costa Brava, Spain
Whether you’re all about golf, golf and more golf when you go on holiday or you prefer something a little extra away from the course or somewhere you can take the family as well, Costa Brava ticks all the boxes. The coastal region of Catalonia in north-eastern Spain – it literally translates as ‘Wild Coast’ – is dotted with nine golf courses that offer a pleasing amount of variety, with big championship layouts, intricate tree-lined designs and playable resort courses. Away from the fairways, the area is rich in natural beauty, history and culture, and Barcelona is close by and one of the most exciting cities in Europe.
It’s easy to reach and has an excellent year-round climate to boot. All in all, an ideal destination. That you should go is beyond doubt, then. And when you do, here are the essential details you’ll need to make the most out of any trip.
The star of the show is undoubtedly PGA Catalunya, which has two courses and hosted the European Tour’s Q School on multiple occasions. It’s situated just over an hour north east of Barcelona airport, but only 10 minutes from Girona airport. The Stadium Course is the number two in Spain and number seven in Continental Europe in our most recent Top 100 rankings and it lives up to those lofty standards. It’s everything you’d want from a tour experience, with an interesting layout that features an engaging mix of trees, water and changes in elevation that is presented in superb condition at any time of year. It’s a real challenge for better players, especially when the wind kicks up, but higher handicappers won’t come off feeling beaten up if they choose the appropriate tees. There isn’t a single weak hole, but our personal favourites are the tricky par-3 5th and the par-4 13th, which is dead straight downhill with a green that’s surrounded by water. The Tour Course is a bit shorter and easier, but no less beautiful and well-presented.
The other club with two courses is Emporda, about 40 minutes east of Girona towards the coast. The two layouts are called the Links and the Forest, but they aren’t quite as different as the names suggest as the Links is simply more open and has more bunkers and water features. Both were designed by American architect Robert von Hagge, who designed more than 250 courses in 20 countries, including Le Golf National in Paris. There are obvious similarities between the 2018 Ryder Cup venue and the Links, which has water coming into play on 12 holes and plenty of risk and reward decisions to make. At numerous times, you’ll be challenged to choose between the percentage play and a more dangerous line or carry that promises the chance of an easier next shot but brings the water and well-positioned bunkers into play.
Golf de Pals
While the grand stadium layouts of PGA Catalunya and Emporda allow you to open your shoulders off the tee, there are also some delightful older courses that require a bit more strategy. Golf de Pals is the oldest course in Costa Brava (opened in 1966) and hosted the first ever Spanish Open in 1972, but it’s fallen somewhat off the radar in recent years as the 6,849-yard, par-73 layout has been outgrown by modern professionals. The fairways are tight and tree-lined, reminiscent of the Vilamoura Old Course in the Algarve, and there are plenty of dog-legs that require precise positioning of your ball off the tee. The greens are pretty small, with just enough slope to make it tricky if you miss on the wrong side. The condition wasn’t quite on a par with PGA Catalunya and Emporda when we visited, but it’s a charming course that transports you back to a simpler time – and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
The best views in the area are undoubtedly found at Golf d’Aro, which is perched atop the highest hillside for miles around, just inland from Platja d’Aro. Just getting up the windy road to get there is an adventure and its 300m elevation offers stunning vistas of the Gavarres National Park and the Mediterranean. The course itself is cleverly routed around a small piece of land, with many of the holes flanked by steep cliffs. It plays firm and fast as well, so accuracy is at a premium and good wedge players will prosper. You might lose a few balls, but it’s well worth it as it will be one of the most unique rounds you’ll ever experience.
Torremirona, Peralada and Club de Golf Costa Brava.
The other courses in the area are Torremirona, Peralada and Club de Golf Costa Brava. Visit golf.costabrava.org for more information about golf, accommodation and other activities in the region. They also offer a fantastic ‘Golf Pass’, which enables you to play multiple rounds at any of the seven clubs (nine courses) in the region for a reduced rate.
What to see and do
There really is something for everyone, but you’ll probably need a hire car to make the most of it. While parts of the region have been taken over by the tourist industry, other areas have retained a more traditional look and feel. Girona was founded in 79BC and features some wonderful history and architecture, in particular the cathedral, which was featured in Game of Thrones. Figueres is the home of the Salvador Dali Museum and Begur is a charming little town on the coast. Music is a big part of the culture, so keep an eye out for the array of festivals on the calendar in the spring and summer.
If nature is your thing, then La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park, the Cap de Creus nature reserve and the Pyrenees mountains should all be high on your list. The diversity in the terrain really is amazing and you can even try skiing if you visit at the right time of year. Of course, there are miles and miles of magnificent beaches as well. Barcelona itself is a superb city and you have to visit for at least a day and an evening if you’re in the area. A trip to FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou should be on any sport fan’s bucket list.
Where to eat and drink
The region is also internationally recognised for its gastronomy. As you might expect, authentic Costa Brava cuisine is a combination of produce from the sea and land – some specialities include black rice with seafood and meat, chicken with king prawns, fish stew, and sea cucumbers and sea urchins for the more adventurous diners. There are a total of 19 Michelin stars awarded to 15 restaurants in the area, and the three Michelin-starred El Celler de Can Roca in Girona was named the best restaurant in the world
by the prestigious Restaurant Magazine. You can also get high-quality meals at more affordable prices elsewhere, though. Wherever you are in the region you’re never far away from a seafood restaurant offering the freshest produce you can imagine cooked to order, or a quality tapas restaurant that will provide enough food to fill even the hungriest of post-round golfers for around €10 per head. In terms of nightlife, you’ll want to stick to the larger towns like Girona or Figueres, or head into Barcelona if you’re looking for some lively entertainment and a few more drinks after dinner.
Where to stay
There are plenty of options, depending on your preferences. If you want to stay on-site, then PGA Catalunya, which ranks third in our Top 100 Resorts Continental Europe ranking, has two hotels (the five-star Hotel Camiral and the more modest Lavida Hotel) and villas to stay in with excellent amenities and access to a host of activities in and around Girona. Emporda Golf also has its own Double Tree by Hilton Hotel and Spa and is ranked 51st in our Resorts rankings.
If you prefer to get away from the resorts, then Girona is a lovely place to base yourself. It’s well-positioned to get to all the courses and other attractions and there is plenty of accommodation to choose from to suit any budget. We stayed in the Hotel Carlemany, which is right in the city centre and a short walk from the stunning cathedral. Our final night was spent in Park Hotel San Jorge in the quiet and authentic seaside village of Platja d’Aro, just 15 minutes from Golf d’Aro and 30 minutes from PGA Catalunya and Golf de Pals. It’s a stunning location, with many of the rooms and the terrace perched just above the Mediterranean Sea. You can stay in Barcelona if you want the bright lights of bustling city life, but you will have to travel a bit further to reach the golf courses.
When to go
Spring and autumn tend to be the most popular times to visit the Costa Brava, the temperatures typically ranging from the mid-teens into the twenties and more manageable as a result. If you’re willing to brave the average highs of 27° in July and August or wear an extra layer or two in winter, better deals are to be found. October and November tend to be wetter, with late spring and summer staying pretty dry.