Sunday Express Article

Article taken from Sunday express.

"SIMPLY mention the Costa Brava and for many it conjures up an image of Elsbels and the fictional Spanish resort from Carry On Abroad. Anyone booking a holiday here would surely be as dim as the hapless tour guide played by Kenneth Williams: Stuart Farquhar. Or as each guest asked when our hero introduced himself: Stupid what..?
The coast is associated with package-holiday hell: theme pubs, all-day breakfasts and sprawling beachfront developments. I reflect on this as I sip my second glass of cava after tucking into a mouth-watering feast of fresh seafood. For here I am enjoying local bounty on the Costa Brava and I find the place more Charles Dance than Charles Hawtrey (who played the nerdy, bespectacled character Eustace Tuttle).
The smaller towns of the Catalan coastline have an effortless class - and Begur, where I am staying - is among the classiest. Europe`s most sophisticated take their holidays in Barcelona, and Barcelona`s most sophisticated take their holidays in Begur. For most of the year it has a population of 3,986, which can swell to more than 40,000 in the height of summer.
Built across three hills, its 16th-century castle dominating one of them, Begur has narrow, cobbled streets with smart boutiques, tapas bars and artists selling their wares. The town is blessed with spectacularly wild countryside on its doorstep - here the Costa Brava lives up to its name of the rugged coast. Its centrepiece is the shell of the medieval castle that commands stunning views of orchards and olive groves as far as the eye can see.
Within a short drive there are a string of hill towns built of honey-coloured stone, with plenty of shady nooks in which to pass a lazy afternoon. And far below it all are the glittering coves. Just a 15-minute drive down the winding coast road and you will be paddling in the family-friendly, clear, shallow waters of Aiguablava with its small pebbly beach. Another short hop along the coast and you can enjoy the watersports of Fornells. Then there is Cala Fonda, reached via a winding hill path and Sa Riera, the largest beach in the area.
Begur itself is surrounded by villas mostly owned by Catalans, although many are available for rent. Lazing on the pool-side terrace of our villa, La Julivia, we could take in the entire panorama of golden coastline and rolling pine-covered hills. It felt a million miles from the concrete jungle of its near neighbour Lloret de Mar. But that is because Spain is changing. And nowhere is that change more dramatic than in the fiercely independent region of Catalonia. This is the home to Carme Chacon, Spain`s first female head of the armed forces. Having last week given birth, she will also be the first government minister to take maternity leave.
You could enjoy any meal here as long as it was battered, deep-fried and served with chips. Now it is home to the world`s best restaurant. The three Michelin-starred El Bulli, just up the coast from Begur in the town of Roses, is run by Ferran Adria and his team of 42 superchefs. Adria a cook every bit as mercurial in the kitchen as that other local legend Pablo Picasso was on the canvas.
The tiny restaurant can handle only 8,000 diners a season who come for dishes such as freeze-dried shaved foie gras, cauliflower couscous and Spanish omelette served in a martini glass. With 800,000 people calling to make a reservation, that`s a lot of diners fighting for every table. On top of that, bookings for the £200-a-head home of molecular gastronomy are taken only on a single day in October, for the next year.
Luckily the region is blessed with scores of great restaurants, where you can eat for far less. A meal for two, with wine, will set you back around £24. The wait for a table will be minutes rather than the months required at El Bulli.. that really is too much of a Carry On.
GETTING THERE:
easyJet (0905 821 0905/www.easyjet.com) offers return flights from eight UK airports to Barcelona from �36.
Auto Europe (0800 358 1245/www.auto-europe.co.uk) offers car hire in Barcelona from £36 per day.