Lush Green Catalonia is full of Spirit





Begur in Catalonia, Spain


Begur in Catalonia, Spain


Thursday June 7,2007


THEY don't speak Spanish, they consider Barcelona to be their national football team, and the thought of being governed from Madrid fills them with horror.

Catalonia is part of Spain, but increasingly not of Spain.
This fiercely independent region is closer to breaking away from its bigger neighbour than ever before - in many ways, it's a bit like Scotland, but without the Buckfast and with added sunshine.
It's no surprise then to discover that the million immigrants who have settled in this lush, green northern corner of Spain since the turn of the century are viewed with suspicion unless they make the effort to learn Catalan.                                           But while Catalan culture and politics has enjoyed a resurgence since the end of Franco's dictatorship in 1975, the region is not insular or unwelcoming.
In fact Catalonia's Costa Brava was at the vanguard of Britain's package holiday revolution, welcoming a generation of pasty-limbed Brits to its golden beaches back in the Sixties and Seventies.
Thankfully, most have now moved on, heading south to the ruins of the Costa del Sol.
Behind them they have left a region for the most part remarkably unspoilt by mass tourism, but which is still a magnet for the more discerning holidaymaker.
And thankfully, discerning need not mean five-star hotel wealthy, which is how we found ourselves heading up the A7 from Barcelona airport for a rendezvous with a campsite and mobile home 90 miles to the north.
Pals is a gracefully restored medieval walled town in Baix Emporda, a northern "county" of Catalonia closer to the Pyrenees than Barca. Nestling in a pine forest on the road between the old town and beach, our campsite - Cypsela, one of Spain's very best - is popular with Brits happy to arrive under their own steam, knowing an all-mod-cons caravan awaits at the other end.
Actually, you are not allowed to call them caravans as, in fact, they are more like perfectly formed little houses. Our Keycamp mobile had a double bedroom, bunk beds for the kids, with room for more to sleep in the living area. We wanted for nothing inside, while the living area outside was big enough for the children to play and dad to barbecue.                                          If you're the sociable sort, sharing a drink and chatting with new people is one of the best aspects of campsite life. And with your own toilet and shower, it could hardly be described as roughing it.
Despite initial reservations, our two teenagers soon settled in. They loved wandering off to the amusement arcade or Internet cafe, or just hanging around by the pool, while our three-year-old found endless ways to amuse himself with a bucket of water and some mud.
The area around Pals features a checklist of all that makes the southern Costa Brava so special. Pine-clad hills hide stunning sandy coves in which the sparkling Med has never been bluer. Fields of sunflowers wilt in the afternoon heat, reminding you that it would be a really good idea to have a siesta. Quiet roads are a pleasure to drive on, and, outside the campsite, you will hear few English voices.
Taking advice from friends in the know, we made a beeline for Begur, another walled town which overlooks some of the best beaches in the area. After our first visit to Aiguablava, a cove popular with locals, we didn't want to go anywhere else.
The towns and villages of Baix Emporda offer lots to see and do while giving the impression that they are getting on with a life that is not totally geared around the tourist season. At the street markets in Palafrugell and La Bisbal you find yourself rubbing shoulders with black-clad widows testing the fruit for freshness, while Sunday morning mass in Pals is a bizarre mix of Sunday-best locals and flip-flopping tourists.
We didn't quite find the time to visit the world's best restaurant, El Bulli, a few miles further north in the Golf de Roses, but then again it only opens for six months a year and needs to be booked a year in advance. But there is plentiful fine dining to be had if you know where to go. A few miles outside Pals, Peratallada - a stunning walled village with its own moat - is food heaven with a string of excellent eateries delighted to welcome your children.
Our two weeks in this laidback land of sunshine and sea flew by, and left us supporting this lovely region's desire to break free from Spain. In fact, whenever we are asked where we went on holiday, we don't say Spain, we say Catalonia.
GETTING THERE: Nick and family flew to Barcelona from Edinburgh with Globespan. Visit the website at for flight details.