Catalonia has long been a destination for sun-worshippers, but a holiday here needn’t just be about lounging on the sand. The rugged Costa Brava, which runs from Blanes to the French border, has lakes, rivers and ocean, with plenty of family-friendly ways to explore them all.
South of Barcelona, kite-surfers take to the waves when the conditions are right, while the protected wetlands, beaches and salt pans and Ebro Delta Natural Park attract birdwatchers from across Europe. In the Pyrenees, you can kayak or raft the rivers with a stunning mountain backdrop. What better way to cool down than to dive right in?
1: Swim with the fishes
Where? Ametlla de Mar (Terres de l'Ebre)
Over in l’Ametlla de Mar, south of Tarragona, Tuna Tour offer you the chance to swim with hundreds of blue fin tuna. Local experts will take you out on a catamaran, filling you in on the history and biology of this much prized fish along the way, before they drop anchor and you get to meet the swarms of silver fish in person.
The ticket includes the chance to taste the fish, so you can see what all the fuss is about, a world away from what you’ve likely had from the can. For more info, see Tuna Tour
2: Kayaking the Cap or Costa
Where? Costa Brava
Wherever you are in Catalonia, it’s likely you won’t be far from a good place to put in a kayak. There are plenty of options close to Barcelona, but head north or south to the best spots.
For experienced paddlers, Kayak Llançà offer a two-day trip around the Cap de Creus Natural Park with a rustic overnight stop in Cala Taballera. Bright and early the next morning, you head out to discover hidden caves and tiny coves. See Kayak Costa Brava for more info.
Kayaking Costa Brava also run a half-day tour of the coves around the lovely seaside town of Tamariu. The tour takes in Cova d'en Gispert, one of the most spectacular caves on the Costa Brava. If you´re with the family, Tamariu has a safe, sheltered beach and an excellent campsite. It’s an easy place to spend a few lazy days sunning on the sand. See Kayaking Costa Brava.
Kayakers might also want to seek out another fine route to paddle from Miravet to Benifallet (Terres de l'Ebre)
Rafting on the Noguera Pallaresa river (Nano Cañas, Catalunya Tourist Board)
3: Raft a racing river
Where? Llavorsí (the Lands of Lleida)
There’s nothing quite like rafting down a raging river to blow the cobwebs away. Llavorsí in the province of Lleída is one of the best places in Catalonia to try it out. Rafting Llavorsí have been in the business for over 30 years and their experienced guides will be with you the whole way as you make your way downstream. The descent along the Noguera Pallaresa River is exciting, but not so crazy that it isn’t suitable for families with children.
Go for the weekend and you can try out other activities. If you don’t want to get even wetter doing river-boarding, you could go horse-riding in the surrounding countryside or try your hand at canyoning.
4: Take a trip in Dalí’s Boat
Where? Cadaqués (Costa Brava)
Catalan surrealist Salvador Dalí certainly knew a good bit of real estate when he saw it. In 1930, the painter moved to a small fisherman’s hut in Port Lligat, next to Cadaqués, attracted by the light, the rocky landscape and the isolation of this beautiful stretch of the Costa Brava.
The house is now a wacky museum, well worth visiting; the phallic-shaped swimming pool in the garden is a highlight. You can also take a one-hour ride on the artist’s old boat, which he named after his muse and soulmate Gala. Find out more
If you want to captain a boat yourself, Cadaques boats do rentals.
5: Swim the coast
Where? Costa Brava - Costa Barcelona - Barcelona
Fancy swimming the Catalan shoreline? In a unique initiative dreamt up by extreme open water swimmer Miquel Sunyer, the Costa Brava coast is now home to the Vies Braves, a series of buoyed-off lanes that allow swimmers to power through the water, untroubled by boats.
So far there are 25km of lanes to explore, including 18km in Costa Brava, 8km in Costa Barcelona and 3km in Barcelona, and you can either go it alone or join an organised event. Head to the Via Braves website, where you can plan your itinerary and organise transfers and accommodation.
Medes Islands (Dreamstime)
6: Discover caves and underwater life
Where? Illes Medes, L’estartit (Costa Brava)
Popular Estartit, on the north-eastern coast, is a great base for a families who like taking to the water, with a fine sandy beach and plenty of water-based activities on offer, including scuba-diving into underwater caves and along sea walls.
For the less adventurous, Nautilius have a flotilla of boats that take day trippers along the coast or to the nearby Medes islands, home to many different species of flora and fauna. You can choose from a pirate ship, a speedboat or a glass-bottomed boat, and many of excursions offer the chance to take a dip, so don’t forget your swimming gear. Visit Nautilus website
The Trabucador jetty on the Ebro Delta (Lluís Carro, Catalunya Tourist Board)
7: Explore the Wetlands and wine
Where? Ebro Delta Natural Park (Terres de l’Ebre)
The Ebro Delta is tucked into the bottom corner of Catalonia. Close to the town of Amposta, the River Ebro discharges into a delta to form one of the largest wetland areas in the Western Mediterranean region. Rice, fruit and vegetables are all farmed here but a large area of the Delta was turned into a National Park in the 1980s.
Birdwatchers will have a field day here, as the many beaches, marshes and salt pans provide habit for over 300 species of birds. September 2014 saw the first Delta Birding Festival and it’s looking to be an annual event. Check Delta Birding Festival website for future dates.
The Ebro Delta is a quiet, peaceful place full of flat-as-you-like open spaces that are perfect for cycling, or you could spend your time pootling along the river on a boat or fishing.
For a better understanding of the geography of the area, visit the MónNatura Delta visitors centre who also have a hide for observing the wildlife of the old Sant Antoni saltworks.
If you’re after something more adventurous, Rogles Adventura run excursions, including the Wine En Kayak tour, which combines a visit to a local wineries for some wine tasting with a short descent kayaking on the Ebro River and, in summer, an island stop-off for a dip.
To visit the area, you’ll really need a car or at least two wheels. Base yourself in either Amposta or the area’s capital, Tortosa. Be warned: the mosquitoes can be fierce in this neck of the woods, so bring plenty of repellent, especially in the summer.
Foodies visiting this area are also likely to enjoy following the Mussel and Oyster gastronomic route, starting at the port in Sant Carles de la Ràpita, and travelling by boat along the Ebre coast, for a real taste of the sea. See www.terresdelebre.travel for details.
This article was supported by the Catalan Tourist Board but it is impartial and independent, just like all Wanderlust editorial.