Barcelona and the Costa Brava: A winning combo

November 24, 2009
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.
Barcelona's colorful Ramblas is an irresistible magnet for visitors and locals alike.
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Thoughts of a golf trip across the Atlantic might suggest 7 days of isolation in the rural hinterlands, away from the civilized world, with nothing but sheep, a few ruined castles, cold rain and a biting wind gusting in from the gray colored sea. For those who enjoy life's finer pleasures, the idea of staying in a succession of cramped Bed & Breakfast accommodations for a week, living on non-descript pub food and warm beer, has no appeal whatsoever, no matter how good the golf courses might be.

True, this can be a fairly accurate image of a golf trip to northern Europe, but head for the southern part of the Continent, with Spain as your destination and the story is entirely different, with absolutely no compromises whatsoever.

Spain has a stunning array of excellent golf, much of it running along the warm Mediterranean coastline, extending from Gibraltar and The Costa del Sol in the west to Barcelona and The Costa Brava in the northeast. Here world-class golf is a year round affair and the creature comforts most vacationers yearn for, are commonplace. Plush hotels, some of the best restaurants in the country, evening entertainment, casinos, art, history and culture, are all here and top-drawer golf, including many of Europe's best courses, is never far away.

For pure sophistication, Barcelona is way at the top of any city ranking with an abundance of art and culture that boggles the mind. The city's museums, art galleries and theaters are considered to be among the finest in Europe and the city is filled with stunning examples of 19th century, Arte Nouveau architecture. Known in Catalan as Modernista, there are many buildings by the master of this style, the celebrated, Antoni Gaudi. Examples of the flowing grandeur of his designs are to be seen on street corners and squares throughout the city, including his most famous work, La Sagrada Familia, the still unfinished, Church of the Holy Family, Europe's most unconventionally designed, house of worship.

Barcelona is filled with many sights that demand to be seen and a good place to start is the oldest part of the city, the Barri Gotic or Gothic Quarter. This was the site chosen by the Romans in 27 B.C. to establish the new town and it has remained the location of the city and region's administrative buildings ever since. The medieval, Palau de la Generalitat, is Catalonia's parliament building and nearby, the impressive, Barcelona Cathedral with its priceless collection of medieval Catalan paintings. The Royal Palace is also located here, where Queen Isabel received Columbus on his return from the voyage to the New World in 1492.

Among Barcelona's dozens of museums, no art lover should miss the Museo Picasso. Picasso came to Barcelona from Malaga as a teenager, attending the city's art academy and then worked from a studio situated near Las Ramblas, holding several exhibitions before moving to Paris in his early 20's. The Picasso Museum was opened in 1963 and contains over 3,000 pieces of Picasso's earlier works, many donated by the artist and his friends, the largest collection in existence from this period.

The Spanish love their food and because good food is essential to every native son, Spain has the well-earned reputation of being Europe's gastronomic epicenter and Barcelona in turn, has been anointed its capital. There are more Michelin starred restaurants in this city than any other and nowhere on the entire Continent can you dine as well. As important as haute cuisine is, there are restaurants in every category and some of the most delightful are more modest establishments, often specialized in the delectable cuisine of the Catalan region. So where better to put those taste buds to the test and in Barcelona you get to do so in the grandest style -- it's a gourmet's heaven.

Combine a stay of a few nights in sophisticated Barcelona with 3 or 4 on the Costa Brava, located an hour and a half away and a banquet of excellent golf awaits your pleasure.

Less than 45 minutes drive from Barcelona, en route to the Costa Brava is a stunning pair of layouts that shouldn't be missed - PGA Golf de Catalunya. The 10 year old, Stadium Course is an especially masterful design, ranked among the best in Europe within a couple of years of opening and it's only become better. This was the result of 10 years of careful planning by the European Tour. Measuring a hefty 7,205 yards from the tips, it's clearly been laid out with big tournaments in mind, meaning most will increase their enjoyment considerably by playing from the forward tees, but what an experience! Moated greens, downhill drives, immaculate maintenance and an impressive setting of rolling fairways and some of the best greens you've ever encountered, this is a dream course that won't be forgotten quickly.

Base yourself in or around the Costa Brava's medieval village of Pals and most of the region's best golf will be easily accessible, all within a 15-mile radius. The accommodation choices can be a little bewildering, but with the expert guidance of a golf travel company, intimately familiar with the region, such as Golf International, there are some amazing accommodation possibilities.

From contemporary 3, 4 and 5 star beach and golf resorts, to some of the most enticing historic castle hotels and elegantly converted old farmhouses, all with histories dating back centuries, there is literally something to accommodate every taste and budget. For the true connoisseurs of life's finer pleasures, it's an opportunity to allow their extravagant side to take over and savor the truly grand style of hotels and dining, always so plentiful here.

The golf choices will be no easier than selecting the best accommodations, but Platja de Pals Golf Club should certainly be on the list, as should the 36 holes at Emporda. For a thoroughly fun round with the added bonus of spectacular views of the Pyrenees Mountains, Peralada is a must and if you are looking for a layout to really test your golf skills, D'Aro Golf Club maybe the toughest in the area. There are more than a dozen courses to be considered and if the bustle of a city is still something you yearn for, Catalonia's second city, fascinating Girona, capital of the Costa Brava, is but 20 miles away.

Ancient Girona might be the most captivating, medieval city in all of Spain, filled to overflowing with an intriguing history dating back more than 2,500 years. With a total population of less than 90,000 inhabitants, Girona has a refreshingly human scale and its many museums, monuments and other sightseeing attractions can very comfortably, be discovered on foot.

Among the most important is the beautiful old Jewish Quarter, one of the most significant ancient Spanish centers of Judaism, which existed here from the year 894 until 1492, reaching its glory days during the 12th century. A maize of narrow winding, cobblestone streets and alleys, this is where the Jewish community thrived and prospered, a mesmerizing story eloquently told in the Jewish History Museum, which now stands on the site of an old synagogue.

Don't miss the astoundingly beautiful, Catedral de Santa Maria, enjoying the most superb of settings, perched high above the city and visible for miles around. Dating from the 14th century, the cathedral has a unique grandeur, only matched by one of the most impressive collections of religious art and artifacts in all of Christendom, but don't stop here. Right next to the cathedral in the former Episcopal Palace, now the Museo d'Art de Girona, a treasure trove of medieval art and Catalan paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries.

There are the beautifully preserved 12th century public baths to be seen and still more ancient churches, centuries old monasteries and even more museums, several housed in historic structures that are older than the artifacts they contain. Girona has an overwhelming wealth of historic interest that seems almost too much for the compact size of the community, but it only adds to the charm of this universally appealing town that simply must be included on any trip to the Costa Brava.

But this is intriguing Catalonia, where there is always more of everything and exploring is an essential part of the experience. While it will be impossible to see all that calls out to be seen and experienced, there is one more excursion that is practically mandatory - the town of Figueres.

Located a scant 20 miles north of Girona, Figueres is the birthplace of one of the Costa Brava's most famous native sons, Salvador Dali, the surrealist extraordinaire and his equally extraordinary museum, which sits in the heart of town. This is the second most visited museum in all of Spain, following only one other - a little place in Madrid called, The Prado Museum.

Take a sense of humor along with you when you visit The Dali museum and you will have a fun day out, amid the light-hearted Figueres locals, who, perhaps influenced by their famous hero, never seem to take themselves too seriously. Dali by the way, lies buried in the museum, ironically, his final resting place is close to the public toilets -- he who laughs last, laughs longest!

Catalonia and the Costa Brava especially, boast not only an enviable collection of world-class golf courses, but also a rich culture, centuries of fascinating history and some of the most delectable cuisine in a country noted for its gastronomy. Wherever you find excellent food, chances are there will also be equally good wines and Catalonia delivers in grand style, producing some of Spain's very best.

Add to all of this the irresistible friendliness and out-going charm of the Catalonian people, with their infectious joie de vivre and you have a perfect vacation destination virtually guaranteed to delight even the most jaded world traveler. It's all too good to resist, so give in to temptation and make this appealing corner of Spain, your next vacation destination.

For more information and ideas on how to get the most out of any vacation to Catalonia, whether golf is to be included or not, click here.

©2009 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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