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Viva España!

Posted by Danielle Harvey on 31 January 2024

Kelly Andrews experiences the finer side of life at Hostal de La Gavina in Spain's Costa Brava

balcony with table and chairs on it and sea views My name is Kelly, I'm 42 years old, British and I've never been to Spain. Never. How did I manage to miss out on the quintessential Brits abroad destination? Probably because that exact connotation was all I'd ever seen of Spain: Ibiza, 18-30 holidays, and all that jazz. It didn't appeal. How wrong was I? Let me tell you, the breathtakingly beautiful Costa Brava could not be further from all of that. Having been on my first adventure to sunny Spain recently, I'm happy to report it's now my most beloved part of the world, which I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to honeymooners, and here's why...

opulent room, bed, patterned wall paper, chandelier, balcony THE GOLDEN AGE OF LUXURY
Nestled between two secluded bays on the Costa Brava, Spain's less trodden coastline, S'Agaro's Hostal de La Gavina sings with elegance, luxury and old-world glamour from every corner. Since opening in 1932, the hotel has been patronised by stars of Hollywood's Golden Age including Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne and Peter Sellers; and, for me at least, evokes memories of classics such as To Catch A Thief with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Indeed, Pandora starring Ava Gardner, Suddenly Last Summer starring Elizabeth Taylor and Mr Arkadin by Orson Welles were all shot here. With 74 suites and rooms with sweeping views over the Mediterranean, its effortless style and second-to-none hospitality will give you a honeymoon to remember.

Comfortably ensconced in one of the hotel's 11 superior rooms, I was very much taken with its Mediterranean romance. The balcony terrace and its breathtaking view is something I'll never forget. From the moment I arrived and swung open the doors, I sat there looking out to sea and would quite happily still be there now. It was definitely the most difficult farewell when the time came to leave. For two honeymooners enjoying breakfast here, surely there could be nothing better.

The glorious shining jewel in the hotel's crown though is the Royal Suite, which has played host to Spanish royalty, celebs and honeymooners alike. Stepping through its doors is akin to entering a stately home. Designed in spectacular Louis XV style, the walls are adorned with wood and silks, while Sevres vases, only otherwise found in the Louvre, decorate the alcoves. The opulent, genuine Bohemian candle-glass chandelier is the sitting room's centrepiece and looms large above the decorative marble floor. Of course, the large terrace spanning the width of the suite is a highlight, complete with loungers and patio set ready and waiting for lazy days sipping champagne and enjoying a bite to eat.

The first free moment I got during the trip, not caring a jot for the rain (which we brought with us from Blighty) I made a beeline for the outdoor, seawater pool. I'd been excited to take a dip from the moment I arrived. Bobbing along alone in the bracingly icy, buoyant waters, looking out over the bay at sunset was an experience of sheer bliss. Of course, during the warmer months with the sun beating down on it, the pool will offer you yet another vibe, but this was heavenly for me! Alongside the pool, facing the Med, is the Gavina Spa. Its privileged indoor swimming area boasts magnificent views over the bay of S'Agaro along with a Jacuzzi, two spaces for massages and treatments, plus saunas and a small gym room.

outdoor dining by candlelight A FOODIE'S PARADISE
In nearby Girona, there are no fewer than 18 Michelin stars held between 12 restaurants, including one with three, and Hostal de La Gavina is very much part of that local foodie culture. Indeed, the hotel's signature restaurant, Candlelight, is overseen by Michelin-starred chef Romain Fornell. Renowned for its exquisite haute cuisine menu, the restaurant combines tradition and modernity in its beautifully tranquil setting where candles flicker and piano music fills the air. I had the privileged opportunity to try the eight-course Spring Collection tasting menu, which was utterly unforgettable. Dishes included white asparagus, beurre blanc and caviar; tortellini of langoustine and foie with Nantua cream; and squab in two firings with souffle potatoes. All was expertly paired with unbelievable wine selections by the knowledgeable sommelier.

Equally unmissable is La Taverna del Mar, located on the beach of Sant Pol, just a two-minute walk from the hotel. Let's be clear, seafood is a big deal here, as it is for the region as a whole, and this eatery will bring you the freshest and very best. It was here I discovered Catalonian delicacy sonsos, or Mediterranean sand eel. Fried and crispy it's delicious served with a chilled glass of local white wine. Plus, the serving of wild sea bass in a sea salt crust is a wonderful piece of theatre, not to mention the perfect way to cook fish. It's also well worth trying Galician clams and red tuna tartare. In fact, whatever the experts suggest, trust me, go with it. I've never eaten seafood like it and given the restaurant's partnership with local fisherman to deliver the freshest fare, I likely never will again. For a lighter meal in between dips, head to poolside restaurant Garbi. Its light and healthy menu offers many of the delights found in the renowned Mediterranean diet. The paella here is to die for!

aerial view of peninsula OUT AND ABOUT
Just one hour north of Barcelona and half an hour from beautiful Girona, Hostal de La Gavina is excellently appointed for exploring the Costa Brava. I headed into the medieval city of Girona for a culinary tour and thoroughly recommend a visit. Catalans are quite rightly very proud of their local dishes and delicacies, and during the tour I had the opportunity to sample many of them. If you're in town, do seek out a xiuxiu for breakfast. Made from an old Girona recipe these sweet treats can only be found in the city and its surroundings.

When in Catalonia it's virtually impossible not to try some jamon (Iberico ham), unless of course you're vegetarian or vegan in which case there's no shortage of equally divine alternative local bites. Served with some Manchego cheese or perhaps some local Catalan goat's cheese and a glass of Cava it's a real treat. I became addicted in a very short space of time!

Girona was originally a city of traders, which is a heritage still evident in the city's food markets. With vegetables at least three times the size of anything I'd ever seen before and more fresh fish than you could ever dream of finding in your local Morrisons – anchovies, cod tartare, sonsos – they're worth looking in on.

Hostal de La Gavina Paella is of course a must-have in Spain, but if you get the chance, do try Catalan speciality Fideua, made from short noodles instead of rice. Packed so full of flavour, you won't be happy until you've finished the dish! I stopped at L'Arròs &... for mine, an intimate seafood restaurant on Carrer Ciutadans. For dessert the final stop was the oh-so quirky, Wonkaesque Rocambolesc Gelerateria. As I was visiting during Girona's Temp de Flors (Flower Festival) they were offering new floral flavours created especially for the occasion, which had to be tasted!

If you're a wine enthusiast, a little further out of town you'll find Clos d'Agon (https://closdagon.com), a 15th-century vineyard based around a picturesque historical farmhouse. Hostal de La Gavina has recently partnered with it to offer guests exclusive wine experiences. I met the estate's Nora for a fascinating tour, where I learned of the vineyard's own micro climate, which allows it to be ecological as the wind clears the humidity creating the perfect environment for its fruit. The grapes are all picked by hand so only the best ones get through at harvest time allowing the passionate winemakers, such as Miguel, to make award-winning wines. Although the aforementioned wet weather didn't permit us to, you do have the chance to idyllically picnic among the vines, as you indulge in a glass of the wonderful Clos d'Agon Valmaña wine with cheese and charcuterie board.

outdoor pool with terrace and sunloungers TAKE IN THE VIEW
For days when you're looking to stay a little closer to base, the Cami de Ronda coastal path (www.camideronda.com) runs alongside Hostal de La Gavina. The entire 43-kilometre stretch would take around two days to walk in its entirety, but you can enjoy a gentle stroll in stretches however you wish. I thoroughly enjoyed a short 30-minute stint along the bay, with it's breathtaking views of S'Agaro, the Mediterranean and the historical hotel with its folly, a particular treat first thing in the morning. So, there you have it. The Costa Brava is an idyllic corner of the world, a paradise for foodies, wine lovers and history buffs alike. Whether you're looking to relax and enjoy the luxurious surroundings, or set out on an adventure to explore the region, Catalonia has so much to offer and Hostal de La Gavina is a dream of a base.

Rates at La Gavina start from €280 (approx. £239) per night for a Classic Room, including breakfast, and from €380 (approx. £324) per night for a Superior Double Seaview Room, including breakfast.

Hostal de La Gavina, Plaça Roserar s/n, 17248 S'Agaró (Costa Brava), Girona, Spain
www.lagavina.com | +34 972 32 1100 | gavina@lagavina.com

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