By Helen Adams
Set in lush gardens, the 4-star Hotel S'Agaró in the exclusive little bay of the same name is the sort of place where, if it hasn't quite sunk in yet, it soon dawns on you that you are on holiday and can forget about work. We arrived there in the mid-afternoon, having flown into Barcelona earlier in the day and taken the train north to a small town called Caldes where we were met by a friendly taxi driver who drove us to the coast. The hotel's large terrace and bar beckoned, but even more tempting after a day of travelling was the outdoor pool, and we enjoyed a leisurely swim before dinner.
After a good night's sleep, we headed down for breakfast the following morning. It was gone 9 o'clock (it had taken us less than 24 hours to fall into the Spanish pattern of life with their later meal times!) and the sun was already high in the sky. We ate on the terrace of the breakfast room overlooking the sea, a lovely start to the day, and it was then that I realised that we were in for a thoroughly relaxing week.
It was with a tingle of excitement that we set off from the hotel a little later. This first walk turned out to be fairly typical of the week - we followed the Cami de Ronda, a broad path that hugs the coastline just a few metres above the glittering sea. We walked from tiny cove to tiny cove, crossing the occasional small headland. Pines lined our path, lending a little welcome shade without interrupting the views. It was very easy to navigate - we hardly needed to refer to the walking notes - by keeping the sea to your right all the time it is impossible to go wrong! Just as we were beginning to feel peckish, we rounded a bend in the path and saw a restaurant on the promenade ahead. We both opted for a Catalan salad and, this being a holiday after all, decided to indulge in a bottle of wine to wash it down. Well aware that there was no rush - we'd looked at the map and seen that we didn't have much further to go - we took our time, enjoying the views across the sandy beach to the sea. The last part of the walk took us around a sweeping bay and through Palamos, a bustling town with a pleasant, authentic atmosphere where groups of elderly men played boules in the central squares.
The hamlet of La Fosca and its quiet little beach is just on the other side of Palamos. The Hotel Ancora is a friendly hotel with an outdoor pool set just a couple of minutes away from the seafront. Its restaurant has a particularly convivial feel and is popular with locals. The speciality, something you should definitely try during your stay, is gambas de Palamos - huge, juicy prawns served dripping with garlic butter.
Our next day's walk was different to the first in that it took us inland as well as along the coast, making for a varied, enjoyable day. In the scented pine woods behind the coast, we felt very much away from it all - it was just us and the sea, which we could still see below us.
The welcoming Sant Roc, our next hotel, sits right on the coast, above a rocky cove, and our coastal path led us directly onto its huge terrace, the perfect place to sit with a drink and gaze across the bay and the boats bobbing on the water to the whitewashed houses of Calella de Palafrugell. Our stylish, comfortable bedroom shared the views - since you spend two nights here, Inntravel always reserves sea view rooms for its customers.
There are plenty of ways to fill your day here - visit the nearby botanical gardens if you didn't do so on your way to the hotel, head inland to Palafrugell, where there is a lively market every day except Monday, find a tiny cove all to yourself and relax by the sea, or simply potter around Calella. We did the latter, lingering over a lunch of tapas, and got a wonderful surprise - it was fiesta time, and locals danced through the streets in national dress. Though this was fantastic, I think my best memory of the Sant Roc was coming down to breakfast and being greeted by a smiling waiter with a crisp tablecloth in one hand. He led us to a table on the terrace and, with a flourish, opened the tablecloth over it before bringing us coffee and pastries. This is just one example of the attentive service here - nothing is too much trouble for the friendly staff.
From Calella, you have a very short walk around the headland to the village of Llafranc. It's so short that if you leave just after 11, you arrive in time for lunch, which is great, as Llafranc has an excellent choice of restaurants. That of the Hotel Llevant, where you stay, is by far the best, though, and its location practically on the beach is hard to beat. As you'd expect, it specialises in fish and seafood dishes, and I can recommend the mussels served in a light tomato sauce and also the seafood paella. Delicious! Wash it down with one of the local Empordà wines that are produced on the plain just behind the coast - both the reds and the whites are superb, and great value too.
The walk to Aiguablava is a little more demanding than the other routes, but it's definitely worth it. Leaving Llafranc, we passed the San Sebastian lighthouse, a wonderful viewpoint, and then continued to Tamariu, a charming fishing village. It really does feel very authentic, as if it hasn't changed at all over the last fifty years. Even though it was September, we had the coastal path to ourselves once again, and it felt just great. You pass several small bays and rocky coves where you can pause for a dip - the prettiest is probably Cala Pedrosa - then you reach Aiguablava, which consists of the hotel and just a small handful of houses right by the sea.
The 4-star Hotel Aigua Blava is the smartest and best equipped of the hotels along the route, with an outdoor pool, tennis courts and terraces. No detail has been overlooked, from the comfortable lounges to the beautifully appointed bedrooms, and it is a real treat to finish your holiday with two nights here, giving you the chance to have a final day by the sea or to visit the delightful medieval town of Begur. Though at this stage nothing could quite compare to the cuisine of the Hotel Llevant, dinner was still absolutely delicious, and once again the service was friendly and attentive. Breakfasts were superb too, a huge spread of just about everything you could imagine. What struck me about the hotel was the number of regular guests who return to the Catalan Coast year after year - that's how wonderful they think it is, and I must admit that I'm inclined to agree.