I’VE seldom been in as good company as we graze on a seemingly infinite selection of tapas and gaze across the tiled courtyard garden at Hostal de La Gavina. Framed prints of Spanish royalty and a host of Hollywood’s finest including Elizabeth Taylor, Sean Connery and Jack Nicholson reveal just some of the guests who have had the pleasure of staying at this grand old hotel perched above Sa Conca beach in S’Agaro on Spain’s Costa Brava.
Opened in 1932, La Gavina always had a reputation for luxury that made it popular with celebrities and little has changed in the nine decades since, as I was to discover. The highly-polished tiled floors with intricate mosaics, heavy wooden doors and glittering chandeliers immediately hint at a timeless elegance that is evident throughout the building, from the impressive Royal Suite and individually designed bedrooms to the pristine poolside terrace.
As a sun and sand deprived, very often landlocked Scot, lunch at Taverna del Mar is the perfect way to decompress. The taverna is a short stroll from La Gavina and so close to the sea that I can almost feel the waves tickle my toes. It is flanked by rows of colourful little beach huts which have been around for longer than the hotel. Unsurprisingly, the menu is inspired by the catch of the local fishing fleet. Jauma, who runs the taverna, rolls out dish after dish of piscatorial delights. Highlights include a tuna tartare, clams, fried sand eels and an incredibly fresh salt-baked wild sea bass served at the table. Despite the fishy focus, the wonderful deconstructed cheesecake pud with mango sorbet deserves so much more than an honourable mention.
Time for relaxation in the modern spa with its heated pool, jacuzzi and steam room and a dip in the outdoor pool are pleasurable preludes to the aforementioned tapas. Returning to my room to find my bed turned down and a very fine Valrhona chocolate on my pillow brings a smile to my face. Old-fashioned it may be, but a little spoiling goes a long way when it comes to good service.
My room is huge with the shiniest tiled floor in a glorious deep red and antique walnut furnishings. The terrace is large and inviting with views over the hotel gardens and out to sea, and the en suite is lined in marble with jack and jill sinks.
The morning brings sunshine and a dip in the sea before a light breakfast, ahead of a busy day exploring some of beautiful Catalonia. Starting with a brisk stroll along the section of the Cami de Ronda Coastal Path that runs by the hotel and stretches the length of the Costa Brava, almost as far as France. The path reveals white-washed villas, each one seemingly more luxurious than the next and ever-changing sea views with aural accompaniment from some of the seabirds that the hotel is named for.
Around 30 minutes drive sees us in the ancient city of Girona to discover some culinary Catalan treats. The city’s medieval architecture is impressive and it is easily navigated on foot. We start our adventure with Xuixo de Crema (pronounced choo choo), a traditional Catalan pastry, it is crisp on the outside and filled with an irresistible creamy filling flavoured with cinnamon and citrus.
A visit to one of the city’s food markets reveals outdoor stalls packed with fresh produce. The colourful fruit and veg laid out on the stalls seem as beautiful as any floral arrangement and as a very amateur gardener I look on in awe. Venturing inside reveals a mosaic of stands bursting with every type of fish imaginable, poultry, sausage and jamon. I sample a fresh Catalan salad with olives, peppers and tomatoes, topped with tender salt cod and flavoursome anchovies.
We dive wholeheartedly into the wonderful world of jamon and olive oil and learn that the more acorns you feed your pigs, the finer your Jamon Iberico will be. We sample olive oil from the south of Spain which is rich and earthy and a lighter, fresher Catalan equivalent.
The culinary contrasts continue as we tuck into a huge paella and an equally huge traditionally Catalan fideua. The Fideua is made from little pasta noodles, rather than rice, but is equally rich in seafood.
Just when I think I can’t eat another bite I remember that Girona is home to a disproportionate number of Michelin stars considering its small size. The most famous of these is surely the three-starred El Celler de Can Roca, run by the Roca brothers. Although a Michelin-starred meal sounds tempting, a sweet treat from the Roca brothers quirky ice cream shop is probably more realistic. Rocambolesc is filled with ice lollies in weird and wonderful shapes and flavours, but I decide to try a panet; a brioche bun filled with ice cream and tempting toppings before being toasted and sealed in a machine to create a perfect pocket of joy. The raspberry, elderberry, lychee and rose ice cream was a revelation, as was the fact I managed to eat it without spilling a drop.
With just enough time to visit one of the three locations in the city that feature in hit TV show Game of Thrones, we wander past people busying themselves creating some eye-catching, colourful and downright whacky floral displays for the Temps de Flors, Girona’s flower festival that sees the city come alive with blooms each May.
Suitably satiated, educated and more than a little in love with the winding streets, ancient cathedrals and hive of independent boutiques and restaurants that make up the city of Girona, it’s time to head out into the countryside to discover one of the regions top vineyards. Clos D’Agon is a 20 minute drive from La Gavina and guests at the hotel can arrange a tour of the wine making facilities, have a tasting and even enjoy a decadent picnic among the vines. There are 16 hectares of vineyards on this 42 hectare estate, situated just 3km from the sea by Calonge.
Nora Roig gives us a tour of the state-of the-art facilities, before winemaker Miguel Coronado joins the group for a tasting. We enjoy a dizzying array of wines from the flagship Clos’d’Agon Blanco, a complex Viognier to the lighter and dangerously easy-drinking Amic rose. Miguel is passionate about his craft and has all of the verve of a mad scientist as he discusses experimentations in fermentation methods and maturation in wood, steel and concrete. It’s fascinating and inspiring and I’m sure had we not needed to head back to La Gavina he would still be popping corks, pouring and chatting about all things wine right now. And I would still be sipping and listening intently.
But we have a treat in store back at La Gavina’s Candlelight restaurant. Suitable spruced, we descend the stone staircase into the hotel’s fine dining restaurant to sample their tasting menu. The ivories tinkle at the nearby piano and the candles flicker gently as we meet maitre d’ Paco and sommelier Florian, who will look after us for the evening.
The meal is superb and a credit to 24-year-old chef Oriol Fernandez, as are Florian’s wine pairings. Highlights from the Spring tasting menu include the white asparagus, beurre blanc and caviar and the squab in two firings, carrot and orange and souffle potatoes, but even the beautifully presented and flavoured breads and butters were a triumph.
The morning floats by in a haze of relaxation by the pool and in the spa, which just leaves time for a quick lunch at Garbi before heading back to Barcelona and then home. The hotel’s poolside restaurant is bright and airy and we are delighted when Paco and Florian pop up to take excellent care of us again as we enjoy a range of light bites and a gargantuan paella.
Hostal de La Gavina is traditional luxury hospitality at its very best. Everything is on a grand scale and all the better for it. Catalan heritage oozes from the building and the staff are rightly proud of the place that this grand old hotel has in the history of the Costa Brava.
Hostal de La Gavina | Costa Brava, Spain
Rates at La Gavina start from €280 (approx. £239) per night for a Classic Room, including breakfast
Rates at La Gavina start from €380 (approx. £324) per night for a Superior Double Seaview Room, including breakfast.
Hostal de La Gavina in S’Agaro is less than an hour’s drive from Barcelona El Prat airport.
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