Central Zone - From L'Estartit to Palamós

The realm of small coves

Setting sail southwards, we leave behind the long sandy beaches of the bay of Roses and, with the exception of the gulf of Pals, the coastline is now dominated by high calcareous rock cliffs crowned with pine forests growing down to the sea, shading the beaches at the far end of the solitary coves where you can stop off on the way.

This part of the coast is the site of the Montgrí, Medes Islands and Baix Ter Natural Park, with the stunning Medes Islands off L’Estartit, which is a paradise for divers from all over the world, as well as the group of 16 small islets that make up the Formigues Islands, a mile from Punta de Castell, between Palamós and Calella de Palafrugell.

The imposing mass of Cap de Begur and the Sant Sebastià lighthouse preside the coast and are the main navigation mark for boats.

Soon after leaving L’Escala’s marina, the first large cove after rounding the Trencabraços promontory and Punta de Montgó is Cala Montgó, an excellent wide cove sheltered from both the tramuntana and garbí winds, with buoys for up to 12-metre boats and the option to anchor outside them at a depth of 10 metres on sand.

Continuing southwards, the narrow cove of Cala Ferriola is surrounded by lush vegetation with an entrance protected by two islets and a small beach at the far end. It is very exposed to northerly winds but is big enough for several boats to anchor in.

Don’t miss the chance, weather permitting, to make a visit in the tender or on a paddle board to the Foradada rock. This little gem has a spectacular seabed and a hole big enough for small boats to go through and come out on the other side of the promontory.

The entrance to the next cove, Cala Pedrosa, is partially sheltered by a rocky islet, making for calm anchorage among rocks crowned by pine trees, when there isn’t much of a swell outside.

In Cala Ferriola and Cala Pedrosa ecological buoys have been installed to protect the underwater meadows of Posidonia oceanica.

The calm, sheltered coves on this part of the coast are ideal for anchoring in.

Cruising through the Medes Islands

The imposing looming rock formations of the Medes Islands and the Montgrí massif enclose the broad basin of beaches and dunes where the Ter river flows into the sea creating an area of marshland.

The channel between the Medes Islands and the coast is safe. It is wide and deep enough to get through even in bad weather, although you can expect a swell with northerly winds.

You can pass close to the east face of Meda Gran, the largest island, with its lighthouse, but you should give the rest a wide berth. The channel between Meda Gran and the smaller Meda Petita can be passed, despite being very narrow, because it is deep enough, but only if you keep very close to the wall of Meda Gran. To the southwest lie the Tascons groups of rocks, with very deep cliffs that are popular with divers from all over the world who come to admire the spectacular sheer cliff faces that disappear into the depths and the abundant wildlife.

As the Medes Islands are part of the natural park they are surrounded by buoys at a perimeter of 200 and 600 metres to indicate that fishing and anchoring are not allowed. Anchoring is only allowed on the buoys specifically designated for this purpose, but overnight stays are not permitted. 

Montgrí, Medes Islands and Baix Ter Natural Park

One park, three ecosystems

The Montgrí, Medes Islands and Baix Ter Natural Park, which straddles the regions of Alt Empordà and Baix Empordà, is a specially protected area because of its environmental, scenic, historical and cultural value, and it covers an extensive area of great ecological value.

Although the park as such was not officially created until 2010, the area, particularly the Medes Islands, had already received recognition much earlier from the scientific community and from the administration itself.

The area’s diversity of scenery becomes patent as we go southwards down the coast from L’Escala, first passing the high cliffs, headlands, coves, islets and sea caves of Muntanya Gran and Puig Torró, until, once past the Medes Islands, the coast opens into the large basin formed by the beaches of L’Estartit, Fonollera, El Grau and Pals.

A string of coves

After the 4.5-mile beach that makes up the mouth of the Ter river, which should be given a wide berth as the depth can decrease quickly due to the currents and rains, you’ll reach the beginning of a rocky coast, with reddish cliffs crowned with pine and holm oak forests which in many places grow down to the edge of the little coves with turquoise waters nestling among them, which mostly end in coarse, golden sand beaches.

On this part of the coast, the most visible navigation landmarks are Cap de Begur and the Sant Sebastià lighthouse. Before reaching Palamós, there are four sheltered harbours for small boats and a handful of towns that conserve the architecture of traditional fishing villages, like Llafranc or Calella de Palafrugell, and small built-up areas surrounding the coves, which have managed to retain a special charm. 

The thick pine forests covering the hillsides grow right down to the coves.

You can anchor without difficulty in almost all these little coves, as long as you watch out for the shallows that crop up here and there, and they are well sheltered from the prevailing winds. The seabed is generally deep, covered in rock, sand or seaweed, so buoys are installed in many of them in summer.

The first cove that you come to going south is Sa Riera, with a large sandy beach where the little fishing boats are pulled up and where you can anchor in the centre.

Between Cap Sa Sal, on which from a distance you can make out a large hotel building, and Punta des Plom, at the far end of the same inlet there are two more pretty, sheltered coves: Aiguafreda, with a small quay for going ashore, and the deeper of the two coves, Sa Tuna, with a beach at the far end, where you can anchor in eight metres outside the buoys. Both are well sheltered from tramuntana and garbí winds.

Fornells, Begur and Calella de Palafrugell

Cap de Begur’s rocky headland is about a hundred metres high and easily distinguished from a distance because of the communications mast that crowns it. It marks a change in course, and leads to Cala Fornells after leaving behind Platja Fonda’s small beach.

Fornells is a sheltered anchoring spot with a small marina on its northern side and Cala Aiguablava in the south. There are buoy fields so you should drop anchor to the south of the marina or else on sand in a depth of eight metres sheltered from southerly winds on the leeward of the high Punta d’es Mut.

Aigua Gelida, the little inlet of Tamariu and Cala Pedrosa are three of the most visited coves before reaching Cap de Sant Sebastià, which shelters Llafranc’s marina.

Although Aigua Gelida is merely a cleft between rocky cliffs, only accessible by sea and only explorable by tender, Tamariu’s beach is surrounded by houses, has buoys for local boats and is sheltered from the tramuntana if you anchor on the leeward of the high northern shore.

After La Musclera’s three points, nestles the unspoilt Cala Pedrosa, with a beach at the far end and a rocky seabed, where you can anchor in 10 metres, sheltered from garbí. 

To the south of Llafranc’s marina, after passing the easily recognisable medieval tower, the little town of Calella de Palafrugell retains the special traditional charm of the Costa Brava’s old fishing villages, with its colourful fishing boats pulled up on the beach in front of the porticoed whitewashed houses and its church bell tower dominating the old red-tiled rooftops.

Watch out when going ashore, even by tender, because of the numerous rocks and shoals, and anchorage is only possible a long way from the beach and from the large buoy field.

The Cap Roig Gardens, the venue for the annual musical festival of the same name, are just a kilometre down the coast.

Scuba diving, snorkelling and kayaking among the rocks are three of the most popular water sports with visitors to this part of the coast.

Formigues Islands

A haven for sea birds

The Costa Brava’s underwater orography does not feature many islands, although there are plenty of islets that emerge a short distance from the shore all along the coastline.

Just under a mile out to sea between the coasts of Palamós and Palafrugell, off Punta de Castell and Cap de Planes, lies the Costa Brava’s smallest archipelago, the Formigues, made up of four small islets and 12 calcareous rock reefs.

The whole area covers some 3,000 square metres and its most outstanding feature is the largest island, Formiga Gran, whose lighthouse has a white flashing light with a 6-mile range, indicating its situation to mariners. In fair weather you can cruise between Cap de Planes and Formiga Gran, although this is totally unadvisable with a swell, since the Formigues disappear under the white spray from the waves.

Although the Formigues Islands have no vegetation above water, they have a great underwater value.

These islands are now considered a valuable ecological area. They are a safe haven for birds like seagulls and cormorants, and they are in the process of becoming a marine reserve. Their seabed, with depths of up to 45 metres, is an attraction for underwater activities and until just a few years ago, red coral was collected here. In contrast, the areas above water have hardly any vegetation.

Besides the rocks’ interest in terms of nature, there are also numerous legends of shipwrecks and their singular history. The islets made a name for themselves in history for being the scene of the battle that bore their name, the Battle of the Formigues, which led to the Crown of Aragón becoming the Mediterranean’s dominant sea power in medieval times. On the orders of King Peter II, Admiral Roger of Lauria stopped the sea invasion by the allied fleet from Genoa and France under the command of the French King Philip III, by attacking at night and lighting bonfires on the islets to make the enemy believe that they were outnumbered. 

Little coves in a rocky environment

Leaving behind the town of Calella, Cala del Golfet offers magnificent anchorage sheltered from garbí on sand, just below Cap Roig, and this will be the last practicable place before reaching the group of islets that make up the Formigues Islands, which are ideal for snorkelling. The Formigues should be passed on the outside with a swell or strong wind, or on the inside with a calm sea, between Cap de Planes and Formiga Gran, which you must keep close to get through the freu, or channel.

Further south of Calella there are more magnificent coves.

After passing the Formigues, there are still a few more little coves along the stretch of cliffs to Punta de Castell, where you can see the remains of an Iberian settlement. These small, rocky coves are only suitable for the small boats that come from Palamós to anchor and have a swim in summer. The first cove where you can anchor is Cala Corbs, in the middle, with a rocky seabed. After Punta de Castell, as far as Cap Gros, a wide basin contains the three most popular beaches with the local population: Cala Castell, Cala s’Alguer and La Fosca.

The contrast with the coast further north is complete, since the coastline evens out, the cliffs come to an end and the pine forests come right down to the sand. In Cala Castell you can anchor outside the buoyed-off bathing area below Punta de Castell. At Cala s’Alguer you can only drop anchor outside the cove as access to its three rocky beaches is tricky even for tenders. At the last of the three beaches, La Fosca, you can anchor on sand by fair weather at a depth of 5 -10 metres.

The little fishermen’s huts in Cala s’Alguer make it one of the coast’s most picturesque coves.

Medieval and fishing villages

The forging of an urban landscape

Fishing is an intrinsic part of the Costa Brava and over the centuries it has forged the character and culture of the villages up and down its coastline. This close relationship between man and the sea has 
also influenced the architecture of the towns and villages as you can clearly see in all of them, but also in the little coves which have always been used by the local fishermen to shelter, especially from the tramuntana, of which they are on the leeward, or for storing their fishing tackle. To this day, mariners cruising along the coast will still come across these typical fishermen’s huts or sheds, although nowadays they are no longer used so much for fishing and have been converted for private use, as in Cala s’Alguer, in Palamós.

Yet, undoubtedly, it is in urban areas that this relationship is most obvious. Villages like Cadaqués, with its traditional whitewashed houses built right on the water front, L’Escala and Calella de Palafrugell, with the little boats pulled up in front of the porticoed houses on the edge of the sandy beach, all bear witness to this past.

The charm of the coastal houses’ dazzling white façades contrasts sharply, a few kilometres inland, with the rough stone and majestic buildings that reveal a thriving medieval past.

Whether in the form of ramparts, watch towers, monasteries, cloisters, stately mansions, bridges or churches, there isn’t a single town on the Costa Brava or inland from it that does not conserve traces of this past.

Castelló d’Empúries with its majestic basilica of Santa Maria, the capital of the old county of Empúries, but also smaller villages like Peratallada, Pals or, further inland, Forallac and Besalú, with its Jewish quarter and medieval bridge, are all good reasons for mariners cruising along the coast to leave it momentarily and visit them. 

The fishing tradition and a rich medieval past have influenced the way the Costa Brava’s villages look today.

Don't miss

Don't miss


The magnificent basilica of Santa Maria, known popularly as ‘the cathedral of the Empordà’, is an exceptional example of Catalan Gothic style, as can be seen from the pointed arches, pillars, buttresses and splendid stained-glass windows. It was built on the site of a former Romanesque church of which some vestiges still remain today, including the lower floors of the bell tower and the baptismal font. The inside features a flamboyant Gothic-style Renaissance alabaster altarpiece. After the cathedral of Girona, it is surely the most important religious building in this area due to its monumental character and architectural and historical interest.

Coastal paths

A different way to explore the Costa Brava

A different way to discover the Costa Brava is by walking along its coastal paths, itineraries that trace the coastline between the sea and mountains, enabling walkers to discover the region from a very special point of view. Perhaps it is the most direct way to explore and gain an insight into the Costa Brava.

The coastal paths are suitable for all sorts of walkers and can be walked 365 days of the year. They are the result of a respectful reconstruction and signposting of the historical paths which were created between the villages and the different coves from the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Nowadays they are suitable for walking from one village to another, often along narrow paths with differing levels of steepness and at other times walking along seafronts, beaches and completely flat 

The routes that are signposted, with instructions at the start and maps, overlap in some cases with parts of the GR 92, the long-distance footpath that goes from Blanes to Portbou. They are not difficult and they enable you to enjoy a unique spectacle, with vegetation growing right down to the seashore, pine trees clinging to the rocky cliffs by their roots and coves that can only be reached by sea or on foot where you can stop off and enjoy a refreshing dip in the crystalline waters.

The Costa Brava’s lighthouses

The guardians of the sea

Lighthouses are situated in unique places, and with their powerful lamps they enable mariners to safely navigate along the coast or approach land from the open sea. They are also excellent viewpoints when visited by land. Each tower has its own peculiarities due to its location, which makes them unrivalled tourist attractions.

From north to south, the first lighthouse that you come to is at Punta de s’Arenella, in El Port de la Selva, the design of which served as a model for the construction of the one in Tossa.

The next one is at Cap de Creus, the most easterly lighthouse in the Iberian Peninsula, which towers majestically over a rugged, isolated landscape, 500 metres from the tip of the headland. Further south is Cala Nans lighthouse, in Cadaqués, the destination of a pleasant walk from the village. 

One of the best views of the coast is from Roses lighthouse, which dominates the whole bay. And a few miles on, the Medes Islands also have their own lighthouse, playing a vitally important part in boats’ safety. The superb Sant Sebastià lighthouse in Llafranc is more touristic and has breathtaking views. It is the most powerful one in Spain, with a 50-mile range.

In Palamós the lighthouse is known as Punta del Molí, or Mill Point, because originally it was in an isolated area with a windmill, which is now integrated into the town.

Tossa de Mar’s emblematic and permanently visited lighthouse is the site for the Interpretation Centre of Mediterranean Lighthouses, just a short walk from the town.

Don't miss

Don't miss


Interpretation Centre of Mediterranean Lighthouses

Tossa de Mar lighthouse has a double purpose, since besides its normal signalling functions it is also the site of the Interpretation Centre of Mediterranean Lighthouses.

The centre was created to provide an instructive, sensory explanation of the role played by lighthouses nowadays and throughout history, and it is one of the Costa Brava’s most interesting cultural and leisure centres.