Nature is a source of life and also a source of culinary inspiration. During our road trip across Catalonia, we meet gastro-botanist Evarist March of NaturalWalks to explore Costa Brava’s coastline and learn about its influence on the region’s food culture. With our continued emphasis on experiential local activities, our nature walk ends with a sunset surprise and an overnight stay at boutique Hotel Sa Rascassa.

 

Exploring Costa Brava’s Coastline

The Mediterranean coastline known as Costa Brava is one of Spain’s most important cultural and gastronomic regions. 

Located in Catalonia, northeast of Barcelona and stretching all the way to the border with France, Costa Brava (roughly translated as ‘rugged coast’) is wild, untamed in many parts and a destination of outstanding natural beauty.

Omo viewing the Mediterranean from the cliffs around Palamós

Costa Brava has traditionally been a favourite for an older generation of British beach holiday goer. However, this part of Spain’s coastline is considered more cultural and far less ‘larger lout-ish’ than some other parts of the coast associated with that reputation.

Driving along Costa Brava is a worthy experience. It, unfortunately, lacks the kind of coastal road that hugs the sea the way the California Highway One hugs the US Pacific Coast.

Mediterranean view from cliffs along Costa Brava's Coastline

Nevertheless, there is never a dull moment on the thirty-minute drive from our hotel in Begur to Palamós. Sometimes we are driving along cliff tops, other times, we are surrounded by thick forest vegetation which gives way every now and then to show us a glimpse of the Mediterranean.

 

Costa Brava, the Perfect Destination for Gastronomes

In recent times, the Costa Brava is attracting a new generation of traveller; the one who, according to recent industry trends, is keen to experience new cultures and gain new perspectives.

View of cliffs around Platja de Castell beach, Palamós, Costa Brava

It helps that Catalonia has a great reputation for world-class gastronomy. This was once the home of El Buli, a three-star Michelin restaurant in Roses (rumour has it that a food laboratory will open in its place). This region is also the home of the Roca brothers, the trio behind one of the world’s best restaurants – El Celler de Can Roca in Girona.

The good news is that you don’t have to spend your life savings to have a gastronomy experience in Costa Brava.

This is why we met up with local botanist, biologist and gastronome Evarist March from an organisation called NaturalWalks for a sunset nature walk. The coastal walking route would take us past quiet beaches and through cliff-top forests around Palamós. 

Our objective was to learn about the connection between nature, culture and gastronomy in Costa Brava. 

Evarist March from NaturalWalks smelling wildflowers in a wine glass | Costa Brava's Coastline

We park at Cala Es Castell and meet Evarist at the entrance to Platja de Castell, an unspoiled beach with almost no one else in sight. With a warm greeting and an overview of our itinerary, our nature walk begins.

 

NaturalWalks in Costa Brava, Catalonia

Evarist March walks briskly ahead of us. Time and again he stops suddenly, reaches for a branch or a plant, inspects it quickly, shakes his head and moves on.

However, it is the times when he stops, lingers and smiles that are worth waiting for. It is in those moments that something special is about to happen.

NaturalWalks looking for natural herbs with Evarist March | Costa Brava's Coastline

He bends down, reaches for his penknife and emerges with his face pressed into his palm, savouring the aroma of whatever he has in his hand. He opens his palm, revealing a blade of what looks like grass, or a leaf or a wildflower or a wild mushroom. 

With a nod, he beckons us to come closer, draws our hands close his and motions for to us to smell, touch, or taste. We are hesitant at first but our curiosity and his reassuring smile get the better of us and we oblige.

That is the moment when we are about to taste the earth in Costa Brava.

 

Nature, Culture and Gastronomy with Evarist March

Evarist explains that mother nature contains everything we need for sustenance, as he leads us past the Platja de Castell beach and up into the forest. 

We walk uphill along sea cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean. The vegetation is wild, just like the waves crashing against the rocks beneath us. Castell de la Fosca, an ancient Iberian settlement, is nothing more than a pile of rocks but a worthy landmark which gives historical context to our location.

Ahead of us, our guide snatches at a shrub and explains its function as a source of natural oils. This is one of many lessons we learn during our walk – about the characteristics of the different plants that we encounter and their application for medicine, food and aromatherapy.

We find examples of wild herbs traditionally used in many Mediterranean dishes including basil, bay leaves and fennel. Evarist explains how much chefs in the region respect the land and place emphasis on the use of fresh, local ingredients in their dishes. This is an important connection between nature and food culture.

Evarist’s NaturalWalks usually take between one and a half to three hours in duration but as we have a sunset to catch, Evarist picks up the pace to get us to our viewing spot on time.

 

Tasting the Earth in a Wine Glass at Sunset

We keep walking uphill. Evarist has an extra spring in his step. It is as if he anticipates finding something special at the end of our nature walk.

He guides us past a farm, along a narrow path and up to a series of steps. As we get to the top, there is a table waiting for us. It turns out that our nature walk is ending with a cliff-top sunset wine tasting experience. He ‘found’ something special after all!

Sunset wine tasting with natural herbs | Carles Aymerich, Sommelier | NaturalWalks

We meet Carles Aymerich, a member of Evarist’s NaturalWalks team and sommelier. He introduces us to a selection of wines from D.O. Empordà, the official designation of a major wine-producing region in this part of northeastern Spain.

What follows is a revealing wine and wildflower pairing session where we nibble on a selection of herbs and wildflowers before tasting each bottle of wine. In Catalonia, food and wine is a huge part of the culture and learning how nature and culture interact is a brand new experience for us.

Wine tasting, in our limited experience, tends to be very subjective and as such, as Carles leads us through the tasting, we mostly differ in our observations on wine notes, minerality and aromas. However, we agree that the pairing with wildflowers feels like a taste of the earth in a wine glass.

Evarist March from NaturalWalks smelling wildflowers in a wine glass | Costa Brava's Coastline

The sound of the crashing waves becomes our soundtrack while we chat amongst ourselves about sustainability and the need to protect the planet for future generations.

As the sun sets over the bay, we all agree that we want future generations to continue to taste the earth in Costa Brava.

Group toasting with wine glasses along Costa Brava's Coastline

To book a NaturalWalks tour, email info@naturalwalks.com or call +34 972 162 029

 

Travel information

We include the following local recommendations for your planning.

 

Where to stay – Hotel Sa Rascassa

The term ‘off-the-beaten-path’ never felt so apt as when used to describe Hotel Sa Rascassa a boutique hotel/restaurant in Cala d’ Aiguafreda on Costa Brava’s coastline. Begur, in Girona’s Baix Empordà region in Catalonia, is the closest ‘busy’ town. 

Staircase view of Hotel Sa Rascassa hotel staff | Cala d’ Aiguafreda

Just over one hour’s drive from Barcelona, you’re soon in what feels like a hidden treasure on Costa Brava’s coastline surrounded by hills, forests and the sea. 

This 5-bedroom property is located next to a quiet cove. Only a few steps from our room, from a clifftop terrace, we enjoyed looking out through the trees to the Mediterranean.

Steps lead down to the cove where you can watch the waves wash over the quay. Alternatively, you can follow the path along the coast to Begur where there are a medieval castle and neoclassical Spanish and Moorish architecture to be seen.

This is the perfect location for the traveller who seeks nature and calm. Sa Rascassa owners, Merche and Oscar Gorriz, had exactly this on their minds when they founded this place in 2002.

Our room had a comfortable bed, an ensuite bathroom with amenities, air conditioning (heating is also available) and no telephone. The design emphasis was on tranquillity and simplicity. The staff were friendly and eager to provide local recommendations for activities.

Hotel Sa Rascassa restaurant menu | Cala d’ Aiguafreda

The highlight by far of this property is its highly regarded restaurant and the food. This place demonstrates the simplicity and magnificence of Catalan cuisine rolled into one. 

Fresh ingredients are the highlight and the chef was pleased to be able to accommodate our gluten and dairy-free dietary preferences. We found the staff to be friendly, efficient and happy to answer any questions we had.

The general themes at Sa Rascassa? Simplicity, tradition, quality, passion and pride. 

What to eat? Fish (we tried their John Dory) and seafood are the highlights on their menu (changes based on seasonality). Be sure to sample their range of wines from D.O. Empordà, one of Spain’s oldest wine-making regions.

For bookings (by phone only), call Hotel Sa Rascassa at +34 972 622 845

 

Getting there

See travel options for rail, air, road travel curated by the Costa Brava Pirineu Girona Tourism Board.

View of Platja de Castell beach, Palamós, Costa Brava

Disclosure: Our trip was organised by the Costa Brava Pirineu Girona Tourism Board. We received complimentary hotel accommodation, meals, and activities during our stay. However, all photos and opinions expressed are our own.

 

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Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).