COSTA BRAVA IS THE birthplace of the surreal, and this place is surreally good. So stunning that it defies belief.
Triton Diving’s centre is small and perfectly formed. It’s set on a road looking down at the town, beach-front and the marina beyond. Gorgeous doesn’t even begin to describe it.
We dived at Ullastre, where the underwater topography has thrown up ridges of rock smothered in bright yellow seafans. It’s spectacular and hypnotic and very other-worldly.
We are also fortunate enough to dive with local legend Emilio, who established the dive-centre with his wife Lotti some 40 years ago and knows the waters here like the back of his hand.
The visibility is awesome. The colour is mind-blowing. And the fish are phenomenal. We pause at a pinnacle while shimmering clouds of tiny silver sardines pulsate all around us – chased by larger fish, who themselves are being hunted by aggressive-looking jack.
It’s constant drama and movement, with fish swirling above and around us in every direction. Unforgettable.
In contrast, most of the town’s inhabitants are relaxing and barely moving. It’s usual to take a gentle stroll to a table overlooking the beach and enjoy a drink as the sun starts to sink towards the sea. So blissful, you might begin to doubt whether it’s real.
The Iberian Peninsula
In 1957, British tourists got their first taste of package holidays through flights to Valencia in Spain, and the “Costa Blanca” was born. Tour companies then moved their offerings south and popularised Benidorm and Marbella (“Marbs”) on the Costa del Sol as destinations.
These areas became home to a thousand expat pubs, a variety of gangland escapees from justice and, more recently, some toe-curling TV reality shows.
North of Valencia is Catalonia and the astonishingly gorgeous Costa Brava, which has largely escaped the attentions (and worst impacts) of the package tourist industry.
There’s no border to cross, but it’s effectively another country.
Catalonia retains a distinct identity. It has a world-class cultural offering as the home of Dali and Picasso among others, and the architecture of Gaudi. The cities of Girona and Barcelona are both recognised as World Heritage sites. And in Barcelona FC, it has possibly the best-loved football team on the planet.
When not diving, visit Figueres, just outside Barcelona, for the Dali Museum. Where else in the world would you find a larger-than-life statue of a hardhat diver straddling the front of a building like a Greek god?
Also Girona, so spectacular that it became part of the Game of Thrones set, and Barcelona, legendary in every sense. Lose yourself.