My heart had been set on spending the week of Semana Santa in Portugal, since the children would have 10 straight days of vacation. I'd heard great things about Porto and the beaches in the south, and I've always wanted to see Lisbon!
Señor Aventura has done a lot of traveling lately though... some for business and some for pleasure. Since January he's spent time in Tenerife, Mexico City, Mallorca and the United States. For him the idea of doing something low key locally in Spain over Spring Break sounded a lot more appetizing.
We ended up finding a perfect compromise... five days on the Costa Brava and two in Valencia. We decided that we'd devote each Costa Brava day to discovering a new town or village, to get to know the region well and discover where we might like to return in August when the weather here in Barcelona becomes stifling with heat and the entire local populace deserts the city for a month of vacation.
After doing some serious digging on AirBNB, we found a perfect little apartment for our springtime 'home base' near the beach in a Catalan town we'd never heard of, Tamariu.
"Oh, it's perfect! You will love it!" my friend Viva assured me when I described our plans.
"That's a great village with a nice beach, your family will have a wonderful time," my friend Guillermo assured me when I talked with him about it at the gym.
"I think we got lucky and picked a great spot!" I confided in my husband over lunch. "My Catalan friends really love Tamariu!"
"My friend Hugo is going to the Costa Brava with his family for Semana Santa too!" The Scientist told us later. "His family has a house there!"
Excitedly, we began to gather items for our beach vacation. We went to our favorite inexpensive sporting goods store in Barcelona, Decathlon, where we stocked up on beach essentials... goggles, Spring wetsuits, bathing suits, beach shoes. We also picked up some jeans and shorts for our Little Angel, who is growing like a house on fire. (Every three months = new clothes... because the old ones are now too small!)
Señor Aventura got Chico Suave the car washed and gassed up, ready for adventure.
We'd just had the blessing of hosting our dear friends from California in Barcelona for a week... and one day after they left, we departed the city too!
The timing of our Spring Break trip was perfect... Soccer Dude was heartbroken to see his best friend Mini-Müller head back to the United States. They won't see each other again until November. So, leaving Barcelona one day later for an adventure of our own was fairly perfect and helped put his head back into a positive, joyful state.
It's a very easy drive from Barcelona to Tamariu... with zero traffic on Saturday it took us 90 minutes door to door. We marveled at the sensational Catalan countryside which is so green right now and full of blooming flowers.
As we drove up the highway we saw entire fields of yellow, along with handfuls of red and pink blossoms thrown in here and there for good measure. So beautiful!
Everything for us along this trip was a brand new discovery... but the directions to Tamariu were easy to follow and we had no trouble finding the sleepy little village which is located at the base of lovely coastal mountains. We were surprised and delighted to discover how tiny it was, just six little streets with a handful of hotels, apartment buildings and restaurants nestled in the sheltered spot between the mountains.
Tamariu is set in a beautiful tree-lined cove. It's populated with mainly-white buildings and looks out toward the vast blue Mediterranean. A single sailboat was anchored near the shore, and from time to time we would see someone on a stand-up paddle board or swimming with a buoy toward the horizon.
We get the impression that it is the kind of village that blossoms in springtime and fully comes into its own in the summer, winding down in the autumn and closing almost entirely in the wintertime. The apartment we stayed in was affiliated with a local waterfront hotel, and we saw from their advertisement that rooms are available at the hotel essentially from late February to early November.
(Hotel Tamariu is closed from November 6 through February 24... so we have the impression that during those cold, wet winter months there aren't many people heading to the Costa Brava. "It's a ghost town in the winter," Viva confirmed.)
April weather in Catalunya can be unpredictable... bright, hot sunshine during the day followed by a heavy downpour that same night. So, we knew we were gambling when we planned an April beach vacation. Would it be cold and rainy?
We got lucky though with perfect weather, and the lovely beach town of Tamariu had lots of Semana Santa visitors during our stay... but not TOO many. As you can see from our first day photos, we shared the shore with other families and travelers... but it was never uncomfortably crowded.
Some of the travelers we overhead speaking at the restaurants and along the beach were British and French; however one of the things I liked best about Tamariu was that many of the families on the beach around us spoke in Spanish or Catalan.
Far from being a major tourist destination, this little beach village hosts locals who simply want to go to the beach with their families when the weather is good. We prefer living like locals, so this suits us perfectly.
Our first twenty-four hours in the town were nothing short of magical. The children collected rocks and beach glass, donned their wetsuits and swam with their dad. They enjoyed leaping off the diving board that's been built into the rocks, plunging into the very chilly Mediterranean (59 degrees!) and swimming quickly back to shore. They also had fun examining various kinds of plankton and even jelly fish that had washed up on the pebbles.
After a fun bike ride, Señor Aventura joined us on the sand where he swam and played with the kids. I relaxed and felt a bit 17 again, as I lounged on the beach with a good book ("Stir" by Jessica Fechtor) and listened to the crash of the waves against the nearby rocks. The kids all swim now and are old enough that I can let them play nearby without needing to watch them every second. What a wonderful new chapter for us!
After enjoying an essentially perfect day on the Platja de Tamariu, we got ready for dinner. Everyone was in a great mood, though very hungry.
We'd chosen to dine at El Clot dels Mussols, which is an unusual Catalan name that (at least according to Google!) roughly translates to "The Owl Hole". This restaurant is part of Hotel Tamariu and it was absolutely charming. Every table was booked but we got incredibly lucky and slid into the back right when another family was leaving.
As we sat down to order we learned that El Clot dels Mussols is known for hosting monthly musical dinners featuring jazz and Habanera-style music. We happened to get very lucky and arrive on a night when "Neus Mar" was playing... a delightful, fun Habanera band with both a male and female vocalist along with several instrumentalists.
Neus Mar played for the sold-out restaurant throughout dinner and dessert, switching off between fun and lively folk songs that might make you want to get up and dance... and soulful single voice ballads that might bring a tear to your eye. The Scientist watched transfixed, since he loves music and at nearly 12 is getting to an age where it feels more relevant to his life and interests.
Señor Aventura and I loved every moment of the musical dinner... it was such a welcome surprise and truly a transformative experience, as it took 'family dinner on vacation' to an entirely different level of magic and romance. The special 'music menu' for the night also offered up unusual dishes, some of which were invented by the restaurant specifically to compliment the music... and also in honor of a famous Catalan chef who recently passed away.
The band's final song of the night was a sort of anthem, that nearly everyone in the restaurant appeared to know. The clientele, which appeared to be primarily local Catalans in their fifties through seventies, sang along with the band and waved their green napkins to the beat of the music. (You can listen to the music of Neus Mar here.)
As our younger kids finished their dessert and began to fall asleep at the table, their dad and I smiled at each other warmly across their slumbering heads and toasted with wine over Cuban-themed music to a great first day of vacation in Tamariu.
Our family's Costa Brava adventures were off to a very special start!
Up next... we'll share our challenging but fun family hike along stunning Costa Brava cliffs to eat lunch in a real-life ancient pirate's cove!
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