The Gorgeous Beach Towns of Palafrugell

🕔 13 mins (total)
A panoramic view of Llafranc and Calella de Palafrugell on La Costa Brava
A panoramic view of Llafranc and Calella de Palafrugell on La Costa Brava

We may be a little biased here, but is there any other part of Spain with a coastline as spectacularly beautiful as La Costa Brava? Sure, the northern coasts of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country may well rival it, but then they don’t have our Mediterranean climate, do they?

The Costa Brava locations that foreigners will probably be most familiar with, at least by name, are probably Cadaqués and Lloret de Mar. Lloret made its name mostly through package tourism and partying back in its heyday, while Cadaqués is particularly known because of its association with the world-famous Empordan artist Salvador Dalí and, of course, its great natural beauty.

There are lots of other stretches of this Costa that are at least as, if not more, beautiful, and while they maybe not be exactly a well-kept secret, they would be far less known to most foreigners – with the possible exception of those from the Benelux countries and France. One such section of the coast is the 12km stretch that belongs to the municipality of Palafrugell.


Palafrugell

The town of Palafrugell is located almost 4km from the coast, in between the easternmost foothills of Les Gavarres and the hills of Begur. It is the largest town of the Baix Empordà comarca (county) with a population of about 24,000, although the county capital is actually La Bisbal d’Empordà.

While the principal settlement in its early days would’ve been on the coast during the time of the Romans, the main population moved inland due to the threat from Mediterranean pirates in the 5th and 6th centuries – as was the case for many other Catalan coastal towns. The pirate menace remained for a long number of years, centuries in fact, and so the inland settlement continued to grow to eventually become the town we know today.

Palafrugell’s first documented mention was in the year 988, but today most traces of its medieval past have been lost to time and progress, with the last of the seven round towers of the city walls being demolished in 1908. There is a very pleasant square in the centre of the town though called Plaça Nova with plenty of bar-restaurants with terraces which are perfect for watching the world go by.

One of the best times of year to catch Palafrugell at its finest is in April, when the town hosts the Flors i Violes Festival. The 2024 edition is the 15th and will take place over three days from 26 to 28 April, with over 100 events, activities and shows taking place in 40 locations around the municipality. It’s a packed agenda, with something for everyone in the family.

If you happen to be in Palafrugell later in early June, check if “Carnaval” is happening! No, not the real Carnaval – that usually happens in February – but the Carrousel Costa Brava, part of the Palafrugell Spring Festival. The traditional Carnaval was put on hold during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), understandably enough, and after Franco’s victory, the dictator decreed that Carnaval was henceforth banned throughout Spain. By 1963, the people of Palafrugell were fed up with this, and so recreated the event under a different name, “Spring Festival”, and changed its dates to a later month to avoid a ban. This year (2024) it takes place over the first weekend of June, with the Carrousel being the main event.

Plaça Nova in the centre of Palafrugell
Plaça Nova in the centre of Palafrugell

El Camino de Ronda

If you would like to explore all three seaside towns of Palafrugell in a day you can easily do so by car, but we would suggest walking along the Camino de Ronda coastal trail instead, starting in Tamariu, passing through Llafranc and finishing in Calella de Palafrugell. Of course, you could do it in the opposite direction too, but starting at Tamariu you get the hardest part out of the way first, and finish off with a pleasant and easy stroll into Calella. “Plain sailing” if you will, given the popularity of all three towns with marine folk for anchoring their sailboats.

The whole walk without stops should take just over a couple of hours or so. Even though there are a couple of slightly tricky parts at the beginning, they don’t last too long at all. You might want to add on some time for photo stops or a swim though, and maybe a beer!


Tamariu

The northernmost and the smallest of the three villages is Tamariu. It is also the quietest and is mostly family-oriented, but it does have plenty of bars and restaurants hidden in its narrow streets and on its lovely, albeit short, promenade. The cove itself is rocky but the beach is of golden sand and the water seems especially transparent. The town is surrounded by pretty dense forest and so has a lovely natural feeling about it and the whitewashed buildings just add to its character.

Its days as a fishing hamlet are mostly behind it but it remains a popular place to moor leisure craft nowadays. The coast is dotted with coves with deep, clear waters and these can be explored by boat, or even by kayak, available to rent in the town. One such cove which has a small jetty is Cala Aigua Dolça just to the north and this can also be reached by walking for a few minutes along the tree-covered camino. All in all, Tamariu is just about picture postcard perfect!

The seafront promenade of Tamariu and some of its characteristic white houses
The beach and town of Tamariu, almost surrounded by woodland
The seafront promenade of Tamariu and some of its characteristic white houses
The seafront promenade of Tamariu and some of its characteristic white houses

The trek (up) to the lighthouse

If you decide to walk from Tamariu to Llafranc just head to the southern end of the beach and look for the signs for the Camino to El Far de Sant Sebastià (The Lighthouse of St. Sebastian) which tell you that the walk should take 1hr 15mins. The estimate is just about bang on, but this is the trickiest part of the Camino along here. The trail begins across some rocks so keep an eye out for the red and white markers along your way (that look like Polish or Indonesian flags) to make sure you don’t take a wrong turn.

Palafrugell
“Polish” and “Indonesian” flags marking the trail

The path will then take you uphill for a while until you see some lovely views from on high of the gorgeous wee coves of Cala d’en Roig and Cala Gamarús below, before then taking you down again till you reach the lovely Cala Pedrosa. (“Cala” means “cove”, in case you hadn’t guessed!) We told you this was the tough part!

Fortunately Cala Pedrosa, despite its isolation, has an almost-xiringuito-style bar where you can grab a quick beer (we sure did!) before climbing back up along the Camino again until you eventually reach the lighthouse. If you want to avoid descending all the way down to Cala Pedrosa only to have to hike back up again after, you can walk along the road, but then you’ll miss lots of gorgeous scenery, and there are stretches of the windy road that have no path for walkers.

A seaview from the camino between Tamariu and Llafranc
A sea view from the Camino between Tamariu and Llafranc
The beautiful turquoise waters of Cala Pedrosa
Approaching Cala Pedrosa on de Camino de Ronda
The beautiful turquoise waters of Cala Pedrosa
The beautiful turquoise waters of Cala Pedrosa

Whichever path you take, once you make it to El Far (the lighthouse) you’ll instantly see why it was worth the extra effort, with panoramic views stretching for kilometres into the distance out to sea and up and down the coast in both directions. It makes complete sense that they built the lighthouse right here way back in 1857! Oh, and you can have another beer here too! It’s also a fantastic spot for lunch but we recommend booking in advance as the place is extremely popular.

This is the highest point of the walk at 165m, and if you like your history there is also a site of an Iberian settlement here that dates back to the 6th century BCE, Poblat Ibèric de Sant Sebastià de la Guarda, and right next to it are the Torre de Guaita watchtower, dating from 1445, as well as a baroque hermitage and inn also named for St Sebastià.

Looking down on the sea from up high on the camino, approaching the Torre de Guaita
Looking down on the sea from up high on the Camino, approaching the Torre de Guaita
The lighthouse of St Sebastian protecting mariners on the Mediterranean
Looking down over Llafranc from El Far de Sant Sebastià
The lighthouse of St Sebastian protecting mariners on the Mediterranean
Time for a well-earned beer to enjoy the spectacular views
The lighthouse of St Sebastian protecting mariners on the Mediterranean
Looking back up north from El Far de Sant Sebastià
The lighthouse of St Sebastian protecting mariners on the Mediterranean
The lighthouse of St Sebastian protecting mariners on the Mediterranean since 1857

Once you’ve finished your lunch or beer you can resume your walk downhill for about 15-20 minutes (the hard part is behind you now; the rest is easy we promise!) to the next of Palafrugell’s seaside villages in the bay just below: Llafranc.


Llafranc

This former fishing village of white houses has a permanent population of just over 300 inhabitants, although this can increase to as many as 10,000 in the height of the tourist season. The nucleus of the town curves around the 340m beach and its promenade called Passeig de Cipsela. There are lots of bars, restaurants, ice cream parlors and shops and in summertime the bay is full of leisure boats at anchor. At the north end of the bay is a yacht club with a small marina, sheltered by the Sant Sebastià cape you (may) have just walked down from.

The area was inhabited as long as about 5,000 years ago as evidenced by the stone age Dolmen de Can Mina dels Torrents discovered in 1965 and as we already mentioned, there was an Iberian settlement up where the lighthouse stands today, but, with the arrival of the Romans in the 2nd century BCE this was gradually abandoned as the population moved down towards the port of Llafranc instead. Wine and pottery were produced in the area and exported from the port and excavations have revealed that there were at least a dozen Roman villas in the area.

Llafranc remained permanently inhabited until the Roman Empire declined and our old friends the Pirates of the Mediterranean started attacking Spanish coasts, and so, as elsewhere, the population moved inland leaving only a few stone huts used by fishermen who would still go to sea to earn a livelihood but who didn’t dare actually live on that sea.

Palafrugell
The seaside village of Llafranc in the municipality of Palafrugell
separately
Llafranc is characterized by its whitewashed houses
A seafront terrace is the perfect place to contemplate the views of the bay of Llafranc
A seafront terrace is the perfect place to contemplate the views of the Bay of Llafranc

The pirates are long gone now and Llafranc’s tourism industry is thriving. There are lots of lovely places to eat here but two we feel are worthy of mention: Hotel Casamar at the southern end of the bay, and Hotel Llafranch (the restaurant and the hotel here are now separate enterprises but still operate under the same name, an old spelling of the town’s name.)

From Llafranc, continue south along the gorgeous Camino de Ronda for the final 1.5km to the last town on our walk, Calella de Palafrugell.


Calella de Palafrugell

If you’re looking up this Calella on Maps, be sure to give it its full name: Calella de Palafrugell. There’s another Calella further south on the Costa del Maresme, but we promise you that the one here in Palafrugell is much nicer! The southern version has a railway line running along its beach – which is pretty cool if you’re on the train but pretty awful if you’re in the town as the railway actually separates the town from its own beach. Anyway, back to our Calella. By the way, if trying to pronounce the name don’t forget that the “ll” at the end makes a “y” sound so it should sound something like “CA-LAY-YA”.

A panoramic view of Calella de Palafrugell on La Costa Brava
A panoramic view of Calella de Palafrugell, one of the most iconic on La Costa Brava
One of the many beaches right in the town of Calella de Palafrugell
One of the several beaches right in the town of Calella de Palafrugell
Sea urchins are a local delicacy enjoyed from late winter to early spring
Calella de Palafrugell with its whitewashed houses “glowing” by night

Even if you get the pronunciation wrong, Calella de Palafrugell is without a doubt one of the most beautiful towns on the Costa Brava that still retains the charm of the days before the arrival of mass tourism, with its narrow streets and whitewashed houses with sloping tile roofs, typically decorated with colourful flowers. This old fishing village still has some fine examples of traditional two-storey fishermen’s houses with white facades, and although the types of dwellings today are diverse, ranging from single-family homes to apartment blocks, somehow Calella has never lost its soul to development.

Located on a rocky coast scattered with sandy beaches with turquoise waters it has a beauty all its own. The beaches of the town include Platja Canadell and Platja del Port Malaspina with the old fishing sheds with their doors painted in bright colours where the mariners once kept their boats and tools.

Then there’s Platja Port Bo together with Platja d’en Calau with its colourful fishing boats on the sand, and buildings with vaulted arches, known as les voltes, which now house numerous restaurants and bars. Continuing walking along the seafront you come to Platja del Port Pelegrí and, just before it, the mirador of Punta dels Burricaires which offers maybe the best panoramic views of Calella.

Gastronomy

La Garoinada

Apart from the many restaurants and bars around the town offering typical local fare, there are also a couple of local specialties that are eaten at certain specific times of the year. The best known is the “Garoinada” gastronomic campaign that takes place from late winter through early spring. The Catalan word for sea urchin, “eriço”, literally translates as “sea hedgehog”, but on this part of the Costa Brava they are known as “garoines”. La Garoinada is a gastronomic campaign local to Palafrugell that takes place from late winter to early spring and features the sea urchin as its star ingredient.

Sea urchins are a local delicacy enjoyed from late winter to early spring
Sea urchins are a local delicacy enjoyed from late winter to early spring

Es Niu

Later in the year, from around mid-October, the towns of Palafrugell hold another gastro campaign called Es Niu, which translates as “the nest”. They are notoriously late at announcing the starting date and the participating restaurants, but thankfully Es Niu continues until December so you have plenty of time to catch it. The 2023 edition runs from 11 October until 10 December. It is a hearty stew that takes hours to prepare and has lots of ingredients. It started off as a Lenten dish with no meat, but that is most certainly no longer the case!

Habaneras

In summer, the annual habaneras singing takes centre stage on the first weekend of every July on Plaça Port Bo, bringing together thousands of people on and around the beach of Port Bo and even on boats sitting out in the cove. It has been going on since 1966 and is one of the best-known events on the entire Costa Brava.

The first year, the singing took place in a single tavern but was such an instant success that it wasn’t long before the event was moved outdoors to the square beside the beach of Port Bo. Once the habaneras are done shortly after midnight, smaller music and singing sessions continue in the taverns around the town till the early hours.

Habaneras came to Catalunya via Cuba. Originally it was a style of music played for a Cuban ballroom dance called the contradanza which musicians on the island creolized throughout the 19th century, incorporating the music of black slaves. When this music made its way to Spain it was initially called “americanas” and began to incorporate singing, later becoming known as habaneras.

The style of singing varied by region, with choir singing being typical in Valencia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country. In Catalunya habaneras were more commonly sung by smaller groups, workers’ choirs, or fishermen in taverns of the coastal towns. In the forties and fifties, habaneras singing declined greatly until its revival in 1966 in Calalla de Palafrugell, and it has never looked back!

Continuing walking along the seafront you come to Platja del Port Pelegrí and, just before it, the mirador of Punta dels Burricaires which offers maybe the best panoramic views of Calella, a fitting end to your day’s walk that started with a hike and ended with a leisurely and yet intoxicating stroll.

Palafrugell
Crowds gather on water and on land to hear the Habaneres singing

Getting there

If you do decide to walk between the towns you’ll need to consider the logistics a bit. After all, you won’t want to drive to Tamariu, park the car, and do the walk to Calella if it means having to walk all the way back again to be able to drive home. One solution is to drive to Palafrugell station, park nearby, and catch a 15-minute bus ride to Tamariu. There are only three buses a day though, and they only run during the tourist season, so you’ll need to get your timing right!

When you finish your walk in Calella you can take another bus back to Palafrugell from various bus stops in the town, and those buses are more frequent. To be honest, the bus website is a real pain to use, so we’ve created a couple of links for you to click on to see the schedules – but the timetables will only appear during their months of operation. You could take a taxi leaving Palafrugell as there’s a rank outside the bus station, but getting a cab back again could be tricky.

Palafrugell → Tamariu → Palafrugell

Palafrugell → Calella → Llafranc → Palafrugell

From mid-July until mid-September, there is another bus service called the Julivia, which connects Palafrugell with the Botanic Gardens at Cap Roig, Calella, Llafranc, El Far de Sant Sebastià and Tamariu. Tickets and timetables for that service can be found on the regular Sarfa-Moventis bus website, or just click here to see the route and timetable (because the website is so annoying!).

The route of the Julivia Bus Turistic that runs from mid-July to mid-September
The route of the Julivia Bus Turistic that runs from mid-July to mid-September

The finishing touch?

If you are by now entranced with Palafrugell’s seaside and don’t mind walking another 2km further south you’ll come to the Castell de Cap Roig, built in a medieval style by a Russian officer who settled in the area after the Russian Revolution, finishing it in 1931. The adjacent 20-hectare botanical gardens, the Jardíns de Cap Roig, contain over 800 plant species and every summer, throughout the months of July and August, host the world-famous Cap Roig Festival with some world-class acts. Calella also hosts the Cycle of Summer Concerts organized by the Joventuts Musicals de Palafrugell

The Botanic Gardens hosting the annual Cap Roig Festival
The Botanic Gardens hosting the annual Cap Roig Festival

So there you have it; the beautiful and buzzing coast of Palafrugell! If you don’t fancy putting in the effort to tackle the hike from Tamariu to Llafranc, we would urge you to at least walk the short stretch from Llafranc to Calella as it’s very easy and very beautiful. And although the coastal hamlets are the highlight, do at least have a stroll or a bite to eat in Palafrugell itself. There are some top quality restaurants there too.

NjOY! La Costa Brava

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