An Inside Guide to Empordà
We asked Pablo Rovira of Viu Empordà, a collection of homes in Empordà and the Costa Brava, to share the unfamiliar charms of this lesser-known region of Spain—the perfect day out, and the places he and his team return to time and again.
The team at Viu Empordà characterize themselves as “true romantics,” lovers of slow living in soulful, stirring landscapes kissed by wildness and touched by mystery. Their natal region—and where you'll find their dazzling collection of homes—is a remote part of Spain, a land squeezed between better known neighbors to the north, east and west. Empordà extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the jagged Pyrenees, covering untamed territory from thick forests to cultivated fields, vine-clad hills to secluded sea inlets, all crisscrossed by an intricate maze of back roads.
The small city of Girona and rippling coastline of the Costa Brava win the region’s popularity contest, followed by Figueres, on the French border, once home to surrealist painter Salvador Dalí. Lesser known are the arcaded country wine cellars packed with DO vintages, sun-bleached olive groves where oil is pressed, and mountain valleys striped with swirling streams. Moats, monasteries, and medieval fortresses rise from inland Empordà, and pretty fishing villages still hum with the hauling of nets that offer sea-to-table dining.
Here, Viu Empordà's founder Pablo Rovira shares some tips on where to go and what to see in the region.
You often refer to Empordà’s "magic." What distinguishes the region and seduces visitors to it?
What makes Empordà so special is that, in a relatively small region, we find a great variety of impressive landscapes, fishing villages or those with medieval pasts, protected natural spaces, a rich gastronomic culture, and a history that dates back to the time of the Greeks.
We call Empordà a destination of destinations. It’s a territory capable of seducing those who already know it and enchanting those who come for the first time.
When is the best time to visit it?
Each season has its own charm. In general, it is associated with summer, and the crystal-clear waters of the Costa Brava are a gift, but the rest of the seasons are also great.
In autumn, the pace slows down, an ideal moment to explore the area more calmly. In winter, the landscapes become monochromatic, but sunny days invite you to walk, cycle, or do other activities, and enjoy the fireplace in the evenings. And when spring comes, nature and the landscape explode: hundreds of shades of green, sunny days, and a desire to jump into the sea...
What’s your best travel tip?
An insider tip I give to all travelers is: get lost and feel local. In other words, do not just follow Google Maps. To go from one place to another, take secondary roads (even if they are not the fastest routes), stop in the small towns of the region (they do not have to be the most well-known, even better if they are not), have a coffee in their squares while contemplating local life, try typical dishes of the region, visit local markets. It is an easy and friendly destination where you will feel welcome easily.
Describe your perfect day in Empordà.
Wake up early, go on a bike ride and immerse yourself in the Gavarres (a protected area). Ride through sandy trails among forests until you reach the summit, for great views of the whole region. On the way back home, stop at a local bakery to buy the bread of the day, specifically our typical bread pan de pagés and a bit of local longaniza [dried pork sausage] to have for breakfast back in the garden of the house.
Before noon, head to the port and board our boat to spend part of the day sailing and anchored in some of our favorite coves. Sometimes we like to sail up to small fishing villages where we can disembark to have fresh fish or rice in a beach bar. On other occasions, we prefer to search for wild coves and eat on the boat—picnic style—a gazpacho or salad. The luxury is to do it in coves only accessible by sea, with clear and fresh water ideal for diving or simply resting in the sun.
In the afternoon, on the way back home, stop in a beautiful art gallery. One of our favorites is located in a stately home in a village of no more than 200 inhabitants. From the outside, it looks like just another house, but when you enter, the rustic coexists with the contemporary. Upon arriving home, enjoy the sunset and have dinner with family or friends at home, or go out to dinner and enjoy the local atmosphere at one of our favorite restaurants.
Lots of eating! What local food or drink shouldn’t be missed?
Being located between the sea and the mountains, Empordà boasts an impressive quantity of high-quality fresh products, from fish from the waters of the Costa Brava to meats from the mountain slopes, or fruits and vegetables grown near the rivers.
Our region is known for its high gastronomic quality, but it is not necessary to go to one of the 10 Michelin-starred restaurants in the region to enjoy authentic delicacies. You can also visit some of the many local producers specializing in olive oil, ecologically cultivated vegetables, natural wines or cheeses.
Another great experience is going out to sea to catch the famous red prawns of Palamós with a local fisherman and eating them at the port upon returning, accompanied by a good white wine.
Speaking of experiences, you offer unique opportunities to explore the region accompanied by local experts. Tell us more.
We offer a variety of activities, routes and experiences to enjoy the region just as we do—from trips to the sea in a llaüt sailboat to discovering some of the wildest coves of the Costa Brava, to workshops with ceramists, tasting olive oil and wines among ancient olive trees, or hikes through protected natural areas with great experts in local fauna and flora. Activities designed by local chefs, artisans, adventurers, or botanists. Experts in different fields eager to share their passion and knowledge.
For example, accompanied by Ernesto, one of the most original and disruptive perfumers in the international world of author perfumery, we go for a walk in the countryside. During the walk, we collect and learn about the plants that give their olfactory character to the landscape. While the sun sets, we distill the plants to make the perfume of our walk, while enjoying a selection of local cheeses and good wine.
Finally, what makes your rental homes truly authentic regional stays?
All the properties in the collection are special: homes of owners who have made an effort to create cozy accommodations with a unique identity. Staying in one of our houses is much more than staying in a vacation rental home, it is the opportunity to spend some days in houses that stand out for their architecture, decoration, environment or history.
Photographs courtesy of Viu Empordà