City Life: Golf, grapes and gastronomy
This northerly region in Catalonia has scenery to satisfy your every whim - city break (Girona), beach retreat (Costa Brava) or country weekend (La Bisbal).
Between Girona and the Mediterranean, in the southern shadow of the Pyrenees, lies Empordà - split into Alt (higher) and Baixa (lower) Empordà - a rolling countryscape in north-east Catalonia of vine- and sheep-dotted hillsides topped with mediaeval hamlets tickled by the Tramontane wind. Whether it's the region's rich history, the surfeit of superb Catalan restaurants (El Celler de Can Roca, El Bulli) or the gaggle of golf courses that draw you here, you'll find yourself stylishly tucked away from the crowds on the Costa Brava, yet near enough when you fancy a jaunt to its sandy coves and cobalt waters.
Exits five to nine of the A-7 motorway access the region from Barcelona to the south, Perpignan to the north. Those without wheels would do well to hire some - there's a Hertz (www.hertz.co.uk) desk in Girona airport.
Ryanair flies from 11 UK airports to Girona-Costa Brava Airport, 40 minutes from La Bisbal by taxi.
Take the Eurostar (www.eurostar.co.uk) from London to Paris mid-afternoon; then take the evening Barcelona-bound trainhotel from Gare d'Austerlitz and wake up in Girona (www.raileurope.co.uk).
Country code for Spain: +34. Girona area code: 972.
It'd be rude not to thumb through Orwell's Civil War account, Homage to Catalonia, while you're on set. Delve into Dalí with his foundation's An Illustrated Life. Pack anything by Josep Pla (if you can find a translation) for home-grown Catalan fiction.
Do go / Don't Go
Like much of the Med, Empordà visitor numbers spike in July and August and the winters are mild but wet. Visit in May, June or September crowd- and cagoule-free warmth.
Empordà's cuisine is characterised by the sea and by its mountains. In the mountain corner, we have botifarra sausages, Trinxat veggie fritters, delicious duck, a troop of ceps and chanterelle mushrooms and endive-like escarole leaves. Harvested from the Med, arròs negre combines squid with rice, and salted cod and sardines are fish favourites.
Taxi Begur (+34 630 980895; www.taxibegur.com) on the Costa Brava speak English and can arrange pick-ups from Girona. Taxi Alex (+34 659 550550) operates out of Estartit day and night. In La Bisbal, there is a taxi stand on Plaça Francesc Macià.
Small-change-shaped gestured are always appreciated, but tipping is not common Spanish practice.
A picnic blanket for alfresco tapas and toe-twiddling in the Catalan hills; a shoulder-shading wide-brimmed hat to counter the Costa Brava sunshine.
Palafrugell earns double culture points - as Josep Pla's birthplace and the heart of the Catalan cork industry (don't mention the screwtops…). Visit the Museu del Suro (cork museum) and Pla's former home turned museum to learn about both. The Dalí Triangle of attractions is more accessible and less surreal than you might imagine. Intersperse your arty pilgrimage with stop-offs at the many mediaeval villages that litter the landscape: Ullastret, Peratallada and Monells each a collage of cobbled alleys, tottering towers and stone archways.
Those Catalan priests knew a thing or two about location - inland, for the best views in a village, head straight to its church - in most cases, traditionally built on the highest spot.
La Bisbal is a potter's paradise: head to Vila Clara Ceramics www.vila-clara.com), a family-run 50-year business at 27 Sis d'Octubre (+34 972 640185). On the same street at 59, the imaginatively titled Anticua is great for antiques. Less ancient, more retro homewares can be found at the local branch of Ultima Parada at 27 Marques de Cruilles (+34 610 380769).
The St Sebastià lighthouse towers on a blustery cliff with invigorating sea views near the excavations of the sixth-century Iberian settlement. Take a leisurely hike from Canadell or go by train (summer only) from Calella.
Plan a visit to the Gothic alley-veined town of Pals to coincide with market day on Tuesday, when the bustle of señoras manhandling cheeses and chorizo on the cobbled street mirrors the mediaeval merchantry of yesteryear.
April Castell d'Empordà [link to review] hosts a jazz festival for 12 weeks. May Girona hosts a Festival of Flowers (www.gironatempsdeflors.net) with displays around the city that it's hard to believe are made from blooms. July Experience sardana dancing and cobla bands in Torroella de Montgrí and Palamós. July and August Castillo de Peralada hosts an international music festival with balletic, operatic and orchestral performances in the grounds (www.festivalperalada.com). 11 September The annual regional festival Diada de Catalunya: expect fireworks, sardines (the fish, not the game) and celebrations across the region.