When I travel, it’s hard not to compare where I am with places I’ve been. It’s probably not the best habit – Paris will always be Paris and London my eternal city – but it’s a way of narrowing down the long list of places I’d like to return to, again and again.
Two falls ago, Tom and I visited Cinque Terre or “Cinco Burrito,” as Tom calls it, and while unsurprised by the number of tourists, we still felt the sting of having missed a quieter, more tourist-free boat.
Friends who’d visited Cinque Terre a decade before Instagram made #wanderlust a nauseating hashtag were surprised by our displeasure. Sure, they had been far from the only foreigners traversing the sleepy seaside towns, but… That’s precisely my point. When they visited, the towns were still sleepy, the fisherman still fisherman, the locals not yet disgruntled by the thousands of tourists asking for English menus until one day, they simply expected it. The seafood in the half dozen or so hole-in-the-wall restaurants my friends had stumbled upon was, they remembered, some of the best they’d had.
But what was the big problem anyway, Betty? Didn’t you and Tom have fun with your friends in Cinque Terre? Didn’t you enthusiastically post photos of the glittering Manorola cliffside and the sunny view from lunch in Vernazza? Didn’t you smile like a crazed idiot with your fifth or tenth gelato from that trip? And because of the region’s popularity didn’t you come back with a pretty incredible story of coincidence to tell?
No problem, no problem at all.
But Costa Brava, especially Llafranc, and definitely because we visited on the cusp of busy season, is the better pick if you seek tranquil seaside splendor. An actual getaway. Tourists, sure. But mostly older Europeans and Brits. And in May, the numbers are just a small fraction of what we experienced in Cinque Terre. The food (tapas and paella, wine and cava by the litre, obviously) is good, the lodging spacious and cheap, and waiting for the local fishermen’s catch of the day is still a thing.
Perhaps I am doing myself and Costa Brava a disservice by sharing this. Though the internet tells me it isn’t a secret at all and we just got lucky this year. Regardless, I would try my luck again and return. Is it wishful thinking to hope that despite the cranes and construction we saw going on, it stays more or less the same? Probably.
When to go: May. Right before busy season (June-Sept) starts.
Where to stay: www.uniquecostabrava.com. Our bomb 3BR rental was less than $100 a night. Divided amongst six people is just one level up from highway robbery.
Where to eat: Maybe it was because we literally did not stop eating and drinking that all our meals blended together, but having breakfasts (eggs, bacon and very good bread) and dinners (home-cooked steaks and fresh fish) were the most enjoyable and economical ways we indulged.
For our last evening, our host recommended and made a reservation for us at Hotel Casamar, a Michelin-rated hotel restaurant, but we went for the fresh catch of the day at the local market instead. I also really enjoyed this spot in the mornings.
What to do: Enjoy. Eat. Cava. And get a boat upon which you can do all of the above. Though you’ll find boat rentals are not allowed in Llafranc before June. Drive to neighboring but less charming Palamòs, where they rent boats year round (sadly, we failed to get one, which fuels our desire to go back). And while you’re waiting for the boat renters to wake up from their three hour siestas, lunch at the Restaurant Club Nautic. (That’s Spanish for Yacht Club).