Diving in L'Estartit
There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of picking up a new skill, and Catalunya is rich with learning possibilities, from crafts to wine tasting and adventure sports. Here’s our pick of the best to get you inspired.
Pottery in La Bisbal
What better place to learn the finer skills of pottery than in La Bisbal, the heart of Catalunya’s ceramic industry? This town is the capital of the Baix Empordà comarca in Girona, and since the 18th century has been a big producer of ceramics, enjoying its golden age in the latter half of the 19th century. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, industrialisation and new materials marked a gradual decline in production, and it wasn’t until the Spanish tourist boom in the Fifties that La Bisbal found its feet once again. Now, the town thrives on the pottery industry once more and is home to scores of pottery producers. It also has its own licensed brand name, ‘La Ceràmica de la Bisbal’. The ceramics school of La Bisbal was founded in 1972 and is situated just outside the town. It is renowned for its high quality of teaching and excellent facilities. Besides pottery courses, they also teach other crafts, including jewellery making, sculpture and furniture restoration. They offer one-day and weekend courses and during the summer they hold one to two week courses. Accommodation facilities are available at the school for people attending residential courses. Prices vary according to the course, but a five-day course can cost around €270, with an additional cost of €150 for accommodation.
Escola Ceràmica de la Bisbal. www.esceramicbisbal.net
Kitesurfing in Sant Pere Pescador
It may look worryingly difficult, but even if you have no experience in surfing or windsurfing (or kite flying for that matter), a good instructor will have you leaping safely over the waves in no time. One of the best places to head is the Bay of Roses on the Costa Brava. Sant Pere Pescador is a small town located on the huge bay that sweeps from Roses in the north to L’Escala in the south, and is right on the edge of the Aiguamolls d’Empordà nature reserve, which is a protected wetlands known for its wide variety of wildlife and migratory birds.
A far cry from other beaches on the Costa Brava that are packed to the gills when the sun comes out, these vast beaches are edged with sand dunes and relatively empty even in the hottest months. The bay enjoys some fine winds for kitesurfing, including the Garbí and the Xaloc, making it a very popular destination for aficionados. The Escuela Española Náutica is based in Can Martinet, just three kilometres from Sant Pere Pescador. They offer courses for beginners costing €150 for one day (for four hours of instruction) or €250 for two days (eight hours of instruction). The prices cover all materials, including wetsuit, and there is a limit of two pupils per instructor.
Escuela Española Náutica. www.eenautica.com
Rock climbing on Montserrat
With rocky hills and mountains aplenty in Catalunya, there’s an abundance of great rock climbing opportunities for every level, from complete beginners to seasoned climbers. The dramatic and beautiful Montserrat massif offers endless climbs with its thousands of jagged needles and big expanses of rock face. So, forget the cable car and opt for an entirely new way of visiting this fascinating mountain. Climb Catalunya offers a number of courses, including the ‘Learn to climb’ long weekend on the Montserrat massif. You’ll learn the basic techniques and how to use equipment safely, and as you acquire the skills you’ll be putting them into practice daily on the rock face. This course lasts four days and the price is €369 per person, including all material and accommodation.
Climb Catalunya. www.climbcatalunya.com
Diving in L’Estartit
It may not be the Red Sea, but the Costa Brava has some great diving available and an abundance of places to learn. The small town of L’Estartit is one of the Mediterranean’s most popular dive destinations. Just off its coast are the Medes islands, a marine reserve made up of seven small islands that enjoy an abundance of natural features, including huge groupers and coral. The area has been protected since 1990 and to avoid any environmental damage, the number of divers is carefully regulated by the dive schools. There are a number of dive sites around the Medes, including the Dofí, a huge underwater cavern. If you’ve never dived before and want to try it out before committing to a longer course, many centres offer immersion or ‘baptism’ courses, which usually last about four hours. After learning to use the breathing equipment in the safety of a swimming pool, you’ll then go for a dive down to between five and 10 metres. These courses are priced at about €70.
All centres offer the basic diving qualification course, which is the PADI Open Water Diver. After successfully completing this course, your PADI card enables you to hire equipment and dive at any centre around the world. The PADI course lasts five days and includes five theory classes, five pool dives and four sea dives. The average cost for the course is about €400.
Wine tasting in the Penedès
The Penedès comarca in southern Catalunya is home to some of Spain’s finest wines and cavas. Considered one of the country’s best wine-producing areas, it is also one of the oldest viticultural areas in Europe. The area has a huge number of bodegues (wineries), from very small producers to internationally renowned, big-name labels such as Torres, Codorniu and Freixenet. All the main bodegues offer tours and a short tasting, but if you’re looking to gain more in-depth knowledge, El Molí Tours offers a number of different opportunities to acquaint you with the finer art of viticulture. Wine writer and owner of El Molí tours, Paddy Mannion, shares his impeccable knowledge of the region and its produce with his guests and offers many different options from four-day winery tours to a ‘create your own cava’ day. The half-day ‘Penedès cava, wine, food and culture tour’ costs €90 per person. www.elmolitours.com
And something for the soul...
Casa Carrasco is located in an almond and olive grove in the Serra de Cardo mountains, about 15 kilometres inland from the beach town of L’Ampolla on the Costa Daurada. Begin your day with a 90-minute Sivananda yoga class, set outdoors against the inspiring backdrop of beautiful mountain scenery. Accommodation is self-catering in luxury tents and the cost is €40 per night per person, including the daily yoga class and breakfast. Classes are tailored to participants’ needs, so beginners are welcome. www.yogaholidayspain.com
Open Dharma is a retreat set in a nature reserve in Montsant in the province of Tarragona, and since 1999 has offered meditation retreats. Their website also has details of other retreats and courses, including ecology and creativity retreats. They also hold non-residential retreats in Barcelona. www.opendharma.org
Set amid woodlands near Santa Maria de Palautordera in the Montseny natural park, the Dhamma Neru Vipassana meditation centre offers 10-day silent meditation retreats. Participants are up at 4am each day and meditate for 10 hours daily. The courses are very popular and it’s advisable to sign up early. www.dhammaneru.org