by Amadi Alegria

Heading north to explore la Costa Brava like locals

The beaches of Barcelona are great, don’t get me wrong. The temperature is almost always comfortable, the water is cool and refreshing, and there are opportunities to paddle board, jet ski, and parasail. They are also, however, typically pretty crowded with people and vendors. You can’t feel too secure with your belongings if you’re at a particularly busy part of the beach. The beaches are a great place to have fun, but might not always offer a nice place to relax. If you’re looking for a calmer, more relaxing experience on a beautiful Mediterranean beach, all you have to do is head north to the beaches of the Costa Brava.

This past week, our ALBA excursion brought us up the coast to a quaint little piece of Costa Brava beach. The Costa Brava stretches from the town of Blanes, which lies about 60 km north of Barcelona, all the way to the French border. Historically, this region’s main business was fishing. The small, colorful fishermen’s houses still scatter the coast, but now it’s a popular place for people to vacation and much larger constructions now overlook the beautiful blue water as well.

Our first activity was sea kayaking. In addition to the sand beaches, there’s an abundance of rocks and caves that offer the perfect kayaking experience. We made pit stops in different coves to have a picnic lunch and jump off rocks. We also brought snorkeling gear and were able to see the amazing sea life that was living right below our feet. The wind pushed us back to where we’d begun and we relaxed on the calm beach and swam in the salty, teal-blue water. Behind us there was no big, bustling city and there weren’t more than twenty people sharing the beach with us: it perfectly matched the picturesque, Mediterranean beaches that I’ve always imagined. The urban  experience in Barcelona is unmatched, but for the best beach experience, it is worth the short trip up the coast.

And very close to la Costa Brava…

The amazing thing about Spain is that everything is within reach. Not only can you find beautiful beaches as you travel north, but you can also visit other cities, like Girona. Our ALBA excursion just the week before last included a train ride to Girona and a day spent in this smaller Catalan city. Girona is vastly different from Barcelona. It’s significantly smaller and quieter, but still has amazing and historical architecture. The Girona Cathedral, the Collegiate Church of Sant Feliu, and the Church of Sant Pere de Galligants are just a few of the breathtaking and must-see sites. The city has great food, fun shopping, and museums like the Museum of Jewish History and the Girona Art Museum. The city’s Gothic architecture has also been used as the backdrop for several scenes of Game of Thrones, which adds another fun element for visitors who are fans of the popular television show.

While nothing bad can be said about living and studying in Barcelona, one of the biggest perks is the access to so many other parts of beautiful Spain. Lucky for us, ALBA arranges these excursions that take us out of the city and into amazing new places that are just a short trip away. They are not your typical school field trips, I assure you. The culture of these other regions and towns give a different perspective on Catalan history and offer unique experiences that are harder to come by in the big city. It is so worth the trip to see more of this beautiful country, whether it be the beach and its landscape or the cities in the vicinity that are rich with history. This site organizes a lot of very cool excursions

It can be tempting to travel to other countries while abroad, but my advice would be to not neglect the places that might be right up the coast. Barcelona is just one city in a country that has so much to offer. Take advantage of every opportunity to travel with friends and new friends that might be in your same program, ask questions on tours, and take plenty of pictures. Even in just these couple of weeks, I feel as though I have learned so much just by visiting new places and taking a genuine interest in the culture I’m surrounded by. It has also made me look at life in the United States a lot differently. I’m suddenly more aware of both the positive and negative aspects of the culture I contribute to at home. My one concern is that just as I begin to fall in love with Spain and just as it begins to feel like home, I’m going to be heading back to Seattle. So for now, I’m soaking up as much as I can and taking advantage of every new opportunity.