It’s not until quite recently that I actually ventured into Empuriabrava, having passed it several times with my parents in the late 1980s. I seem to remember heading for Figueres, but that doesn’t quite make sense, unless we used to take some out-of-the-way route to get there. The one thing I do remember is dad referring to the “U-Boat pens” of Empuriabrava thanks to its extensive marina and large German population.
I finally went there needing an emergency vet one Sunday morning, and have visited two or three times since. Those visits have always been off season, but it is clear in the spring that the town has little charm at all. If you’re looking for a picturesque seaside town then you’d do best to steer well clear of Empuriabrava.
In fact, with so many resorts with real history and character to choose from it is difficult to imagine the attraction of Empuriabrava unless you need to moor your boat and anyone thinking canals and expecting anything approaching Venice will be sorely disappointed.
However, the town does have a long, deep beach which can accommodate many tourists and while the seafront lacks character it doesn’t solely consist of high rise apartments and hotels, although these do blight the landscape in some areas and can be seen at least from l’Escala.
Empuriabrava is located in the bay of Roses and consists of a 40 kilometre network of canals making it one of the largest marinas in the world. The Costa Brava town (known as Ampuriabrava in Castilian) was built on swampland during the 1960s and ’70s and in the summer sees its population swell from less than 8,000 to 80,000.
There are some hotels but holiday accommodation mainly consists of privately owned villas and apartments. You can also camp nearby, but you can easily pick a far better location for camping that Empuriabrava.
Although the town itself is uninteresting, it does at least have a large beach consisting of 1.6 kilometres of sand. The beach is bounded by entrance to the marina in the north and the mouth of the river Muga in the south and can be accessed from the promenade.
The town beach has all the usual facilities such as lifeguards, bars and restaurants and public toilets and in recent years has always been certified with the blue flag that signifies clean water.
North of the marina entrance is another long sandy beach backed by dunes that extends up to the Santa Margarita, a smaller scale version of Empuriabrava.
Although Empuriabrava has no history at all to speak of, in the 11th century the nearby Castello d’Empúries became capital of what today is the Empordà. In the early part of the 14th century the town underwent expansion until, in 1385, it came under Aragon crown; that expansion is nothing compared to that at Empuriabrava though.
Empuriabrava has the usual assortment of restaurants serving Catalan and international cuisine aimed at the tourist market. Many restaurants are canal side but given that the town dates back just a few decades you should head for Castello d’Empúries if you are looking for something more authentic.
As in all Spanish towns, look out for the menú del día, two or three courses generally for an exceptionally good price and often inclusive of drinks.
Empuriabrava is home to one of the three largest skydiving centres in the world, with Skydive Empuriabrava. Founded in 1985, more than a million jumps have taken place from the centre since and so if you have ever wanted to try your hand at parachuting then this is your chance.
The town is also close to the natural park of Aiguamolls d’Empordà, a bird reserve on the marshland south of Empuriabrava. In common with some other unspoilt areas of the Costa Brava, Aiguamolls enjoys protected status and is home to 327 different species of wildlife.
Those looking for a little history should head for nearby Castello d’Empúries, which today is rather eclipsed by Empuriabrava in scale. Figueres is 20 minutes by car and Girona can easily be done as a day trip, while the Cap de Creus and towns such as Cadaqués should make a welcome change from the marina.
How to get to Empuriabrava
Girona-Costa Brava airport is 45 minutes away, while Figueres is 20 minutes in the car. Buses to Figueres run about once per hour, and with the train service from Barcelona makes a fairly painless trip from the Catalan capital.