The Best of the Spanish Riviera                     

The Costa del Sol, Costa Brava, and the Costa Blanca: Each of Spain’s legendary stretches of sand and sun has a distinctive character; here’s where they are and how to tell them apart.

Although everyone has heard the names, along with the other less-known Costas, few people could identify them on a map of Spain, let alone say how they differ in style or landscape and the sun-seekers they attract. With more than a thousand miles of coast that stretch from the French border northeast of Barcelona to the Portuguese border west of Seville, it’s no wonder. Here is Spain’s Mediterranean coastline in a nutshell.

Costa Brava and Beaches Near Barcelona

Spain’s Costa Brava, or wild coast, north of Barcelona, has drawn artists and writers ever since a prominent journalist named it the Costa Brava in 1909. The region celebrates that anniversary with events and a touring route of sights associated with artists including Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Marc Chagall.

This region blends into the nearby Costa Dorada, southwest of Barcelona. The Costa Dorada has less an impressive landscape but more long stretches of beach; little known to foreign travellers, it has its own charms and a thoroughly Spanish flavour. South of the Costa Dorada, the Costa del Azahar near Valencia is covered in groves of orange trees and with good beaches around Castellon de la Plana.

Costa Blanca, South of Valencia

Between two capes that extend into the Mediterranean on either side of the city of Alicante, the Costa Blanca is very well known for its long stretches of white sands, but here also are expanses of dramatic cliffs filled with caves. The region is popular with expats, and some towns, such as Javea on the northern part of the Costa Blanca, have more expat inhabitants than Spanish nationals.

Costa del Sol, Spain’s Best-known Coast

Stretching from Málaga to Gibraltar, the famous Costa del Sol has Europe’s highest number of guaranteed sunny days, bringing northern Europeans in search of winter warmth. International, but rarely jet-set, this is a lively good-time land of sunny beaches, plenty of amusements for kids, and apart from a few resort towns, real Spanish character. Its resorts range from package-plan look-alike blocks to deluxe villas; at the western end is Nueva Andalucia, known as “Golf Valley.”

Costa de la Luz, West of Gibraltar

The coast of Andalucia, west of the Straits of Gibraltar, is washed not by the Mediterranean but by the Atlantic Ocean. Around the Cape of Trafalgar, cliffs drop straight into the sea. Beyond most of the way to the Portugal border, the low-key Costa de la Luz is lined with miles and miles of fine white sand, with an average of three hundred days of sunshine each year. Developed later than the Costa del Sol, this region south of Seville heeded the lesson of the earlier resorts, opting for low-rise development that preserved the beaches, natural attractions, and scenery. This coast is a closely guarded Spanish secret.

There are several airports near the different coastlines, so there is never too far to travel onwards.

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