Côte d’Azur versus Costa Brava

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© Fòrum Barcelona 2004/ Agustí Argelich

Barcelona, Barcelona, Barcelona!! It’s the word that comes first when you ask any Catalonian “Why would anyone want to moor a megayacht on the Costa Brava, instead of the Côte d’Azur?”

“Barcelona is a beautiful city.” “Barcelona is full of interesting things to see and do.” “Barcelona has everything, including an international airport.” It’s all true, of course, but, though Port Forum manager Santiago Twose and Marina Unternational Tarragona owner Inigo Prada Nicholson cite Barcelona as a major attraction, both see the city as just one factor leading to success.

Costa Brava

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Cruising the Costa Brava is another phrase on every lip, when it comes to relating Catalan attractions and, certainly, many would say that this stretch of coast is a far pleasanter cruising ground than the Côte d’Azur for, in the main, it is a coast where the hills are still covered in cork oaks, carob trees, pines, almonds and citrus fruits, fragrant herbs and colourful flowers, instead of pink villas.

There are modern coastal developments immediately north of Barcelona, but from ancient Tossa del Mar to the Costa Brava’s official end, at the border town of Port Bou (left), it is a different scene. Here, the characteristic features are granite rocks and cliffs, eroded by the sea into fantasy shapes and an abundance of headlands, caves and, often deserted, coves to anchor in. It is an irregular and impressive landscape, which inspired journalist Ferran Agullo to give this costa the name ”Brava”.

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 What Costa Brava developments there are remain, for the most part, discretely hidden from those at sea, and

even the presence of the giant Empuriabrava sprawl is only betrayed by a few coastal buildings.

So, a Costa Brava charter would not be for those who want an “every night in another port” cruise, but for those who appreciate dining on deck and watching the sun go down in a quiet anchorage.

Barcelona is clearly the jewel in the Costa Brava crown, for the Côte d’Azur has nothing comparable but, just over the border on

France’s Vermilion coast, there is another unmatched jewel in Collioure (above left). The Albares mountains, which are really the geographical end of the Costa Brava, meet the sea in Collioure’s magical harbour, which is dominated by an awe inspiring Vauban fortress and boasts a palm lined promenade with an abundance of restaurants. Another ancient fortress perches atop the nearest mountain and a row of old fishermen’s houses, with gaily coloured Catalan barques drawn up on the beach, makes for a series of “picture postcard” scenes that even Italy’s Portofino cannot rival.

Further afield

Both Twose and Nicholson see their marinas’ geographical positions as a big plus, where it comes to getting a large yacht to make its home there. At 15 knots, the Balearics are 6 to 7 hours cruising away and the Côte d’Azur, at 250 miles distance, is about 16 hours. Nicholson says “With the majority of the voyage being done overnight, that is not an issue.

One might, however, ask “Why keep a yacht on the Costa Brava, if it is to spend much of its time cruising the Balearics, or the Côte d’Azur?” The cost and availability of moorings is the answer to that. A permanent mooring in the Balearics is not only virtually impossible to obtain, but mooring fees are about four times the cost of Port Forum’s rates. A visiting berth on Mallorca has to be reserved months in advance, making cruising schedules inflexible. The situation on the Côte d’Azur is not much better.

There is, of course, also the matter of the America’s Cup. An owner could join his yacht in Barcelona, or Tarragona, be taken overnight to Valencia, spend a few days at anchor watching the regattas and fly home from Valencia, leaving the crew to make the short run to its home port. come back here

Will they come and, if they do, which marina will they choose?

“Yes, they will come.” say Twose and Nicholson, with absolute certainty and both cite the same reason “Because it is the captains who have most influence, when it comes to deciding where a yacht will have its home port, and the captains will choose Spain.” They are not, however, entirely in accord on what will attract the captains to make that decision, nor on what a profitable marina needs, so these two new megayacht ports will be very different. 

Read A Tale of Two Marinas.