The jewel of Catalonia: head north of Barcelona for townhouses in medieval villages and a winning foodie lifestyle
North of Barcelona and alongside the beautiful Costa Brava, the Baix Empordà is where wealthy Barcelona families have their holiday homes.
It’s a rich agricultural landscape of rolling green hills interspersed with medieval villages, providing an elegant lifestyle based around fiestas, festivals and fabulous food.
The Baix Empordà has intimate village homes up to large masias, historic Catalan farms converted into handsome and substantial homes.
The villages most in demand with Catalans lie east of Girona, a city that is itself seeing a steep rise in interest from property buyers.
“The Baix Empordà and Girona are increasingly popular with Spanish and international buyers looking for a winning lifestyle,” says Tom Maidment of estate agents Lucas Fox.
“The appeal includes a sense of tradition, authentic culture, lovely countryside and easy access to Barcelona, ski slopes and the coast. Locally there are over 40 wineries and 15 Michelin-star restaurants including El Cellar de Can Roca, twice voted best in the world.”
Despite its gourmet reputation the Baix Empordà is for active, outdoor types.
There are 17 marinas and 125 miles of coastline, 15 golf courses including PGA Catalunya whose Stadium Course was voted the best in Spain, while the region has a stellar reputation for road cycling. Girona is home to more professional cyclists than anywhere else worldwide and enthusiastic amateurs love it, too.
Small townhouses in medieval villages west of Girona start from £355,000 with masias requiring renovation from £450,000. Four- or five-bedroom renovated masias with separate accommodation to rent out are £1.35 million upwards.
“A new trend we see are people buying masias with plans to start a new business, running it as a hotel or yoga retreat or perhaps a cycling centre,” says Maidment.
£337,000: a charming two-bedroom townhouse with patio garden (Lucas Fox)
A delightful three-bedroom townhouse in the village of Pals close to Begur and the beach is £625,000. The 2,561sq ft house dating to the 18th century has been well renovated and has a pool in the small private garden. It would rent for £1,530 to £1,800 a week in high season.
Closer to Girona and 30 minutes from the sea in charming Monells village, a 1,162sq ft two-bedroom townhouse with a small patio garden looks good value at £337,000. Monells is popular with cyclists, has year-round life and homes there rent well.
Sales prices in Girona rose 11 per cent last year and it is easy to see why. This beautifully kept city is packed with charm, grand churches, an historic Jewish quarter and some of Europe’s most sensational restaurants.
An hour from the French border, Girona is 40 minutes by train from Barcelona and 20 minutes from Costa Brava’s beaches.
It’s a third of the size of Barcelona with none of the strict short-term rental restrictions and for investors who think the Barcelona market is overheated, or seafront homes are too seasonal, it makes a compelling option.
A top-floor two-bedroom, two-bathroom duplex flat of 1,140sq ft in central Placa de Sant Feliu is newly on the market priced £341,000. It has a lift and partial air conditioning and could rent for up to £180 a night in high season.
A 1,455sq ft two-bedroom flat overlooking a central square in the Old Town, artfully restored into a light and comfortable home, is £500,000.
A business and lifestyle choice
“We Googled it”: Louise and Lee changed their lives in Girona, Spain
Louise Laker and her husband Lee Comerford met while working for an environmental charity in Covent Garden and bonded over a passion for cycling.
“We wanted to change our lives so we Googled ‘best places to cycle in the world’ and made a spreadsheet of good places to live, the pros and cons and where we could find work,” says Louise, 29.
They chose Girona as Lee, 35, speaks fluent Spanish, moving there from Kent in 2015. For a year Lee worked in IT and Louise trained and raced full time.
In 2016, with Girona home to 200 professional cyclists, they set up their cycling tours company, Eat Sleep Cycle.
“Today we have 120 bikes and run 80 tours for anything from two to 30 cyclists,” says Lee. “Our business has quadrupled every year since we started and now has 12 full-time staff and a further 50 contracted in Girona and across Europe.”
They bought a four-bedroom house with pool in Palau, nine minutes’ bike ride away. Louise says the biggest change in their lifestyle was losing the commute.
Girona is, says Lee, the jewel of Catalonia. “It has year-round good weather, flat roads and big mountains and we love the big-small city vibe here. There is lots going on culturally but you can also get out of the city easily. It is like living in a small Barcelona.”
Eat Sleep Cycle bike hire starts at £120 for a week and the company organises personalised tours for all levels of cyclists priced from £720 to £4,500 a week depending on accommodation and itinerary.