Gastronomic Gallivants: Hostal de la Gavina Spain


By Sophie Ibbotson

Not too long ago I was told that Girona is the gastronomic capital of Costa Brava, the southeastern coast of Spain. But though that might be true, bigger does not always mean better: sometimes the best food is not to be found in the city but tucked away in a village or small town. The resort of S’Agaró is a case in point: if you are planning a culinary adventure in Catalonia, by all means visit Girona, but then head to Hostal de la Gavina overlooking the Bay of Sant Pol, a 30-minute drive south of Girona.

As you approach Hostal de la Gavina, the proximity of the sea grabs your attention. The sea spray and the breeze cool the air, and the turquoise blue of the water and the gentle sound of waves crashing soothes the mind. This grand old hotel, one of Europe’s finest, has stood here for generations, its gardens growing up around the buildings and creating a green oasis on the coast.  The hotel is intimate enough to feel like a family home, albeit one which has always been the favorite retreat of politicians, film stars, artists, and socialites, but wandering in these expansive grounds you can always find space to be alone. And if you do want to stretch your legs further, the Cami di Ronda coastal path is on your doorstep.

Days typically revolve around meals, not exercise, however. The hotel’s gastronomic delights deter guests from straying too far. Breakfast is on the terrace, lunch by the pool or on the beach, cocktails and snacks are in the garden, and come dusk you will want to dress elegantly for dinner in Candlelight by Romain Fornell.

Having stayed for a long weekend at Hostal de la Gavina and thoroughly indulged, three culinary experiences stand out. The food, atmosphere, and surroundings were distinct, but what they share in common is the freshness of the ingredients, the attention to detail of the chefs, and the extremely high level of service from the waiting staff.

Candlelight by Romain Fornell is Hostal de la Gavina’’s flagship restaurant, a carefully designed space spilling out from the hotel’s main building onto an outdoor terrace whenever the weather is warm enough. And on a balmy September evening, I had no need for a jacket or wrap. Although there is a choice of dishes, opt for a set menu with wine pairings, as the chef and sommelier have worked together  to curate an exquisite combination of flavors that even the most passionate food and wine lover is unlikely to be able to match. The dishes almost looked too good to eat.

But at Candlelight, the food and wine are only half the experience; the rest is the ambience. A talented pianist performed a medley of classical, jazz, and pop favorites, and the music and star-studded sky above created such a romantic atmosphere that one couple left their meal between courses to dance passionately on the patio. I have two left feet and an attention-shy partner, else I’d have been up there too.

For something a little more casual the following day, we dined at Gavina Terrace, a patio restaurant spreading out into the gardens. There is an excellent menu of local wines, including sparkling Cava, and dishes are served tapas style. Spain is renowned for its small plates, and rightly so. It is one of my favorite ways to dine as between two people you can try half a dozen dishes or more. With the sea so close by, it would have been a crime not to opt for the seafood, but the stand-out dish for me was small artichokes lightly battered and fried, dipped in garlic aioli. The fiery tang of the chorizo made quite an impression, too. As we ate and drank, slowly over several hours, we chatted in a relaxed fashion and people-watched. Hostal de la Gavina is a popular location for weddings, and one lucky couple were tying the knot in the gardens that night.

As an Englishwoman abroad, I associate seaside restaurants with fish and chips (fries), especially when from the window you are watching children building sandcastles and splashing in the sea, their mothers sunbathing and casually watching on. But at Taverna del Mar, a short walk away from the hotel on the beachfront, I was in for a surprise. The crisp blue and white interior, though faintly nautical in theme, was the first clue that this was something higher end. The second clue was that the waiter wheeled past a fish trolley. If there was a menu, I did not see it: it is far more rewarding to pick the exact fish or shellfish you want to eat from the morning’s catch.

We popped the cork on a bottle of sparkling wine and started munching our way through a bowl of mixed local olives whilst the waiter talked us through the fish on a bed of ice. The huge prawns and sea bass were easily identifiable; species like the sea urchin, less so. I was enthralled, and had no idea that you can catch great big tuna off the southern coast of Spain. There was a strong temptation to order everything, but with a sigh I passed responsibility for decision making to the chef, asking that he simply prepare a selection of whatever he thought was best that day. As with the set menu at Candlelight, it was the right decision. The chefs are the experts, after all.

The highlight of this lunch was the salt crusted sea bass. It arrived on a platter, the rough sea salt piled high in a mound. Skilfully, the waiter carved through the salt, making a satisfying crunching sound. Removing the top layer, he revealed the creamy white fish inside, soft and lightly cooked to perfection. Despite its outer casing, the taste of the salt wasn’t overly strong; it was just a faint reminder of the sea. I did ask for it with a portion of fries, but they were crisp and a deep, glorious gold color, nothing like the limp seaside fare wrapped in paper that I would have got at home. 

I am increasingly of the mind that, as in Italy, there is no such thing as a bad meal in Spain. But there is still a wide canyon between a good meal and an unforgettable one, and the delightful thing about Hostal de la Gavina is that it delivers the latter time after time.


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