Because hedonistic havens of tranquillity such as this, where you can kick back and forget the more madding world around you, are becoming fewer and farther between. Catalunya’s only five-star Grand Luxe resort hotel is an impeccably kept hideaway in the upmarket neighbourhood of S’Agaro on Spain’s Costa Brava, where romance oozes from every pore of its art deco resplendent walls.
Far grander than its Hostal title suggests, La Gavina is for lovers whose hearts melt at the mere mention of old world glamour. Full on romanticism awaits those who follow in the footsteps of silver screen A-listers like Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Lady Gaga, who have bedded down in palatial elegance before them.
Set the scene
They say first impressions matter and from the outset La Gavina doesn’t disappoint. Imagine a gentle white-washed fortress-like property suspended above the bay like a magnificent Golden Age of travel ocean liner, and you’ll begin to get the picture. Fringed by lush lime-tinged lawns and soaring umbrella pines, this is where Europe’s beau monde seek sanctuary. Reception access is via a cream and gold infused arcade, neatly lined by potted topiary and an original yesteryear Hostal de la Gavina insignia edged in gold leaf above the door. Once inside, the spacious natural-light infused oval-halled reception is a symphony of refined style where an overriding sense of tranquillity presides from the moment you enter in: from its gleaming marble floor and expansive ceilings embellished with sea shell impressions, to its beautifully curated antiques and sophisticated floral displays. A colonial-style hallway is perhaps a reminder of a gentler age, pre-technology, where you’d happily while away the afternoon reclined in a comfy chair with a good book. Bedecked with black and white framed prints which halt you in your tracks en-route to the lavish breakfast room, it charts the glitterati that have graced these floors – if only walls could talk. Pristine white tablecloths and pink, white and gold monogrammed crockery await a sophisticated clientele who chow down on smoked salmon and Drap cheese from nearby Girona, washed down by copas of restorative Cava from Alto Penedes further down the coast.
The lavish pool area , with its deck-like terrace and colourful procession of lofted flags which cannily spell out the hotel name in the Nautical Flag Alphabet (who knew?) return you to the maritime vibe. An Olympic sized sea water pool fringed by elegant bay-facing sun loungers complete a serene picture.
Rooms, where individuality is a clear prerequisite, are generously proportioned, and, in keeping with the hotel’s timeless aura, are furnished in either classic Mediterranean, Imperial or Elizabethan style, upholstered ostentatiously in silk and feature exquisite hand-blown Murano glass lampshades and luxuriantly soft Egyptian cotton bedding – all look as though they could have graced the pages of the World of Interiors at one time or another. Beds, I’m pleased to report, don’t require a visit to the chiropractor the next morning, so comfortable are they in fact you may need an early morning call to wake you from your slumbers, so that you don’t miss the delights of breakfast. Spacious Italian marble bathrooms feature baths, rainforest showers and twin sinks, and if like me you’re partial to a plush monogrammed bathrobe, rest assured, they have those too. A good proportion of rooms boast sea views, including our Deluxe Junior Suite which opened out onto a spacious terrace replete with sun loungers and panoramic vistas across the bay, that made you feel as though you were an albatross riding the thermals with a birds eye view from above. Those that don’t either have partial sea views or peer out onto the landscaped gardens at the entrance to the property. The one to book for honeymooners though is undoubtedly the Louis XV-style Royal Suite with its magnificent array of Sevres vases, second only to those housed within the Louvre in Paris. As terraces go, they don’t come much finer.
Food and drink
The F&B offering at La Gavina really is the stuff of legend. We’ll get to the food in a second, but the original completely wooden nautical themed bar was the location of the now infamous autocation between two Hollywood legends – it is alleged Frank Sinatra once flew all the way from America to La Gavina in a fit of raging jealousy, having discovered his beau Ava Gardner’s alleged fling with bullfighter Mario Cabré on the set of the film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, which was being shot nearby. Between multiple Dry Martinis and animated dialogue, Gardner is rumoured to have slapped Sinatra around the face. This did not deter him from later proposing to her.
The hotel’s in-house restaurant Candlelight, by Michelin-starred chef Romain Fornell, is phenomenal. Service is delivered in a delightfully considered yet not overbearing old-school manner – as you would expect from somewhere as decadent as this – by a procession of liveried waiters who dispatch a tasting menu of eight sumptuously flavourful courses under theatrical silver-domed cloches. Highlights were the meaty Turbot in a pil pil sauce of cockles and celery puree and a heavenly melt-in-the-mouth fillet of Beef with mushroom crust and Jerez wine reduction. The charming and unflappable French Sommelier Florian David, who’s encyclopaedically well-informed on pairings for each and every course. Everything embraces the local vinous vernacular, from an unctuous Can Sumoi Xarel lo 2020 white, Perelada’s 2019 Finca La Garriga Blanc de Empordà to the velvety local red and Priorat’s little sister, Montsant’s Univers by Joan Asens – each ensuing mouth swirl brought ripples of approval and animated facial contortions.
Established by visionary hotelier Josep Ensesa i Gubert in the early 1920s, whose dream was to conceive a garden city that overlooked the Mediterranean. He managed to persuade his father to buy the then uninhabited land between Sant Pol and the long stretch of beach north of Sant Feliu de Guixols. Back then it didn’t even have a name so it was christened S’Agaro after a local tributary. Ensesa’s vision was brought to fruition by local architect Rafael Maso y Valenti, a revered exponent of traditional Catalan design. Maso incorporated local architectural nuances into his design: porticos, towers, terraces and low-pitched roofs have helped lure in a sophisticated clientele with artistic tastes. The hotel’s fourth-generation owners, the Ensesa family, continue the tradition of hospitality, maintaining the elegant spirit of this bastion of sedate splendour by the sea.
While we didn’t encounter the patter of tiny feet during our stay, there are four family rooms and the hotel does provide cots at no extra charge. Extra beds for under-12s are priced between €35 -€75 per night including breakfast. Children are permitted in the spa area at certain times of the day and there’s a kids’ club, although it is unsupervised, located next to the tennis courts with swings and an assortment of toys.
A Med-facing Gavina Spa by Swiss cosmetic and beauty brand Valmont, accessed via the hotel’s indoor swimming pool, provides further tiredness erasing opportunities – indeed the white-washed treatment rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows which frame views of the concha-like Bahía de Sant Pol beyond. The Ayurvedic Champi Massage I received – and I cannot recommend it highly enough – performed by therapist Ariadna de Lera was quite simply one of the finest spa treatments I have experienced anywhere on my travels. Quite possibly the closest I’ve come to an out-of-body experience too, where all elements of spirit, mind and body seemed to perfectly align simultaneously, ushering me into a cocoon-like state of relaxed consciousness. I could happily have curled up in a ball and hibernated until dinner.
Built around a headland that juts into the cerulean blue Med, between two secluded bays at S’Agaró, make no mistake this is boutique Costa Brava that the tourist masses thankfully don’t get to see. A sleepy air presides over this nostalgic gated enclave where gentle sea breezes filter through the pines, shaping the rugged coastline and creating the very wildness from which the region derives its name. Lavish mansions which serve as a reminder of the wealthy jet-set who’ve beaten a path here since the roaring 20s, cling majestically to the hillside, while the picturesque Camino de Ronda coastal pathway doubles as marathon training ground to fitness obsessives. Less than 5 minutes walk away is Sant Pol beach where the S’Agaro set and visitors alike pile into plates of mariscos at La Gavina’s very own Taverna del Mar.
In the vicinity
Foodies can celebrate married life by joining Girona Food Tours for a gastronomic feast of the senses or dine at Michelin-starred Els Tinars in neighbouring Llagostera; art lovers can pay homage to Salvador Dalí at his Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, his holiday home at Portlligat, as well as Castillo Gala Dalí de Pubol, the castle he built for his Russian wife Gala, while wine lovers will fall for the vinous offerings of local DO Empordà wines.
La Gavina is Ih15 minutes drive from Barcelona-El Prat Airport via Easyjet from London and only 35 minutes from Girona-Costa Brava Airport served by Ryanair.
A Classic Room, including breakfast starts from €280 (approx. £239) per night , whilst a Superior Double Seaview Room, including breakfast starts from €380 (approx. £324) per night.
Pza. Rosaleda s/n, Costa Brava, E-17248 S’Agaró, Girona, Spain
Related Article: Our 5 Favourite Honeymoon Islands