Castell d'Emporda

Near La Bisbal d\'Emporda, Catalonia, Spain Book from

Reviewed by Laura Dixon
Remodelled medieval castle with contemporary flair, a divine roof terrace, stunning pool and great central Catalonian location
You have to be either mad or divinely inspired to stumble upon a ruined medieval castle crawling with feral cats, left untouched for 80 years, and want to buy it and turn it into a luxury hotel. But that's what Dutch couple Albert Diks and Margo Vereijken did, and the result is Castell d’Empordà. It is an inspiring feat of genius, a former crusader's castle that was owned by one of Colombus' captains, and it now has 38 luxurious rooms, spacious herb-filled gardens, a divine 17th-century chapel and one of the finest views in the area.

It's close enough to Girona to make it accessible for a weekend break, and once you visit this part of the Costa Brava, you'll want to come back for longer to go cycling and walking around medieval villages, restaurant-hopping and relaxing on the quiet beaches. But the crowning glory is the hotel's eccentric Napoleon room, with a re-enactment of Waterloo played out by painted lead figurines, that took Albert 20 years to compose. Mad or inspired? We don't care either way, we just don't want to leave.

Highs

  • A stunning location, nestled in a quiet village between the Pyrenees and the Costa Brava, within easy day-tripping distance of beautiful beaches, Girona and the Dalí Triangle
  • Rooms are lovely; choose a Castle Room for vaulted ceilings, window seats, exposed stone walls and a bath with a view
  • The heated pool - big enough to swim seriously in, with plenty of loungers
  • Excellent food in the Mediterranean restaurant: simple tapas, elaborate starters and rich mains
  • The view across the just-tilled fields, acres of flower-filled gardens and the chapel is relaxation itself

Lows

  • You'll need a car to get here and explore the area
  • The access down to the new block of Garden Suites and Rooms isn't easy or beautiful
  • Caters to an older crowd (nightlife lovers or cocktail quaffers may need to brush up on some history before visiting)
  • A couple of rowdy kids could kill the atmosphere around the pool
  • We've heard mixed things about the service, but we found it good

Best time to go

This part of Spain can be heaving in the summer (it's the Costa Brava, after all) but this place isn't like the rest of the area. We'd recommend coming any time - it's pleasantly warm in the spring and the autumn, and baking in summer. The hotel closes annually from late November to early March. If you like jazz, the hotel has a jazz festival from June to September, with live music every Thursday night on the roof terrace.

Our top tips

Ceramics shopping in La Bisbal d'Empordà is a must - it's one of Spain's top towns for ceramics and has a whole street lined with shops selling pots, plates, curios and more.

Great for...

Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 38
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Closed: 26 Oct 2015 - 24 Mar 2016...
  • Heated Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
Room:

Rooms

The 38 bedrooms are furnished in a spare, contemporary style. Everything is orientated around the view, from the colours decorating the corridors to the careful positioning of bathtubs, and most rooms have deep window seats or a balcony.

There are several different categories. Tower Rooms are the smallest, set in the old tower with stunning views and shower bathrooms. Castle Rooms are in the old part of the main building, with exposed stone walls, vaulted ceilings and bathtubs tucked behind intricate screens. Garden Rooms are split amongst 2 modern buildings in the garden; they have little balconies for sunset. The larger Garden Suites are here, too, and I particularly liked these - sensational views and a bathroom with a glamorous marble tub-for-2 right next to a picture window, so you can bathe and gaze at the same time. But if you can afford to really splurge, the Pere Margarit Suite is amazing, named after the medieval owner of the castle and set in the old building. It's enormous and gorgeously romantic, with a Victorian bathtub and stain-glass windows.

All rooms have antique furniture but are decorated in a modern style, thanks to the inspiration of the owners who have travelled the world and brought back eclectic touches like Moroccan Berber rugs and Chinese vases to decorate.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

The hotel serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in its restaurant and on the roof terrace, with views for miles. Expect food as impressive as the setting - the chef comes from a 3-starred restaurant in Holland, and with Spanish delights like Ibérico ham and Galician beef, not to mention local farmers' produce at his disposal, he doesn't disappoint.

The menu includes simple tapas (barbecued crayfish, hummus, seafood croquettes), elaborate starters (7 types of tomatoes, risotto, tuna sashimi New-York style) and hefty mains (lamb, barbecued Iberian pork, turbot). There isn’t much in the way of vegetarian fare beyond a few token dishes.

The restaurant is dark and glamorous, with an open fire and black chandeliers hanging over large wooden tables. The decoration is as quirky as in the rest of the castle: painted wooden statues of Jesus sit on little shelves, and a wrought-iron bull's head hangs from the ancient brickwork wall.

Breakfast is a buffet and the food is typically organic: pastries and breads, cold meats, cheeses, seasonal fruits, juices and yoghurts. Eggs are available, cooked to order; just ask.

There are some great eateries nearby, too. Margo recommends Pasticceria Sans in La Bisbal d'Empordà (1km) for a coffee and pastries; the tapas bar La Cova in La Bisbal gets a thumbs-up from locals, and in Girona you can eat at the famous 3-starred restaurant El Celler de Can Roca (30km, book well in advance).

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Relax at the hotel with a massage or a swim in the pool before enjoying a lavish late lunch and a spot of sunbathing

  • Hire a bike (reception can arrange) and cycle the winding lanes down to the sea. It takes about half an hour. Or hire a guide too, and get to know the rural towns nearby

  • Jump in a car and drive to the beach. Albert recommends Pals and Callela; Margo suggests Aiguafreda and Sa Tuna. The area has great snorkelling and scuba diving in crystal waters

  • Shop for ceramics in La Bisbal d'Empordà, one of Spain's most important pottery towns (the hotel is in the small village of Castell d'Empordà, on La Bisbal's outskirts)

  • Go walking - this area has fantastic trails and hills

  • Play golf on one of the 6 courses within half an hour of the hotel

  • Check out the Dalí Triangle, the Costa Brava's hidden cultural gem, including the impressive, innovative and mind-blowing Dalí Museum in Figueres. All sights are within an hour of the hotel

  • Visit the many medieval villages nearby. Albert counts 8 within 30 minutes of the hotel, which when twinned with the historical hotel itself, would make a perfect history buff's holiday

  • Daytrip to Girona, with its exciting architecture, glittering shops and historic Jewish Quarter

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Cycling
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Private guided tours
  • Scuba diving
  • Shopping / markets
  • Snorkelling
  • Swimming
  • Well being

Kids

Children of all ages are welcome. There are limited facilities for them (a baby cot and highchair are complimentary if needed, extra beds are extra cost) because the owners don't want to turn the castle into a 'family hotel', but we think the right children would love the pool and gardens, not to mention the castle setting and historical re-enactments using lead figurines. It's close enough to the beach and outdoor activities like walking and cycling to suit children of most ages.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

The Garden Rooms can fit 1 rollaway bed for a child; the Garden Suites can fit 2 children on a double sofabed, which might or might not work, depending on your kids. There is a supplement for extra guests

Babysitting:

Babysitting is available with advance request.

Families Should Know:

The property is on top of a hill and there are some steep drops; there are also a lot of steps and an unguarded pool, so we'd say it's better not to bring toddlers.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

6/
Rooms
6/
Food
6/
Service
6/
Value
6/
Overall

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