fish underwater Illes Medes (c) Mark Frary


“What was your favourite thing about today?”, I asked my son and daughter on a recent jaunt to Spain’s Costa Brava.

It’s the sort of question that typically drives them mad – along the lines of “What did you do in school today?” Unlike school where the same things crop up with monotonous regularity, in the Costa Brava there were plenty of fun things for them to choose for their answer.

“That chocolate croissant,” my son said without hesitation, referring to the breakfast we had eaten before setting off. Not quite the answer I had in mind but at least he was being honest.

“The octopus,” Lola chipped in. Oh yes, the octopus. Yes, that was pretty amazing.

We had actually seen a real, live octopus, crawling around on the bottom of the sea – the highlight of a trip aboard a glass-bottomed boat around the stunning Illes Medes archipelago.

The Illes Medes is a group of seven craggy islands off the resort of L’Estartit, one of Catalonia’s accredited family-friendly resorts. L’Estartit has a pleasant promenade, a marina and sailing club and plenty of good value Med-side restaurants that won’t tut at a noisy child but rather grab them up in their arms and whisk them off to a jar of lollies.

illes medes (c) Mark FraryThe islands are typical of the Costa Brava (translation: rugged coast). The islands have been protected since 1983 and are now an important marine reserve in the Mediterranean and is a popular area with divers, thanks to the rich coral and sealife surrounding them. [As an aside, it comes as a surprise to most that 32% of Costa Brava – better known in the past for the boisterous resorts of Lloret de Mar and Blanes – is a protected natural area.]

For families, the best way to explore the islands is by glass-bottomed boat. The waters around the Illes Medes are clear enough to be able to see a long way around the boat, giving perfect views of a various types of coral and everything from sea bass and starfish to jellyfish and octopi (or should that be octopuses – answers on an e-postcard please).

Our youngest, Reuben, is at a very cute stage where if he sees any type of animal he points at it and makes a breathless wow sound so he was very happy to spend half an hour eyeing up the schools of fish passing just a short distance from the boat’s underwater windows.

roo pointing at fish on nautilus (c) Mark Frary

We were just about yet-another-beautiful-school-of-fished out when we saw it – a roiling mass of tentacles trying to get away from our odd-looking boat full of gawking tourists as quickly as it could. It was visible for just a few seconds before it squeezed itself into a nook on the seabed but it was a sight that would be stored away in the kids’ memories forever. Which is just as well, as we didn’t get a photo.

Back on land in L’Estartit twenty minutes later, we were still babbling about our sighting but things soon turned to more pressing matters.

It is a tradition on most family trips to bring back a piece of tat and our trip to the Illes Medes was no exception. Our photo had been taken as we boarded the boat and as we disembarked we found the photographer with a makeshift stand selling plastic bowls with our photo stuck to the base.

lovely bowl“How much?” I asked in the knowledge that I was probably not going to like the answer. “Ten,” came the answer. I looked around at the kids who were staring at the bowl with intense affection.

“No thank you kindly sir,” I said and strode off. Except that I didn’t and instead pulled out a ten euro (still worth a lot of pounds despite the euro’s ailments). Money well wasted there.

From tatty bowls to tasty bowls brimming with seafood: lunch at La Sal on the promenade. Lola and Seth are both mad on seafood and so this was a perfect spot and even Reuben choose his favourite from the menu.

reuben la sal menu (c) Mark FraryWe started with lots of shared plates of garlic prawns, whitebait and other shellfish followed by quite possibly the best paella we had ever had (until later the same week but that’s a different story) crammed with mussels and baby crabs.

Thankfully, octopus was not on the menu at La Sal. I don’t think that would have gone down well with any of us.

Family facts

A trip on a glass-bottomed boat to the Illes Medes with Nautilus costs €19 for adults, €12 for children aged 4 to 11 and €2.50 for infants three and under. A three course lunch including that wonderful paella at La Sal in L’Estartit costs €17.95. The family were guests of the Costa Brava and Catalan tourist boards.

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