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December on the Costa Brava

One of the common questions on travel forums about the Costa Brava is what is it like out of season? Over the next few months we'll try and give a flavour of what each month is like.

Unlike northern Europe, December in Catalonia is counted as autumn (Tardor). The month sees the build up to Christmas and lights and decorations appear in all the towns. Not least the Caga Tio - or poohing log - with its red hat that is a feature of Catalan Christmas. On Christmas day, young children are supposed to hit the log and it 'poohs' sweets from under its coat.

The weather in December does get cold in the evenings - and heating or a fire is needed - but day times tend to be more around 12-15C and with clear skies, December makes for good walking and exterior activities with lots of cyclists out of the roads as the month is often dry and mostly clear (this year we have a drought so it's been even drier).

As a result the buzz on the Costa Brava tends to move inland and into the working towns - Palamos, Palafrugell or Platja d'Aro, or fully inland to Girona and the hills, where people will be busy working. The days also take a more traditional Catalan rhythm with lunchtime meals in the masia farmhouses, and generally quiet during the evenings, though 'proper' restaurants still provide dinner services for those who book.

Those parts of the coast that rely on beach-side tourism tend to go quiet. Places like L'Estartit which are very focused on summer holidays feel shut up except for larger places that might open at the weekend for walkers or day trippers down from France, or up from Barcelona.

Near us, Tamariu and Llafranc feel empty during weekday evenings, with the only activities being workmen renovating, building or preparing for the next season. Neighbouring Calella de Palafrugell still has a knot of restaurants open by Port Bo during the day or in the evening. At weekends however, more places are open in general, catering for coastal walkers, the odd sunbather in sheltered places. It is not a time for swimming though, with few water based activities, though if the sea gets up you can find surfers at La Fosca, or the wind might bring Kite Surfers out in Palamos.

The main December life shifts to the towns, which remain vibrant, but with a much more local feel than summer. The people bustling around the streets looking for Christmas shopping will mostly be long-established residents. Sports are also common - football naturally, but locally they have basketball or handball, or tennis or padel.

December also brings lights and Christmas-focused activities like Pessebres Vives or living nativity scenes. School children will often be out selling raffle tickets for their sports club for the Christmas Quina or raffle, and tickets will be selling for 'El Gordo' or one of the other big Christmas lotteries that take place in December.

December is also a time for visiting friends and family, and the farmhouse restaurants out in the countryside always feel busy. Head towards Olot or Montseny or into the countryside for traditional Catalan food in old-style farmhouses with roaring fires - not too unlike the Cotswolds.

Christmas itself is different from a British style Christmas. The trimmings and meal expectations follow Catalan traditions like Canelloni, Galletes soup, fish and Escudella. Turkey does appear in the supermarkets, but often not until 2-3 days before the 25th. In Spain, January 6th, and the Three Kings is the day for presents, not the 25th, so the season stretches out beyond New Year.

New Year is also a different type of celebration, although it is changing to become a much bigger festival. The first years we lived here, we could walk into Palafrugell on New Year's Eve and absolutely nothing would be open, and the only people about might be someone walking a dog. The reason is that New Year is more of a family event until the 12 grapes eaten with the bells at mid-night.

After midnight people might go out clubbing or partying, then staying up until daybreak or a first (cold) swim of the year, but it's not an all-in hogmany. This year, Palafrugell was much more lively, with a gathering and DJ by the church. But even so, only one local bar was open and the site only really got busy 10 minutes before midnight just for the bells themselves. Palamos on the other hand often has fireworks and restaurants open for Cap d'Any meals. But it still lacks the mad fiesta feel of say London or Barcelona.

So December is a time to explore inland and for activities with other people. If you walk, cycle or horse-ride Costa Brava in December is an escape from the grey and damp, when the beaches are for walkers with dogs and woods and old farms are beckoning.

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