Located at just an hour’s drive by car or by train from Barcelona, Blanes — the first town along the Costa Brava — is popular with Catalonia locals and foreign tourists alike. Here’s why.
Blanes has something few coastal towns in Catalonia — indeed in all of Spain — can offer: old world charm alongside modern tourist conveniences.
Unlike Lloret de Mar — its tourist-overrun neighbor to the north, Blanes has managed to hold on to much of its old, Catalan identity.
Like many places along Spain’s coastline, Lloret has seen its old, beach-front town center turned into a tourist trap filled with gaudy souvenir stores, hamburger chains, discos and gambling halls. Many of the town’s citizens have moved away from the hustle and bustle (not to mention the abundance of louts attracted by the cheap entertainment) of what is now the tourist district.
Catalan village ‘look and feel’
While Blanes has also been influenced by tourism, much of its old center still has the look and ‘feel’ of an ancient Catalan seaside village. Here, young and old locals mingle with tourists and day-trippers — buying fresh fruit and vegetables at the daily farmer’s market, enjoying tapas and beer at ‘been-here-forever’ Café Terrassans, and strolling along the sea-side boulevard on their way to a late-night meal.
True, most of the ship-builders’ and fishermen’s houses that used to line the beach have made way for five and six story apartment flats. But one block inland one finds picturesque streets filled with reminders of the days that Blanes was known for its ship-building industry.
Blanes still has an active fishing fleet, along with the region’s only fish auction. This thriving industry employs many of the locals who live in the old town center.
Also downtown is a extensive shopping center — spread out over a labyrinth of small streets and cozy squares, and conveniently interspersed with all manner of eateries, restaurants and bakeries.
Notably absent are the type of loud souvenir shops and chain-‘restaurants’ that have turned Lloret into a Las Vegas-style nightmare. Instead, most of the shops cater first and foremost to the needs of the locals.
There is an excellent selection of classy shoe stores and up-scale fashion boutiques, along with swimwear and lingerie stores.
At the same times, there are plenty of shops for all budgets.
Blanes is a popular destination for weekend visitors from Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. Many Barcelonians have their weekend- and summer houses here.
Wherever you are in downtown Blanes, you are never more than a few blocks away from its crescent-shaped beach. The beach, popular with locals — as well as with the relatively few tourists who have the good sense to rent a apartment instead of staying in a hotel — is lined by a wide boulevard that is home to countless restaurants and eateries. At its southern end lies La Palomera, a rocky promontory jutting into the blue waters of the bay — and the reason why Blanes is known as the ‘Gateway to the Costa Brava.’
The Wild Coast
South of La Palomera the coastline is mostly flat, smooth and unadventurous. At Blanes the coast becomes much more interesting. To the north, just beyond the harbor one can see the rocky formations that gave the Wild Coast its name. Take one of the ferry boats up along the coast and you see an ever-changing landscape of sheer cliffs and jagged rock formations, dotted with caves and interspersed with small coves and hidden beaches.
Standing on La Palomera, after a relatively easy climb up the rock-hewn steps, one is rewarded with wide-angle views of Blanes — from its harbor at the foot of the hills to the north, to its pine-tree rich campings at the southern end of the bay.
During much of the day, the sheltered beach at the foot of La Palomera is a popular spot for sunbathers, who find their place in between the fishing sloops. Looking inland, straight ahead is D’Auger – a neighborhood nestled at the foot of old ruins dating from the time the Romans lived here.
Just north of La Palomera is the neighborhood of El Pins — a reference to its many pine trees. Often referred to as Blanes’ tourist district, El Pins is home to both locals and tourists. While there are few high-rise buildings in the old town center to the north of ‘The Rock,’ El Pins has a distinct resort look — albeit on a much smaller, friendlier scale than found elsewhere.
Further south one can see a number of popular campings. The full length of El Pins is fronted by S’Abanell — the longest beach of the Costa Brava, again lined with a comfortable bouvelard dotted with restaurants and eateries.
The golden-sanded beach is wide, offering ample space to sun worshippers. Its northern end, closest to La Palomera, only gets truly busy during the weekends — when the local population and tourist crowd is swelled by weekend visitors from Barcelona, Girona, and elsewhere in Catalonia.
The further south you get along the beach, the fewer locals and the more tourists are found. During the summer months more Dutch is heard than any other language — especially in the popular camping areas. Blanes is also popular with tourists from Germany and England.
If you walk further, toward the mouth of the — mostly dry — river of Tordera, you encounter the official nude beach of Blanes. Not that you can go nude on the other beaches — just as long as you don’t create a nuisance. If you insist on baring it all, it’s probably best to be sensitive to others and find yourself a quiet spot.
That said, some locals do skinny-dip during their early morning swim, and if full or partial nudity is a problem for you a beach vacation at Blanes probably isn’t for you. Topless swimming and sunbathing is very much acccepted here, and a visit to the beach will expose you to many wonders of nature in every shape and size. No one is prudish about it, no one is harassed for it, and everyone is accepted.
Everything a tourist could desire for a fantastic vacation is available here: from the relative peace and quiet at the beach to the hustle and bustle of the hotel portion of El Pins. There, hotel guests can pick and choose from a wide selection of entertainment sure to keep families with children and teens happy. Game centers, snack bars, eateriers, restaurants and activity centers vie for your attention — fortunately on a much smaller and kinder scale than in Lloret de Mar.