Frequent visitors of Blanes can not help but notice that the economic downturn experienced by Spain and much of the west affect this Catalonia town as well.
Blanes is one of the Costa Brava’s primary beach resort destinations for tourists from throughout Europe, but also for locals from Barcelona and other places in Catalonia.
While international tourists concentrate for the most part in the hotel and camping district, most Catalans appreciate the old town, which — by virtue of the fact that it can rely for much on its income of the local fishing fleet and fish auction — has remained blessedly distinct from its hotel and camping district at the southern end of the town.
Nowadays one is hard-pressed to find a hotel along the old town’s beach front, though short-time, self-catered rentals in Blanes’ countless apartment buildings appear to be in plenty supply.
Along with income generated by international tourism, Blanes has long also been able to count on the spending power of its upscale visitors from Barcelona. Its downtown shopping district includes many top-class fashion stores, jewelers, and other shops that cater to the rich.
However, a number of economic realities are facing Blanes. Foremost among them are Spain’s housing crisis — which indirectly reduces the number of local visitors — and the fact that the resort, like so many along the Costa Brava, is attracting fewer international visitors as well.
Fewer international tourists
Over the past few years the town has seen a slowly dwindling number of tourists. One reason: three years ago, several British magazines and newspapers declared Lloret de Mar — Blanes’ exceedingly gaudy tourist trap to the north — to be ‘out.’ Many tour operators dropped Lloret — which attracts a rowdy crowd of young visitors interested in sun, sand, discos and sex — from their lineup.
Fewer tourists in Lloret also means fewer visitors in Blanes. Many vacationers, young and old alike, who intend to visit Lloret prefer to stay in the more relaxed surroundings of Blanes. The latter’s beaches — while among the best along the Costa Brava — are also far less crowded.
Another reason: many tourists have moved from the Costa Brava to newer, relatively unspoiled — and, for the time being, still inexpensive — markets in the newer member countries of the expanding EU. Croatia, for instance, actively advertises that it is ‘inexpensive’ and — “still” — has a coast that shows what beach-side towns and villages throughout the Mediterranean used to look like.
Spain is experiencing a severe housing crisis caused on the one hand by reckless overbuilding, and on the other hand by rising interest rates. The latter is part of the international fallout in the wake of sheer criminal stupidity on the part of greedy American banks — whose practice of extending home loans to people who cannot afford them has caused a crisis throughout the credit market.
The problems in Spain’s housing sector have hit Catalonia particularly hard. A few years back the Costa Brava was littered up and down the coast with construction cranes, stamping apartment buildings and hotels out of the ground almost faster than the eye could follow. (s an aside, some people say this building boom was inspired in large part by the need to get rid of black money just before the introduction of the Euro. As another aside: it is a crying shame that many of these new building have replaced the type of classic Catalan houses that (used to) make Costa Brava towns and villages so picturesque and attractive.
However, overbuilding naturally resulted in a housing slump. Skyrocketing mortgage rates added a double whammy: many current home owners are faced with sheer insurmountable monthly payments. New buyers, meanwhile, are waiting for better times. (Naturally, if you have cash this is a great time in which to make deals: many owners are more than willing to take a loss in order to get rid of their properties).
Other economic woes
Adding to the problems are ever increasing fuel prices, resulting in higher prices across the board. Airlines are charging extra fees. Taxi rates have gone up. The prices of food and products at markets and supermarkets have risen. Restaurants have to charge more.
This is true not just for Blanes, but across Catalonia and the rest of Spain — just as it is true in many other places throughout Europe.
Government types, scientists and other talking heads can’t seem to agree on the question of whether or not the world is experiencing global warming. But you and I know that the weather — both locally and abroad — has been undergoing some big changes. Overall it either rains more or less, and temperatures are either higher or lower.
For instance, Holland — the home country of this reporter — has for a number of years seen summer-like conditions in January, and fall weather during the summer months.
Returning visitors to Blanes will also have noticed changes in the weather. For instance, while much of Spain has in recent years suffered from droughts, Blanes and other nearby towns have bean drenched by usually heaven rains. True, such showers are quite infrequent during the summer months — but the summer season appears to start a bit later and be over a couple of weeks sooner than before.
This past winter (2007/2008) two strong storms destroyed much of S’Abanell — the longest beach of the Costa Brava. This is the golden-sanded beach that runs alongside the El Pins tourist district with its many hotels and campings. Large portions of the boardwalk were destroyed as well.
Fortunately, the beach has been replaced with fresh sand from just outside the mouth of the Tordera river just south of Blanes. In places the beach is now a tad smaller than before — but it still offers plenty of open space.
The boardwalk is fine as well. You can still walk from the campings furthest south all the way to La Palomera. Still, in several places the boulevard will have to be restores to its former state — if only to provide tourists with the message that Blanes is very much worth their continued business.
That said, while the beach was restored — at a cost of $1.4 million(!) — the wait is now on for the politicians in far-away Madrid to contribute some money toward further repairs of the promenade.
It isn’t all bad news. Sooner of later economic downturns reverse into financial boom times. From the perspective of a tourist, it can be nice to see fewer fellow tourists on the beach or along the boulevard. Too, the expanding European Union has already brought many fresh new faces from various countries eager for new tourist destinations.
In the end, Blanes remains a top destination for first-time and repeat visitors alike.