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Sant Pol de Mar
'For those who like their beaches to have some rocks to fill out the view, go to Sant Pol de Mar, an hour north of Barcelona on the train.'
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Sant Pol de Mar
'settling down behind the rocks, there’s a sense of intimacy that’s hard to come by on Barcelona’s wide open beaches. '
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'What most people seem to want from a beach is clean water and sand, and a lack of crowds, which is exactly what you get at Caldes d’Estrac,'
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The beach in fornt of the Club de Natacio
'In Barcelona's quieter stretches of beaches there is a surprising patch of calm'
Technically, we live in a beach town. There’s salt water, sand and even some palm trees. People can get wet, tanned and, yes, pink Anglo-Saxon visitor, even horribly sunburned. But at times it seems like Barcelona’s platges are short on tranquillity. Crowds, frequent offers of ‘serbaysuhbir’ and strange things floating in the waves can make a trip to the beach more stressful than relaxing. However, there’s hope, and lots of it. Of the approximately 280 kilometres of beaches that line the Catalan coast, only four kilometres are in the capital. With that in mind, here are some top-notch beaches a day-trip’s distance (using public transportation) from Barcelona, though in some cases they lie surprisingly close to home. The suggestions begin north of the city with the Maresme area and then go south towards Sitges.
HEADING NORTH: MARESME
Sant Pol de Mar
For those who like their beaches to have some rocks to fill out the view, Tossa de Mar or Cadaqués on the Costa Brava are a bit of a long haul for a day trip, so the next best thing is to go to Sant Pol de Mar, an hour north of Barcelona on the train, and find a pocket-sized micro-cove. It’s not exactly the same (okay, it’s pretty darn different) but when settling down behind the rocks, there’s a sense of intimacy that’s hard to come by on Barcelona’s wide open beaches. The small fishing village is a great jumping-off point for a curvy series of beaches tucked between Calella to the north and Arenys de Mar to the south. Sant Pol’s own beach, just off Avinguda del Doctor Furest, has a small cluster of rocks jutting out of the sand that makes a perfect patch for a sandy picnic. Or, if you have a few hundred euros to spare, you can go to Carme Ruscalleda’s star-studded Sant Pau restaurant. For those seeking more privacy, head north or south walking parallel to the coast-hugging road, the Carretera Madrid-Francia, to find a little rocky seclusion.
Arenys de Mar
This town falls between Caldes d‘Estrac and Sant Pol de Mar on the train, and offers another ideal destination for enjoying a day in the sun. At the southernmost end of the beach, a small shelf of sand backs up to a steep rockface. This discrete section is used by nudists while the larger public beach is filled with families on the weekends. There’s a chiringuito (beachside café) to eat at, and a laid-back feeling, a sense that most of those stretched out on the sand are locals who’ve wandered down from the town to spend the morning at the beach before heading back home to a midday paella and siesta.
What most people seem to want from a beach is clean water and sand, and a lack of crowds, which is exactly what you get at Caldes d’Estrac, a great example of the flat, broad, man-made beaches of the Maresme. Caldetes, as it is affectionately known, is actually two wide beaches measuring 800 metres from one relaxing end to the other.
These beaches will never be celebrated for breathtaking beauty, but you will find some good clean fun. As Barcelona resident Ana Planas, 47, put it: “In Barcelona, you’re not sure what you’ll find in the water, but here, that’s not so much of a problem. Plus you don’t have to worry they’ll steal your bag.”
Her husband, Joan Mirangels, 50, likes reading La Vanguardia on a beach he’s been coming to since childhood. “It’s not the Costa Brava, but it’s close to the city and it’s nice to have a chiringuito that doesn’t rip you off.”
Caldetes has lifeguard service, public toilets, ample parking and a massive surface area that allows people to find their own patch without stepping on anyone. There’s even a nudist section. The only downside is that like most beaches its size, it can get a little windy. As a bonus, Caldetes itself is a charming little town with some beautiful 19th-century architecture, a fun municipal spa, bargain-priced cafés and a marked lack of crowds. In short, a great place to unwind with the family.
Ocata, just north of Masnou, and about half an hour from Barcelona, is easily accessible on public transport and able to accommodate as many people as need be. It is another of those long, wide beaches. Really wide. Just getting to the water’s edge can work up the kind of sweat that means drop the gear and get in the water as quickly as possible. The sea here is still noticeably cleaner than at those beaches just a bit closer to the city.
Els Remolars-les Filipines
The El Prat airport is bordered on its southern flank by an espai natural (protected natural space), called els Remolars-les Filipines, which in turn is next to a former campground that is now no-man’s-land. And running alongside this space, there is a dirt trail that leads to a lovely beach. Look down the next time you take off from El Prat and you’re likely to see a handful of sunbathers there, on a long, nearly empty beach, some of them nude, with uncovered buns pointing skyward. The water is turquoise and clean, although the air is constantly rent by airplanes taking off overhead, almost close enough to see the envious faces of passengers at the portholes. To get there, take the train to Viladecans and at the station get on the VB-4 bus, which will eventually drop you at the beginning of the dirt trail, a 10-minute walk to the beach.
For those in the mood for something a little less laid back, there are always the beaches of Castelldefels, 10 kilometres of them, generally clean if not groomed, and the water, more often than not, is usually sparkling and appetising. People who live in Castelldefels generally do so for its proximity to the sea, so the beaches are well used, but they’re long and wide enough to accommodate all comers. There’s normally a place to park close by, and scattered here and there along the vast stretches of sand are reasonably-priced chiringuitos to satisfy hunger and thirst.
The stop after Platja Castelldefels on the train to Sitges will drop you just above the Garraf beach, a curved stretch of sand bordered on the inland side by beach huts belonging to a select and lucky few. Once a ‘working beach’ for the fishing fleet that sheltered here, it is now a popular destination. Popular, but not too much so, it often has a more relaxed feeling than Castelldefels to the north or Sitges to the south. There’s also a chiringuito/restaurant that serves up a highly respectable paella.
CLOSER TO HOME
Don’t have time for a full-on excursion but still want to clock a little sand time? Sometimes all that’s needed is a metro ticket for a decent outing in Barcelona’s quieter stretches of beach. At the foot of the immense W Barcelona Hotel, just in front of the Club de Natació de Barcelona (and a construction zone) is a surprising patch of calm. “On this end of the beach, there are less people, at least until that hotel opens and ruins everything,” said Silvia Cegarra, 50, a Barcelona resident who comes here with her whole family when she doesn’t have time to go to Sant Pol de Mar. She’s right, there’s a weird calm about the place. The beach is nice and wide, with lots of room for everyone. And the giant, eclipse-inducing structure and its menagerie of cranes give the place an air of ‘Dubai chic’, for those who are into that kind of thing.
There are also a fair number of guys walking around without the hindrance of swimming trunks because this, along with Mar Bella, is one of the city’s nudist (and gay-friendly) beaches. In fact, there’s something here for almost everybody’s beach tastes.
More info: www.blueflag.org: A list of beaches chosen for their quality and cleanliness, and awarded the International Blue Flag in recognition of such. This site will tell you which local beaches have the coveted blue flag.
www.diba.cat/equipamentsplatges/: This site has detailed info on beaches in Barcelona province.
www.naturisme.cat/naturisme/platges-nudistes.html: Information about nudist beaches in Catalunya.