By this week summering Americans had landed in Spain in force. They crowded into the corridas in Seville, pored over the El Grecos in Toledo, gaped at the gypsy caves in Granada—but few indeed were to be found among the international horde that had descended on the Costa Brava, the "Rugged Coast," klieg-lit by sun, spangled with hotels and carpeted with beach. For most Americans this, the world's cheapest Riviera, where the unrugged life can cost well inside $5 a day, remains an undiscovered Eden.
From Blanes, 38 miles up from Barcelona, north and east to the French border, the rugged coast is a seaside fringe along the Mediterranean that sometimes ends abruptly in creased cliffs wizened by years of aggravation from the sea and sometimes descends slowly through plains of cork and olive groves to broad strands of pinkish sand that glow rose in the final hours of the summer sun. Jiggling around deep coves and across the flat beaches, the Costa Brava runs out of breath perhaps a hundred miles later, somewhere beyond the surrealist precincts of Port Lligat, where the beginnings of the Pyrenees run in treeless humps out to sea. Around the dozen or so watery nooks and inlets and stretches of sandy beach, over 400 pensions, rooming houses and hotels, small and grand, have risen in the past two years.
Americans coming by air from the States could make the coast as quickly as the crowds of Europeans who annually cruise down there by car. Three times a week Pan American World Airways sends DC-7Cs from Idlewild to Iberia. Leaving New York at 2:30 in the afternoon, the planes set down at Barcelona at 9:40 the next morning, with one intermediate stop at Lisbon. From Barcelona, an ancient ex-American train, a double-decker bus or a rented Spanish Fiat (called Seat here) covers the remaining 40 miles in time for a swim. Figure $473.10 first class each way, or $290.10 if you take the economy sandwich special. Flying economy both ways ($522.20 for the round trip), two weeks of the brave Brava life could be done for $600.
The aficionado's Costa Brava begins just up the coast from Blanes in the tiny fishing village of Lloret. By year's end 16 new hotels will have opened along this wide flat beach, which not very long ago occupied itself exclusively with pulling fish out of the sea. Up on the heights, with the only swimming pool in the town, is the new Hotel Roger de Flor, under the same management as the Avenida Palace in Barcelona. Typical of the smaller new inns is this year's 52-room Solterra Playa, which offers French cuisine and the flamenco dances of Andalusia, all at the prices of Catalonia. An inside room and bath with three meals: $4.50 a day, plus 15% service. Outside room $5; seaside room with balcony $6. Under the same management is the Villa Solterra, charging about $4 a day with food, but there are dozens of places for less.
Perhaps the most exclusive sanctuary in Lloret—a settlement with a shaded seaside promenade, a majority of Germans and English and a smattering of Swedes, Belgians and Swiss—is a sumptuous hideaway called the San Marco de Venezia. A flowered villa by the sea, fashioned by an interior decorator of flamboyant but handsome taste and operated today by a 21-year-old blonde Swedish beauty, the San Marco brims with plants and vines and frescoes. White-gloved waiters serve its food. A rooftop solarium comes equipped with a bar and a splendid view of the beach. The price for all this bacchanalia is $8 to $9 a day, including, of course, meals.
But these prices in tony Lloret are a Costa Brava extravagance compared with Tossa del Mar, just up the line. In Tossa, a Bohemia-by-the-Sea, the 138-room Rovira Hotel charges $3.80 a day for room and bath and three meals (and is sold out until October 29). The new Hotel Windsor, with an inauspicious inland location and Bronx-modern furniture, gets $4.20 a day. Best of all, perhaps, is the Ancora at $4 to $4.70 a day.
What Tossa lacks in hotels it makes up in tourist color. Turrets of an ancient fortification guard the heights over its beach. On the sand, bathers must hunt and peck for body space among the high-prowed hulls of the red and green fishing boats. You can trudge up the steep narrow alleys, past the old bewhiskered Catalan ladies to the museum, with its brick floor and white walls and paintings by Rafaël Benet, Marc Chagall, George Kars and Olga Sacharoff, all of whom worked here and first made Tossa arty and attractive.
San Feliú Guixols (rhymes with sea shoals) was once interested only in the cork industry—indeed, freighters still put into its almost landlocked harbor to load with cork for the States—and is now the main city of the tourists' Costa Brava. With its Paseo Maritimo shaded with plane trees and sprinkled with bars, its smart branch stores of swank establishments in Barcelona, its little bars and clubs, it is more côte d'Azur than Costa Brava. Only the prices and the language have been changed.
Although it grew prosperous by trading with America back in the 17th century, San Feliú's history goes clear back to the Phoenicians, who camped here in 800 B.C. and called the place Alabriga (fortress in the sun). Now a hotel using the old Phoenician name and an old Phoenician sun symbol offers room and bath and meals at $4 to $4.50 a day, attracts mostly Belgians, Swiss and a few cognoscenti from the U.S. forces in Germany.
A new elegant den right on the harbor in San Feliú is the Reina Elisenda, named for history's lone Catalan queen. A modest skyscraper, it has 20 modern rooms with glass walls that peel back to an unhindered view of the harbor, studded with its fishing boats, mussel-cultivating tubs and freighters puffing steam before starting the long run to the States. Below are the palms and the plátanos of the paseo, where on summer evenings the citizenry comes to dance the sardana in the Open air. Less modern and less expensive is the Montjoi, high on the heights over the town, with 24 rooms, terrace views and flowers, all for less than $8 a day for two—meals, to be sure, included.