Blanes: gate to the Costa Brava
The town of Blanes is situated around 70 km to the north of Barcelona and lies in a beautiful natural setting next to the sea and surrounded by greenery. It enjoys a mild climate. The character of the locals is no doubt shaped by the town’s Mediterranean seaside setting and the sea is what drives the local economy, mainly dedicated to fishing, commerce and tourism. Blanes holds the Family Tourism Destination seal of the Government of Catalonia, which means that its accommodation, catering and leisure facilities have been designed to meet the needs of families, with all sorts of special services and features. There are 37 play areas in the town and children’s beach entertainment is provided in July and August. Meanwhile, hotels and restaurants provide children’s menus, bibs and high chairs. The emphasis on family tourism is conditioned by the characteristics of the town; it’s a quiet, relaxing destination which offers several family-oriented attractions and activities, including visits of cultural interest and cruise boat trips to nearby towns. Visitors can obtain a map of Blanes with walking and cycling routes around the town and the surrounding area. Our camping facilities are among the most interesting and extensive in Catalonia.
The geographical centre of the town is also its main shopping district. Retail is one of the most dynamic sectors in Blanes, where you can find shops established over 100 years ago. What’s more, a weekly market is held on the seafront promenade every Monday where you can find clothes, accessories and all sorts of other items at very competitive prices. The shopping district in the town centre offers a comprehensive range of goods, including artisan products, with an interesting mix of traditional and modern shops. Fishmongers selling the day’s catch coexist with the large supermarkets located on the industrial estate. Under the premise of “from the market garden straight to the fridge”, local farmers sell their produce from Monday to Saturday at a fruit and vegetable market dating back to medieval times on Passeig de Dintre.
With your shopping done, there are plenty of other interesting places for you to explore in the ancient streets of Blanes. You can follow a walking route around the old quarter in order to discover the town’s noble past, including the 14th-century Church of Santa Maria and the remains of the Palace of the Viscount of Cabrera. There are some interesting houses to be found in the 17th-century Carrer Ample, such as Casa Oms and Casa Miralbell. The Castle of Sant Joan is a must-see attraction. It can be reached by car or on foot and offers a unique panoramic view of Blanes and the surrounding area. One of the most noteworthy landmarks in Blanes is the Gothic Fountain, a jewel of civil Catalan Gothic architecture and the town’s most representative monument thanks to its antiquity and central location. Commissioned by Viscount Bernat Joan de Cabrera, it was completed in around 1438 and many of the noble elements are built out of stone from Mallorca and Girona. The layout of the streets in the old quarter has a mediaeval feel, with narrow lanes facing inwards from the sea and small houses displaying the common names of their dwellers.
The strong Catholic tradition of Blanes can be seen in its many chapels. The Chapel of L’Antiga, the Chapel of Mare de Déu de la Font de la Salut and the Chapel of L’Esperança have all been incorporated in the town centre over time, while the chapels of Sant Joan, Santa Bàrbara and Sant Francesc are located in outlying districts, and they’re are all open to visitors. The religious site situated furthest away from the town centre is the Sanctuary of El Vilar. Since 1795 the townsfolk of Blanes have made an annual pilgrimage there to celebrate the Vot de Vila (Town Vow) to Our Lady of El Vilar, in gratitude for her liberation of the town from a French siege. An outdoor celebration is also held there on her feast day.
As you stroll around Blanes you’ll discover the legacy left behind by modernist architects, biologists, poets and writers who lived or spent their summer holidays here, captivated by our charming town. One of Catalonia’s best-known writers, Joaquim Ruyra, who spent his summers in the home of his maternal family in Carrer Ample, portrayed the people and landscapes of Blanes in well-known works. The Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño, who arrived in Blanes in 1985 and remained here until his death in 2003, also lived in this street. This poet, essayist and writer produced most of his works in Blanes, which is why the town pays tribute to his legacy through the Bolaño Route, a literary trail around his various haunts and the addresses where he lived. Blanes is the location where he describes the urban planning transformation of the 1980s, which drew thousands of summer holidaymakers to the town, along with immigrants in search of work.
Once you’ve had your fix of culture and shopping... it’s party time! The Festa Major or Main Festival of Santa Anna at the end of July involves almost a fortnight of festivities with something to suit all ages: dances and concerts, fairground attractions and the breathtaking fireworks of the prestigious Costa Brava International Fireworks Competition, now in its 46th year, featuring competing pyrotechnical companies from all over the world. The tradition dates back to 1891, when the Blanes writer Josep Alemany made the following entry about the celebration in his diary: “After dining we spent the night amid fireworks, serenades, dancing and drinking.” In 1970, at the height of the Costa Brava tourism boom, Blanes Town Council decided to organise a more spectacular fireworks display than usual, which proved so successful that it led to the creation of the competition. The fireworks are launched from Sa Palomera Point, an unbeatable setting in terms of both beauty and location. Over half a million people in total get to watch this spectacular pyrotechnical display each year from various vantage points with the backdrop of the sea; some even get the chance to enjoy it from the sea in a boat. The number of people it attracts makes it one of the biggest festive events in Catalonia.
Blanes also boasts two unique botanical gardens, Marimurtra and Pinya de Rosa. These must-see attractions are ideal for visiting with children. The impressive Marimurtra Botanical Garden was founded in 1921 by the German businessman Karl Faust Schmidt (1874-1952), who had settled in the town. It is one of the leading botanical gardens in Europe with over 4,000 species and welcomes around 120,000 visitors per year. It has subtropical and temperate zones, along with a Mediterranean garden and forest. Beautiful vantage points looking out to sea are scattered throughout the grounds. One of most photographed beauty spots is the Linnaeus temple, from where you can admire in all their splendour the surrounding cliffs, Cala Sa Forcanera, Santa Anna Point and, in the distance, the tip of the Tordera River. The Carl Faust Foundation manages both the garden and the International Mediterranean Biology Station, a pioneering facility in the field of evolutionary biology. The goals of the foundation are the maintenance of the collection of live plants, the conservation of endemic or endangered flora, and the research and knowledge of the plant environment. Marimurtra was declared a Cultural Site of National Interest by the Government of Catalonia in 1995.
Another impressive site is the Pinya de Rosa Botanical Garden, located between Blanes and Lloret de Mar, some 3 km from the town centre. It was founded by the Catalan engineer Dr. Ferran Rivière de Caralt in 1945, who created it not long after purchasing the estate, and it was later declared a Natural Landscape of National Interest. The garden features over 7,000 tropical plant species, including around 600 different species of the Opuntia family, considered the best collection of its kind in the world by leading international botanists. It’s also the site of an unspoiled Mediterranean forest next to the sea and Cala de s'Agulla, a delightful cove.
Blanes has always lived off the sea. Seafaring activity was intense in the 19th century, with constant cabotage traffic and ships departing for the Americas. Blanes was the base of the most important shipbuilding industry on the northern Catalan coast from the 1940s to the 1970s and the town has always retained its fishing town feel. Its fishing port, the third largest in Catalonia in terms of catch volume, houses a traditional fish market which has been modernised over time with technological equipment. There are two daily fish auctions which visitors can watch from the tiered seating for a very small fee: one in the morning with the catch of the seine boats (mainly sardines, anchovies and mackerel) and one in the afternoon with the catch of the trawler, beach seine and small gear fleets (prawns, monkfish, hake, sand eels, etc.). We know that fish was sold at Es Portal (present-day Plaça de la Verge Maria) from the 18th century. Today, the fishmongers in Plaça dels Dies Feiners sell the daily catch.
The local gastronomy is closely related to this fishing tradition, featuring a wide variety of dishes based on the recipes prepared by local fishermen on their boats during the working day with their own catch. Dishes such as cim i tomba (a fish and vegetable stew) or fideuá (locally known as rossejat de fideus), which is similar to paella but with vermicelli noodles rather than rice as the base, have been honed to perfection over the years by our fishermen, chefs and home cooks, confirming the assertion made over 100 years ago by the writer and poet Ferran Agulló that we had our very own cuisine. One of the most typical fishermen’s dishes of Blanes is suquet, a succulent fish dish prepared in different ways depending on the chef and the catch of the day. It was one of the favourite dishes of the great Catalan writer Josep Pla, which is why Blanes devotes an entire month to promoting the recipe, ensuring that it remains on the menus of our restaurants. The “Suquet de peix de Sa Palomera de Blanes” Gastronomy Days are held from 1 to 30 June and are now in their 9th year. The participating restaurants offer gastronomic menus that also feature other specialities of our cuisine.
Blanes boasts a wide variety of restaurants offering excellent quality. Just like the landscape that surrounds the town, its cuisine combines exquisite products from the sea (such as the Blanes prawns, a real delicacy) the mountains and the market garden, all matched to perfection with the local wines and cava.
Wine has been made in Blanes since ancient times, which together with its proximity to the cork industry, led to the creation of the country’s first bottled cavas 150 years ago. The pioneering cava-making family in Blanes was the Vilaret family. In 1918 the grandson of Agustí Vilaret built a new winery and sold champagne under the Laviret brand name, which he came up with by combining the family surname with the Catalan word for grandfather, avi. The oenologist Antonio Membrives revived the brand in 2013.
Today, Ses Vernes continues to cultivate the vines set next to pine forests against the backdrop of the Montnegre and Montseny mountain ranges and caressed by the Mediterranean breeze, a setting which influences the development of its four grape varieties: monastrell, garnacha, malvasía and xarel·lo. The artisanal cultivation process and an ageing period of over nine months combine to produce cavas with fine bubbles that recall a wide variety of fruits.
Meanwhile, the site of another original project is the seabed of Blanes Bay. The Coral Marine Sea Drink is an exquisite sparkling wine with a personality all of its own. The fermentation and ageing process takes place at a depth of 35 metres over a period of at least 18 months, with dim light and a practically constant temperature of 12 degrees, producing a wine with a fine and elegant texture which retains all its essence.
In addition to cava, the vines in the Blanes area have always produced good wines. In fact, in ancient times almost every house made its own wine in oak casks. Local wine can still be found in the market and certain stores, one example being Blanc de Vela, made by the Cal Correu winery at a site which has been farmed since 1880 and which now produces a fruity wine that is the perfect companion to the rice, fish and seafood dishes so typical of our cuisine.
There’s also room for craft beers in Blanes. Once again combining tradition and modernity, two local producers with Irish roots have made a splash in the beer market, turning their passion into a business proposition. The brothers Kevin and Pep Andreu founded the Marina craft beer company on the basis of a love for brewing which began over 15 years ago. Their enticing beer, brewed with fresh and natural raw ingredients, makes for great social occasions. What’s more, the company has launched two new beers which both won silver medals at the 2016 Barcelona Beer Festival. Since 2010, the brothers have organised the Birrasana Festival, which over the course of a spring weekend, fills the seafront promenade in Blanes with Europe’s finest craft beers.
Popaire is another award-winning beer produced in Blanes using a similar approach but drawing on the fishing tradition. Its young creator, Kristian Meyenburg, used to be an octopus fisher (popaire in Catalan), which is why he christened the beer with this sea-themed name. Tours and beer tastings are organised at the Blanes brewery, where the brewer himself explains the brewing process and visitors get the chance to taste the various beers made there.
Blanes boasts an array of high quality products made with love and care by modest, long-established family companies. Examples include the century-old recipes of the Cal Burguet and Can Queldra butchers or the delicious carbonera bonbons made by the Ca l’Orench patisserie, named after the neighbourhood of Sa Carbonera, where in ancient times the town’s coal merchants would pile up sacks of coal ready to be loaded onto ships. This renowned patisserie has recently celebrated its centenary and it was here where a certain Quimeta Llinàs used to make bonbons in around 1914 which she would sell to sailors, singing the verse: “Sailor, you’ve come with white-sailed ships from new lands afar, buy these sweet carboneres to fill your mouth with stars.” In 2004 the master pastry chef Francesc Ros revived the tradition of making carboneres according to the original recipe. We hope that when you try them, your mouth too will be filled with stars! Other more recent initiatives are equally interesting. The Marimurtra Botanical Garden, for example, makes its own Marimurtra honey from the bees that pollinate the garden. In addition to possessing medicinal properties, it tastes truly exceptional.
Coming back down to earth from the stars, the rich soils irrigated by the Tordera River produce another superb local product: the mongeta del ganxet, a special kidney-shaped white bean. It’s the only product in Blanes with the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) seal, awarded by the Government of Catalonia in 1993. This PDO includes the counties of Vallès Oriental and Vallès Occidental, along with some municipalities of the counties of Maresme and Selva. This bean variety is typically planted in July, after the cereal crops. Its main distinguishing feature is its pronounced kidney or hook shape, hence its name (ganxet is Catalan for hook). As for its culinary properties, its skin is so fine it’s barely noticeable, which means it has an extremely creamy texture once cooked.
Make the most of a typical sunny day on the Costa Brava and go for a dip at the beaches of Blanes or take a boat trip to explore its cliffs and hidden coves, some of which can only be reached by boat. Sa Palomera Point marks the starting point; it’s the Gateway to the Costa Brava and an important landmark for the locals, who enjoy the town’s bay and main beach every day. The journalist and poet Ferran Agulló christened our coastline with the adjective brava (rugged) in the Catalan daily La veu de Catalunya (The Voice of Catalonia) in 1908 on contemplating the sea from the promontory of the Convent of Blanes: “I was at the top of a rugged cliff, which tumbles to the sea below in a rush of rocks passing by green agaves and golden wild fennel.” To the south-west, the placid curve of the beaches of Blanes and Sabanell, as far as Tordera Point, separated by a rocky islet (Sa Palomera) which an isthmus has joined to the land, fixing one's gaze and understanding, exultant at the spectacle of the Costa Brava”.
Heading south, we come to S'Abanell Beach, which stretches as far as the Tordera Estuary and is ideal for water sports (jet skiing, rafting, parasailing, etc.). Meanwhile, heading north beyond the port, we come first to Santa Anna Point, a popular spot for diving novices, and then to Cala Forcanera, the first cove on the Costa Brava, unspoiled and sheltered between the rocks of the Marimurtra Botanical Garden. The beauty of the Blanes coastline extends as far as the golden-sand Cala Sant Francesc, (also known as Cala Bona) and, last of all, Cala Treumal, both of which have restaurants where you can enjoy a delicious Mediterranean meal as you gaze out to sea. Our beaches are equipped with a range of services for which they have been awarded the Blue Flag. Covering 3.5 km in total, their outstanding natural and scenic value makes Blanes an authentic Mediterranean paradise.
The wide range of outdoor activities available in Blanes offers you a great opportunity to enjoy an active holiday while exploring the surrounding mountains, forests and fields. There are interesting sites for birdwatchers and you’ll find hotels and companies catering specially for runners, road cyclists and mountain bikers. Meanwhile, if water sports are your thing, some brave souls enjoy swimming in the sea in Blanes all year round! The town boasts amazing beaches and an ideal climate for rowing throughout the year. Meanwhile, you can enjoy your first Costa Brava paddle surfing experience in Blanes, and there are plenty of companies in the town dedicated to sailing, boat hire (with or without the services of a skipper), boat trips, kayaking, diving, sports fishing, snorkelling, etc. Experience the sea on gentle boat trip or by doing something more adventurous; there’s something to suit everyone.
The Blanes X Runners brand was launched in 2015 with the goal of promoting Blanes as one of Catalonia’s top destinations for runners, not only thanks to its superb natural setting but also its organisational capacity and sports infrastructures, including the Ciutat Esportiva Blanes. Blanes Town Council joined forces with three organisations in the town dedicated to triathlons, walking and hiking, respectively, in order to promote the sport and attract enthusiasts of these disciplines. They put together a joint calendar of events, of which the most popular is the Nit de Sant Bonós Fun Walk held at the end of August, with up to 5,000 participants. The Blanes X Runners initiative is included in the framework of the Sports Tourism Destination and Family Tourism Destination seals, awarded by the Government of Catalonia, which Blanes has held for several years. What’s more, one of Europe’s top ultrarunners, Xavi Marina, is from Blanes. He took up running when he was 17 years old and for five years organised the Costa Brava Xtrem Running event, a stage race from Blanes to Portbou.
Blanes is home to first-rate sports facilities. The Club Vela Blanes, founded over 70 years ago with the goal of fostering sailing in the town, is now a state-of-the-art facility and the leading yacht club in the province of Girona. This modernisation process has been a major factor in the awarding of the Sports Tourism Destination seal (known by its Catalan initials DTE) to Blanes by the Government of Catalonia. The Club Vela Blanes combines a great location and climate with activities designed for members, visitors and the local population. Nautical tourism is growing in popularity and the club provides all sorts of services to meet the needs of this sector: from sailing, kayaking, paddle surfing and windsurfing classes to boat and mooring rentals. What’s more, last year it unveiled a new fitness and spa area for the health and well-being of club members. It has parking facilities for 180 cars and hosts major sports events (regional, national, European and world championships) which constitute an important tourist attraction.
An ambitious project was unveiled in Blanes in 2011: the Ciutat Esportiva Blanes, a comprehensive 40,000 m2 sports facility which, in addition to catering for just about every indoor court sport, has an artificial grass football pitch and an underground car park with 360 parking spaces. The Ciutat Esportiva Blanes is located at the entrance to Blanes and is well connected to the main road network (N-II national road; C-32 and AP-7 motorways). It caters for the following sports: basketball, indoor football, handball, artistic gymnastics, badminton, dancesport, twirling, rhythmic gymnastics, martial arts, tennis and volleyball. It also serves as a venue for trade fairs, exhibitions, concerts, theatre festivals, conferences and conventions. The sports hall has four multi-purpose courts, along with dedicated rooms for various disciplines, etc. In fact, it’s one of the largest facilities of its kind in Spain, making it a truly extraordinary indoor sports venue.