My expectations of Costa Brava were built up around picture images of a great seascape on rugged hills overlooking the Balearic Sea on the northeast coast of Spain. I had been in Catalonia for a week and the only seascape I had seen was a city boardwalk along Barcelona’s seafront.
Tossa de Mar, Costa Brava
Finally, after a week in Spain, I was on my way to see the Costa Brava in daylight with a visit to Tossa de Mar, a seaside town about 60 miles north of Barcelona and 60 miles south of the border with France.
Tourist Information, Tossa de Mar, Costa Brava
The ride to Tossa de Mar is rather winding on the hillsides to reach the coast from inland Girona. Historically the settlements of the Costa Brava were set back from the coastline to avoid attacks by ship arriving invaders. The coastal hills along the Costa Brava provided a natural defense for settlements away from the coastal line of sight. Tossa de Mar was a strategic location with the natural features of the bay and hills.
What makes Tossa de Mar an interesting town to this day are the tough roads accessing the village; safe to say some people will feel motion sickness as you weave your way from the major highway to the coast over miles of twisting, narrow roads to access a town where geography has kept the location from being overdeveloped.
The roads seemed well-paved and mostly safe of potholes and disrepair. Fair to say though, I watched many cars cross over the center line on road curves that could be a really bad scene if you happen to be driving the opposite way at the exact same time on a narrow road with big trees and cliff drops.
Driving Highway 1 Big Sur, California is a piece of cake compared to driving Costa Brava along the coast road.
Road from Tossa de Mar to Giverola Beach. The story is there are 365 road bends on this stretch of road along the Costa Brava. I didn’t count the bends, but like I said, plenty of cars were crossing the center divide.
Tossa de Mar has a year-round population of 6,000 residents. In July and August the town tends to increase in population with about 50,000 visitors daily. The breakdown I was told is 50% tourists are Spanish, followed by French, Brits, mix of Europeans, Russians, Poles, Czechs. Americans were not mentioned on the list.
Long before the Medieval Walled town
Tossa de Mar has been continuously settled over 2,000 years. The Iberians settled from the 4th century to 1st century BC and the Romans settled in the 1st century BC.
One of the primary attractions in Tossa de Mar is an early 20th century excavation of a 2,000-year-old Roman villa.
Picturing the Roman villa was too much effort for me. Our guide explained how there was running hot water, pools, a spa, a temple, heating, food storehouses and slave quarters.
Roman villa of Ametllers, Tossa de Mar, Costa Brava, Spain
Roman mosaic tile.
Indianos were the sons of Spain who returned from the Americas
One of the terms I heard repeated during the Costa Brava trip from several different local Catalan people was “indianos”, describing Spanish and Catalan travelers who made wealth in the Americas and returned to Spain.
Tomás Vidal i Rei shared the wealth he made as an “indiano” by opening Hospital of Sant Miquel for the poor in 1763 in Tossa de Mar.
Tomas Vidal I Rei, an “indiano”
Sant Miquel Chapel
Old and new live side-by-side in a beach tourist town like Tossa de Mar that has been around for 2,000 years.
Toni Caixa – Fundador de la Capella L’Any 1593
Open doors to churches and little monuments and plaques are all around.
Chapel of Mare de Déu del Socors, Tossa de Mar
Every church has a story. The Chapel of the Fisherman was the first structure built outside the medieval city walls in the 16th century. The current building is primarily from the 18th century.
El Pelegri de Tossa – The Tossa Pilgrimage Jan 20-21, 2013
The story is the plague came to Tossa in the 15th century and the city walls were closed to outsiders. A man arrived in Tossa and was refused entry into the city walls. The man slept in the village outside the walls and told the villagers a way to rid the town of the plague by posting a sheepskin until it turned black. The plague left Tossa and the villagers have maintained an annual 40 km procession and pilgrimage to Santa Coloma de Farners in January each year for more than 500 years in honor of St. Sebastian saving Tossa from the plague.
Some modern day pilgrims make the winter walk barefoot.
Of course most tourists come primarily to see the sea, sun on the beach and walk the medieval walled city.
Tossa de Mar medieval walls and main beach. Photo courtesy of Tossa de Mar Tourist Office.
The medieval walled portion of Tossa de Mar is truly something special to see. This place is so cool that a Hollywood film production was happening during my visit and blocked off half the small medieval walled enclosure of Tossa.
I just read the storyline for What About Love on imbd.com
An ambitious senator and his wife travel to Europe when their daughter is hospitalized after an accident with her boyfriend. The experience forces them to re-evaluate their rocky marriage. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2263648/
The senator and his wife are Andy Garcia and Sharon Stone. Is Marielle going to have an American tourist abroad Costa Brava road accident? I can envision that scene after driving along the Costa Brava roads.
Good thing U.S. Senators have the top of the line health care insurance. Marielle is under 26 so she should be safely insured under daddy’s health plan.
Ava Gardner helped put Tossa de Mar on the map in 1951 as a Hollywood movie location when she arrived in town to film “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman”. She was Frank Sinatra’s girlfriend at the time. One article I read said Frank showed up in town after rumors of her attraction to a Spanish bullfighter playing in the film. Coincidentally, my primary connection to Spain in literature is Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926) also starring Ava Gardner in the 1957 film version where she romances a bullfighter.
On a related note to bullfighting, Tossa de Mar in 1989 became the first city in Spain and the world to declare itself an anti-bullfighting city. Learning there is a movement for anti-bullfighting is a comforting thought for the 21st century.
Back to touring Tossa de Mar
Vila Vella or Old Town of Tossa. This is seriously cool medieval fortress stuff. You can walk on the 1,000 year old medieval walls of Tossa.
On a clear day the view is spectacular from the walls of Vila Vella.
The Old Town of Tossa.
Platja d’es Codolar, Codolar Beach, Tossa de Mar.
I had the guide to myself as all the other photographers went out to photograph the beach outside the walls.
I prefer this view of the Codolar cove from the medieval wall opening.
Tossa medieval wall. The walled fortress of Tossa de Mar was built to protect the village from pirates. This is the only remaining medieval fortress on the Catalan coast.
One of the fortress towers of Vila Vella is now part of the Tossa Municipal Museum.
The Tossa Museum opened September 1, 1935 to display the art of many of the prominent artists who were residing in the area.
Rafael Benet (1889-1979) Barques Varades (1935) was one of the founders of the Tossa Museum. Rafael Benet, a Catalan, was also an art writer who named the village “Tossa, Babel of the Arts”.
The museum contains both historical artifacts representing the development of Tossa as well as art inspired by Tossa.
The village of Tossa became a prominent artist colony in 1934 and refuge for Jews who fled Nazi Germany. A vibrant art culture thrived for two years until the Spanish Civil War.
Marc Chagall is a major artist represented in the museum displays.
Marc Chagall – The Celestial Violinist
Chagall coined the moniker “Tossa – Blue Paradise” 1934.
Tossa Municipal Museum is the building to the right of the tower.
Rugged coastline south of Tossa. There is a coastal pathway you can walk along the Costa Brava. I wrote a piece with photos about the walkway at Lloret de Mar.
Coastline north of Tossa de Mar.
Swimming off the rocks at Tossa de Mar.
Walking back to the beach from Vila Vella, Old Town of Tossa.
Our tour was in the early part of the day and I did not get a chance to see Tossa de Mar at night. This photo from the Tossa de Mar Tourist Office provides a picturesque image.
Tossa de Mar – ideal scenery for a romantic evening. Photo courtesy of Tossa de Mar Tourist Office
Tossa de Mar Tourist Office www.infotossa.com
Loyalty Traveler Disclosure: My visit to Tossa de Mar was the first half day of a 3-day post-TBEX Europe 2012 trip for nine travel bloggers sponsored by the Costa Brava Tourism Board. Transportation, museum admission, meals and hotels were provided free of charge.
All photos are my own, except two photos labeled “Courtesy of Tossa de Mar Tourism Office.”
Ric Garrido, writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler, shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. You can follow Loyalty Traveler on Twitter and Facebook and RSS feed.