Have you ever visited a place that took you by surprise?
A place that was better than you imagined, somehow more in every way?
This summer, I went on a day-trip to Tossa de Mar. My best friend, Patricia, lives in Barcelona and she and her husband make the hour-or-so-long trek to Tossa in the summer months when they are both on holidays. These small beach towns are a favorite with native Spaniards to escape the tourist crush on the beaches closer to Barcelona. She had been talking about the beauty of the beach, the quaintness of the village, the slow, relaxed atmosphere of the whole place. She’d also mentioned the local seafood and wine a time or two, and all of these details had stacked in my mind to create some pretty lofty expectations.
And … Tossa met and exceeded them all. Driving into the small town, the beach comes as a sort of surprise. One doesn’t really get a good look at the water until you’re almost on top of it. From the road in, Tossa de Mar just appears to be like any other small Spanish city in Catalonia. But when you do approach the water, it is blue as blue can be. Sapphire blue, cerulean, deep lapis blue water and so many people, laid out, worshiping the sun, the sea and holidays in general.
On people of the older generation there is barely a swimsuit top to be seen. Topless, unashamed and bronzing in the sun, all kinds of breasts are out. It is a liberating sight, to see so many women comfortable with themselves, real bodies and a nonchalance that confirms that their partial nakedness is the last thing on their minds. And so it is that the beach feels a little more like freedom, a little more like a real holiday, away from expectation and judgment and following “the rules.”
A few hours spent in the bright sunlight and in the salty sea works up quite an appetite. And a stroll along the beach into the heart of Tossa will introduce you to the sweetest little set of shops and restaurants. Tiny, family-run places whose tables and chairs spill into the street as if the restaurant was simply too excited to contain them. Tiny sardines flash fried, croquetas and camarones that were swimming around in the same water and coated in the same salt we are. Sparkling wine, Cava sangria and Pedro Jimenez sherry from Jerez. We eat patatas bravas and escabeche and gildas, olive and anchovy skewers with peppers, salty and vinegary and just perfect with sparkling wine.
After our meal, which concluded with cafè con hielo, (just espresso over ice) we headed across the way to a little shop that sells straw hats as the bright sun and too much wine have convinced us we all need one. And then it’s back to the beach, to sun, to climb to the top of the torre and look down over all of Tossa, to find another place that serves cold drinks and views of the blue. I hear no English spoken anywhere, and if I pretend just right I can pretend that this is my native tongue, my normal holiday, my typical August Tuesday in Spain.
But the sun is relentless and we are salty and sandy and sticky and it’s time to climb back into the car and head to the city once more. A little more bronzed, a little more relaxed and a lot happier. Tossa de Mar is a little bit of magic, a little bit of a different world, just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of busy Barcelona.