We had heard that the best beaches in Barcelona weren’t actually in Barcelona, and our suspicions deepened after we walked down to the sand one day and couldn’t see it. Every square inch was covered by a blanket or a towel or a sunbather. There were so many people on the beach that it didn’t look like there was any air left to breathe even though we were outdoors. And this was on a weekday.
So on a recent Saturday morning my husband and I took a day trip east. We boarded a train at 9:30 am with a plan to get off an hour or so outside the city, in a little town called Arenys de Mar (pop.15,000) known for its lacemaking, fishermen, and proximity to a lovely stretch of sand at the edge of the Mediterranean. Plus, the city’s recently appointed Counselor of Culture Joan Miquel Llodrí offered to give us an insider’s tour of the best local beaches.
Our train had barely left Barcelona before it veered toward the sea, running alongside the sand like a boardwalk. It’s a wonder the high tide doesn’t wash away the tracks, I thought, idly looking out the window as the local beaches hurtled by exhibiting a certain sameness: snack bar, families on blankets, striped umbrellas, and–
“Topless,” my husband observed.
Photographs by Michelle Slatalla except where noted.
Above: Tour guide Joan Miquel Llodrí showed us a typical side street in Arenys (pronounced “or-enge”) de Mar. The nearby lacemaking museum actually makes lacemaking interesting. My husband was fascinated by the bobbins.
Above: Before we went to the beach, we saw the church–one of the only ones in Catalonia that wasn’t desecrated during the Civil War in the early 20th century.
Above: Like Barcelona, Arenys de Mar has a public food market, where there is amazingly fresh seafood (there’s a daily fish auction on the docks after the local fisherman bring in their nets).
Above: At Arenys de Mar, there’s plenty of empty sand to spread out on.
Above: Hot as it is, most people don’t have air conditioners once you get out of the big city. Photograph via Ruscalleda.
Above: We had lunch at the beach (mussels, fried sardines, and sangrí¬a) and then drove north with Llodrí to investigate other beaches.
A few minutes farther north is the hipper town of Pont Pau, with beautiful stretches of sand. There you can also visit a medieval church; the windows of a pre-glass era are made of alabaster. In the old days, the townspeople barricaded themselves in the church when they saw pirates coming. Photograph by Josh Quittner.
Above: These quiet commuter towns north of Barcelona are weekend destinations for locals. In Pont Pau, chef Carme Ruscalleda i Serra has a world-renowned restaurant near the train tracks. For more information, see Carme Ruscalleda. Photograph via Ruscalleda.
At the end of the day, Llodrí dropped us back at the train station with perfect timing. The train to Barcelona arrived 30 seconds later.
If you are looking for a guide in Barcelona or nearby towns, Joan Miquel Llodrí can be reached by email at [email protected].
Continue exploring Spain with our series Travels with an Editor: Barcelona.