When the first tourists from the north of Europe travelled to Spain, at the end of the 1950’s, the train station beyond the Pyrenees’s was the border village of Portbou.
If they came by car they had just completed an exciting few kilometres along the twisting coastal road and in need of a rest. If they arrived by train, they had to wait for the connection to the Spanish railway system, which could take hours. Some of the travellers looked around Portbou and decided to stay for a while.
When one thinks of Portbou, the first image is the railway station. The rail yards were laid out in 1929 in conjunction with the International Exhibition held in Barcelona.
Today the train connections are punctual. And travellers miss what they came to Costa Brava for, unspoiled landscape, the peace of a small fishing village and local hospitality in the traditional sense.
The times have changed, but hospitality remained evident in Portbou: along the beach promenade rows of cafeterias and restaurants attract a large number of day-tourists.
The border to France is close and visitors can still exploit the price differential between France and Spain.
In the village are numerous shops that provide products that are particularly sought-after by the border crossers: Alcohol and tobacco and, in addition, leather goods and clothing are clearly less expensive than the same products “over there” in France. Friday is market day.
But Portbou should not be for the day-tourists. If one plans a longer stay away from the high-tourist areas, Portbou should be a prime consideration. The special situation of the village is based on its valley location, which inhibits excessive building activity. Thus, Portbou remains small and surrounded by nature.
The main beach in front of the harbour is never overcrowded, even in main season during July and August.
At the beach one can still see the classical Catalan fishing boats, but they are now joined by pleasure craft enjoyed by tourists.
The new port is a complex construction, which will offer fishing boats, sport boats and smaller up to mid-size yachts a safe anchoring place. The first boats will be able to anchor at the new port during this year’s 2001 summer season.
By boat it is a short hop to a number of small beaches along the fissured rock coast. Most of these beaches can also be easily reached by foot. For example, consider the beach…
Platja del Clapé. Portbou offers beaches and water for every pursuit. Water sportsmen will find the coast an ideal setting. Everyone can find his or her own perfect beach at Portbou.
Border places often have a special history, and Portbou is no exception. In 1940 the last battle of the Spanish civil war took place near the36+32 village. That same year the German philosopher and art historian Walter Benjamin died here. Benjamin’s death on 27 September 1940 in the Hotel de Francia in Portbou remains a mystery. The Frankfurt Walter Benjamin Society was established in memoriam to one of the most important philosophers of the 20-century. The Society established the memorial place “Passagen”. The artist Dani Karavan – like Benjamin of the Jewish faith – understands his work as a reminder of the problems and risks suffered by emigrants of the 20th Century. Benjamin’s legacy is a plea for tolerance and trans-cultural communication.
From not so bitter times, visitors should visit the neo-gothic parish church built by Joan Martorell. Other buildings in the village attest to a strong middle class infrastructure.
Five relatively small hotels and pensions are open during the entire year. They’re also a number of vacation homes and houses to rent; but most are rented during the high season each year by faithful regular customers. Twelve restaurants and 10 Bars or Cafeterias provide for the resident’s and visitor’s well-being. The shops offer everything for daily life as well as a plentiful selection of souvenirs. Two physicians and a pharmacy secure the medical supply; in the local centre are the post office and four banks.
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