Tossa de Mar: boho chic on the Costa Brava
- Recommended for:
- Beach, Cultural, Short Break, Budget, Mid-range, Expensive
Kylie Minogue is becoming a regular fixture in Tossa de Mar, bringing a touch of glamour back to the Costa Brava resort that has always attracted an arty crowd
Tossa de Mar may have a bit of an image problem, conjuring up visions of the worst of package-tour hell, but this reputation has never actually been justified. While some of the resorts on the Costa Brava suffered from rampant development, with scant regard for aesthetics, and are now well past their sell-by date, Tossa de Mar has managed to hang on to its medieval quarter and has always kept new construction under strict control – in the centre at least. Along the beach, none of the buildings is more than four storeys high.
It's long been a popular haunt of Spanish celebrities, and over the last year Kylie Minogue has become a regular visitor too, accompanying her hunky fiancé Andrés Velencoso, a model whose family runs a restaurant in the old town. Last summer, the couple were spotted scuba diving and playing golf, as well as looking at houses in the area, and were back again for Christmas.
Back in the 1930s, one of the many artists who spent time in Tossa was Marc Chagall, who dubbed the village the ‘blue paradise’. In 1950, it was Ava Gardner who was attracting the paparazzi to what was then still a sleepy fishing village. Director Albert Lewin chose Tossa as a location for his film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, shooting scenes in its atmospheric lanes and on La Mar Menuda beach. The film also starred James Mason and the bullfighter Mari Cabré. When it was rumoured that Ava Gardner was getting rather too friendly with Cabré, Frank Sinatra, her boyfriend at the time, arrived in Tossa to save her from the legendary bullfighter’s clutches.
There is a statue of Ava Gardner in the Vila Vella, the old town, where cafés and restaurants flank the narrow streets. The Vila Vella is hidden behind golden-stone walls that date back to the 12th century and have crenellated watchtowers at regular intervals, built to protect the population from attacks by Turkish and Berber pirates. While this is the only surviving example of a medieval fortified village along the Catalan coast, Tossa was in fact founded by the Romans, and fabulous mosaics from the original settlement are on display in the municipal museum on the Plaza Pintor Roig i Soler, which also contains a painting by Chagall.
Where to stay
Sinatra stayed at the Hostal de La Gavina in S’Agaró, just north of Tossa. Nearly 60 years later, it is still one of the grandest hotels on the Costa Brava. Overlooking San Pol beach and set in lush gardens surrounded by lemon, olive, magnolia and palm trees, La Gavina has been open for nearly a century and has a huge seawater pool. Inside, there is a wealth of artworks from the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as a collection of Romanesque sculpture. Rates start at around €250 a night, but go up to at least €3,000 for the most luxurious suites.
Back in Tossa, the place to stay during the film shoot was the Hotel Diana, which was also built at the beginning of the 20th century. Although much less grand than La Gavina, the family-run Diana has lots of lovely Art Nouveau details and is right on the beach on the edge of the old town. Rates range from €60 to €140, depending on the time of year. With only 21 rooms, the Diana really captures the Mediterranean spirit of the Costa Brava and makes a great base for exploring the area. Outside the main holiday season, rates start at €60 for a double room.
For somewhere with more facilities, the Gran Hotel Reymar overlooks La Mar Menuda beach and has 166 rooms, indoor and outdoor pools and a swish spa. Doubles go from €70 to €140 depending on the season.
There are reports that Kylie and Andrés are going to get married at the Parador de Cardona, in inland Catalunya, and you can’t really blame them, as it is incredibly romantic. The parador is located in a 9th-century castle, set on a hill overlooking the village, complete with its own church. Apart from when celebrity weddings are taking place, doubles start at around €200, including breakfast, but paradors always have deals available, particularly if you are are travelling around and staying at a few different ones.
When to go
I would recommend a trip to Tossa – or anywhere on the Costa Brava – in September or June, so you avoid the crowds and the hike in prices, but are still almost guaranteed to have good weather. And you never know who might be having dinner on the next table...