Tossa de Mar, Lloret de Mar & Blanes

🕔 8 mins (total)
Blanes as seen from the Castle of San Juan above the town.
Blanes as seen from the Castle of San Juan above the town.

The southern end of La Costa Brava is home to three of its most famous towns: Tossa de Mar, Lloret de Mar, and Blanes. Tossa is renowned for its beautiful old town and fort overlooking its beach; Lloret was one of the first resorts to become famous internationally for its package holidays and party scene; and Blanes is the only Costa Brava town with a direct rail service to and from Barcelona.

Costa Brava South

Costa Brava South has the advantage (or disadvantage, depending on your point of view) of being the most easily accessible part of the Costa Brava from the Catalan capital, Barcelona, not only because of its southern location but also because there is a railway line that runs along the coast from Barcelona to Blanes – the first in Catalunya, and, indeed, all of Spain! 

Once in Blanes, visitors can easily hop on a local bus that connects the three towns. If you enjoy a good walk, then why not walk along the gorgeous Costa Brava coastal trail known as the Camino de Ronda? In total, it should take you about 6 hours to walk from Tossa de Mar along the coast to Blanes, via Lloret, but of course, you don’t have to do it all in one go! All three towns are in the comarca (county) of La Selva, the southernmost not only on La Costa Brava but also in the Province of Girona.

Blanes

Known in Roman times as Blanda, or Blandae, Blanes is nowadays more commonly referred to as the “Gateway to the Costa Brava”. As was the case with the whole Costa Brava region, indigenous Iberians were already living here before the Romans arrived, and after the Romans were gone, it was occupied by the Goths, and then, after them, by the Moors. After the Reconquista, it became part of the Crown of Aragón and, eventually, Spain. Blanes was burned to not much more than ashes during the Reapers’ War in the 1600s and was damaged again in the War of Spanish Succession. When peace returned, the town had to be virtually rebuilt.

Nowadays, Blanes is a town of about 38,000 inhabitants, known for its Marimurta Botanic Gardens just north of the port, and the much larger Pinya de Rosa Gardens just to the north of that again, famous for its 7,000+ species of cactus. Blanes is also famous for its multiple events and activities throughout the year, most notably its Festa Major de Santa Anna and the International Fireworks Competition that take place during it.

Blooming cacti in the Pinya de Rosa gardens in Blanes
Blooming cacti in the Pinya de Rosa gardens in Blanes

There is also a 16th-century convent and, as is the case in several Costa Brava towns, there are colonial-style Indiano houses, built by returning emigrants who had made their fortune in the Americas, especially the Caribbean. Oh yeah, there are some lovely beaches and coves, too, needless to say! Apart from the main beach in the town itself, there’s a longer and larger beach just to the south called Platja de S’Abanell, and several smaller coves

Lloret de Mar

6km to the north, Lloret de Mar has a similar population to Blanes but is an altogether different type of town. Lloret is the best-known internationally of the three towns as it began to open up to package tourism in the 1950s and was the first to experience the post-Franco tourist boom in the 1970s, and it still retains something of that vibe to this day. It is said that Lloret has the highest concentration of hotels in the entire Mediterranean, and it has even been claimed that there are more hotels there than in the country of Greece! We’re not sure if that’s true (who counts these things anyway?), but there are definitely a lot of hotels!

The famous seafront of Lloret de Mar
The famous seafront of Lloret de Mar

Lauretum was what the Romans called the place way back when, supposedly because there were so many laurel trees, and that later evolved to Laureto by medieval times. At the northern end of the main beach, there is a small castle, Castell d’en Plaja, with fantastic views, although, as the walk up to it is quite steep, most people seem to content themselves with admiring it from the beach below. Despite its medieval appearance, the castle was, in fact, only built in the 1930s and is private property. 

Castell d’en Plaja, as seen from the beach below
Castell d’en Plaja, as seen from the beach below

Although it has several sights of cultural and historical interest, it is mostly famous for its nightlife scene. It attracts a younger crowd and has several discos and nightclubs, most of which party on till 6am. Once the hangovers have eased a bit, there are also lots of options for water sports and activities available

Lloret has a second beach to the south of town called Platja de Fenals, which is (somewhat) quieter than the main beach. At the southern end of this beach are the famous Jardins de Santa Clotilde – made even more famous recently as one of the filming locations for the Game of Thrones spin-off, House of the Dragon.

The Jardines de Santa Clotilde in Lloret de Mar are well worth a visit
The Jardines de Santa Clotilde in Lloret de Mar are well worth a visit
Statue of La Dona Marinera (Fisherman’s Wife) watching for her husband’s return from the sea
Statue of La Dona Marinera (Fisherman’s Wife) watching for her husband’s return from the sea

If you decide to walk from town to Platja de Fenals along the Camino de Ronda, you’ll pass a statue of La Dona Marinera (Fisherman’s Wife) looking out to sea, hoping to catch sight of her husband returning to port after weeks or months at sea. This is a nod to the days before tourism became the main earner in Lloret de Mar, when the town relied mostly on fishing for its livelihood. It used to have a significant cork industry too, but that also disappeared when tourism took off.

Lloret has a few other beaches a little further from the town but still within the municipality, most notably Canyelles north of town, and Santa Cristina and Santa Boadella (popular with naturists) to the south. 

If you’re not really into walking, a more leisurely alternative method of transport is to take a boat excursion from Lloret de Mar to Tossa de Mar – which brings us nicely to our final (and our favourite) of the three towns: Tossa de Mar.

A boat excursion between Lloret de Mar and Tossa de Mar is a great way to NjOY! the coast.
A boat excursion between Lloret de Mar and Tossa de Mar is a great way to NjOY! the coast.
Boat excursions leave from right on the main beach in Tossa de Mar
Boat excursions leave from right on the main beach in Tossa de Mar

Tossa de Mar

And so to Tossa de Mar, arguably the pick of the three towns. Tossa is one of the most iconic towns on the entire Costa Brava, and it is not hard to understand why. Its beautifully preserved old town, complete with cobblestone streets and fortifications, overlooks the fine main beach – once named one of the best in the world by National Geographic, no less, in 2013. It was called Turissa in Roman times and Tursa in medieval times, before eventually becoming “Tossa” de Mar, as we know it today.

It is smaller than Blanes and Lloret, with a year-round population of about 6,000 people, although, as you’d expect, that figure grows considerably during the summer. At one end of the beach there’s a statue of the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva, looking out to sea and with great views towards the medieval walled town, La Vila Vella, at the other end.

Minerva keeps a watchful eye over the medieval fort of Tossa de Mar
Minerva keeps a watchful eye over the medieval fort of Tossa de Mar

The old town was built as a fort with a castle on its highest point during the 12th century, with the castle later being replaced, first by a windmill, and later by a still-operational lighthouse. Situated at the southern end of the main beach with views over the bay, Tossa de Mar is the only example of a fortified medieval village that still exists today on the Catalan coast, and it played its role in defending against pirates who plagued the Mediterranean for centuries during the Middle Ages. 

Walking the ramparts in Tossa de Mar
Walking the ramparts in Tossa de Mar
Always good to keep a cannon or two, just in case those pirates ever return!
Always good to keep a cannon or two, just in case those pirates ever return!

When King Felipe II, known as Felipe el Prudente, came to the throne of Spain in 1556, he set about building defensive watchtowers within sight of each other along the Mediterranean coast to warn of Barbary pirate attacks. If raiders were spotted, a fire would be lit to raise the alarm, and the signal relayed from tower to tower – just like in the “Lighting of the Beacons” scene in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King! A fine example of one such tower can still be seen today overlooking the Vila Vella of Tossa de Mar, and although its name is Torre de Can Magí it is also called the Torre des Moros or “Tower of the Moors”.

Perfectly preserved since the 14th century, the walled medieval town and fortifications made it an ideal filming location over the years. The movie most famously filmed there was “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” – “most famously” probably for its biggest star, Ava Gardner, and her lover, Frank Sinatra, who travelled to the town when he began to suspect that she was cheating on him with one of her co-stars. It turned out Sinatra was right, and the ensuing drama and media scandal that followed the story and all the related gossip really put Tossa de Mar on the international map! There is a statue of Ava Gardner in old town Tossa today, maybe in thanks for all the publicity!

Tossa de Mar
Ava Gardner will never be forgotten in Tossa de Mar
Tossa de Mar
Ruïnes de l’Església Vella de Sant Vicenç, Tossa de Mar
The main beach of Tossa de Mar, with the old medieval fort on the right
The main beach of Tossa de Mar, with the old medieval fort on the right

Apart from Ava Gardner and the gorgeous walled medieval town, Tossa de Mar also has some beautiful beaches. As we mentioned, the main beach was named in National Geographic’s Top 25 back in 2013, but there are plenty of others. Immediately below the Vila Vella to the other side is the Cala Es Codolar, and just to the north of town is the larger Platja Mar Menuda.

In common with just about everywhere on the Costa Brava, the local gastronomy involves lots of fish and seafood. You’ll find all the usual Catalan dishes, but in Tossa de Mar they have their own specialty dish too, called Cim i Tomba. It’s basically a type of casserole with fish and potatoes, but we won’t say much more than that, as there are as many variations as there are chefs in Tossa, each with their own unique adaptation. Every September Tossa runs a Cim i Tomba gastronomic campaign with several restaurants participating with special menus over a ten-day period.

September is Cim i Tomba time in Tossa de Mar
September is Cim i Tomba time in Tossa de Mar

So, there you have it! Three different towns on the southern Costa Brava, each one with its own character and charm. Whichever one you choose as your particular favourite, they all have lovely beaches and coves, beautiful sights to behold, lots of local history, delicious cuisine, and plenty of great restaurants to enjoy it in.

What’s not to love?

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