So I’ll be honest…I almost didn’t write this blog. Because when you discover a place as awesome (and unknown) as Tossa de Mar, you kind of want to keep it all to yourself.
But for you, dear readers, I’ll make an exception. I told you about Benasque, the gorgeous town high in the Pyrenees, and I’ll tell you about Tossa too. Because I want you to come and see this place before “everyone else” finds out about it.
October 2019 was an interesting month in Spain, with huge protests (350,000+ people) across Barcelona and the rest of Catalunya. I won’t get into the politics behind it, but let’s just say that when the opportunity arose to get out of the city for the weekend, we took it.
Little did we know we were on our way to one of Spain’s best-kept travel secrets — the stunning coastal town of Tossa de Mar. (Little did we know we’d soon have the famous Alhambra all to ourselves either, but that’s another story for another time!)
Oh, just wait…it gets better.
A mere 60 miles north of Barcelona — and only 60 miles south of the border of France — sits the idyllic coastal town of Tossa de Mar. It’s located along the Costa Brava, the northernmost part of Spain’s Mediterranean coast.
And you only have to share it with its 5,500 inhabitants and the few tourists who (like us) are lucky enough to find it.
How old is this town? I hope you’re ready to do some time traveling, because everyone and their uncle has had a slice of it.
Archaeologists have unearthed remains of an Iberian settlement dating back to the 4th century BC. Then, of course, came the Romans, who built their own fortified city here in the 1st century AD.
Fast-forward 1,000 years through the decline of Rome and the rise of the Moors to 1187 AD, when the present “Castell” was commissioned. Over the next 200 years, four fortified towers and three cylindrical towers were built, along with enormous stone walls around the entire village.
The most amazing part? It’s virtually unchanged since then. Nearly all of the perimeter walls are intact and the town looks much as it did over 600 years ago.
With that background, you can imagine how excited we were to arrive and realize we were staying — not in a hostel or a chain hotel in town — but in a 500-year old house BEHIND the fortress walls. In the old city. In a castle. On the Mediterranean Sea.
Mind you, we haven’t even been inside the house yet. We’re too excited admiring the exterior and its fairytale setting.
Then we received our skeleton keys and stepped through the front door. Two stories. Three bedrooms. Ancient stone floors and fireplaces. Wooden beamed ceilings. And a view of the entire Tossa de Mar Harbor.
It even SMELLED ancient. Even if you weren’t beside the fireplace, the whole house smelled of hundreds of years of wood fires. It permeated the stone walls, the kitchen, the linens, every square inch of the house.
It was awesome. I would love to bottle that delicious scent and turn it into a candle. An “ancient wood fire” candle. Why has no one thought of this?
Anyway, I digress. We were almost tempted to spend the entire weekend inside and forego seeing anything else in town because, well, the house was pretty darn special.
As tempted as we were to actually stay in the house all weekend, that would have been silly… Right?
After all, we’re already sleeping inside the fortress. The least we can do is take two steps out of our front door and see the “Vila Vella,” or “Old Town” of Tossa de Mar.
If you’ve dreamed of medieval life, here’s your chance to experience it. Not in Disney World. Not through a Hollywood lens or another recreation.
This is the REAL DEAL. Almost nothing has changed behind these walls for 600 years — except the occasional tourist shop.
The streets are a cobblestone labyrinth of narrow passages, secret gardens, and ancient wooden doors. You would not be surprised to see a knight on horseback go trotting by or a pirate ship sailing into the harbor. (Seriously, you wouldn’t even blink an eye.)
Or a band of soldiers getting ready to pour hot oil from the towers onto the marauding armies below. (Okay, that happened only rarely in history — usually it was boiling water or heated sand.)
Or a band of singing minstrels wandering the city streets playing their drums and lutes.
Oh, wait. We DID see that, because we just happened to be there for Tossa de Mar’s annual medieval festival. (Luckily for you, I did not record the music!)
Our journey through Vila Vella eventually brought us to the highest point of Tossa de Mar. This strategic cliff offers a broad view of the Mediterranean Sea, explaining why different civilizations built fortresses here for millennia.
Oh, and the modern-day views aren’t bad either.
Disappoint Factor: ZERO.
The amazing views from the top of the fortress only made us more eager to explore the rest of the town. We meandered down to the beach, past the minstrels (who were still playing) and across to the far side of the harbor.
The views from there weren’t exactly awful, either.
All this exploring understandably made us hungry, so it was high time to find some local cuisine. This day will forever be known as “The Day Amy Discovered Razor Clams.”
Seriously, where have these BEEN all my life? They’re meaty like a steak, but wonderfully salty and rich like you’d expect from an oversized mollusk. They have definitely been added to my new favorite foods list!
Tossa had been good to us, but it wasn’t done yet. A lovely sunset awaited us as we made our way back to our side of the harbor and our “castle” for the night.
The next day we said our farewells and returned to Barcelona, which thankfully grew a little quieter in our absence.
But I cannot say enough good things about Tossa de Mar, this hidden gem on the Costa Brava. It’s quaint. It’s charming. It’s authentic. It’s ancient. There’s something almost otherworldly about wandering its narrow streets, the same unaltered streets people have been walking for hundreds of years.
Perhaps, like the statue of actress Ava Gardener, my mind will wander back here sometimes too, reliving this unforgettable view of the Mediterranean coast.