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Portbou in the Costa Brava, Spain

Portbou – Costa Brava

The city of Portbou in the COSTA BRAVA REGION is located just 3 kilometers from the French border, at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains. It is included within the county of Alt Empordà, in the province of GIRONA, Catalonia in Spain. Portbou is the northernmost village of Costa Brava and has a population of only 1,307 people. The city frequently serves as the dropping off point for SNCF train arriving from France.

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History of Portbou

Due to its proximity to France, Portbou was an important place for Catalan republicans during the Spanish Civil War, which took place from 1936 to 1939. It was one of the few places where they could get supplies from abroad easily. In this city Walther Benjamin, a German Jewish philosopher and one of the most famous in the world, committed suicide in 1940 so that he could not be captured by the Gestapo. You can still find the monument commemorating this important historical character.  

History of PortbouPhoto credit: blog.demiterraining.com

Activities in Portbou

Even if it is a relatively small city, Portbou has a lot to offer. It was once a fishing village but was transformed and modernized in 1878 after the opening of an international railway station. Since then it has become a busy transportation hub.

Many refer to the bay of Portbou as a “natural ampitheater,” with a beautiful pebbled beach that is still relatively unknown to tourists. It is a great choice when visiting Costa Brava and is far less crowded than other cities to the southeast of Portbou. Considering that it is a coastal town, there are some nice beaches on which to spend entire days relaxing.  The main beach of the city, named Playa de Portbou, is – quite surprisingly – never too busy, even in the high season. There are also three other even less crowded beaches to choose from: Platja del Claper, Platja de les Fresses and Platja del Pi (which is a small beach and, along with Cala Bramat, especially popular for NUDE BATHERS). The waters around Portbou are crystal clear and perfect for swimming or scuba diving.

Playa de PorbouPhoto credit: mapio.net

Other than its excellent beaches, the city also boasts picturesque churches, the most impressive of which is the Church of Mary of Portbou. The construction of this incredible building began in 1879 and was inspired by the NEO-GOTHIC STYLE. Obviously, you will also have to pay a visit to the Walter Benjamin Memorial, created by Dani  Karavan and inaugurated on May 15, 1994. The monument is called “Passages” as it involves stairs reaching out to the sea to create a very cool impression of infinity. The monument has a quote by Benjamin in 5 different languages: “It is more arduous to honour the memory of the nameless than that of the renowned. Historical construction is devoted to the memory of the nameless.”

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How to get there

  • By train: It takes 2 hours from Barcelona Sants train station to reach Portbou. There is a train every 90 minutes. The price if the train is around 20€ for one way.

  • By car: Get on the B-10 from Via Laietana, Plaça de Pau Vila, Carrer del Dr. Aiguader and take the exit 22. Drive along AP-7. Take exit 4 from AP-7. Follow N-II and N-260 to Carrer de l’Alcalde Benjamí Cervera in Portbou. It takes around 2h15 to reach Portbou from Barcelona.

  • By bus: To reach Portbou from Barcelona you have to first take a bus to Figueres, the line 602 (Warning: only one bus per day), then another bus to Portbou (one bus per hour). It takes around 2h20 by bus and costs around 20 to 38€ for one way.

Photo credit: tot-catalunya.com

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Written by: xavi


Hello there! I love to travel, and Barcelona is a great city to live, thats why I decided to write about it and share my experiences!

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