Backpacking in Costa Brava, Spain

Here's a report from a couple who beat the dollar crunch and still had a fine European vacation in Costa Brava, Spain.

| March/April 1981

In spite of inflation and the poor exchange rate abroad, our recent five-week backpacking trip to Costa Brava, Spain (the "rugged coast") on the  northern Mediterranean cost us only $50 a week, including train travel, camping fees, and—our most expensive item—food!

A Change of Plans

The grim reality of the U.S. dollar's weakening hit us as soon as we arrived in Luxembourg last June. Food, even when we prepared it ourselves, was especially high-priced, and train travel—once a particularly inexpensive means of transportation—called for major outlays of cash.

So, after one week of unplanned-for expense and disappointment, we abandoned our original plan (to backpack in the Swiss Alps) and headed for Spain's Costa Brava, a mountainous coastal region that extends from the northern border towns of Cerbere and Port Bou to Blanes, which is 175 kilometers to the south. The entire area is dotted by a string of relatively small resort and fishing villages, usually linked by railroads and a limited bus service.

While riding the train from Geneva to Port Bou, we drew up a rough itinerary, relying upon brochures and maps we'd obtained (free) from the Spanish National Tourist Office.

We noticed that, curiously enough, there were no camping spots anywhere back in the mountains. Later, we learned that access to the Pyrenees in that part of the country is limited—and, at times, prohibited—by Spanish law, so pitching a tent on undesignated ground will occasionally invite arrest and legal action. (Spanish authorities are particularly adamant about this point.)

At 6:00 a.m., after a 12-hour trip, we arrived in Port Bou and boarded a transvia, the special low-cost Spanish train. It soon became apparent that inexpensive rail travel in Spain requires an adventurous spirit, great patience, and a willingness to keep asking questions and getting nowhere. Above all, the traveler must be favorably disposed to walking if all else fails (which it often does).

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