Hidden gems in Catalonia
The charming villages and towns near Barcelona are one of Catalonia’s best kept secrets.
There are few Mediterranean locations that offer such an attractive and varied lifestyle. The UK newspaper The Guardian flagged up Maresme as one of Europe’s best hidden coasts and some Maresme villages are some of the prettiest you will find in Catalonia. The region is made up of 30 towns and numerous charming villages. The 52km coastline stretches from Montgat to Malgrat de Mar and includes charming coastal villages such as el Masnou and San Pol de Mar in between. Inland you find the likes of Alella, Cabrils and Teià, each with their own charm and cultural offerings. The region is characterised by its fantastic quality of life, its climate, its proximity to the Mediterranean and the city of Barcelona, as well as its green surroundings and excellent sporting facilities, including many golf courses and sailing marinas. It is also a renowned wine-growing area.
Endless stretches of sandy beaches, numerous marinas, several quality golf courses, a protected natural park, a unique microclimate and easy access to one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities makes the Costa del Maresme one of the most desirable places to live in Spain.
Carrie Frais, Maresme Connect
Maresme Connect shares its top 10 towns and villages in this beautiful and unspoilt region of Catalonia.
Colourful buildings in the heart of el Masnou
El Masnou (translated literally as ‘the new farmhouse’) is around 15 minutes drive north of Barcelona. A Roman village called Cal Ros de les Cabres was one of the first settlements located on the site of the current town and the town’s museum has collections of archaeology and beautiful ceramics from this era.
With a population of around 24,000, the town is a thriving hub and is a popular commuter town for Barcelona city, as it is well connected to the C32 motorway and the train station takes you to the heart of Barcelona (Plaza Catalunya) in just 20 minutes. Buildings in the town centre have a wide range of eclectic styles including some stunning Neoclassical and Modernista properties and increasing numbers of new homes are popping up. Camping Masnou is the oldest campsite in Spain and the nearest one to Barcelona.
I arrived to live in El Masnou by chance, and at the beginning I thought it was a strange town with no actual centre and too many cliffs. But not long after, I fell in love with the atmosphere and especially the privilege to live so close to the beach and at the same time not far from the centre of Barcelona. My daughter loves her public school and we’ve made friends that have become like family in a short time. There’s no shortage of great places to eat. Picaña Hamburgueseria is a favourite for hamburgers and tapas, Caravel make the best tortilla ever and the Cuban restaurant La Sabrosita serve delicious yuca frita. If I had had the chance to choose where to live, I might not have chosen this town, but now that I’m part of the community I wouldn’t change it for any other!
Parc de Can Godó, Teià
The charming village of Teià is surrounded by some of the best boutique vineyards of Maresme. This peaceful little village is located in the hills behind the coastal town of el Masnou, and is also just 20 minutes by car from the city of Barcelona. The Teià tennis club is one of the best in the Maresme region and the complex also includes padel courts and a popular Pitch & Putt golf course. More recent urbanisations have led to the construction of some excellent modern properties with great views, large open spaces both inside and out, and high levels of security and privacy.
As it is small, it has been easier to integrate as you meet the same people all the time. Having kids in the local schools has also helped in this respect. The location itself is a bonus as it does not lead anywhere so there is no through traffic. The proximity to the Parc de la Serralada Litoral is probably the biggest advantage with easy access to great hikes right from our house. There are also many mountain biking trails. The beach at el Masnou is also within walking distance. Teià also has a decent tennis and padel club which I have taken full advantage of in the 15 years I have lived here. Of course it is also commutable distance to Barcelona and the public transport links are improving all the time with a regular bus service direct from Teià into Barcelona and the journey takes about 30 minutes.
Plaça de Ajuntament, Alella
Alella is one of the prettiest villages on the Maresme Coast. Mountains rise up behind the town, creating a countryside oasis within easy distance of the both beaches and Barcelona. What used to be the old Roman road (Vía Augusta) uniting Rome and Andalucía is still today a narrow road running through the village. The town is known for its wines and cavas and it is also a commuter town for Barcelona and Girona.
There is a large international community in Alella thanks to the easy commute and many children attend the nearby trilingual international school Hamelin-Laie in Montgat or the reputable private school Santa María del Pino. Alella properties include large country estates and small farming properties, villas in newer urbanisations and townhouses.
I moved to Alella in 2009, lured by the proximity to Barcelona city and the more tranquil pace of life that a village has to offer. It’s a wine producing village so there is no shortage of cute bodegas where you can sample the local wines/cavas and traditional Catalan tapas. There is a real sense of community and in my opinion a really healthy environment for families, especially with young children. You’ll often find the square full of children running around and parents enjoying a coffee after the school run or on Saturdays and Sundays. There is no shortage of lovely restaurants either (1789, Leandre Gastro Bar, Cal Barquer), my favourite being Els Garrofers, the food is innovative and contemporary with the focus on local produce and Mediterranean recipes.
Sidewalk restaurants in Cabrils
Cabrils is a charming, ancient village, just 23km from Barcelona and 10km from Mataró. The village dates back to the early 1300s, with today’s buildings being a mix of antique stone buildings and refurbished estate homes. The village is surrounded by the hills of Cirers and Montcabrer, as well as abundant pine and oak forests, which make it perfect for all sorts of outdoor activities. This, combined with the close proximity of the beach and marinas, means there is something for everyone.
The Montcabrer residential area is one of the most prestigious in the region whose properties include family villas, lifestyle properties and retirement homes. Cabrils is known for having one of the highest income per capita in Spain.
Cabrils has so much to offer on a lifestyle level: a great local and international community, lots of local events and festivities (every year it has a ‘caminada’, a gastronomic fair and various music festivals, all of which are good value and great fun.) For sports fanatics, it offers more or less everything including golf, horse riding, cycling, hiking and a range of water sports at nearby marinas. Cabrils is known as a gastronomic hub and its restaurants include Can Rin, which has a fantastic selection of Mediterranean tapas and is particularly vibrant in the summer months sitting on its beautiful terrace. Pizza del Hort is the go-to restaurant for kids with its delicious pizzas, rice dishes, pasta dishes and Italian desserts. Family-run Sal i Pebre is slap bang in the village centre and does a good value menu del día and excellent rice dishes.
Església del Carme, Caldes d’Estrac
Caldes d’Estrac (also known as Caldetes) offers a truly unique paradise. The pristine beaches offer the best of the coastal lifestyle. The charming village has a mix of stunning Modernista and Gothic architecture and a series of year-round agricultural and horticultural events have led to a flourishing restaurant scene. In the late 20th Century up until the 1920s it became popular with the Barcelona bourgeoisie thanks to its thermal baths.
The area equally accommodates recreation lovers looking for outdoor adventure as well as those keener on more cultural pursuits, with a literary trail that celebrates Caldes d’Estrac’s history of Spanish poets and writers.
The village centre itself is fairly small and quiet but if you take a stroll along the Passeig dels Anglesos you will find yourself with the best stretch of beach in all of Maresme on one side (even in August it never gets too crowded) and some of the most beautiful modernista houses on the other. There are many small restaurants down the main strip of the village – a mix of seafood, tapas, rustic Catalan cuisine, and a cosy pizzeria. My favourite places for eating are El Taller which is great for Mediterranean dishes, Can Suñé, the best place for seafood and Solstici which is a chiringuito on the beach that is open all year round.
Colourful doors in Vilassar de Mar
Vilassar de Mar is situated on the coast between the towns Premià de Mar and Cabrera de Mar. The town is both a popular tourist destination and a commuter town for Barcelona. It is also known for its many horticulture and flower plantations close to the sea. Vilassar de Mar has one of the strongest seafaring traditions in Maresme and it still retains a rich architectural legacy inherited from townsfolk who, at the end of the 19th Century, embarked for the Americas to find fame and fortune. The legacy of these índianos is clearly visible on buildings in many parts of the town. Vilassar de Mar has a slightly hippy, artistic vibe and is home to different generations.
Its strategic location next to the Mediterranean, the train station and within a short driving distance to Barcelona has attracted increasing numbers of the international community in recent years who have set up home in the town. The main N-II road and a RENFE railway line run along the seafront, while a local road connects the municipality with the C-32 motorway at Vilassar de Dalt.
Vilassar de Mar has the community feel of a village but the amenities of a small town. The streets are full of traditional ‘casas de pueblo’ and a pedestrianised main street bustling with life, make up the picturesque village centre. There’s a good choice of cafes and restaurants serving everything from Catalan cuisine to sushi and some of the best chiringuitos in the Maresme are within walking distance. My go-to eateries include the Sushi restaurant Yume, the chiringuito Oblikue and the restaurant Verdeguer
Premià de Dalt Old Town
Premià de Dalt is set in the hills behind the coastal town of Premià de Mar, just 25 minutes from the centre of Barcelona via road or rail. The quaint little village centre is brimming with old-fashioned Mediterranean charm with perfectly maintained stone houses and a central park and square where local events and festivities bring the town to life all year round. The town itself is surrounded by horticultural land, offering charmingly picturesque landscapes all year round.
Premia de Dalt is a typical charming Catalan village. Only 20 kilometres from Barcelona, it manages to keep its authenticity and its family atmosphere. A typical scene would be a group of friendly neighbours meeting on a Sunday for tapas at a village meeting point. My favourite hotspots are: restaurant Sant Jaume (with its pretty shaded outdoor terrace and play area for the kids) and the restaurant El Txoco with its mix of modern and vintage decor – the menu del dia on weekdays is 20€ per person with a delicious selection of Catalan dishes. As a reward for climbing to the top of the village, you find a delightful little church called la Ermita de la Cisa which is close to the restaurant La Cisa which boasts stunning views, great food, tapas and drinks (spiritual of course!). From Wednesday to Friday they also do a good menu del dia for around 18€. PamSucre offers delicious homemade pastries. Every 1st May, there is the town’s popular festa major. Premia de Dalt also attracts the world’s leading BMX riders to La Poma BikePark. It’s great even if you don’t ride a bike or a scooter, as it’s fabulous just to take in the show. Schools-wise there is the excellent private school Betlem and the public schools Marià Manent, Instituto Valeria as well as a Waldorf school for young children.
Apartments in Sant Vincenç de Montalt
Bordering the Montnegre Natural Park and leading down the quaint coastal town of Caldes d’Estrac with its long, pristine beach, Sant Vincenç de Montalt offers the best of lifestyle living. For those who enjoy the outdoors, this town is well located for activities such as horse riding, golf, hiking, 4-wheel driving tours and even upscale sailing in the nearby coastal town of Sant Andreu de Llavaneres with its luxury marina.
The town’s calendar of cultural events is peppered with medieval fairs, antiques markets and gastronomic celebrations all year round, which are enjoyed by the local population of 10,000 and a growing number of international residents. Barcelona is easily reached from Sant Vincenç both by car and by train from Caldes d’Estrac.
Sant Vincenç de Montalt is a truly charming village located midway between Blanes and Barcelona. It forms part of the so-called ‘Golden Triangle made up of Sant Andreu de Llavaneres, Sant Vicenç de Montalt and Caldes d’Estrac (also known as Caldetes).
Casa de la Vila, Sant Pol de Mar
Situated halfway between Barcelona and the Costa Brava and with excellent public transport links to both the city and the international airport, Sant Pol de Mar is a popular coastal town, yet not over crowded in the summer. The pretty, sandy beaches, dotted with little fishing boats are ideal for a summer holiday by the sea and the green hills, peppered with white houses make an attractive backdrop.
The town of Sant Pol de Mar is steeped in history and the narrow streets of its centre offer some surprisingly good fine dining options for such a small town. Events and festivities are at their peak in the summer months with a jazz festival in June, fireworks for the St James’ celebrations in July and the popular Havana festival in August.
My husband and I have lived in Sant Pol since 2010. Best known by out-of-towners for its pretty beaches and picturesque buildings, Sant Pol also has an authentic life outside of the summer season. There are excellent restaurants and cafes open all year, as well as a variety of shops and supermarkets. Our favourite eateries are Voramar, La Casa Nostra and in winter, the Hotel Grand Sol. As dog owners we appreciate the Parque Litoral where we and our dogs can stroll and socialise, and we enjoy the coastal path walk. Almost every month there is a fiesta with great food and music, and we love the artisan markets. I’m not a city girl, so the quiet life suits me very well. But our town is reasonably well connected by train and the C-32 is close by, so we never need to feel isolated. Only downside is, in summer we get lots of tourists. You can see why.
Platja De l’Estació, Sant Andreu de Llavaneres
Greatly overlooked by the mainstream tourism market, Sant Andreu de Llavaneres has maintained a high class atmosphere and immaculate sandy beaches in front of its attractive boardwalk and marina. The surrounding countryside is well-maintained and is home to a wonderful golf course, making this an ideal location for golfers and sailors alike.
Sant Andreu de Llavaneres is one the most popular towns near Barcelona and is often shortened to Llavaneres, is some 36km north of Barcelona and can be reached via rail or road on the N-II road or C-32 highway. The town and surrounding area are both residential and agricultural and Llavaneres is also known for its upmarket sailing in summer.
The village of Sant Andreu de Llavaneres is, for me, a little paradise. It allows me to get out of the house and enjoy beautiful walks by the sea (along the magnificent Paseo de los Ingleses or Port Balis) or in the mountains. Llavaneres (or ‘Llava’ as some people use to call it) is clean and quiet but offers all the facilities in terms of shops and communications (it is only 35 km from Bcn). It’s packed with loads of fantastic restaurants including La Taverna del Port (in Port Balis), a Mediterranean cuisine restaurant ‘de toda la vida’ because it’s been a reference for more than 40 years. The paella is just amazing. The terrace offers great views of the Port, has great and is good value for money. For me, it’s the best! El Duomo in the centre is an Italian restaurant located in a modernist building, very cosy, serves real Italian cuisine (fresh doughs and pizza doughs are kneaded and prepared on the spot). The service is very good. If you are an Italian cuisine lover, this is your place! La Teca Balis (also in Port Balis) offers dishes with a personal touch made with fresh local products. Very pleasant terrace. Wide opening hours. Very good value for money. If you like to eat healthily, you’ll definitely love it!
Check out our activities in Maresme section for ideas about making the most of this beautiful region