CORONAVIRUS

Fearing mandatory lockdown, Barcelona residents head for Costa Brava

Tourists from the Catalan capital filled the coastal town of Platja d'Aro over the weekend, despite recommendations to avoid travel due to the rising number of coronavirus cases

A couple on the beach of Platja d'Aro on Sunday.
A couple on the beach of Platja d'Aro on Sunday.Toni Ferragut

Seated outdoors in the waterfront restaurants of Platja d’Aro, a municipality in Spain’s Costa Brava, are not the usual international tourists. This year, it’s visitors from Catalonia, especially Barcelona, who have come to the coastal town for a holiday. The change comes after the Catalan regional government recommended that residents of Barcelona and its metropolitan area, Figueres and Vilafant in Girona province and the city of Sant Feliu de Llobregat, stay at home and avoid traveling to second residences in a bid to curb the rising coronavirus numbers.

But some residents have interpreted this news as a call to take a quick holiday before authorities introduce a formal ban on travel.

We have not gone on vacation, we have four children between the two of us and this is the first break without them since everything began
Barcelona resident Ángels

“Everything has changed. In the month of July, it was usually foreign tourists who came in larger numbers, but this year it has been very slow. So, during the week it’s calm and on the weekends it’s really busy. Those who have come from Barcelona this weekend say that it could be their last, and that they wanted to take advantage in case they are confined again,” explains Bryan, the manager of M&B restaurant, which is crowded with patrons, like every other establishment on the same street and in the main artery of town, Nuestra Señora del Carme.

While the Catalan government has insisted that the limitation on movement was a recommendation, and not a confinement order or ban, there are concerns that mandatory lockdown rules will soon be introduced. It was these fears that prompted Paco and Ángels to book an apartment in Platja d’Aro this week.

“Yes, we know that they recommended against leaving because there are outbreaks in Barcelona but we decided to give ourselves a weekend of freedom precisely in case they confine us,” says Ángels. “We have not gone on vacation, we have four children between the two of us and this is the first break without them since everything began. It was necessary.”

“We wear a face mask, we keep a safe distance and we don’t go out in groups,” adds Paco.

Another couple from Barcelona is walking out of a small hotel on the beach. They had made the booking for the weekend 10 days ago and decided to come to Platja d’Aro despite the recommendations against travel. “They have to say things clearly. It’s a recommendation, not a ban,” says Laura.

Cristina, a resident of Barcelona, also decided not to change her plans to go visit her mother in Castell d’Aro, another municipality on the Costa Brava. Seated with three friends in an outdoor cafe in Platja d’Aro, she agrees that the messages from the Catalan government have been inconsistent. “We strictly followed the [three-month] lockdown [implemented in mid-March], we are taking every precaution, now we are going to the beach at 9am to avoid people. We are not meeting in large numbers,” she says. “If the Catalan government believes we must not leave under any circumstance, they have to explain that and argue why. Until then, common sense and prudence must prevail.”

“Of course there is a little fear of contagion, but if Barcelona is confined, things will be terrible,” argues David, the owner of Montbarmar restaurant, who explains that business in the area was devastated by the coronavirus lockdown in Spain, which was one of the strictest in the world.

Platja d’Aro is a popular holiday destination for residents of Barcelona, especially those who bought second homes in the town during the 1980s. Locals in the area could not say whether more or less visitors from the Catalan capital had come last weekend than others. On Friday, 416,000 cars left Barcelona, a drop of just 10% compared to a normal weekend in summer. “Perhaps there were fewer [visitors from Barcelona], but it was hardly noticeable. There are families or parts of them, who have already settled in. The grandparents stay with the children and the parents go in and out to work. Others work remotely,” says Mari Carmen Miquel, the head of the boutique Marcfranc, which has also seen a spike in visitors over the weekend and a fall during the week.

Unlike the beaches of Barcelona, several of which had to be closed last weekend, there is no problem with overcrowding in Platja d’Aro and safe distances can be easily respected even on a sunny day in July.

English version by Melissa Kitson.