The Ultimate Guide to Maresme, Barcelona’s Overlooked Coastal Neighbor
Posted On August 6, 2018
The spectacular region of Maresme is located just north of Barcelona, but doesn’t receive hoards of visitors like the Catalan capital. Seaside villages, natural parks, rocky coves, and fabulous eateries are just a few things that make a trip here worthwhile. Each of the 16 coastal towns feature expansive golden beaches with numerous marine activities to enjoy. The county also extends inland and boasts unique museums, cultural events, and a rich history.
After living in Maresme for some time and spending many summer days and weekends here, I’ve uncovered lots of amazing things to do. Most places on this list are extremely low key, so don’t be distraught if you’re the only non-local there. If you’re ready to venture outside of Barcelona, this guide is for you!
It’s impossible to visit Maresme and not spend at least some time at the beach. Nearly all of the shoreline here offers easily accessible beaches with parking lots, restrooms, dining options, and public transportation in close reach. The large white-sand beaches of El Masnou, De Llevants, De La Murtra, and De Garbí stretch off into the distance, but the real gems are the smaller rocky coves.
For a more intimate experience, visit one of the four De Les Roques beaches in Calella. A set of cliffs denote the beaches of Rocapins, La Vinyeta, Cala d’en Pere, and Roca Grossa. The dramatic views are a great surprise and the water here is nearly always a spectacular shade of turquoise. Nearby, La Musclera is another Maresme favorite, located just outside of Caldes d´Estrac. This nude beach provides the perfect tranquil environment for those who want to sunbathe au naturel. When all that swimming makes you thirsty, grab a gin tonic or mojito and some tapas at one of the chiringuitos (beach bars).
Explore an underground water mine
Visitors who don’t suffer from claustrophobia can join the monthly free tour of the extensive Cresta i Malet water mines. Just outside of Barcelona lies 27 km (16.8 mi) of tunnels that form a labyrinth under the city of El Masnou. The mines were created in the eighteenth century to collect and distribute water throughout the town. The technology worked so well that it is still used by some homes today. The excursion takes an up-close look at a 40 meter stretch of the elaborate network of galleries and explains the mine’s history and function.
Be a part of a local event
There’s nearly always something going on in Maresme. Residents organize events that celebrate everything from food, music, and local traditions to the annual town festivities that spare no expense. Make sure not to miss the popular summer music festivals Canet Rock in Canet de Mar, Festival d’havaneres in Sant Pol de Mar, and the Festival d’Estiu Alella. Without a doubt, the most important events of the year are the week-long town celebrations called festa major which typically honor the city’s’ patron saints.
Unlike Barcelona’s festa major La Mercèwhich draws thousands of tourists, the equally impressive celebrations in Maresme see very few foreign visitors. Get into the spirit at Les Santes de Matarófor a truly unique experience with around-the-clock activities and events. Some of the highlights are the gegants (papier-mâché giants), castellers (human castles), and the correfoc (fire run). Yup, you heard that right. There’s also a full schedule of non-stop concerts, firework shows, and parades throughout the week.
Get lost in a museum
For such a small region, Maresme has an extensive list of museums and galleries spanning history, art, medicine, and navigation. There’s something that will pique every visitor’s curiosity. Explore the obscure collections at the snail museum in Villasar de Dalt, or an exhibit of over 3,000 hand-painted ceramic plates in Òrrius. The most prominent collection of minerals in Spain is actually located in the small town of Arenys de Marand a visit here also includes access to the nearby Marès Lace Museum. The Interpretive Lighthouse Center of Calella should also be mentioned because of its incredible views of the coastline.
Meander the halls of a medieval castle
Snuggled into the hillside of Canet de Mar is the astounding Castell de Santa Florentina. You may recognize the castle since it was transformed into Horn Hill for the tv series Game of Thrones. The castle itself has many elements hinting to Catalan culture and features marvelous stained glass windows and impeccable masonry. The large wooden gates swing open every Saturday for public tours of the building and its lush grounds. The tour explores the luxuriously decorated rooms, underground cellar, chapel, and more. The tour guide was there during the filming for Game of Thronesso feel free to ask her all about it.
View examples of Catalonia’s eccentric architecture
The unique style of Catalan Modernism is present throughout Catalonia and Maresme is no exception. The legendary architect Antoni Gaudí even left his mark here at Nau Gaudí in Mataró. This cotton bleaching factory was Gaudí’s first extensive project and his initial use of parabolic arches. The factory is now home to a contemporary art exhibit. Also in Mataró is Casa Coll i Regàs, once the home of a local bourgeois family and now open to the public for tours. The interior and exterior are equally impressive and feature twisted columns, wrought iron decor, and colorful tile work.
Many nearby towns hold architectural wonders of their own. Admire the details of Casa Roura in Canet de Mar, Casa Garí in Argentona, or Can Bonvehí in Alella. Another modernist site in Canet de Mar is the municipal cemetery. Yes, the cemetery! Most of the sculptures and mausoleums were crafted in the Catalan Modernist style and are rich in symbolism. Here you’ll find depictions of skulls, crying angels, and gargoyles alongside the tombs. For organized architecture tours visit the websites of each city hall.
Eat and Drink
El Celler d’Argentona
Be prepared to get stuffed at El Celler d’Argentona, just a short drive inland from Mataró. The cellar turned restaurant dishes out traditional Catalan specialties like wild boar with apple, stuffed calamari, bull tail stew, and local Chanterelle mushrooms with foie gras. The three-course menu sets you back just €25 and includes a bottle of wine—it’s impossible to top that!
For an affordable meal with a view, head to Can Margarit located right off the beach path in Mataró. This completely outdoor restaurant has tables right on the sand and is always crowded so be prepared to wait. Make sure to order some tapas like fried baby squid and steamed mussels paired with one of their spectacular paellas.
Bar La Morera
A second notable restaurant in Mataró is Bar La Morera, right across the street from the beach. They serve up mouthwatering platters of grilled seafood and meats in addition to iconic tapas like jamón, homemade croquetas, and blood sausage.
Try a traditional aperitivo (pre-meal drink and snack) at Espinaler, famous for their high-quality canned products and special vinegar sauce. Guests choose from a list of seafood such as tuna, anchovies, razor clams, and mussels that are served right in the can. There are also the typical tapas like patatas bravas and croquetas on the menu as well. Espinaler opened in the late 1800s by a local family from Villasar de Mar. Today there are two locations in the town, the original tavern near the coast and a restaurant connected to their warehouse. Both locations are popular, but at the later you can also purchase canned goods, vermouth, and wine to enjoy at home.
The highways and public transportation make Maresme well connected and easily accessible. For a scenic ride, take the Renfe R1 train that hugs the shoreline from Barcelona to Blanes, stopping at all the main towns of Maresme along the way. There is also a direct bus that picks up passengers in Barcelona’s city center and drops them off in the county’s capital city, Mataró.
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