Cerbère, France to Portbou, Spain
The day’s forecast was excellent and spot-on. Leaving our house in Baix Emporda at O’dark silly I arrived at Cap Cèrbere just after sunrise, feeling rushed, wishing I didn’t. My other half was a tad poorly. With nagging guilt (albeit permission) at leaving her, I wanted to catch a specific return train from Portbou and avoid waiting hours for the next.
I was hoping for a track. Perhaps a simple wildlife trail. A little indication pointing the way down the cliffs to my start point, Plage du Minerai at Cap Cerbère, Fr. Something would have been nice. I’ll readily admit, not the brightest start on the first leg of my Costa Brava swim.
Sweating and nicely pin-cushioned with Prickly pear spines, the small beach I launched from proved perfect – The Med, calm and tranquil.
I should have started on the beach in Cerbère, Fr. Sure, an extra 1.5km swim, but so much more comfortable than the painfully slow, slip-at-any-moment, trash-filled, shale scree, dodgy descent I chose. Predictably, I suppose, despite my planning, after a few welcome, cooling strokes toward the border, a much gentler way-down appeared on the cliffs above.
Maybe? on a later hike of the cliff-top trail, the ‘gentler’ option was choked with wall-to-wall Prickly Pear and just as hairy looking.
The beach to border swim was a shallow water, relaxing dawdle. Just how I like it. I thoroughly enjoyed those first few strokes, feeling rather chuffed that all the map staring, planning and endless scanning of wind direction, swell and wave heights had all panned out rather nicely.
International borders within the EU, although open (mostly) have historical remnants of past conflicts. Fortifications, monuments, memorials etc. France and Spain are no exception. Former Immigration and Customs buildings across the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Med, still stand, vandalized and smothered with technicolour graffiti.
However, at the exact spot where La Frontera de Francia y España slips into the Med, there is . . . Nothing. No concrete post or rusting barbed wire dangling between equaling corroded supports . . . Nothing.
I was ‘ottering’ on my back, camera-ready, scanning the cliffs for a chance to record the passing from one country to another. A gentle current drifted me through a narrow gap, past a rocky islet. Did this international border exist? . . . Still Nothing.
Amazing! No handsome French Tricolour, waving me “Au revoir” from the cliffs above or radiant orange and red Spanish Flag welcoming my cross-border swim with a cheery “Bienvenida, buena suerte” . . . Nope! not a sausage? or Catalan Botifarra.
The Catalan “Independistas” love to daub their yellow and gold flag on roads, walls and mountains, in fact, during political silly season, everywhere! So, grabbing a breath and a chuckle, I checked below the surface just to make sure I hadn’t missed a border marker, with the oft reminded slogan “Catalunya is not Spain” . . . back to swimming, methinks?
Passing Punta de l’Ocell (Bird point) and Punta del Falcó (Falcon), I exchanged watery thumbs-up with a spear-fisherman. The early morning sun, his long white fins and faded Beuchat® marker bouy would have made a wonderful photo. With no support boat in sight, he had begun swimming way before dawn to claim this sweet spot of crystal clear water and dramatic underwater drop-offs – I let him be.
Rounding Cap de Portbou, the entire vista of Portbou’s bay unfolds to reveal Platja del Pi (Pine Beach) and Les Tres Platgetes (Three Little Beaches).
Platja del Pi is a hang-out of the ‘bare bum brigade’ and attending voyeurs. I doubt that Wild Swimmers, with our less than puritanical cares about baring-all, will even notice the glaring white or tomato-red, T-and-A.
Way more important to us, is the beginning of a long line of welcoming yellow buoys, ensuring us safe passage to Portbou’s main beach, 0.6km distant. Swimmers and Snorkelers only.
The first of (ten) buoyed-off Vies Braves. These seasonal swimming lanes stretch from the French border to Blanes at the southern end of the Costa Brava.
Vies Bravas is a public network of marine and open water routes designed for sporting, leisure and educational activities. The routes are marked with signs and buoys, providing a safe way of enjoying Open Water Swimming.Vies Bravas website
The Cerbère, France to Portbou, Spain swim (and coastal path hike) are routes to be savoured. Two countries, two cultures. Take your time. Begin with a sunrise beach cafe Petit déjeuner (coffee and croissants) in France, before swimming south around Cap de Cerbère (the section I skipped) and across the border, (3.5km, más o menos) to Portbou, Spain.
Stroll barefoot up the beach to the first Spanish cafe, down a caña (beer) or two and tuck into a long afternoon Menú del día (lunch). Siesta on the beach, awake around four-ish, stroll into town and partake in ‘La Merienda‘ (an afternoon snack of coffee, cake and all things sticky) before climbing the hill for a 5-minute train ride back to Cerbère, France. . . Wow! What a day.
On your return train ride to Cerbères, as you exit the station, take the tunnel leading under the train tracks directly back to your sand-in-your-toes starting point. The beach and ever glorious blue Med.
Where Graffiti Belongs, below ground, way below ground. . . “Rant Alert” I
detest, hate graffiti artists, taggers. There is some ‘little prick’ in this gorgeous corner of Cataluyna who insists on spray painting his medusa (jellyfish) tag, wherever he damn well pleases. I long for, no, dream of, draping his teeny-weeny testicles with a slightly peeved Portuguese man-of-war.
There, I feel much better now.
One exception to this god-awful ‘art form’ (?) is the Tunnel de la Gare à la Plage, 100mts down the hill from the Cebère train station exit. Resembling a 1900’s Coney Island Funhouse, it’s without doubt, the most unique and colourful path you’ll take to any beach. Clean, sans l’odeur d’urine, well lit, and devoid of smackheads. That light at the end of the tunnel? – The Med.
Being by the sea should not be taken for granted, and Portbou has the Costa Bravas’s cleanest water, the coldest, the most harmonious bay and the most radiant light.
La Costa Brava, Àlbum guía (guide book) 1925