Popular for family holidays, Blanes, the small resort on Spain’s Costa Brava, has all the beach amenities you’d expect. Long stretch of sand, turquoise-green translucent sea, nearby water park, even hidden calas, or rocky golfs, for the more laid-back traveller.
However, the resort has more to offer than beaches and 300-days-per-year sunshine. One hour north of Barcelona, tucked around a rocky, winding shore, Blanes has some surprises in its sand-sprinkled sleeves.
One of them is the botanical garden Mar i Murtra. Leaving below the golden beaches and the old town, and after a short twisting climb up the San Juan hill, the white reception building welcomes you. Travellers looking to discover mediterranean, American or South-African nature turn to this four-hectare partially hidden garden.
After paying a small access fee, the garden takes you in, without much introduction. Right from the entrance, a 40-year-old giant eucalyptus, welcomes you, offering a preview of the place. The unpaved alleys, forming an intricate pathway, take you to all the domains of this Vegetation Kingdom. You enter a world ready to satisfy all your senses. While your eyes are wondering from one exotic shrub to the next, your nostrils are soon filled with the damp earthy air and fresh pine scent. Strolling through bamboo forests and baby palmtree groves you hear the wind wheezing and the bees buzzing.
But then, this place has a unique location, hanging over the steep cliff, north of Blanes – nothing short of a Heaven of Plants. Built on the mountain’s low hanging skirts, Mar i Murtra was originally created as an international centre of scientific research in biology by a German amateur biologist, Carl Faust. The name, Mar i Murtra, is catalan for “sea and myrtle”, the latter being a mediterranean evergreen shrub.
Even for the plant-indifferent, the garden will manage to impress you if not with the selection of curious vegetation from all five continents, at least with the unexpected shapes of the cacti, and the sunny paths on the edge of the mediterranean cliffs. The views are to be placed in a postcard or in a dreamland-vacation brochure.
As you leave the Paradise of Plants, if you fell in love with any of the cacti, the rose-shaped green shrubs or other plants, you have the option to buy one for your home. But, think in advance how will you transport the cactus in your luggage or handbag, while crossing security at the airport…
Mar i Murtra, one of the most important botanical gardens of Europe, is located north of Blanes, on Pg. de Carles Faust, 9. You can reach it on foot from Blanes, and plan about two hours for your visit. For more information, visit their website.