The second home of Europe

Spain's position as Europe's favourite retirement destination has seen the concrete jungle grow and the population age.

by Paul Mungo, World Business

The Costa Brava was the first coastline in Spain colonised by the northern hordes. In the 1950s, at the advent of the cheap package holiday, coach-loads of pale-faced Swedes, Germans, Dutch and British would be decanted on to the beaches after 18-hour bus journeys from Stockholm, Hamburg, Amsterdam and London. In the days before jet travel, the Costa Brava, in the northeast corner of Spain near the French border, was the closest bit of Iberia to the northern capitals. It was hot, the beaches were sandy and the wine was cheap. For a brief time, the Costa Brava exemplified the Spanish holiday.

The development of the passenger jet airliner brought the southern coast of Spain, the Costa del Sol, to within two and a half hours' flying time of northern Europe. The south was even hotter, the beaches were just as sandy (assured by spreading truckloads of the stuff over the grey, volcanic sediment that characterised the region's coastline) and the wine was still cheap. By the end of the 1960s, the focus of Spanish tourism had shifted to the Costa del Sol.

But the north wasn't quite forgotten. In a pattern of development that has been mimicked all along the Spanish coast, many of those pioneering tourists from the 1950s and early 1960s became accustomed to the sun, the sand and, indeed, the cheap wine, and began buying property. Lines of white villas with red-tiled roofs began marching up the hills overlooking previously secluded little bays or fishing villages. Apartment blocks offering two rooms and a balcony overlooking the beach (or in far too many cases, overlooking the back of the apartment block in front) were hastily thrown up. Florida-style developments of 'canal-side' homes with private moorings were sold to a newly affluent European middle class with sufficient disposable income to sink into a 12-foot motor cruiser. Most of these were second homes, used principally in the summer, but a large number were bought by northern Europeans with the intention of retiring to the sun.

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