The Catalonian sun wakes me up in the morning. Its bright rays find their way to the interior of the little wooden hut and directly onto my face through a small gap in between the two dark curtains of the small window on the other side of the room. It is pleasantly cool still, even beneath my fluffy eiderdown. My comfortable king size mattress is not a bad place at all. I could just as well stay there for some more time.
I feel as if I have just spent the night in an upscale hotel although in fact, I haven’t. It is seven a.m., and I am on a campsite in a small village at Costa Brava. Translates to wild coast. During the wintertime, there are around 2100 people living in Sant Pere Pescador – which isn’t even half as much as during the summer when tourists populate the coastal area. Tourism and the apple cultivating industry are the village’s two most important sources of income. Besides apple trees there are campsites as far as the eye can see. They are situated right beside the sea, at the sand beach stretching out on nearly two kilometers and not far from the Aiguamolls de l’Empordà National Park and their facilities are as comfortable and luxurious as those of one of the upscale hotels of the popular tourist destination Lloret de Mar on the southern end of Costa Brava.
At the end of my first night at the campsite, I unemotionally realize that camping is not what it once was anymore. The memories of uncomfortable sleeping mats and airbeds constantly losing air, of grains of sands inside a sleeping bag and bloodstained mosquito nets, of ransacked duffel bags and lost socks, folding chairs and cooling bags that needed to be refilled with ice cubes every once in a while seem to be reminiscent of another time. Only a handful of campers still relies on these artifacts. Thermos flag and picnic rug are passé. Instead, my bungalow provides not only a comfortable king size bed. There are cupboards, lockers, dressers, two bathrooms, a air-conditioned living-room equipped with a flat-screen TV and a WLAN router and a reasonably spacious kitchen with a dishwasher and even a Nespresso coffee maker. A fridge and a freezer top off the offer. Apparently, this is the kind of luxury modern campers expect and afford.
The tendency towards luxury camping has been evident at Costa Brava for some years, and campsites have reacted to it already. Up to 50 percent of the parcels of a campsite may be used for bungalows and caravans, according to Spanish law. “We try to enforce this development”, explains Ferran Sellabona, director of marketing at “Campings in Girona”, the association of the major campsites of Costa Brava. This, he goes on to explain, was an explicit request of the campsite owners. And their ideas sound similar. “We have to keep up to date. Those who don’t change anything, who ignore trends, and who hinder innovation, will soon fall off the map”, Alex Trias, owner of “La Ballena Allegre” in Sant Pere Pescador exclaims. He still has some parcels for good old campers who come with nothing but a tent onsite, of course. But even these aren’t coming just for the camping experience. At almost every campsite in the area, guests get much more for their money than a few years ago: namely, a recreation offer without equal, and in pretty nearly no way inferior to that of a Robinson Club Hotel. And operators that still try to create a familiar, amicable, and personal atmosphere – as long as the size of the grounds allows anything like that.
Alicia Cruz, who runs the campsite La Siesta in Palafrugell together with her husband Enric, knows: “You have to present yourself, and you have to give variety. She’s living for her words: At nine a.m., every morning, she gets on one of the spinning bikes in the small campsite gym and pushes her guests to work out. The early-morning exercise is only the start of the all-round carefree package the campsite offers – and it is a big hit among guests. But the offer is not limited to sports only. Costa Brava campsites offer everything from soccer pitches to underground spas and saunas – the campsites are competing after all.
With regard to the question how to best entertain guests, opinions are certainly divergent. Joan Masoliver Jorda tries to get personal and relies on a peculiar marketing strategy: Beans are his capital. They are cultivated on a grand scale inland, just near Eco Lava Camping. Jorda’s guests go crazy for Fexu, his own marketing line. And first, he only sold bean lollypops and sugar and bean frosted fruit. By now, he has enhanced his collection with an own clothing line: Colorful beans in comic style grin broadly from shirts, shorts and sweaters in a small showroom next to the restaurant.
Next to that, regional specialties such as Catalonian salami look promising. Ratafia, a Catalonian liquor made from walnuts and served in longdrink glasses with lots of crushed ice is sold in hip flasks and liter bottles. It is tempting to drink more than a glass of the sweetish drink. Once you had a drop too much, you might just be very happy not to wake up on the hard ground of a tent but on a cozy mattress in a bungalow where – in the coolness of an air-conditioned room – you can just roll over and enjoy another twenty minutes of sleep.
This article was printed in Allgemeine Zeitung. My trip to Spain was supported by Campings in Girona.