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Calella - Catalonian gem


Roger St. Pierre visits a lively Spanish resort that’s open for group business all year round

Barcelona has been widely acclaimed recently as the world’s most ‘hip’ city but with such recognition comes a price, for the Catalan capital city is rapidly becoming more expensive and more difficult to book.
Enter Calella. Renowned in the early days of package holiday mass tourism as a low-rent bucket-and-spade destination, this one-time fishing village has been steadily upgrading its game and is now vying against its massive neighbour for corporate meeting and incentives’ business.

That old ‘location, location, location’ adage has been working to the maximum. Set mid-way along the railway line between bustling Barcelona and historic Girona – both with international airports offering low-cost direct flights from both the UK and Continental Europe – Calella is placed to serve as a value-for-money dormitory for both these very popular cities.

Offering a downtown-to-downtown, door-to-door easy option for economically and efficiently shifting a group from place to place, the railway is a vital artery. On its journey through this busy little resort, the railway runs directly alongside the seafront promenade. The modern, comfortable trains run every half hour, with a one-hour journey time in each direction. The last train from Barcelona to Calella leaves at around 11pm, allowing plenty of time for a group to see all the sights or attend a convention and then take an early – by Spanish standards – dinner before returning to home base. Not that there isn’t plenty to see and do in Calella itself to dissuade delegates from straying too far.

There are 70 eating places ranging from simple tapas bars to exquisite gourmet restaurants – all the way up to the literally exclusive and stratospherically expensive Sant Pau, which is located in the tiny village of Sant Pol de Mar, just a couple of kilometres down the coast. This charming little place is rated among the finest and most innovative restaurants in the whole world, thanks to the highly creative lady chef Carme Ruscalleda’s inspired cuisine, earning a coveted three-star Michelin rating. It’s a great place to impress those special guests but I’d advise you to book now if you want to get a table anytime before Christmas 2015 – and refinance the company while you are at it! Food this fabulous does not come cheap.

A town of just 13,000 permanent residents, Calella can offer 14,000 letting bed-spaces for visitors and now has high quality hotel stock, with many of the top-end properties remaining open all year round.

Our choice was the quirky H.Top Amaika Hotel set conveniently close to the town centre. This comfortable 4-star property is themed around the ill-fated SS Titanic ocean liner, with porthole-shaped windows, lots of brass fittings and historic photos, documents and memorabilia of the great ship, even down to the staff wearing naval-styled uniforms. It seems the hotel’s owner saw the Hollywood movie and became its biggest fan, leading to a massive themed re-fit that can be utilised to give your event a colourful nautical ambience.

The 229-bedroom hotel has two dedicated conference rooms, each accommodating up to 100 theatre style. The most popular location in town for bigger events is the imposing 19th Century Llobet-Gurí Factory, a monumental-sized and atmosphere-laden former textile factory that has hosted major concerts and business events, as well as political meetings. It has two main rooms, each capable of hosting up to 2,000 people. ‘Most of our hotels have upgraded and have good meeting facilities. We can now assume a double-edged role, serving as an overflow for business coming through Barcelona and developing our own complete, good value packages,’ comments Isabel Mallol, President of the Calella Tourist Association, the local hotel association.

Besides one of Spain’s longest, widest, cleanest and safest sandy beaches, Calella’s attractions include first-rate shopping and a year-round calendar of social, sporting, cultural and entertainment events. Cocktail receptions, with stunning views back down the one and a half mile long main beach and across the shimmering Med, can be staged on the terrace of the iconic lighthouse. It was built in 1859 and is today the symbol of the town. This attractive building has recently been re-opened as a fascinating interpretive centre.

For something really different, group visits of up to 15 people at a time can be arranged to see the massive, moody air raid shelter dug in the park to protect the citizenry during the vicious and tragic Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. During that time it housed 3,600 Republican refugees, sheltering from Fascist bombing of the town by the forces of Generalissimo Franco.

‘This fascinating town is full of history but it’s a place of the present too, with lots of group activities readily available,’ says Grace Livingston, director of Calella’s tourist office.

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