La Gavina – A hotel straight out of a 30s Hollywood movie
Sitting back at my desk in Berlin, I can’t begin to wrap my head around everything I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing these last three days I spent in Hotel La Gavina on the Spanish Mediterranean Coast. I had nothing but high expectations of the luxury hotel from the 30s, from which movie stars like Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Orson Welles, Sean Connery, Robert de Niro, and even Ernest Hemingway have come and gone. I had envisioned a brightly coloured room, beautiful views of the sea, and all the amenities one can expect from such a unique hotel, but in the end any expectations I had were more than exceeded.
Hostal de la Gavina can be found encircled by carefully laid gardens and traditional Mediterranean architecture in a small enclave called S’Agaró on the Costa Brava, an area not far from Barcelona and Girona that remains wholly undervalued by the Germans. The building’s history began with eleven original rooms in 1932- technically it all began in the early ‘20s, when the industrialist Josep Ensesa Gubert acquired the picturesque headland on which the family-run five star facility currently sits and made a local recreation area for the Catalonians out of its beaches.
After an hour’s drive along the coast from Barcelona Airport, I reach the patch of Earth I would, in the following days, come to fall as deeply in love with as so many before me. But starting at the beginning… My stay begins in the spacious, elegant lobby of the La Gavina and after a warm welcome I’m lead to a fantastical room. I’m immediately charmed by the interior, preserved in its original ‘30s state: ornately decorated, built-in wardrobes, a similarly antique bed covered with embroidered white linens, and a dreamy view from the balcony of the starry night sky. Rapturous!
But it’s not until the next morning that the area’s full beauty reveals itself. With bountiful passion and inspired by his many travels, Gubert was a visionary of his time, arranging each room uniquely and with great attention to detail. In bedrooms and corridors, in the den, the lobby, and the Candlelight Gourmet Restaurant, antiques collected over decades from around the world are a testament to his talent: traditional Catalonian doors, 12th century tiles, Chinese paintings, Flemish tapestries, Murano lights and beds from the 18th century, and sumptuous clocks, pictures, and other objects. It’s like walking through a museum.
The classy, homelike atmosphere is something that Gubert’s successors devotedly both preserve and modernise. Today the original eleven rooms have become seventy-four, many of them suites. The La Gavina has been a romantic, unique, and authentic venue from the beginning and to this day has lost none of its original charm, nor is no manner of comfort to be found missing. Even the seawater swimming pool, the exclusive Valmont spa with heated pool, fitness area, jacuzzi, sauna, and Arabian baths, and a tennis court have been so deftly integrated that they may well have been there from the beginning.
From my balcony I gaze over ancient pines, cypresses, and lemon trees directly at the sea. Magnolias promise an enchanting fragrance in spring and the sound of lapping waves hangs in the air, omnipresent. The entire site with its gardens is an astounding 2,200 square meters. And so after a rich breakfast of fresh fruit, sweet and hearty pastries, Spanish deli cuts and cheeses, and eggs and smoked salmon prepared on the spot, I head out to explore the area. As recommended by the concierge, I take the historic path along the water.
A decision I certainly don’t regret. I’ve never been able to discover so much on such a short walk. Each bend in the road reveals a splendid new view and leaves me awestruck time and again. The hotel director Alberto Depau would later tell me that the entire strip of coast, right up to the small stretch of hotels that once brought Costa Brava into disrepute, is a scenic as well as a culinary Eldorado. Typical fishing villages dot the coast, waiting on visitors with their genial architecture and simple Mediterranean delicacies.
There is also a place for high-end cuisine in the region with a commendable twelve 1-3 star restaurants, including the “Celler Can Roca”, currently topping the international star temple charts. La Gavina naturally provides for the physical well-being of its guests as well. The snack bar and terrace are popular places, particularly at sundown, for small snacks and drinks. Garbí Restaurant serves light Mediterranean cuisine under large awnings poolside with a view over Sant Pol Bay, and those who prefer to can have any of the dishes ordered to their room.
Next to the breakfast room is the gastronomical highlight the “Candlelight” gourmet restaurant. Intimate and kept in its original ‘30s state, it’s not difficult to imagine Ava Gardener and Elizabeth Taylor meeting in the candlelight for dinner before passing their evening in the neighbouring El Barco Bar, constructed in the authentic form of a ship’s interior where Ernest Hemingway was known to have his favourite cocktail mixed, the wooden walls echoing decades of secrets.
The area also offers a number of athletic activities for those who want to stay active while enjoying the culinary treats, with numerous choice golf courses, including “PGA Golf Catalunya”, ideal cycling conditions, and naturally the opportunity to swim, sail, and snorkel in the sea. May-June and September-October are supposedly the best times to enjoy the outdoors, escaping the extreme heat.
As I slide into my taxi Sunday morning and make my way to the airport, a single thought refuses to leave my mind: there are magical places that you know you will see again one day. La Gavina is one of these places!