Relaxed, Small-Town Living in Spain From Less than $140,000

The short stretch of coast you find south of Barcelona is called the Costa del Garraf. Here you’ll find a string of three small towns that offer upscale amenities, relaxed living, easy access to Barcelona, and great-value real estate…

The rocky coast is punctuated with sandy coves and, starting about 20 minutes south of Barcelona, with beaches.

The northernmost of these towns is Castelldefels, just 20 minutes from Barcelona on the commuter train line. Castelldefels lies along a strip of sandy beach. The town proper, mostly modern, sits slightly inland. The shady, pedestrian-only streets in Castelldefels’s center are filled with shops and sidewalk cafes. Low-rise apartment buildings with ground-floor shops—hairdressers, furniture stores, tapas bars, and more—line the side streets.

The weather is usually sunny and mild…but because you’re a brisk walk from the beach itself, you don’t get the bathing-suit crowd here. Instead, you’ll see young mothers with baby strollers, well-dressed matrons, or businessmen talking shop over a coffee or beer.

For the full beach experience, head to Castelldefels Platje (beach), less than a mile away. Historically, most apartment buildings on the beach offered short-term vacation rentals. But these days a growing number of people choose to live here full-time. Shopping near the beach is limited…but as compensation, you have the beach largely to yourself during the low season.

Prices have risen in Castelldefels in recent years, as locals in Barcelona have discovered how easy it is to commute from Castelldefels. But prices are still affordable and you can still pick up some good-value real estate.

One property I found in central Castelldefels is an 861-square-foot, three-bedroom apartment selling for €130,000 (about $145,000) that has a balcony looking out on the street, and is near all shops. If you prefer Castelldefels Platje, expect to get less space for this same amount of money—and the apartment won’t be right on the water.

For the first line of beach, expect to pay around €250,000 (about $280,000) and up. (On the other hand, you can rent a small apartment right on the beach for as little as €1,000—about $1,140—a month.)

Ten minutes south of Castelldefels on the commuter train is Sitges, probably the best-known town on this coast. Certainly it’s the loveliest, with its medieval core, Belle Epoque buildings, and many small beaches. In Sitges you’re right on the water, and it’s more obviously a beach town than Castelldefels. You’ll find plenty of high-end designer shops aimed at tourists, as well as restaurants and a vibrant ambience. But away from the water is a genuine Catalan town, where locals live, shop, and raise their families.

Despite its chic rep, during the summer high season Sitges absolutely heaves with tourists. So if you want to enjoy its charm in peace, come off-season. Or find digs off the main tourist routes.

Sitges has been a popular beach destination since the late 19th century (the Catalan upper middle class summered here then), so you’ll pay a bit more to live here than in other towns on this coast. But that doesn’t mean breaking the bank. What about a sunny, modern, 775-square-foot apartment in central Sitges with exterior views and lots of light? I came across one with three bedrooms, one-and-a-half baths, and a south-facing terrace with panoramic views. It was recently on offer for €198,000 (about $220,000).

Finally, south of Sitges, is Vilanova i la Geltrú. An unassuming town, it has a lovely center with shops and cafes along pedestrian-only streets. During the summer beach season, Vilanova i la Geltrú tends to feel less hectic than Sitges and more ”beach-town” than Castelldefels. It’s also generally a bit less expensive than the other two towns. Here, for instance, you can find a three-bedroom apartment in the town center, just minutes from the beaches as well as all shopping, for €120,000 (about $134,000). It has a large balcony, southern exposure, and is in an elevator building that has a community garden space.

Though Vilanova i la Geltrú feels a world away from Barcelona, it’s actually only a 45-minute ride from the metropolis on the commuter train…a very doable distance for day trips. So if you like the idea of ”getting away from it all” without actually being that far away, this little town may suit you.


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