Our planned 10-day visit to Playa de Gandía, due to Covid-19 coronavirus, turned into a 10-week lockdown.
The day we arrived in Playa de Gandía we went out for a lovely walk along the beach and a short exploratory walk through this quiet beach town. Luckily we did because that night Spain declared a national state of emergency due to the coronavirus and we all went into lockdown, which meant no more walks except to purchase food and necessities.
On that first day these two large resting white Buddha statues stood out on the nearly deserted beach. They face a small hut that serves drinks to beachgoers during the summer months.
Port of Gandía
A thriving port has existed in Playa de Gandia since medieval times and in 1884 new port buildings were constructed to support the area’s booming textile industry and the burgeoning worldwide demand for citrus. The port of Gandia became the second largest fruit exporting port in Spain and an important source of income for Spain in the early to mid 20th century.
The attractive warehouses or tinglados below in the port were added in the 1930s. There are seventeen domed warehouses, with the Torre Del Rellotge (clock tower) perched near the center.
Until the 1950’s Playa de Gandía was a port with only a few residences and businesses that supported the port.
In 1959 the first hotel was built and named Hotel Bayren after the Bairén Castle, the ruins of which we could see strategically overlooking the entire area from a nearby hill. In the 1960’s rapid expansion began with dozens of apartment complexes laid out on a neat grid of streets. The beautiful seaside promenade was added as well as a yacht club. Spanish residents from Madrid were, and may still be, the largest group of tourists.
Playa de Gandía today may be a popular summer destination, but in early March, when we arrived, most businesses were still closed during the off-season. Businesses typically open in time for Easter, but of course this year, due to the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown, everything but the essentials remained closed. As the country slowly began to re-open, in early May any restaurant that had an outdoor terrace was able to open and serve customers. Our first tapas and wine streetside felt like a ‘get-out-of-jail’ card and such a treat!
The beaches at Playa de Gandía are sensational. More than 300 feet wide (100 meters) and nearly 4 miles long (7 km) with that glorious fine pale golden sand we all love. At water’s edge there are thousands of tiny perfect shells. The Mediterranean Sea doesn’t have the crashing waves of the oceans so perhaps more shells are able to stay in tact.
After 50 days couped up in our apartments, on May 2nd residents were able to get outside twice a day for 2 hours to exercise and the beach beckoned. Everyone was wearing masks and keeping apart the required distances. It was fantastic to be out in the morning sunshine and the site of large tractors grooming the sands provided amusing entertainment during our beach walks.
Opposite the beach, next to the promenade are the hotels, restaurants, bars, ice cream parlors and cafes. These were all closed when we arrived in March but by Phase One of the lockdown in mid-May, the cafes and ice cream shops were re-opening. There was at least one, and often two ice cream shops on every block – reminding us of Seattle and the preponderance of it’s coffee shops.
During one of our walks we spotted old architectural remains sitting up on a hill not far out of town. Bairén Castle, also known as San Juan, was a medieval Islamic fortification, believed to have been built in the 10th or 11th century.
Usually it can be visited but not during the Covid-19 crisis. Currently the Castle, sitting on 9 hectares, is in ruins and the wall facing the sea has been the only part to have been rebuilt. We could only imagine the stunning panoramic view of the beach, the Mediterranean Sea and the surrounding area from the castle.
It is surmised this was originally a Roman fortification but in 1097, the first written record in which the castle is referred, is of a battle between the Almoravids against El Cid and Pedro I de Aragón that took place in this fortification. In 1240, the castle would eventually pass into the hands of Jaime I of Aragon, El Conquistador.
When we first arrived in Spain, our initial forays into eating paella were rather disappointing. However in the past 6 months we have had some exceptionally delicious and fresh paellas. In the Gandía región we wanted to try a local dish called fideuà. Fideuà is a version of paella made with fidueà pasta – a short hollow noodle, instead of rice, together with squid, prawns, tomatoes, hot sweet paprika, saffron and served with lemon and a dollop of garlic aioli (alioli in Spanish).
The fideuà we had was fantastic and the seafood incredibly fresh and sweet. We highly recommend trying this local dish.
We also tried a local bakery item. It was a large appetizer plate sized simple, lightly sweetened cookie with a satisfying crunch.
We may not have planned to stay in Playa del Gandía for more than 10 days, but it was a safe and quiet environment to rest in while Covid-19 raged throughout Spain. Like so many places in the world, each evening we all stood on our balconies clapping hands or banging pots to show support for the hardworking medical professionals everywhere.
An amazing and unexpected experience!
Salud from these Gandiense,
Ted and Julia