Happy fish! L’Estartit & Medes Islands
‘Happy’ is something of a buzzword in Costa Brava’s L’Estartit. Everyone uses it. Locals believe that their connection to nature and the sea promotes a happier, healthier community. They even apply this theory to the fish; happy fish? Which is why Matthew and I find ourselves in a glass bottom boat, trying to make a shoal of fish laugh. Not an easy thing to do…
Life around the ocean waves
Growing up near the seaside, I have always held the conviction that there’s no bigger mood changer than being by the sea on a sunny day. Or a rainy day. Whatever kind of day. It’s a natural Prozac. And on my visit to Costa Brava I find that people in the town of L’Estartit, on the north east coast of Spain, are in agreement. They’ve structured outdoor family life around the ocean, and it’s paying off.
It helps that they don’t live in Margate
It’s a pretty bay. And a pretty town. In fact it’s two settlements straddled by a castle. And it is very different from the seaside resorts of my youth. It’s far more upmarket for a start; the harbour is dotted with yachts, seafood restaurants, glass bottomed boats and jet skis. Locals claim it is one of the best nautical destinations in Spain, and a leading resort in the Costa Brava for water sports. This impression is reinforced by the divers’ hotel on the front with all the wetsuits dangling from the window, and the oxygen tanks that line the quay.
It’s also a wildlife haven; the nearby Medes Islands have been declared protected National Parque land for more than 20 years and are an important stomping ground for birds. L’Estartit might look smart already but it is about to undergo a major face lift, with a rethink on access and parking to the marina. It’s clear that there’s a good living to be made here from the sea. But then there always has been; in the past the coast was plagued by pirates; something the town celebrates every year in an annual festival.
A strong connection to nature
But people’s connection to the sea isn’t all commercial. Families have a strong bond with nature and the outdoors. They join beach clubs. They visit a mobile library on the beach. They learn to sail. Not just rich families; all families. Sailing is an integral part of the school and pre-school curriculum. An ‘Escola de Vela’ (classroom on the water) is a common occurrence. Pre-school children go out on larger boats and primary school children have sailing lessons as part of their physical education programme. These are funded in a novel way; the mooring fees paid by the yachts on the marina are fed back into education through the sailing club, Club Nautic, which provides a large fleet of boats for the children to use.
A local view
Jenny Cooper is an English teacher who moved to L’Estartit from Newcastle before her children were born. As you can imagine if you know Newcastle, there’s no comparison between outdoor life here and back home, “In Estartit there are all sorts of workshops and activities geared up to people with children of all ages. The Catalan culture is all about doing things with the family so the town is very geared up for people doing things together,” she says. She believes people are more aware of their environment here than in other places, and also claims the wildlife enjoys hanging out here too. “The sea bed is fed by the River Ter which makes the water rich with nutritients. The Medes Islands are a Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance and the fish know they’re protected,” says Jenny. “Happy fish and happy people!” she exclaims.
We hear the ‘happy’ word bandied about a lot in this town. They use it at the sailing club. They use it in the local restaurant as they serve us paella. Our kids use it as they kick off their shoes and socks and wade in the shallows. L’Estartit seems to be in a bubble of contentedness.
Testing the theory
But we can’t take it on trust. Matthew and I go out in a glass bottomed boat to the Medes Islands to test the happiness theory. It’s certainly pretty down there, and the rest of the tourists are clearly enjoying themselves. But we are looking specifically for smiling fish. Outside of Nemo have you ever met a happy fish? They’re generally a glum looking lot. It’s a total impossibility. We try to help. We flap our arms. We tell jokes. We clown around. We chat to them. We praise them. We get excited when one appears. But they all look miserable as sin.
Happy fish? I’d love to end with a picture of a fish having a laugh. We never found one. But we embraced the moment. Like the locals we bonded with the ocean in our glass bottomed boat. And we felt happy. Check out the video. Yes. We did. We did! Well, you knew this post would have a happy ending didn’t you?
Disclosure Note: Thanks to the Costa Brava tourist board for hosting me to enable me to bring you this story. All the experience, views and opinions are, as ever, entirely my own.