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Bringing the Costa Brava to China


China's aspiring middle classes would love to go to the Mediterranean for their vacations, but not all of them can afford it. That's why one entrepreneurial firm is building a Spanish village on the Chinese coast.

Classy and chic! These are two words associated with Spain and the Mediterranean coast. But the trip still costs far too much for the average Chinese tourist and this is where China Merchants Zhangzhou Group Limited sees its future.

Over the next eight years, the firm is going to build a massive vacation complex for tens of thousands near the southeastern city of Zhangzhou in Fujian Province. At its heart, alongside amusement parks and shopping malls, there will be a "real" Mediterranean village – a replica of Cadaques on the Costa Brava, which once was a favorite spot of the Surrealist painter Salvador Dali.

Surrealist painter Salvador Dali spent much of his childhood in Cadaques

A 12-member delegation from Zhangzhou recently went to the real Spanish village to take notes. "They photographed everything, took down measurements and asked hundreds of questions," says the head of Cadaques' building authority, Valenti Serinana.

"They wanted to know everything, how the houses were built, what they looked like inside, the exact sloping of the streets… They were even interested in the church," Serinana said.

What was surprising to him was that "they have found a place on the coast of Zhangzhou, which is practically identical to the mountains and the coast here."

Recreating the atmosphere of a Spanish heritage site

Apparently, the firm does not want to build an exact replica of the village but wants to somehow recreate the atmosphere. However, the Dali Museum will be exactly the same, with part of the new village being reserved for galleries and artists.

The Chinese delegation first fell in love with Cadaques over the internet. Not far from the French border, it is a Spanish heritage site, which harks back to the days when the whole coast looked like this – white houses, tiled roofs, beautiful courtyards and narrow, winding lanes.

The beautiful village is a Spanish heritage site

"The color scheme is one of the secrets," explained Serinana. "White, dark green, red and blue, that’s all." The coastal village huddled under the mountains is protected by its architecture from the sun and the wind.

The replica will draw more tourists to the original

When asked whether it rankled him that the Chinese wanted to copy his village, Serinana was quick to play down any such ideas.

"On the contrary! They told us that it would make more and more Chinese want to visit the original because increasing numbers are going to be able to afford foreign travel in future."

Although parts of the coast near Zhangzhou may resemble the Costa Brava the climate conditions are very different

This is not an unwelcome prospect, considering Cadaques lives from tourism.

Seranina and other representatives from Cadaques plan to visit China in the fall. "Zhangzhou wants to set up a twin city scheme with us," said Seranina.

It might be a somewhat uneven partnership – Cadaques has 3,000 inhabitants in winter and 15,000 in summer, whereas Zhangzhou has 400,000 all year round – but it will be a further step in bringing the Mediterranean flair to China.

Author: Reiner Wandler/act
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein