Sitges and Sex: A Practical Guide
Spain is a predominantly Catholic country, with about 80 percent of Spaniards identifying as Catholic, but only one-third actually attending church. In spite of these high - but downward-trending - numbers, this second largest European Union member state recently legalized gay marriage. They also recently banned poppers. It’s not hard to figure out where the vanishing art of cruising fits into this very Spanish paradigm.
General Francisco Franco was firmly installed in power by the time the Spanish Civil War concluded in 1939, but his dictatorship’s virulently homophobic Vagrancy Act remained on the books until four years after his death in 1979. Furtive, same sex-hookups boomed during Franco’s repressive, four-decade regime, but with his demise, and the rise of the hedonistic countercultural movement La Movida, the stage was set for Spanish gays to come out and "normalize."
By July 11, 2005, when Emilio Menendez and Carlos Baturin, a couple for more than 30 years, became the first legal same-sex marriage in Spain, it was a triumph for civil rights in the Europe Union, but a veritable death knell for amigos con derechos, or those boys who like to "get back to nature," as George Michael sings. Sex in Spain’s great outdoors was officially out the window.
Thankfully, Sitges--that little sin city by-the-sea--is one of the few places left on the Iberian Peninsula that stands in direct opposition to this trend. If one had a mind to, every single waking moment here could be spent having some sort of public sex--from a daytime hump in the Mediterranean Sea to an evening spent stumbling through Sitges’ myriad back rooms--and if one dozes off on the wrong beach, public sex could fill your non-waking moments too. Sitges is a world-class destination for sexual tourism on par with Phuket or Amsterdam.
The population is around 26,000, and even when that number swells during the summer season and its nearly 5,000 hotel beds are filled, it’s still just a village, smaller in size than West Hollywood, let alone Manhattan. But it’s an international village, more than a third of its population are ex-pats, meaning a command of the language isn’t very necessary. In fact, one of the first mistakes I made was to confess to a local that I didn’t speak Spanish. "Neither do I," he corrected, "I speak Catalan."
Indeed, Sitges’ 20-mile proximity to Catalonia’s capital city Barcelona is one of its selling points. Sitges is a quick, 3.20 Euro hop from Barcelona’s El Prat airport on the RENFE intercity rail. Sit atop the double-decker cars on the left for the ocean view and emerge at the top of the old town with the Garraf Massif mountain range behind and the sparkling Mediterranean stretching out before you. The chalky cliffs give this valley weather independent of Barcelona, an almost rain-free ecosystem locals like to boast is 300 days of sunshine a year.
The most important bit of cartographical information you’ll need during your time in Sitges is how to get from the center of town, usually denoted by the 17th-century Sant Bartomeu and Santa Tecla Church perched on a rocky bluff above the sea, to the cruisey woods between Sitges and its south-western neighbor Vilanova i la Geltrú.
It’s a 45-minute walk, but there are three distinct coaches: a sporty convertible bus, an open-air trolley train and the plain, old public bus. I’ve also seen people taking taxicabs to the furthest drivable point, L’Atlántida disco’s beachside parking lot, but I’ve always found the wide, gently curved and palm-lined Passeig Maritim, Sitges’ answer to Cannes’ Croisette, too irresistible not to stroll.
When you reach the Southwestern end of Sitges, demarcated by the large, white Hotel Terramar, branch right for an easy, but longer trek, following signs for the golf course and L’Atlántida, or bear left and tough it out over a tiny stretch of rocky beach before reconnecting with the road to L’Atlántida. Once you arrive in the disco’s parking lot, walk to its furthest end and you’ll see a trail that leads up into the cliffs with the ocean on your left and the railroad tracks on your right. Here’s where the stroll becomes a hike and flip-flops become inadvisable.
Walk up and over the first train tunnel. If you divert into the woods as soon as you leave L’Atlántida’s parking lot, you will find cruising, but it’s of the working variety. I made this mistake a few times before I found the larger, non-transactional zone. The going rate for a fuck was 20 Euros, which sounds inexpensive, but you can get a full-hour on a proper massage table on the gay beach back in town for the same price.
If you forge past hustler wood, you’ll eventually come to a cliff-top walk that’s either visually spectacular or like the last reel of a Hitchcock film, depending on how you feel about heights. As you make your final descent, you’ll see a large cove with a tented snack bar at the far end. This is the first of two nude beaches. It was once mixed, but is now pretty much exclusively gay.
If this first beach is your destination, there are two ways to descend, a shorter, but more perilous climb down a cliff trail on your left, or branch right and walk along the railroad tracks for about a hundred yards until you see an easier trail closer to the snack bar. Be cautious when walking alongside the tracks as those yellow signs reading 140 are the train speed limits in kilometers so you could be right next to a train zipping by at more than 80 miles per hour.
The entrance to the second beach, Playa del Muerto, is just beyond the entrance to the first. Both shorelines are hard stones and pebbles, which make them uncomfortable to walk, but naturists prancing painfully to and from the water with big floppy penises makes for hours of hilarity. There’s also a sharp drop-off which makes getting in and out of the water less than graceful, but this natural cove, unencumbered by the many jetties that dice up the beaches in town, packs a lot more fun wave-wise with no shrill-whistling lifeguards to spoil the fun.
During the late afternoon siesta time, crowds on both beaches slowly drift back to the many-acred cruising area on the other side of the railroad tracks. If you’re on the first beach, there’s actually a small tunnel under the train tracks that will take you to a less populated, but still fun cruising spot.
If you want the whole enchilada, walk back up to the tracks from either beach then walk toward the second train tunnel. When you come to a trio of yellow speed limit signs ranging from 120 to 140, this is where you want to cross the tracks. Follow the dirt road all the way back and once you start to notice condoms and tissues littering the forest, you’ll know you’ve arrived.
In addition to the two, gay nude beaches described above, Sitges has fifteen other beaches. Eleven of them run along the crescent from the church to the Hotel Terramar, while four of them, including another gay nude beach, Balmins, lie on the north side of town’s center. All of them are considerably closer than Playa del Muerto, but not quite as much fun.
The main beach of interest in town is Bossa Rodona, Sitges’ only clothed gay beach, located in front of the Hotel Calipolis. This beach, marked by a bright orange lifeguard trailer on its east end and Picnic Restaurant on its west, is just a five-minute walk from the center of town and although the clothed part sounds somewhat boring, this is the beach I found myself at most often.
The men are very good-looking and in season towels are laid down with puzzle piece precision packing out every square inch of beach. Beach lounges are available for rent at 6 Euros for the day. The water has a "cock soup" quality and the beach has a compulsive, telenovela feel with clusters of Speedoed men along the shoreline in super-serious conference clusters that seem intent on solving national debt.