A special playground
The Spanish resort of SITGES has evolved from being a wee fishing village to top gay haven via a centre of independent artistic thought, as Tim Abrahams discovers.
itges was nearly Ibiza. you know. Back in the 80s. urbanites from Barcelona started taking the half hour drive south along the coast to party in a resort already known among the gay set for its refitted sense of fun. A nightclub called Pacha opened and thrived. ()ther likely lads put in planning applications for clubs. The town council
realised that it could either cash in or preserve the integrity of
its fishing village made good. The inhabitants could shake down thousands of cash-happy Brits every summer but watch their town get trashed in the process. ()ddly. the council turned down the planning applications for clubs and stuck with bars. Pacha and others sailed east to Ibiza and Sitges retained its sanity.
Not that you would think of the town as being particularly restrained if you were to walk down Bonaventura during camival week or in the height of summer. Locally it‘s known as Sin Street. At I Iprn the tables in front of Parrot will begin to fill up with Brits who haven't quite believed it when they‘ve been told that the party doesn‘t start until well after midnight. At lam the dance floor of a bar like Bourbon's will begin to fill. Pacha won't even get going until 3am and it won‘t be until about 4am when revellers start leaving for Trailer’s foam parties at the Atlantida resort where they will dance until dawn before piling back into their cars or cabs. A short drive past high white walls that hide modernist villas and they are back in town for breakfast by the sea.
Every big city needs a release valve. London has Brighton. In the late 60s. London‘s youth escaped the oppressive atmosphere of a city still pockmarked by the blitz to relax. party and occasionally scrap along the pebbled beach of
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Brighton. In the 80s. a persecuted minority found some kind of haven amidst the Victoriana and the high rises of Iingland‘s south coast. And there is something of Brighton about .‘Sitges. It's not just the fact that it also has an international reputation as a gay resort but. like Brighton. everyone seems to be a DJ or a club worker. In both places. drifting along and having lots of fun is not frowned upon but applauded; there is something positive about its attitude. The sea shines at the bottom of narrow streets lined with bars and trinket shops. Some people see the ocean and the pretty little town church
on the promontory and feel like they're in the South of
France. The real estate here is more expensive than in any other part of Spain. of course. but the marina and the expensive hotels above the more northerly Sebastia and Balmins beaches are small.
There is a Sitges Film Festival. which seems to have found its home in November after being shifted around a bit. Although the nationalist government of Catalonia tried to turn the festival into a celebration of indigenous culture. it is now back to being what it always was — a celebration of horror and sci—Ii. It's a relatively low-key. oddball affair with sci-Ii geeks in black wandering aimlesst around the empty. blanched art deco villas. In 2002 its total audience was only I5().()()() and its budget a mere 2.65m euros. Cannes. mercifully. it ain‘t.
Sitges is a playground. Yet unlike other famous seaside towns. it is not the exclusive preserve of the idle rich. the eurotrash or even the clubbers. It‘s the kind of place where ageing gay couples come to stroll along the prom. simply enjoying the fact that they can walk around holding hands without fear of being stared at or stomped on. It‘s a family
It could be the South of France, it might even be Brighton; but it’s not, it’s Sitges!