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90km (56 miles) N of Barcelona, 12km (7 1/2 miles) NE of Lloret de Mar

The gleaming white town of Tossa de Mar, with its 12th-century walls, labyrinthine Old Quarter, fishing boats, and fairly good sand beaches, is perhaps the most attractive base for a Costa Brava vacation. It seems to have more joie de vivre than its competitors.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Tossa survived as a port center, growing rich on the cork industry. But that declined in the 20th century, and many of its citizens emigrated to America. In the 1950s, thanks in part to the Ava Gardner movie Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, tourists began to discover the charms of Tossa, and a new industry was born.

To experience these charms, walk through the 12th-century walled town, known as Vila Vella, built on the site of a Roman villa from the 1st century A.D. Enter through the Torre de les Hores.

Tossa was once a secret haunt for artists and writers -- Marc Chagall called it a "blue paradise." It has two main beaches, Mar Gran and La Bauma. The coast near Tossa, north and south, offers even more possibilities.

One of the few resorts that have withstood exploitation and retain most of their allure, Tossa enjoys a broad base of international visitors -- so many that in summer it's next to impossible to find a room unless reservations are made far in advance.