Seaside slopes in Spain ablaze with a garden

"You really should visit that botanical garden at Blanes," urged the two British travelers at the small Spanish railroad station where we were waiting for the Barcelona train.

Their endorsement was not misplaced, as we were to discover later when we made our first visit to El Jardin Botanico, on the Costa Brava at Blanes (pronounced Blahnish.)

Blanes is about an hour by train or bus north of Barcelona, or 15 minutes by bus south from Lloret de Mar. It is one of the most ancient as well as most modern towns of the entire Costa Brava.

The botanical garden, called "Mar y Murta" (sea and myrtle), was the life project of Carl Faust, who as a young German immigrant to Spain became a successful businessman in Barcelona. He started his garden, whose glory is its splendid location along the seaside slopes of the San Juan Mountains, in 1921.

"Mar y Murta" does not follow any exact or studied plan, but was begun and continued, bit by bit, according to the developer's time and means. Even now, only one-quarter of the large estate has been developed. The rest is still in its indigenous state and is typical of lush coastal Catalonia.

To get up to it, one can either take a city bus in Blanes, starting out from the promenade along the sea, or drive by private car up the hill leading to the Faust villa.

This is now the office of the Faust Foundation, a volunteer organization that has carried on the development since the founder's passing in 1952.

After paying a small entrance fee at the gate, the visitor receives a printed plan of the garden which invites him to follow the outlined route. But even if one gets irresistibly sidetracked by the far-reaching views along the cliffs, as we did, or makes detours to peer down into the aquamarine water with its sparkling sands and rock formations, it is easy to return to the trail.

At "Mar y Murta" there are more than 3,000 species of shrubs, flowers, and trees from all over the world. For devotees of the pleasure of gardens, it is an endless delight to wander around the masses of blooming plants, exotic palms, eucalyptus, acacias, olives, cork oaks, cypress, maritime pines, succulents, and aloes.

As one stands on the terraces overlooking the sea -- especially the one dedicated as a "Temple of Linnaeus," honoring the great Swedish botanist -- one can look back to the ruins of an old castle or to the old Capuchin monastery across the bay on another promontory.

While not so well known as the famed gardens of the Alhambra or the Generalife, the Blanes site is a fascinating example of t he Spanish flair for gardens and flowers.

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