It's the end of the 50-year holiday romance. Decades of over-development have led to some of Spain's most popular resorts falling from favour with British tourists. Yet it was the Costa Brava which first sparked our enthusiasm for taking trips abroad.
By Megan Lane
BBC News Online Magazine
The Costa Brava of 50 years ago sounds just the ticket for today's holidaymaker, who seeks sun, sand, sea and seclusion on an seemingly undiscovered beach.
The first package tour touched down in 1954, when the Catalan coast was populated not by high-rise hotels but clusters of quaint fishing villages.
"That first trip was to a village with half-a-dozen tiny hotels, a couple of bars, no banks and a storekeeper who had the sole concession to change traveller's cheques - and two beautiful beaches," says Roger Bray, the co-author of Flight to the Sun, a history of package tourism.
The Catalans - who Mr Bray describes as "perhaps the most entrepreneurial people in Spain" - quickly cottoned on to this potential goldmine, and set about developing resorts to cater for the tastes of sun-starved Brits. The Germans, too, began to flock south for the summer.
This opened up Spain as a destination to the first generation of holidaymakers regularly travelling abroad; Mallorca, the Canaries and the Costa del Sol soon followed suit. Torremolinos - immortalised in an unflattering Monty Python sketch - was among the earliest to cash in.
Today it is one of many striving to shake off the image of a cheap-as-chips concrete jungle - some, such as the Balearic island of Mallorca, with more success than others.
Glamour of abroad
While a two-week package holiday in the 1950s cost £35-a-person in high season - one-fifth of the average annual salary - once there, tourists would have spent very little.
"It was terribly cheap - you could eat for practically nothing and drink for practically nothing," says Mr Bray, who made his first visit to the region in the early 1960s.
Sun, sea, sand - and crowds
"And at time, Britons were going to stay in hotels much more palatial than their own homes - even the jerry-built ones seemed luxurious in an era when many people still had outside toilets."
His own holiday was spent in Calella de la Costa, a long-time favourite with holidaymakers.
"There was not much there - the huge boom in development came in the late 1960s. It had one so-called nightclub. Booze was cheap, and a very high proportion of holidaymakers got the squits because they weren't used to Spanish food."
He passed his days with excursions to see a bull fight - which wasn't un-PC in those days - and the sights of Barcelona. And, of course, hours spent baking in hot Spanish sunshine.
"That is one legacy of the Costa Brava - the birth of the British lobster. We didn't know about protecting ourselves from UV radiation."
Adios to all that?
Keith Betton, of the Association of British Travel Agents, says that during the 1960s and 70s, it was the norm for families to holiday in the UK.
"Then the idea of travel abroad was outrageous. I remember one boy's family went to Spain. I asked my mum if we could go, and she said: 'Oh no, it's rather common. They're just trying to show off.'"
But as disposable incomes went up and charter flights and discount packages kept costs down, mass tourism abroad came of age. By the late 1970s, some 2.5 million Britons went on package holidays a year; that had swelled to 10m by 1986.
End of an era
What early tour companies also did was set the standard for how trips abroad are marketed.
"It was all done by brochure, which even today is quite hard to get away from," Mr Betton says. "People still like to flick through glossy pages, despite the advent of the internet and no matter how much CD-Rom technology you throw at it."
What did change was how these brochures tried to tempt holidaymakers, says Mr Bray. In the 1950s, one might find an artist's impression of the resort or pictures of women in modest swimsuits, with simple taglines such as Gorgeous Costa Brava.
Europe is still the prime destination
"The 1960s were the first time that sex was used to in travel ads. That's when brochures started to put models in bikinis on the cover."
Today, with bookings down almost a quarter on the same time last year, tour company First Choice has dropped the region from its summer brochure.
Other tour operators have expressed doubts about the region, among them Club 18-30, which began in 1965 when it took 580 fun-seekers to the Costa Brava. The company - which has a reputation for encouraging drinking and bawdiness among its clientele - has now pulled out of Lloret de Mar and Benidorm on the grounds that the resorts are not "sophisticated" enough.
But with Spain still the UK's favourite overseas destination, it seems that Brits just can't forget the Costa Brava and all of that palaver.