Everyone dreams of being able to work from an exotic sunny beach but Adrian Gurlea (39) and Anda Runtag (38) have made dream a reality, operating what is probably the most relaxing haven on the entire Black Sea coast.
Opened four years ago, ‘Plaja de Carte’ (Beach of Books) or ‘Biblioteca’ as its also known is an attractive 4,000 square meter area of soft sand lying at the edge of Romania’s quaint Vama Veche village. It offers an upmarket clientele soothing music, free rental of multi-lingual books, a highly-skilled onsite massage therapist, movie nights, creative cocktails and coffees, and much more.
Employing eleven people, this fine beach location operates from June to September and caters for thousands of satisfied customers who rent lounge chairs or large canopies and enjoy innovative drinks ranging from a thirst-quenching chilled blend of espresso and pure grapefruit juice, refreshing Aperol spritzer with basil and even tasty ‘choccofrappes’ for children. Sunbathing can be either in swimsuits or in the ‘clothes’ of Mother Nature.
Experienced advertising executives, Adrian and Anda met nine years ago at the ‘El Comandante‘ club in their native Bucharest, set up their own ad agency called ‘JCK’ in 2009 and, while visiting a second ‘El Comandante’ club in another Black Sea resort called Navodari, decided they’d like to open their own beach location.
“We had been coming to Vama Veche since we were teenagers as it was a well-known seaside retreat for artists of all kinds, even under Communism,” explained a slim, well-tanned, bearded Adrian, who could easily be mistaken for one of the early ’60 hippy pioneers in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco or Venice Beach.
Vama Veche – barely one kilometer from the Bulgarian border – boasts a vibrant atmosphere, hosting a national folk music festival and ‘Vama Sub Lumini de Oscar,’ a multi-faceted international festival focusing on photography, theater and documentary film-making.
Having won a ten-year auction to lease the beach space from the national authority, Adrian and Anda started operations. “The beginning wasn’t easy,” recalls Anda. “Shortly after we launched that first year with our collection of books inside a big marquee tent, a huge wind came and blew everything down, including other tents as we were only a camping site then. After setting up again, a heavy rainstorm then hit. With the help of friends and acquaintances we finally managed to fix everything again.”
From modest beginnings – they didn’t sell alcohol initially, offering only coffees, teas, water and sweet syrup drinks – the determined duo have expanded their services, much to the delight of their multinational clients.
“We have a library stock of several thousand books in many languages including Romanian, English, Polish, French, German and Greek,” said Anda, who takes care of accounting and administration duties. “Books from every major publisher in Romania are here. I think we may be the only beach library in Europe.”
One glance along the bookshelves in the cozy library room facing the sea indicates the rich diversity. Classics such as ‘Sons and Lovers’ by D.H. Lawrence and ‘Roby Roy’ by Sir Walter Scott sit on shelves alongside more popular ones as ‘The Vampire Diaries’ by L. J. Smith, and even ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ by Jean Dominque Bauby. There are also many non-fiction books on subjects as varied as travel and philosophy.
‘Plaja de Carte’ offers 120 sunbeds and Anda and Adrian describe their clients as high and mid educated. “Initially, our goal was to cater to young executive women and that’s why we designed the cocktail menu the way we did,” said Anda with a knowing smiling. “If such women are here, the men will come too.”
The clientele now ranges greatly, in both age and background. “We have lawyers, doctors, dentists, artists of all kinds,” said Adrian. “We have people from countries as varied as Australia, France and Ireland. We have families with infants and young children and retired men and women in their ‘60s, ‘70s and even ‘80s. There’s a wonderful mix of people here.”
Reflecting that diversity, clients this season included a linguistics teacher from the Sorbonne in Paris, a prison officer from Dublin, a surgeon from Brussels and a soccer coach from Sydney.
Always ready to add new services for clients, two years ago they were delighted to have a massage therapist set up in ‘Plaja de Carte.’ Ina (27), from Raduti in the region of Bucovina, the northern part of Romania, studied journalism before moving to London to the School of Sports Massage. She then worked as a massage therapist in the English capital as well as in the Transylvanian city of Cluj. “Adrian and Anda are terrific people, they’ve created such an amazing place here, so positive, relaxing and laid back. It’s a pleasure to get to know them as friends and to meet such interesting people throughout the summer.”
Adrian says his aim is “to re-create the artistic spirit of Vama Veche.” “No loud music tearing out your eardrums as in other places but a relaxed atmosphere with soft music, drinks at reasonable prices and interesting reading material. I’m happy when I look around and see my customers content and enjoying themselves, alone or with friends.”
The friendly couple is also very environmentally conscious, placing plentiful wicker waste baskets along the beach for client use.
While running any business poses its own challenges, Anda is also content. “I feel this is an arts project and that appeals to me as a visual artist. The concept of ‘Plaja de Carte’ is a satisfying one.”
So enticing is the atmosphere at ‘Plaja de Carte,’ passionate romance has often blossomed there, culminating in the first marriage ceremony to be performed right on the beach next month.
“We are delighted about that, and look forward to many more,” said Adrian with obvious pride.