Holidays to the Costa Dorada hit the spot thanks to long golden beaches, a theme park on the doorstep, and Barcelona just up the road.
The Golden Coast
Translated, Costa Dorada means ‘Golden Coast’, so it’s no surprise beaches are big news in these parts. In fact, the Costa Dorada has around 240 kilometres’ worth of sandy sweeps. In amongst it all, you’ve got Salou and La Pineda.
Salou is the undisputed holiday giant. It comes with a long beach, a palm-lined prom and a restaurant scene that does everything from Sunday roasts to paella. Throw in a good handful of clubs and bars and that’s pretty much Salou summed up.
La Pineda’s beach
For something more low-key, head up the coast to La Pineda, where shallow waters and a wide strip of flat sand really pull in the families. It’s all backed up by a long parade of shops, tapas bars and bistros. The real ace in the pack, though, is the Aquopolis waterpark. As well as getting soaked on the rides, you can take in a show at the dolphinarium.
Waterparks and Roman ruins
If you prefer to get your kicks out of the water, though, Spain’s biggest theme park is more or less on the doorstep. PortAventura Park is more like a mini town, with hotels, restaurants, and even three golf courses lining up alongside the white-knuckle rides. And as for other places to visit, Tarragona and – a bit further afield – Barcelona, are both within daytripping distance.
Things to See and Do in Costa Dorada
Spain’s Gold Coast
People flock to the Costa Dorada to simply relax on its sands. And it's hardly surprising. Costa Dorada means ‘Gold Coast’, and the conveyor belt of sand here spans 150 miles or so, broken up by cliffs and little coves. The whole stretch runs from the Ebro Delta in the south, past Cambrils, Salou and La Pineda, right the way up to Sitges and Barcelona in the north.
The big beach
Salou’s long sweep is by far and away the most popular beach on the Costa Dorada. It’s a Blue Flag winner and comes with safe, shallow waters. Families love it and, in the height of summer, it’s packed with holidaymakers. The whole stretch is backed by a palm-lined prom and offers up plenty of facilities – sunbeds, showers, watersports, ice-cream kiosks, even a fairground at one end.
The secret beach
If you want to sidestep the masses, head to Cap Salou. This rocky headland is a far cry from its busier namesake neighbour. What you get here is a coastline scalloped with hideaway coves and backed by pine-covered cliffs. And, despite Cap Salou’s miles-from-anywhere feel, it’s actually only a 10-minute bus ride from Salou and La Pineda.
Serious shoppers should take a trip to the ancient Roman city of Tarragona. The streets that spin off the main boulevard, La Rambla Nova, are lined with posh Spanish boutiques. If you really want to go all out, though, Barcelona’s the place to be. Five-kilometre-long La Ramblas is a shopping Mecca and home to big boys like Versace, Armani and Cartier.
If you like to shop off-piste, Cambrils will be your kind of place. It’s full of independent boutiques selling everything from handmade chocs to smart heels. Make your way to the old town and the port for the biggest selection. In Salou, meanwhile, the old town has some traditional shops selling things like flamenco dolls and pots and plates in a rainbow’s worth of colours.
Monday is market day in Salou. Head to Plaza de Europa, the main square, and Plaça de a Segregació for stalls selling everything from bottles of olive oil to bargain bikinis. In Cambrils, around a 15-minute drive away, the Wednesday market is foodie heaven, with juicy oranges and spicy sausages among the spoils. And in La Pineda, the Friday market in the town centre has stalls piled up with things like cut-price leather bags and rainbow-bright sarongs.
In La Pineda, head for the prom, where a handful of tapas bars serve up perfect patatas bravas to the soundtrack of the sea. Or drive 20 minutes to Cambrils. It’s an old fishing town, so the seafood paellas here will have you licking your plate clean. You’ll find the best around the port and the old town. For an evening with a little more spark, don’t miss PortAventura’s nightly firework display.
Salou is one of Spain’s top party towns. Head to Calle Carlas Buigas – also known as Slammers – for British-style pubs and dusk-til-dawn clubs. Not to be outdone, La Pineda’s strip is packed with bars. The ace in its pack, though, is Pacha on Plaça Canço Catalana. For the ultimate all-nighter, Barcelona’s the one to beat – try Barri Gotic, lively El Born near the centre, or sophisticated Port Olimpic.
Spaniards reckon this beats Italian bruschetta hands down. Hunks of toasted bread are rubbed first with a clove of garlic and then with the inside of a ripe tomato, giving them just the right amount of flavour. A glug of olive oil – and perhaps a paper-thin slice of Serrano ham – and it’s good to go.
Paella is as Spanish as Julio Iglesias, and it’s been a hit with tourists for years. The risotto-like mix of rice and saffron is traditionally cooked over an open fire and eaten straight out of the pan. Seafood and chicken top the popularity charts, but the rabbit version is pretty tasty, too.
This dish was first made in the Sixties, so it’s more of a retro classic than a traditional number. It’s cooked in a paella pan, but uses toasted noodles instead of rice. They’re thrown into simmering fish stock along with prawns, squid and clams. You’ll often find it with a dollop of garlicky aioli on the side.
Scan the menu in any Costa Doradan restaurant and you’ll see a bottle or 3 of Torres wine. The family has been making wine just up the coast for 300 years, and have vineyards just inland of Salou. Try the budget-friendly Sangre de Toro – a fruity red – or splash out on award-winning Mas La Plana.
Nothing says summer in Spain like a hefty jug of sangria. Bartenders on every street argue over who mixes the tastiest. They usually make it with red wine and orange juice, plus some unsweetened lemonade to give it a tang. As with Pimms cocktails, chopped apple, orange and mint sprigs are thrown in, too.
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La Pineda sits pretty at the top of a trio of holiday resorts on the Costa Dorada – Spain’s ‘Golden Coast’. It’s calmer than Salou, its big sister town to the south, but livelier than Cambrils, a sleepy fishing village and the smallest of the 3. The Spanish have been holidaying in La Pineda since the Fifties. Over the last couple of decades, the rest of the world has got in on the act, lured in by the sandy beaches and family-friendly feel.
Set on Spain’s Costa Dorada, PortAventura isn’t so much a resort as a whopping great big theme park with hotels on the side. The place pulls in over 3 million visitors a year and it’s easy to see why. You’ve got a one-stop holiday here, with loads of white-knuckle rides, a waterpark and all-you-can-fit-in family entertainment.
As resorts go, Salou hasn’t really put a foot wrong. Set on Spain’s Costa Dorada between Cambrils and La Pineda, it’s the liveliest of the trio with a full-on nightlife and plenty of eating places. It’s cleverly got Europe’s biggest theme park right on its doorstep, too. But it’s the golden-sand beach that really sets this resort up for success.
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