Costa Dorada holidays are great at multi-tasking – you’ve got La Pineda’s Blue Flag beach, Salou sorts the bars and clubs and PortAventura deals out the rip-roaring rides.
Bucket and spade territory
This stretch of Spain’s coast does things by the family-friendly book. And it’s a great read. The three biggest resorts sit in a triangle on a chunk of headland – you’ve got La Pineda and Salou by the sea and Spain’s biggest theme park, PortAventura, filling what’s in between. Plus, city slickers Barcelona and Tarragona are easy to reach.
You’re not short of tanning options in Salou. There are two sandy beaches to flop out on. One of them’s a real beefcake – its golden sands are sprinkled all the way to the fishing village of Cambrils. And there’s a decent supply of loungers and watersports. On the flipside, nearby Cap de Salou is the sunbed-clear cove type.
Beachy La Pineda
La Pineda didn’t miss the golden beaches memo. It delivers a sizeable stretch with Blue Flag backing. And there’s more watery action in the form of Aquopolis waterpark. Plus, right behind the slides, you can party ‘til the early hours at top nightclub Pacha.
Beaches aren’t the only thing the Costa Dorada takes seriously – it serves up adrenaline in big portions, too. PortAventura takes over 300 acres of it. It’s a theme park-cum-mega resort, with restaurants, live shows and themed hotels. The guys behind Virginia’s Busch Gardens also helped design the rides. And it’s managed to nab the crown for Europe’s fastest rollercoaster.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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As Spanish seaside resorts go, La Pineda floats somewhere in the middle when it comes to size. The same can’t be said for its beach, though, which dominates the waterfront for more than a mile and a half. A sprinkling of hotels are buddied up with the golden sands, which the Blue Flag experts reckon are worthy of two separate seals of approval. When sunbathing time’s done and dusted, traditional Spanish restaurants and friendly bars take the reins.
PortAventura started out as a theme park back in 1995. These days, that word doesn’t do it justice. PortAventura World’s like a one-stop-shop for all things entertainment, with two theme parks, a waterpark, five hotels and a stack of food joints. This place is so big, it’s even got its own train station, which’ll zip you to Barcelona and nearby Salou.
Salou sits proudly on Spain’s Golden Coast, AKA the Costa Dorada. And it’s got good reason to be chuffed. This bustling resort is packed to the rafters with golden, sandy beaches. Plus, it’s snuggled in between Cambrils and La Pineda, so you’ve got even more beaches on tap. The mega-theme park and waterpark on the edge of town give it the nod from adrenaline junkies, too.
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