With miles of golden sand, great food, big city sights and a theme park to rival the best America has to offer why travel any further?
Once a haven for savage pirates, visitors to Salou on Spain’s Costa Daurada, today are rarely armed with anything more dangerous than a bottle of factor eight. Together with the neighbouring Cambrils and La Pineda the area is blessed with miles of sandy beaches that shelve gently into the gold flecked Mediterranean.
Naturally the beauty of Salou’s beaches means they get pretty crowded, so take a walk up the coast towards Cambrils. The further you go, the thinner the crowd, making it easier to get a cabana (€22 with four sunbeds) near a beach bar. Follow your nose, some beach bars put out free snacks like garlic mussels to stimulate the thirst.
For a more substantial meal we found La Barca (C/Andromeda N.I (Vilafortuny) Cambrils, tel: 977 381576). Open to the Mediterranean breeze, this was the best tapas and seafood restaurant we sampled. Specialities include; bread with Romescu sauce, razor clams and chipirones (deep fried baby squid) Expect to pay between €3 and €11 per dish.
But there is more to Salou than beach. Firm favourite with our youngest traveller was Portaventura (Av.Alcalde Pere Molas, Salou, www.portaventura.co.uk ). The theme park has five zones: Mediterranean, Polynesia, Imperial China, Wild West and Mexico, packed with thrilling rides and shows. There are also appropriately themed food outlets (hamburger €5), but think carefully about eating before pelting around Dragon Khan’s eight inverted loops at 110 kph!
We bought our tickets from Portaventura’s website before leaving the UK. A two week pass is £71 per adult and £57 per child, a considerable saving on day tickets at the gate and you can dip in and out whenever you fancy. Another perk was 50 per cent admission discount to the adjacent Costa Caribe water park (€12 adult, normal admission €24).
I always shop around for excursions on package deals. The local bus company, Bus Plana (www.busplana.com) undercut most package tour operators by up to €20 per person on each trip. We opted to visit Barcelona (€19.70) and the Monastery of Montserrat (€27.90).
Dropped close to Barcelona's Placa de Catalunya, it was only a short walk down La Rambla to Cerveceria Canarias (Placa Reial, Barcelona tel: 933 181024) for tapas. I particularly recommend the Patatas Bomba and the salt cod croquettes (€3 and €7 per dish). La Rambla is famous for its human statues, but the best free show is Mercat de La Boqueria, Barcelona’s massive food market. Boggling at the huge variety of fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood on sale, I wished I had left some room inside.
Barcelona’s Metro is simple to get around (single ticket €1.35), if you fancy visiting Antonio Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia (€12 admission, Metro Sagrada) or the amazing organic architecture of Parc Guell (Metro Vallcarca or Lessups). Watch your valuables though, Barca's Metro pickpockets are the SAS of thieves.
A scenic railway (ticket included in excursion) takes you 725 metres up to the monastery at Montserrat, Catalonia’s most important religious site. Legend has it the Benedictines built the magnificent Basilica of the Black Madonna to house the statue of the virgin, found in a local cave in 880AD. Be prepared for a long wait if you want a close up view of the virgin, there will be a long queue of pilgrims eager to touch her likeness.
Works by El Greco, Picasso and Dali can be seen in the monastery museum and like the samples of the Benedictine distilled liquors, entrance is included in the excursion price. From the Monastery you can ascend the further 975 metres to Sant Joan by funicular (€7.25 return). At the top an unrivalled view over the Catalan countryside 1236 metres below.
Tripping the light fantastic
After dark Salou bustles. Bars and clubs vie to part you from your Euros with the multitude of shops in the retail precinct. For a cheap night out head for the beach, buy a cone of churros and enjoy the fountains designed by Carles Buigas.
Carnivores will be in their element at the El Toro (Paseo Jaime 1. 24, Salou tel: 977 385415, http://eltorosalou.com/english/indexuk.html) nearby. As you’d expect steaks are the house speciality (around €17) and very good they are too, but my favourite dish was the spicy Picanto pizza (€9.50).
Top for paella was The Orient Express (C/Carles Buigas, no. 22, Salou, tel: 977 381804), we tried both the mixed and Mexican style paellas and were impressed by both the quality of the ingredients and the price (€26.25 for two), even if watching two plasma screens showing different episodes of Spongebob was a little surreal.
We stayed at the Golden Avenida Suites Aparthotel. Our conveniently located duplex apartment had a double bedroom, downstairs and a kitchen/ living area upstairs that slept two more. We also had a big sun terrace overlooking the pool, but best of all each floor had its own bathroom!