Spain’s aptly-named Golden Coast is famous for its beaches, but they’re only a brief snapshot of holidays to the Costa Dorada.
The Golden Coast
Costa Dorada means ‘Golden Coast’ in Spanish, which is pretty fitting for a coastline that turns out 92 kilometres of caramel-hued sands from one end to the other. Running south from Barcelona, they’re warmed by 300 days of sunshine a year, and laced with every type of resort going.
Salou is a big hit with families, thanks to its Blue Flag beach and seafront fairground. Then you’ve got the quieter resorts of Cambrils and La Pineda. The former is home to a 9-kilometre stretch of white sand, and the latter has a waterpark, where little ones can play with sea lions. The town of Sitges takes a different approach to holidays. Known as the Brighton of Spain, it serves up great nightlife and hosts an annual film festival.
PortAventura, Tarragona and Barcelona
One of the Costa Dorada’s key attractions is PortAventura. Just outside Salou, Spain’s biggest theme park lines up sky-high rollercoasters, water rides and themed ‘worlds’. This part of Spain also puts you within easy reach of two of the country’s big cities. There’s Tarragona, with its impressive Roman ruins, and Barcelona, where Gaudi’s wacky architecture tops the bill.
The countryside here is ripe for exploring. Its mountains and green hills are home to must-sees like the Monastery of Montserrat, and the birdwatchers’ paradise of Ebre Delta – one of Europe’s best wetland reserves.
Things to See and Do in Costa Dorada
The Golden Coast
The Costa Dorada’s beaches are what originally put the region on the map, and they’re still the main draw for tourists today. The coastline here unravels for 150 miles, stretching from 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 huge sweep of golden sand is one of the most popular in the region. It’s clinched Blue Flag status thanks to its clear, shallow waters and, behind the sands, restaurants and cafés huddle along a palm-dotted promenade. Little ones will love the fairground that’s tucked at one end. Visit in the morning, as the queues get bigger as the day goes on.
The secret beach
You can catch a bus to Cap Salou from Salou or La Pineda – the journey only takes around 10 minutes. When you arrive, though, you’ll feel like you’re miles from anywhere. This small, sandy cove is tucked behind a headland and cradled by pine-cloaked cliffs. What’s more, because there aren’t any beach bars or cafés here, it’s completely devoid of the crowds you’ll find further along the coast.
Barcelona gives Paris and Milan a run for their money in the blow-the-budget stakes. For the glossiest stores, wander along the Plaça Catalunya or Avenue Diagonal – you’ll find top-end names like Chanel, Versace and Cartier. If you don’t fancy the journey up to Barcelona, Tarragona’s main street, La Rambla Nova, is packed with exclusive Spanish fashion boutiques.
The massive Parc Central shopping mall, on the edge of Tarragona, is full of stores selling clothes, toys and books. Reus is another good option for shopping. Make a beeline for El Tomb de Reus quarter, in the centre of town, and you’ll stumble upon funky clothes shops and cute coffee houses. You’ll spot some names you recognise, too, like Mango and Bershka.
Come to Salou on a Monday, and its main square, Plaza de Europa, fills up with stalls selling everything from feathered dream catchers to bottles of olive oil. You can hunt for similar bargains in the La Pineda Market on a Friday. Foodies, meanwhile, should schedule in some time in Cambrils. Market day is on a Wednesday, and you can get your hands on the likes of fresh fruit and just-plucked crabs.
In Cambrils, evenings begin in the cosy tapas bars on the seafront promenade, and end in the chiringuito bars around the marina. Tarragona has the same kind of philosophy when it comes to nights out. Romantic dinners by the yachts in the port are usually followed by live music and martinis in the bars that line the water’s edge.
Salou leads the way as far as happy hours and neon lights are concerned. Its main street is packed with British-style pubs, karaoke bars and fancy dress discos. La Pineda is lots of fun, too. A long strip of dance bars and late-night cafés runs parallel to the beach, and for hard-core clubbers there’s the world-renowned Pacha nightclub.
This juicy seafood stew is a real classic. The seafood used can differ from restaurant to restaurant, but mussels and shrimp are more than likely to feature. The stew is flavoured with saffron and almonds, and is sometimes served as a soup.
Fuet is a long, thin Catalonian sausage made from pork meat. The sausage is cured and dried by hanging it on ropes or strings for more than two months. Taste-wise, it’s a bit like salami, and it’s often used in casseroles and soups. You can also eat it on its own, or as part of a tapas board.
Crema catalana looks and tastes a lot like crème brulee. In fact, many locals claim the Catalan version is actually the original. Wherever it came from, this melt-in-the-mouth pudding is a must-try while you’re here. It’s sweet and creamy and comes with lashings of cinnamon.
These beefy, garlicky sausages are most commonly eaten in a dish known as ‘botifarra amb mongetes’, in which the meat is mashed up with sweet white beans. ‘Escudella i carn d'olla’ is another popular meal. In this one, the sausage is sliced and added to boiled vegetables.
The Torres family have been making wine in the vineyards of Salou for more than 300 years, and their bottles appear on menus up and down the region. For a budget-friendly option, try the fruity, red Sangre de Toro, or for a more expensive choice, go for the award-winning Mas Las Plana.
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The Spanish have been flocking to La Pineda on the Costa Dorada for their holidays since the Fifties, and now the international set is discovering its charms. A vast stretch of golden sand is the town’s biggest draw, with the high-octane Aquapolis waterpark coming a close second. As for tempo, La Pineda is still fairly quiet compared to its lively neighbour Salou, though it’s more vibrant than its little sister village of Cambrils.
Three million visitors flock to PortAventura, on the Costa Dorada, each year. The giant theme park – the most popular in Spain – is what brings most of them, but the town also boasts an expansive sandy beach, and lively bars and restaurants. For more excitement, Salou is just 5 minutes’ drive away and Barcelona an hour on the train.
If entertainment is what you want from your holiday, Salou has it in spades. Set on Spain’s Costa Dorada, it’s got Europe’s biggest theme park on the doorstep and a waterpark just up the road. The place also sets a lively pace at night, with a big choice of bars and clubs. There’s plenty of relaxation to be had, too, though, on the town’s golden beaches.