Enjoy sun, sand, and silliness in Catalonia
Sandy beaches, superb local food, and Europe’s second biggest amusement park are among the calling cards of the Costa Dorada.
Towering 78 metres over Port Aventura, Shambhala Expedition is the highest rollercoaster in Europe.
The rollercoaster climbs skyward so slowly it feels like torture. When we reach the top – roughly the height of a 20-storey building – my heart starts racing. The track looks so steep that for an instant it feels like we’re about to free-fall into a void. Then we plunge down.
The next minute is a blur of screams and stomach-turning curves. When the ride is over, the passengers step out with broad smiles on their faces: Let’s go again!
Shambhala Expedition, the highest rollercoaster in Europe, is found in PortAventura theme park in Catalonia, Spain. In addition to hair-raising rides, the park offers attractions for the whole family: colourful performances and theme areas like a Wild West town.
PortAventura is only a stone’s throw from Salou, a popular beach resort blessed with miles of fine sand. Other attractions on the Costa Dorada (Golden Coast in English) include historic towns like Tarragona, hiking and biking on mountain trails, and, of course, a belt-loosening gastronomic experience. With 95 per cent of Cava sparkling wine produced in Catalonia, a wine tour is a great way to sample local delicacies. Or, for a more exotic experience, there’s also dry-cured ham and olive oil tastings.
Olive oil tasting at Cooperativa Cambrils is just like wine tasting – with a few small differences. You warm the glass with your hands before sipping the oil, and the glasses are dark blue: the colour of the oil is irrelevant – only the taste matters.
Cooperativa’s flagship oil, Mestral Extra Virgin, is used in many Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain. But Mestral is just one of many local flavours in Cambrils. The little town has over 200 restaurants (two with Michelin stars) and is famous for its home-made ice creams.
With the tourist season taking off in April, Salou’s main beach – the Platja de Llevant – offers plenty of room for a beach volley game. If volleyball or water sports like jet-ski and windsurfing don’t get your blood pumping, try hiking, rock climbing, and kayak trips in the nearby mountains around tiny Siurana village.
Salou is a convenient holiday destination for the whole family: the long, shallow beaches are safe for children, the palm tree promenade is perfect for leisurely bike trips, and the theme park and water park are only a couple of kilometres away.
Atmospheric alleys, great nightlife, and a long beach next to the historic centre make Sitges one of the Costa Dorada’s top destinations. Only a 30-minute train ride from Barcelona, it makes an ideal base for day trips to visit the world-famous museums and shopping malls of Catalonia’s capital.
Text and photos Ville Palonen