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So you're off to sunny Spain. Chances are, you'll be heading for one of the 'costas' - Blanca, Brava or Daurada, for example. We've just come back from Catalunya in the north east of the country, a region that includes Costa Daurada. And it's been quite an eye-opener.
For most people a trip to Spain's Costa Daurada means a week or two soaking up the sun at either of the two main resorts - Salou or Cambrils. These lively, heavily built up towns offer everything you could possibly need if you're looking for sun, sea and sand.
Of the two, I preferred Cambrils because it's quieter and a bit more upmarket with a marina, a wide promenade and some lovely clothes shops. It has a wide selection of harbour side restaurants with set lunches around the 15 euro mark. It's still a working harbour and if you hang around on the dock about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, you'll see small fishing boats coming in with the day's catch. It's fascinating to watch the speed with which the fishermen go through the mess of dead fish on the deck and sort them out into the correct types.
Salou is much more vibrant with wall to wall restaurants, bars and huge apartment blocks. To give you some idea of the difference, set lunches tend to be much cheaper, around the 5 euro mark. It's much more a purely tourist resort.
Both beaches though have gently sloping beaches and a wide variety of water sports.
For the more intrepid though, you can hire a car and see a completely different aspect of this friendly corner of the Mediterranean.
One of the biggest non-beach attractions is Port Aventura, the biggest theme park of its kind with all day rides and shows. We didn't visit, partly because it's not really our thing and partly because of the cost - it is almost 100 euros for a family of four. However, everyone we spoke to recommended it.
Thanks to the Port Aventura development, the area has attracted huge sums for road development. As a result, there is a network of fast and generally clear motorways which mean you can be 20 miles inland in less than half an hour. And unlike other parts of Spain, these motorways are toll free.
So where to go inland? Reus will be known to most visitors to the area because they'll fly into the airport there but it's also of interest because of the large number of modernist architects who have left their stamp on the town. The best known is Antoni Gaudi who was born in Reus and who is the architect behind the flight of fancy which is the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona. Reus is best seen in the morning when it is quite busy and the restaurants are gearing up for lunch; their busiest time of day. It's also of interest for its shops - no huge and anonymous department stores here but lots of individual shops where service is still considered the norm.
Even further inland is the old village of Alcover. The village itself is a place to get a sense of how Spaniards live their lives outside the narrow tourist strips. But if you're feeling more adventurous, head out north in the direction of Hermita del Remei and, when the road runs out, abandon the car and set out on foot for the Font de la Glorieta. It's a beautiful, cool, green walk along a narrow river. If you've thought to bring swimming gear, you'll be able to swim in the clear pools that you'll find en route.
Heading back to the sea, Tarragona, along the coast from Cambrils and Salou, is best known for its amphitheatre. Originally built in 2AD it has a prominent position on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. Entrance is only 3 euros but unless you're really interested in walking where the Romans walked, you can see most of the amphitheatre from a promenade overlooking it. The remains look very odd because there is a church built right in the middle of the old amphitheatre.
I would recommend getting inland even if it's just for a day. If you stay in Salou or Cambrils, you could be in any hot and sunny country. Go inland for just ten miles and you are, recognisably, in Spain.
Me and my best friend paid a two week visit to the Costa Dorada resort in August/September 2007, for a reasonable price although I can't remember the exact figure (you'll have to scout around to find whatever deals you can).
We got our own apartment in the Cap Salou area of the resort, which was a handy place to be as it had a beach which was 10 minutes walk down the road, some good nightlife which was a short bus journey away (and even if it was too late at night for a bus, the taxi fares were very, very generous). Also Barcelona was approximately an hour away by train, or a little longer by bus if you felt like paying a visit to this prestigious city.
Whilst on this holiday I got to experience a range of things. There were lots of activities available at the beaches such as banana boats or jet-skis (which I had always wanted to do), most set of apartments had a bar on the ground floor and it's own swimming pool outside. In terms of night life, there was a tremendous club nearby called Pacha, which was very stylish and had a good interior and you could even hang around outside and still hear the music clearly and have a good time, and we also got to be part of a wild foam party very early on in the morning. (If you do this, my advice would be not to wear black shoes: The foam dyed my socks and feet). There were also a good range of pubs and bars around this area too, or even gay bars if you're looking for any.
All in all I found this holiday to be a brilliant experience and one that I will never forget, it's especially a good place to go if it's your first independent holiday without any parents keeping tabs on you.
A word of advice would be to apply a lot of sunscreen with a very high factor, I took a relatively high factor sunscreen and it still didn't prevent me burning and peeling pretty much all over.
I recommend this quite highly all in all, a good time is guaranteed to be had.
I went to the Costa Dorada the resort of Salou last year and stayed in the Salou Princess on a half board basis. We picked this particular Costa because we heard some good reviews and wanted a bit of a variety of things to do.
The view from our room was fantastic, we were able to see the Port Aventura theme park in the distance of which some of the rides looked terrifying! The stroll to the beach wasnt too far and there was plenty of space on the beach so people weren't sat on top of each other. The beach was parallel to the Jaime 1 promenade which was often nice to stroll along but quite slippery! If you keep walking along here you come to an intersection which takes you right up to the train station where you can get a short train ride to Barcelona. What we didnt realise is that we were standing right on the road which was infact the railway line, so perhaps it would help if you looked out for this. We stumbled upon this amazing ice cream shop, it had every flavour you could imagine! I had pistachio my all time favourite with a large scoop of coffee, it was quite possibly the best ice cream i have ever tasted, expensive but worth it!
During the evening along the beach there are numerous fountains which come to life. They display various formations and colour combinations with one being different to the next. It was very relaxing just sitting there taking in the beauty of the water falling in various ways.
In the corner, off the beach there is a nice little bar called Lunattic which serves generous portions of food right by the beach without getting sandy feet. I was completely spoilt for choice and made a change from eating the same old boring stuff that the hotel had to offer.
We decided to get a water park and Port Aventura three day pass. So on one day we went to the water park which was absolutely packed, full of screaming children! The rides were nothing new but was just nice to relax without having sand flicked everywhere. One thing to mention is the safety of one of the water rides. There is a particular section with rides inside. These were the only ones that we hadn't been on so we thought we might aswell have a go. I went on one and my friend went on the other. It was a massive slide which twisted and turned which required you to launch yourself into a tunnel of darkness. Now Im not one to moan but i was petrified! For starters I was going way too fast and lost all sense of direction. I ended up having water splashed up into my face because of the force and when I came out of the shoot another wave hit me smack in the face and sent me under. Now im pretty good at swimming and im a qualified life guard and that experience wasnt funny. I had swallowed too much water to the extent I was struggling to breathe. I pointed to the life guard to hit me on the back because I couldnt breathe and she responded by blowing her whistle telling me to get out! My friend came down in a right state clutching her head. She could see I was on the floor having problems breathing and immediately took action. After I composed myself she told me what happened. She said she was also going too fast down the slide and ended up going upside down smacking her head whilst coming back down again. She had a huge bump on her head which drew blood. I was a little shocked if anything. We didn't go back on those slides again. So perhaps a word of warning, be careful on the green and white slides at the water park!
The following day we went to Port Aventura. To be honest I wasnt sure what to expect but the thought of not another over priced theme park to waste my money on. It was okay, full of children again. There were so many ques it got quite boring after a while especially in the heat. We made sure we went on everything, although we both refused to go on hurricane condor as we both agreed we wouldnt be able to handle it. There were plenty of water rides for those who dont like rollar coasters so there was definately something for everyone. There were also many shows that you could go and watch; bubble man(or something of the like), an Asian acrobatics show, hawaiin dancing so many things to watch and not enough time. The food in the park was a bit bland for my liking and over priced. I was completely put off when I found a massive hair in my food. I went and told them and they started shouting at me in Spanish. I couldn't be bothered so left them the "hairy" food.
The second day we only went back in the evening because we wanted to see the night show at 12 midnight. This was a nice experience and it was surprising to see so many people. The fireworks over the lake looked amazing!
The hotel we stayed in was okay. Room was cleaned regulary and on one occassion the maid came in at half 6 to find us both asleep! On a few occassions the door didnt shut properly and we often woke up with the door wide open. We found it strange that you couldnt lock the room from the inside. The food in the hotel was okay. Had something for everyone which was nice, but i was getting a bit bored by the amount of chips being served up. But I shouldnt moan there was always several meat dishes available, salads of all varieties and vegetables to accompany. I preferred breakfast because it was nice to have a change every morning, but I must admit the orange juice was rancid!So really for the price we paid I shouldn't moan. We also on one day had a packed lunch instead of an evening meal which meant we could go away for the day and not worry about eating.
With most resorts which are heavily aimed at the English tourists, there were many resturants along the strip with waiters hanging around outside waiting to grab your custom. I found this a little uneasy especially when I was literally grabbed to come into one particular resturant. We were polite and made a swift exit.
One thing I regret with this particular holiday is the fact that we didn't have the opportunity to go to Barcelona or explore the whole area for that fact. I would strongly recommend anyone going here to make the most of the fact that there are so many places to visit in the surrounding areas which are just a short train/bus journey away.
A good family resort, but doesnt have much for families apart from the water park and Port Aventura. I feel it is more suited for people wanting a cheap escape to the sun!
Salour was recommended to us because of the presence of Port Aventura, the only Universal studios theme park in Europe. There are 3 main resorts here including: SALOU A compact and rapidly developing area of high rise hotels, tacky gift shops, English and German bars and a variety of eateries from all corners of the globe, many of which are not open during the day. We travelled in July and it was very busy, not really my idea of a pleasant holiday. I would however recommend the Champions bar to anyone British visiting, particularly if you like general knowledge quizzes, raucous entertainment and karaoke. Champions is situated at the tail end of the main street in Salou near a childrens entertainment area. The DJ is a real headcase and the bar-staff are very friendly, our only regret is we didn't discover it earlier in the holiday. This town NEVER sleeps and I am assured you can drink and party the clock round if this is your want (tried but wasn't easy with two bored 12 years olds in tow). If you like your sleep, look for a hotel out of the town centre as people we met up with assured us it was very rowdy there. The hotel swimming pools are typically very small due to space being at a premium (hence the high rise buildings). LA PINEDA This resort has 3 large hotels and appears to contain primarily spanish residents, it is much quieter and more upmarket than neighbouring Salou. It has a number of shops, restaurants and a nice long promenade for an evening stroll (if you can cope with the constant heat). We didn't take advantage of eating out as we were on a half board basis. We stayed in the Donaire Park Hotel on the edge of La Pineda (separate op). Public buses run 24 hours a day in High Season from La Pineda into Salou at a cost of 680pta (c£3.50) for 2 adults & 2 kids; a taxi costs(usually air-conditioned) 1300ptas (c£5.50) for the return journey if you can't cop
e with the long queues and sweaty bodies on the local bus service. La Pineda also sports Aquopolis a fabulous water park hosting a range of fun rides and swimming pools, including a wave machine, crazy golf, childrens play area, numerous eateries at affordable prices and long queues and also unusually for these places lots of shade (very important to a skin cancer sufferer). OPENING HOURS 10am - 7pm daily in Summer Cost - Full day: 2,150 pesetas - adults 1,750 pesetas - children Under 3's free. NB: IF YOU HAVE AN AA CARD SHOW IT - YOU GET A DISCOUNT of 350 PESETAS EACH. (The holiday reps fail to mention this when trying to sell you tickets) Cost - half day (entry after 3pm): 1750 pesetas for adults and 1300 for kids (not sure if discount applies to these charges). Ladies - Make sure you wear a one-piece costume for this visit, or as our rep kindly put it, after trying out the Kamikaze, you will end up wearing "....a thong and ear muffs...". Being a coward I avoided this ride, and tried out the misleadingly gentle looking 6 lane blue slide and despite my best efforts en-route ended up lying on my stomach with the front of my bather round my waist as I hit the water - don't say you haven't been warned. Aquopolis has a large car and coach park and is in easy walking distance of all the hotels in La Pineda. CAMBRILS Apparently a little fishing village although we never actually got around to visiting, sorry. ================== Costa Dorada is undergoing massive development at the present time and therefore there is a LOT of building work around. THE REAL REASONS FOR VISITING PORT AVENTURA (the only Universal Studios theme park in Europe), full of 'wet and wild' rides many not for the faint-hearted (will cover this under a separate op). The park is open 10am to Midnight d
aily in high season, but only Thursday to Sunday the rest of the year (hours unknown). Anyone who enjoys theme parks will enjoy Port Aventura providing you don't mind queuing, a lot of exposure to sunlight (pack lots of high factor sun-protection), and getting a little (No I jest a lot) wet on some of the absolutely brilliant water rides - although you will dry off quickly, a clean T-Shirt might be an option as you can get to look very dirty very quickly. BARCELONA Situated on the Costa Brava, this beautiful city is only about 100km's from Salou and well worth a visit, sadly we only had time to spend a day there (hopefully the other half will take me there without the kids), If you only have limited time there and are a footie fan then a visit to 'Nou Camp', Barcelona football stadium is a must. 'Nou Camp' is currently the 2nd largest football stadium in the world (125,000 seater), and will soon be the largest if planning permission for an additional 33,000 seats is granted. 'Nou Camp' also has a museum of the history of the club, including all the silverware, and a club-shop containing souvenieurs of the club you couldn't even begin to imagine, prices are in the main very reasonable, and you will pay less for a genuine FCB shirt here than I can get one for my local 3rd division team. Cost for a wander around specified areas of the site and access to the ground and museum is about £4pp, £8 if you opt for the official tour as well. La Ramblas A long avenue surrounded by shops (including M&S at the moment), hotels and market stalls, human statues with lots of side walks with stores and cafes and prominent reminders of how the town used to be. ===================== GETTING TO BARCELONA If driving to Barcelona from Costa Dorada and use the motorways, you will incur hefty tolls at several passing points which hike up your costs by around £25 for a
return journey. Also, if driving, you would be well advised to park your car around the outskirts of the town (driving & parking in Barcelona is not fun) at one of the many metro stations, which gives free parking, and cost of travel on the metro is 33p per journey within a single zone (this stretches from Moli Nou on one side of the town to the football stadium on the other). The automated system is slightly complicated, but for example, you can buy a ticket for 10 journeys, and say there are four of you, you run the ticket through the machine 4 times, with one member of the group entering the turnstiles with each processing (lucky my other half speaks spanish or we would have been stuffed as spoken english on the outskirts is not brilliant). In reality you need more than a day to 'do Barcelona justice' (I am currently working on this one). SCENERY Being an avid lover of my experiences in Spain, I was very disappointed at the lack of picteresque scenery as I naively did not realise that the area was so highly industrialised and nowhere near as quaint as its Balearic counterparts. The view from out hotel was not dissimilar to that from looking out from Mumbles head across to the industry in Port Talbot and beyond. The beaches were narrow, long and very very busy with both locals and holidays makers, although I am assured by the family they are very clean and lovely for swimming. ARRIVING IN COSTA DORADA Flights (Charter and Scheduled) run weekly (or more frequently) from national and regional airports, although REUS is quite a shock to the system, you walk off the plane onto the tarmac and into arrivals, departures is even smaller with a small, but well stocked duty free shop and small canteen area, again boarding is done by walking directly to your plane over the tarmac (more reminiscent of my local airport than even the relatively small ones like Cardiff) - but also evidence of what can be acheiv
ed with little resources if absolutely necessary. You even get your picture taken when disembarking and on your return journey can but the picture for £5 (why I am not sure) SUMMARY There is no doubt that both Salou and the Costa Dorada are undergoing a revival in terms of new roads and accommodation, which I am sure will soon necessitate the need for a bigger airport and better facilities. I wouldn't hurry back there in the near future, but may try again in a few years to see what changes have taken place. If you don't like crowds visit in early season, AVOID JULY AND AUGUST.