Salou is the big resort on southern Catalonia’s Costa Daurada (Golden Coast). For families in need of sun and sand it ticks all the right boxes. All along the coast are broad resort beaches or hidden little coves, and the amenities, attractions and infrastructure are up there with anything Spain has to offer.
Spain’s top theme park, PortAventura is right next door, and with it come golf courses and a world-class water park. And if you need a change of pace, the UNESCO-listed history and culture of Tarragona is just ten minutes by train from Salou.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Salou:
1. PortAventura World
Spain’s most-visited theme park also ranks in Europe’s top ten. It’s a day-out that everyone in the family can get excited about.
The littlest guys and girls will love the well -choreographed shows, playgrounds, amusements and the new SésamoAventura, a Sesame Street area. Bigger kids and grown-ups can look forward to a set of record-breaking white-knuckle roller coasters.
New features seem to crop up every year, across the park’s five themes areas: Far West, Mediterrània , México, China and Polynesia. If you’re really into thrill rides the Hurakan Condor is a drop tower, 100 metres in height and visible for miles around.
2. Llevant Beach
Right in front of the town is Salou’s main beach, where you’ll spend easy summer days relaxing in the sun.
With a wide belt of fine golden sand, it runs along the waterfront for just over a kilometre and its convenience to the hotels and apartments in the resort make it the family choice.
There’s much more to keep kids occupied of course, with play areas at stages along the beach. The surf here is moderate, with currents partly shielded by the Cap de Salou headland to the east.
3. Salou’s fountains
It all started with the Font Lluminosa, which was built in 1973 by Carles Buigas, the same man responsible for Barcelona world-famous fountain in Montjuïc. From Easter to the month of November there’s a light and sound show after sunset.
The whole spectacle is synchronised to music as 100 jets propel water in a dazzling array of combinations. In recent years the Cybernetic Fountain has been added, and it’s even more intricate.
This one has a thousand jets, and even creates a water labyrinth in the middle that you have to try to negotiate.
4. Avenida Jaume I
On the rim of Playa de Llevant is this broad marble-paved promenade. For locals and tourists alike it’s a place to see and be seen, in the liveliest part of the resort.
On the upper side are Salou’s best shops, bars and restaurants over which climb the hallmark apartment towers of a Mediterranean resort.
The promenade is fringed on both sides by palm trees and there’s a monument to James I the Conqueror. This 13th-century king is a Catalan national icon, credited with reclaiming the county of Barcelona from the French and taking back cities from the Moors.
5. Portaventura Caribe Aquatic Park
Like Portaventura’s theme park, this water attraction is a cut above the usual water park on the Mediterranean. Across 34,000 square metres landscaped with palms and tropical undergrowth are pools, high-speed plunges and slides.
The littlest members of the family can make waves at the Zona Indoor, with shallow pools and safe obstacles that they can clamber over. Bigger kids and grownups in need of a rush can hit the King Khajuna, which drops you from 31 metres at a 55° angle.
6. Coves of Cap de Salou
If resort beaches aren’t your thing you won’t have to travel far to discover some enticing little beaches just around the headland to the east.
There are five in total: Cala de la Vinya, Cala els Crancs, Cala Morisca, Cala de la Font and Cala de la Penya Tallada, and all can be reached by car, or on foot if you’re feeling brave.
Development on the cape is minimal, and these coves are traced by little more than craggy limestone spurs and aromatic Aleppo pine trees.
7. Capellans Beach
Between the cape and Llevant Beach is a happy medium: This gorgeous little beach is in the quieter part of the resort, wedged between two promontories.
The waters are calmer and shallower than at Llevant Beach, so it’s a better option if you’re visiting with less able swimmers.
Despite not being the longest beach in the area, Capellans has quite a wide swathe of sand, so even when it gets really busy in summer it won’t feel quite as packed as Llevant next door.
8. Eating out
About 50 kilometres south of Salou are the vast rice fields at the Delta of the River Ebro, so rice has long been a big part of the local diet.
That famous Spanish dish paella originated just beyond the delta in Valencia. And as with many coastal resorts in the region paella is offered by a lot of restaurants. Ask around and check reviews to avoid the tourist traps.
In case you need reminding, paella is a delicious medley of shellfish and squid simmered with saffron-infused rice. Arròs negre is perhaps a bit more Catalan: It’s a similar preparation to paella, only with cuttlefish or squid, and dyed black with squid ink.
9. Roman Tarragona
One of the foremost cities of the western Roman empire is just 10 minutes away by train. Tarraco was the first major Roman settlement and the capital of Tarrconensis, which covered most of modern Spain.
As you’d expect, this has left Tarragona with a staggering wealth of Roman buildings and fortifications. Down by the water is the amphitheatre, and a little way up the hill is the provincial forum, dominated by the Pretorian tower.
There’s also a comprehensive museum full of artefacts on this site. Just outside the city you can see Tarraco’s marvellous aqueduct, a funerary tower, Roman quarry and a triumphal arch.
10. Tarragona Walls and Part Alta
The walls of Tarragona was one of the famed Roman general Scipio’s first projects after he landed on the Iberian Peninsula in the 3rd century BC. Tarragona was a base of Roman operations for the Punic War.
The walls have of course evolved over the last 22 centuries, but the lower sections of the fortifications is clearly Roman, as you’ll see at the medieval Torre de l’Arquebisbe.
The walls surround the highest part of Tarragona (Part Alta), and within is a beautiful, steeply graded web of streets where the best restaurants are found.
There are little hints of Tarragona’s Roman past all around, with some buildings supported by original Roman walls.
11. Tarragona Cathedral
At the crest of the hill is the city’s exquisite gothic cathedral. This lofty setting has been significant for thousands of years: There was a Roman temple here from the reign of Emperor Tiberius, which was only discovered in the foundations at the turn of the 21st Century.
The Moors also had their mosque where the cathedral now stands. Inside you can make your way around the 19 chapels, in the gothic, renaissance and baroque styles.
Be sure to enter the cloister, an oasis of serenity in the middle of the city, with gothic arcades and a fountains in the centre. On the eastern side there’s a small Arab inscription from the 10th century, dating to the time this was a mosque.
Every other year the Concurs de Castells takes place in early-October in Tarragona’s Plaza de Toros. You’ve never seen a spectacle quite like it: Teams (colles) gather from around Catalonia to compete by forming human towers.
The makeup of a tower begins with a large crowd of sturdy men and women at the bottom, and then as you go up the pillar the participants get younger. Often the person at the top of a Castell, nine storeys off the ground, can be a child of six or seven, wearing a riding helmet in case of a collapse of course.
If you’re not around during the big competition there are plenty of exhibitions at any time of year, but especially during festivals, all to the reedy sound of a gralla (a kind of medieval clarinet).
For many, a holiday on Spain’s Mediterranean coast just wouldn’t be complete without a round of golf. With two clubs within ten minutes, Salou hits the spot.
On the cape to the east of the resort is Mediterránea Beach Club & Golf Community. There are 45 holes of golf to get stuck into here, with three different courses designed by Greg Norman amid olive groves and pines. Low-handicappers should test their mettle on the challenging Lumine Hills.
Club de Golf Reus Aigüesverds is also a good choice. Kids and beginners can learn the basics at the pitch & putt, while seasoned players can tackle the 18-hole par-71 course.
This is a prosperous business town less than 15 minutes inland from Salou. Reus really took shape at the turn of the century, which has left it with lots of beautiful Catalan modernist architecture.
Antoni Gaudí was born in Reus, and although he didn’t contribute any buildings, many of his contemporaries did. There’s also a great museum devoted to Reus’ most famous son, showing off some of his possessions and sketches.
At the tourism office you can also get details of the Ruta del Modernisme, leading you to the best modernist buildings in the city. One of the loveliest is Casa Navàs, built by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, also responsible for Barcelona’s UNESCO-listed Palau de la Música Catalana.
15. Tarragona Wine Region
In the Tarragona province you’re well and truly in cava country. Around 70% of all grapes grown in the Tarragona D.O. are white varieties, like Macabeo, that go towards the production of Catalonia’s much-loved sparkling white wine.
Push out into the countryside and every village will have a co-operative farm shop showing off the best local produce. These are the best places to pick up bottles of cava, moscatell (Muscat) and chartreuse liqueur from their source.
Also on the shelves will be Selva del Camp’s award-winning olive oil and dried fruit and nuts harvested from the orchards on the littoral plain around Reus and Tarragona.