Fabric of my Life.

Costa Dorada, unwrapped.

When I think about Catalonia, I instinctively land in Barcelona; the land of Gaudí, street festivals and, of course, football. 

But just 100km southwest of Barcelona, the Costa Dorada is a strip of Mediterranean coastline best known for its calm, shallow waters, and golden sandy beaches. It’s not a destination I’d had on my radar before Jet2 invited me to visit but, having spent five wonderful days exploring so much of what the region has to offer, I can now wholeheartedly recommend Costa Dorada (or Costa Daurada in Catalan) as a place worth visiting! 

Flights to Costa Dorada with Jet2 take just over two hours from Manchester, making it an ideal destination for a short-haul weekend break for couples, inviting you to immerse yourself in the South of Catalonia’s rich tapestry of culture, history and natural beauty.

 

There really is something for everyone, from exploring the ancient Roman ruins in Tarragona, to soaking up the vibrant atmosphere of bustling tourist town of Salou, savouring fresh seafood delights in the charming coastal town of Cambrils, or embarking on a wine tasting journey amidst the picturesque vineyards of Montsant. With each destination offering its own unique blend of culture, cuisine and adventure, Costa Dorada promises an enriching and unforgettable experience for couples seeking to create cherished memories together. 

Nb. you can quickly navigate through to the areas of Costa Dorada that you’re most interested in using the links below:

 

 

⇒ I’ve also created a travel vlog from the trip, which you can view above, or click through to YouTube to watch

Stay: H10 Imperial Tarragona

We were staying at the H10 Imperial Tarraco with Jet2 Holidays, which is located in the heart of Tarragona, and served as the perfect base for exploring the wonders of the whole Costa Dorada region. Just yards from the sea, and overlooking the majestic ruins of Tarragona’s Roman amphitheatre, this four-star hotel embodies the essence of Mediterranean charm and elegance, with an interior design scheme that draws inspiration from the nearby ocean and sun-drenched rugged coastline.  

From the moment we stepped into the lobby we were enveloped in a sea of tranquility and serenity, with sophisticated hues of terracotta, blue and white dominating the space. The use of light woods, crisp whites and shades of blue evoke the timeless allure of the Mediterranean, while subtle nautical touches in the bedrooms, in the form of textured rope wallcoverings and white slatted wardrobes, pay homage to the city’s seafaring history.

As the sun sets over the ancient Roman amphitheatre, I’d highly recommend unwinding on the rooftop terrace (if it’s not too windy!), and soaking up the panoramic views of the city below, cocktail in hand. You might even want to take a dip in the rooftop pool during the warmer summer months, although during our trip in April it still felt a little too cold to brave!

 

There’s another pool downstairs though, which my hotel room overlooked, and —while I personally didn’t take the plunge— I did spot several people both sunbathing and swimming, and was suitably jealous of their far-more-laid-back holiday schedule! But alas, we had the whole region to explore…

 

H10 Imperial Tarraco, Rambla Vella, 2, 43003 Tarragona, Spain

Tarragona

A Journey through Catalonia's Roman Legacy.

Steeped in history and brimming with cultural riches, Tarragona offers a window into the ancient world of Catalonia’s past. It’s fascinating to see how the town has grown up around the ruins of the majestic Roman Circus and Amphitheatre, that now stand as silent sentinels to a bygone era.

Stepping into the Roman Circus, you’re transported back to the days of ancient Tarraco, the capital of Roman Hispania. Listen closely, and the echoes of chariot races and gladiatorial contests still linger in the air and, amidst the weathered stones and crumbling arches, you can almost hear the roar of the crowd that once pulsed through these cobblestone streets.

 

Adjacent to the Roman Circus stand the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre, a testament to the architectural prowess and engineering marvels of ancient Rome. Carved into the rocky hillside overlooking the Mediterranean, it’s pretty awe inspiring to conisder that this once magnificent arena played host to spectacular displays of combat and entertainment over two millennia ago.

Beyond the ruins of the Roman Circus and Amphitheatre, Tarragona offers a wealth of immersive cultural experiences that offer deeper insights into the city’s rich heritage. At the Archaeological Museum of Tarragona, you can explore a vast collection of artifacts and relics —from intricately carved statues to meticulously preserved mosaics— that offer a glimpse into the daily lives and customs of the ancient inhabitants of Tarraco.

 

For those seeking a deeper understanding of Tarragona’s Roman legacy, a visit to the Roman Forum is a must. Here, amidst the towering columns and ancient ruins, you can wander through the remnants of the city’s civic and commercial heart, imagining the bustling marketplace and lively political debates that once animated this vibrant hub of Roman life.

Dining in Tarragona

From traditional taverns serving hearty stews and rustic fare to upscale restaurants offering modern interpretations of Catalan cuisine, Tarragona’s gastronomic scene is a reflection of its rich cultural heritage. 

El Llagut

Our first meal in Tarragona was enjoyed alfresco on the cobblestone streets of the historic old town. El Llagut is a quintessential seafood tavern, led by owner and chef Ramon Martí.  The menu showcases a culinary journey steeped in tradition and innovation, with a focus on meticulously crafted rice dishes that steal the show with their tantalising flavours and textures. My favourite was the Arròs negre, a typical Catalan dish of black rice, squid ink and cuttlefish, that is slowly cooked until it is caramelised and tastes as sweet as honey. Oh, and don’t miss the fried artichokes —from neighbour Pere!— which have totally kickstarted a summer love affair with artichoke for me…  molt deliciós!

 

El Llagut, C. de Natzaret, 10, 43003 Tarragona, Spain

Casa Balcells

Set alongside Tarragona Cathedral, Casa Balcells is partly housed within a medieval palace and, apparently, houses archaeological remains from Roman and medieval times in it’s basement. Sadly we didn’t get the chance to see these, but we did get to enjoy a lovely dinner in the dining hall of the 17th century extension to the palace, complete with stunning views of the cathedral. The food is again traditional Catalan fare, and we enjoyed sharing platters of Iberian ham croquettes, aubergine with miso mayonnaise and chipotle sauce, Andalusian squid, cocas al horno (a traditional flatbread similar to pizza), and grilled beef sirloin. All were super tasty! 

 

Restaurant Casa Balcells, Pla de la Seu, 5, 43003 Tarragona, Spain

El Pòsit

Located on the fishing wharf in the historic Tarragona neighbourhood of Serrallo, El Pòsit offers a wide variety of fish, seafood and rice dishes that promote a sustainable gastronomic experience focused on local and organic products. Again, we enjoyed a variety of sharing starter platters to get the full El Pòsit experience, and I would highly recommend the Artisan anchovies from Vinaròs that are drizzled with pure homemade hazelnut oil and hazelnut from Reus P.D.O, which were a delighful surprise given that I’m not usually a fan of anchovies! Something about those hazelnuts really brought the fish to life for me. For the main dish I opted for monkfish with traditional romesco sauce, which was very good, although I must admit to a slight pang of jealousy for those tucking into roasted Duroc pork ribs, which by all accounts were amazing

 

El Pòsit, Moll de Pescadors, 25, 43004, El Serrallo, Tarragona, Spain

Reus

Art Nouveau & the Modernism Route.

20 minutes inland from Tarragona you’ll find Reus, one of the most culturally active towns in Catalonia, perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of visionary architect Antoni Gaudí. At the heart of Reus lies a treasure trove of cultural gems, from the revered Gaudí Centre to the Gothic splendour of Sant Pere Square. For those with a penchant for exploration, Reus offers a multitude of fascinating tours, from the Modernism route showcasing the town’s architectural marvels to the enticing Vermouth Route celebrating the local culinary delights.

Casa Navàs

At the head of Reus’ main square, Plaça del Mercadal, lies Casa Navàs, a masterpiece of modernist architecture and a testament to the creative genius of its architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner. Built in the early 1900s for affluent textile merchant couple, Joaquim Navàs and Pepa Blasco, Casa Navàs survives as the only modernist building in Europe to retain its original interior. The meticulously preserved original furnishings and décor now serve as a living museum of a bygone era, where every corner whispers tales of grandeur and romance. Stepping through the ornate doors —and slipping on blue plastic shoe covers, the height of sophistication!— instantly transports you to an age of opulence and elegance, where you can’t help but marvel at the intricate detailing, whimsical motifs and elaborate stained glass windows, that cast a kaleidoscope of colours across the interiors. It truly is a feast for the eyes!

 

Casa Navàs, Plaça del Mercadal, 5-7, 43201 Reus, Tarragona, Spain

Gaudí Centre

Beyond the exquisite beauty of Casa Navàs, Reus offers a wealth of immersive cultural experiences that encourage you to delve deeper into the town’s rich heritage. At the Gaudí Centre, you can explore the life and work of Antoni Gaudí, Reus’ most famous native son, and gain insight into the artistic movements that shaped Catalonia’s cultural landscape. From interactive exhibits to multimedia installations, the Gaudí Centre offers a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the visionary architect and his enduring impact on modernist design.

Gaudí Centre, Plaça del Mercadal, 3, 43201 Reus, Tarragona, Spain

Modernism Route

Reus city centre has a superb collection of over 80 listed modernist facades, from which 26 have been selected by Tourist Board Reus to configure the ‘Ruta del Modernisme‘. We sadly didn’t have time during our afternoon in Reus to traverse this route but, those who do, will encounter a stunning array of architectural marvels, including the Casa Gasull, Casa Rull, and Casa Pinyol. Each of these prominent houses showcases the unique style and artistic vision of Catalonia’s modernist movement, with their ornate facades, intricate details, and innovative use of materials.

For those seeking a deeper understanding of Reus’s cultural heritage, a visit to the Salvador Vilaseca Museum is also a must. Housed in a stunning modernist building, designed Pere Caselles i Tarrats, the museum offers a comprehensive overview of Reus’ history, from its humble beginnings as a Roman settlement to its emergence as a thriving commercial centre in the 19th century.

Dining in Reus

Amidst all the architectural splendour, Reus also has a rich gastronomic heritage, and there are plenty of places to sample both traditional and contemporary Catalan dishes infused with local ingredients and seasonal flavours. We sadly didn’t have the opportunity to eat in Reus on this trip, but the following all look like places I’d love to try on a return visit! 

 

  • From shared plates to daily specials and curated tasting menus, the offerings at Vítric showcase timeless recipes and interpretations of Catalan cuisine, and are a testament to Chef Xavier De Juan’s creative prowess and dedication to his craft. →Vítric, Carrer de Santa Anna, 24, 43201 Reus

 

  • Under the creative helm of young owner-chef Pola Hany William, L’Alkimista transcends culinary boundaries, weaving together diverse cultural influences with a steadfast commitment to Mediterranean roots and locally sourced Spanish ingredients. →L’Alkimista, Carrer Carnisseries Velles 3, 43201, Reus

 

  • Ferran Cerro’s eponymous restaurant beckons discerning diners to embark on a culinary journey like no other. With a pedigree honed in prestigious kitchens across the country,  Cerro fuses creativity with tradition, showcased in both the à la carte menu and trio of set menus quirkily named after clothing sizes. →Ferran Cerro, Plaça del Castell, 2, 43201 Reus

Salou

Exploring the coastal beauty of the region.

A seaside oasis brimming with natural beauty and coastal charm, Salou is a vibrant resort town that pulsates with energy day and night, offering a dynamic blend of entertainment and relaxation. Whether you’re seeking the thrill of aquasports, waterparks and theme parks, or the tranquility of sun-drenched beaches, Salou has a lot to offer along its 9km of golden coastline. 

Coastal Path of Salou

The Coastal Path of Salou runs the length of the Salou coastline, from the Pilons area in the south to the Salou Lighthouse in the north. We began our early morning walk at the route’s northernmost tip in Cap Salou, before the sun was too high in the sky. 

 

The lighthouse was inaugurated in April 1858 and has a central red tower that still today, daily, illuminates the Gulf of San Jordi. It has a white light powered by olive oil, which can be seen from 14 miles away. Native plants, such as asparagus, white pine, sea lily, agave and cerrillo, can be observed along the route leading from the lighthouse along the coast. We stopped at three strategically placed viewpoints along the way, to take in Costa Dorada in all its splendor and, from the southernmost viewing platform, could spy the mountains of the Llabería range far off in the distance. 

Our coastal journey led us to the picturesque shores of Platja Llarga, one of Salou’s two pristine beaches, where golden sands meet crystal-clear waters. Here, amidst the gentle sway of palm trees and the soothing rhythm of waves lapping the shore, we paused for a surprisingly contemplative (and gentle) yoga session by the beach; much needed to soothe tired muscles after all that walking!

 

If you have the time —and the legs— to complete the coastal route, you’ll encounter the “sail” monument, created by artist Antoni Rosselló, which symbolises the union of the land, the sea and the wind, and is designed to reflect the character of Salou. From this point (at Pilons), you can also catch the best sunsets on the Costa Dorada. 

For those craving excitement, Salou boasts an array of adrenaline-pumping activities, from go-karting at Karting Salou to zooming down waterslides at Aquopolis in La Pineda. The renowned PortAventura theme park is also just a short drive away.

 

I’m not really a thrill-seeker though, and our next stop was more than enough ‘adventure activity’ for me…

Club Nautic Salou

Paddle-surfing is not an activity I’d ever imagined myself doing (in fact, I’ve managed to avoid paddle-boarding on two previous press trips!), but at Club Nàutic Salou, I finally designed to bite the bullet and give it a try! 

 

Don’t ask me what the difference is between paddle-boarding and paddle-surfing (I think the latter is simply a slightly different board to account for the ocean waves), as it’s safe to say that despite my best efforts I was as terrible as I’d suspected I would be. In fact, I didn’t even make it fully out into the ocean before my fear of falling in got the better of me, and I swiftly paddled myself around and back to shore. But I didn’t fall in, and I did manage to control the board sufficiently to guide myself back to dry land, so I’m calling it a win. Hahah. 

For those of you with better balance, coordination and sense of adventure, the rest of the crew (who lasted the whole session) had a whale of a time and said they would thoroughly recommend it. Club Nàutic also offer summer training courses in sailing, windsurfing, catamaran and cruising, so there’s plenty to keep all you adrenalin junkies going! 

 

Club Nàutic Salou, Port Esportiu de Salou, 43840 Salou, Tarragona, Spain

Aquum

If you prefer your water activities a little more serene, then Aquum Spa at Estival Park Salou will be far more up your street. Aquum describes itself as “more than just a wellness retreat—it’s a sanctuary for the mind, body, and spirit,” and, with over 650 sqm of pools, offering 50 unique sensations to soothe every part of the body, its safe to say it’s a place that awakens the senses and soothes the soul. 

 

The hot tub and hydrodynamic river were my favourite two experiences at the spa, although it was a little difficut to fully relax into the experience with a tight blue silicone swimming cap hugging my head! I’ve not encountered a spa before that requires the use of swimming caps and, while I fully understand why, I’d definitely advise bringing your own, to ensure adequate blood flow! The ones they provide are teeny-tiny, and I say that as someone who actually has a pretty tiny head…  

There’s something for everyone at Aquum, from the 32° heated pool where you can leisurely swim laps, to the hydromassage waterfalls, sauna, steam room, ice fountains and experience showers. It was definitely the place to shrug off all the lingering tension from my failed paddle-surfing attempt..!

 

Aquum Spa, Passeig de Pau Casals, 55, 43481 Platja de la Pineda, Tarragona, Spain

Dining in Salou

4R Casablanca

We enjoyed two lunchtimes in Salou; the first at the restaurant at the 4R Casablanca Playa hotel, right on the Salou beachfront. We began our meal with a seasonal tomato salad with tuna belly, which was delicious, and 4R’s take on patatas bravas, which was equally yummy. The main was seafood fideuá with clams; a version of paella which uses fideos (Vermicelli) pasta rather than rice. I can’t say it was my favourite dish, or that I would order it again instead of paella, but its certainly something you should try if you’re in Salou, as its a traditional local dish, and I know others who loved it. 

 

4R Casablanca, Passeig de Miramar, 12, 43840 Salou, Tarragona, Spain

Restaurant 108

Our second lunchtime in Salou was spent at 108 Restaurant, located inside Hotel Best Terramarina, right on the beachfront of the quiet town of La Pineda. It was a beautiful location, overlooking a long sandy stretch of golden beach, but was sadly too windy a day to sit outside and soak up the view. Back inside we tucked into our customary sharing starter platters (including my two faves, calamari and patatas bravas), before a main of (slightly overcooked) steak. It’s not a place I’d seek out if I’m being honest, but it would certainly be a perfectly nice stop if you’re strolling along the beach and want to break your journey for some light refreshment. 

 

Restaurant 108, Paseo Pau Casals, 108, 43481, La Pineda, Tarragona, Spain   

I certainly feel that there would be better places to dine in Salou if you’re planning a weekend break there though.

 

A quick google found a couple of truly delightful looking options, which I’ve added to my own Google Map of hotspots to visit if I make a return trip with Luis in the future:

 

  • First up, Deliranto, which promises a gastronomic adventure unlike no other. Led by the visionary chef Josep Moreno, within the intimate confines of this 6-seater modern eatery, dining becomes an art form, with each course curated to evoke the drama of a theatrical performance. So far, Lewis Carroll, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Frank Baum and Charles Dickens have provided the inspiration for menus. I am certainly very intrigued by this one! →Deliranto, Carrer de Llevant, 7, 43840 Salou, Tarragona, Spain 

 

  • As TripAdvisor’s №1 restaurant in Salou, Tabaré has an interesting blurb on its website that has certainly piqued my interest: “Enter the wild world of the Tabaré Indian, where the fusion of food from the lands of South America and the European continent will make you live an experience for the senses.” →Tabaré, Via Roma, 2, 43840 Salou, Tarragona, Spain

Cambrils

Maritime Heritage meets Culinary Excellence.

With its winding streets, bustling markets and picturesque fishing port, Cambrils is a coastal town along the Costa Dorada strip that offers a glimpse into the heart and soul of Catalonia. It was also the place that most captured my heart during our time in Costa Dorada, and where I would most likely base myself on a return trip to the region. 

Fishing Port

Our journey through Cambrils began at the beating heart of the town – its historic fishing port. I’m always a sucker for a marina, but it was fascinating to delve deeper into the port and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a live fish auction, as representatives from local restaurants battled it out to secure the best catches of the day. Cambrils maintains part of the native population linked to fishing families and a traditional and dynamic fishing activity in the port, with the market of the Fishermen’s Guild of Cambrils as its nerve centre. 

 

As we strolled along the waterfront —watching the boats bobbing gently in the azure waters, breathing in the salt-tinged air, hearing the cries of seagulls overhead— it was easy to be seduced by what I would term the ‘holiday romance’ of the town. It’s a place where you can bask in the unfamiliar rituals of another’s daily life, and where the opportunity to people-watch is at its premium. 

Old Town

As we ventured deeper into Cambrils’ old town, history and tradition intertwined in a tapestry of cobblestone streets and whitewashed facades, uncovering hidden treasures at every turn. From centuries-old churches to charming artisan boutiques, Cambrils is definitely a place I could spend a leisurely week simply pottering, embracing a slower, yet more fulfilling, pace of life.

 

As much as I enjoy exploring nature, I derive far more inspiration and energy from being around people and soaking up their customs, culture and traditions. It was in Cambrils that I found a palpable sense of community and camaraderie permeating every corner, and I wish we had had more time in the town to truly soak it up, sitting at a harbourside bar with a spritz in hand, watching the world go by. 

 

I’d have also loved to have visited the Torre del Port, which stands as silent witness to the town’s maritime legacy, perched along the waterfront, its weathered walls holding the promise seafaring and coastal conquest tales within. Erected as a coastal defense watchtower in the 17th century, the building is listed as a Cultural Property of National Interest and is open to the public at weekends, should you wish to plan a visit yourself. Occasionally it also houses temporary art exhibitions, I was told. 

 

Torre del Port, Passeig de Miramar, 43850 Cambrils, Tarragona, Spain 

Parc Samà

Just a 10-minute drive inland from the centre of Cambrils you will find Parc Samà, a hidden oasis of tranquility and natural beauty that turned out to be an unexpected highlight of our trip!

 

Enveloped by lush gardens, shimmering ponds and fragrant mandarin groves, this enchanting 14 hectare park was originally conceived in the late 19th century by the Marquis de Marianao, inspired by the romantic gardens of southern Italy. The Marquis meticulously designed every aspect of the park, from its elegant neoclassical pavilions and ornate fountains, to its lush vegetation and meandering pathways. Everywhere you look there is something that takes your breath away; it truly does feel like a fairytale land.. but for adults! 

Amidst the architectural splendour of Parc Samà, nature reigns supreme. The park is home to more than 1,500 species of flora and fauna, from the towering centuries-old horse chestnuts and lime trees that surround the Palace House, to the wild roaming peacocks, Mediterranean turtles, golden pheasants and Algerian hedgehogs. 

 

The pièce de résistance for me though was the lake and hanging bridges that form the centre of the complex, where three islands are joined by bridges that imitate wooden logs. The central island stands like a mountain built with large rockeries that inside form a grotto with a pier, following the guidelines and model of other grottoes of English typology, built throughout the 18th century. A fallow deer forest lies beyond, which I didn’t quite have time to make it over to, being so enchanted by the grotto-pier and taxodium grotto. There is also an aviary designed to immerse you in the wonderful world of exotic birds, recreating the feeling of being in a tropical jungle, as well as the 350m² Fontcuberta Greenhouse that is home to more than 75 species of palms and other tropical trees, including the royal palm (the national tree of Cuba) and a specimen of Dypsis decaryi, a strange triangular palm native to the rainforest of Madagascar.

 

This is definitely a place to have on your must-visit itinerary when visiting Costa Dorada. I was absolutely floored by this park and spent so much time wondering around wide-eyed and in awe. Late afternoon and early evening are the perfect times to explore the park, as the sun is dipping and filtering that dreamy Mediterranean light through the tree canopy. Pure fairytale vibes. And I’m not even remotely a fairycore girl! 

 

Parc Samà, Carretera de Vinyols s/n, 43850 Cambrils, Tarragona, Spain 

Dining in Cambrils

Cambrils has a unique identity along the coast, with a location that ensures a distinct microclimate and landscape, alongside a gastronomic tradition deeply rooted in the sea and the vegetable garden. The bustling seafood restaurants that line the waterfront serve the freshest catches of the day, prepared with skill and passion by local chefs. 

La Selva Street Food

We only had time to enjoy one meal in Cambrils, at the eclectic La Selva; a street food restaurant in the heart of the old town. It was a fun, vibrant —and completely packed— place, that seemed to appeal as much to locals as it did tourists. The fusion menu draws inspiration from across Asia, and marries it with Catalan ingredients and flavours. We sampled an array of dishes, including patatas bravas with curry sauce (#BravasQuesetvalaPinza), beef gua bao (quirkily served as the belly rolls of a Sumo wrestler), and prawn and fish cerviche, served to represent monkey brains..! It was all very fun, and far more tasty than I would have expected, given that I’m not normally a fan of “themed restaurants” that are often more style than substance.  

 

La Selva, Carrer de les Barques, 6, 43850 Cambrils, Tarragona, Spain

I would have loved to have more time in Cambrils to truly delve into their restaurant scene, as they seem to have some of the most well respected restaurants in Costa Dorada. I’ve popped these on my list for next time:

 

  • Located next to the  Torre del Port, Miramar is run by the third generation of the same family, serving up classic recipes that ‘preserve the essence of the Mediterranean’. They also have an impressive dessert trolley apparently, which is always a winner for me! →Miramar, Passeig de Miramar, 30, 43850 Cambrils, Tarragona, Spain 

 

  • Can Bosch restaurant started out as a humble fisherman’s bar, opened in 1969 by Juan Bautista Bosch and Lourdes Font, around the corner from the port. In 1980 it opened as a restaurant, combining a respect for simple traditional seafood with new culinary trends, and has since become a gastronomic point of reference, obtaining a Michelin star in 1984.→Can Bosch, Rambla de Jaume I, 19, 43850 Cambrils, Tarragona, Spain

 

—Also, don’t sleep on the ice cream shops in Cambrils. We stopped off at Heladería Antonio Sirvent on the recommendation of our tour guide and were treated to the most amazing artisan flavours including Crema Catalana (similar to crème brûlée), tiramisú, pineapple with lime and honey, black liquorice with mint, and—my go-to whenever ordering ice cream—pistachio, which lived up to my high expectations. Apparently, in a recent worldwide gelato competition, Antonio Sirvent, representing Spain, came second only to a gelataria in Italy. Go figure. 

Montsant

Discovering Catalonia's Wine Country

Nestled amidst the rugged landscapes of Catalonia’s Priorat region, and just over an hour’s drive inland from Tarragona, Montsant is an enchanting maze of vineyard-clad hills and ancient villages, accessible via winding roads that hug the outside of the mountain range, climbing ever higher to its most accessible summit at Siurana. 

4x4 Vineyard Tour with Siurana Tours

Our journey through Montsant began with a pilgrimage to the Hermitage of Sant Joan del Codolar, a sacred sanctuary perched atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the vineyards below. To reach the hermitage, we swapped our comfy tour bus for a more robust 4×4, bouncing our way along well-worn paths up to this secluded retreat.

 

Amidst the tranquil silence of the mountains, where pilgrims have sought solace and inspiration for centuries, we were humbled to meet the female hermit, Montserrat, who has called Sant Joan del Codolar her home for nearly fifty years. Greeting us with unexpectedly youthful exuberance, her face deeply lined and tanned, she explained that she spent her days painting, looking after the chapel grounds, and hiking in the surrounding mountains. She waved as we set off down a path she has undoubtedly trodden thousands of times, winding our way through the vineyards back to the village, several miles away. 

As we made our way down the mountainside our guide, Paul Kendall from Siurana Tours, shared the winemaking history of the region with us. Once a thriving hub under the watchful eye of Carthusian monks, the region fell silent in the wake of political upheaval and natural disasters, including the introduction of phylloxera at the end of the 19th century, which saw over 7,000 hectares of vines reduced to just 600, causing ruin and massive emigration.

 

Yet, from the ashes of adversity emerged a new chapter, as a handful of visionary winemakers haved dared to breathe life into the rugged landscape of the Priorat once more. In the late 1980s, five bold pioneers took a leap of faith, reclaiming the land with a vision to craft wines of unparalleled quality from the region’s ancient vines. Their daring venture sparked a renaissance in Priorat winemaking, igniting the passions of a new generation of vintners eager to explore the untapped potential of this craggy terroir.

 

As we descended into the valley on foot, we uncovered a landscape shaped by the elements, where the vines cling to steep slopes of hard slate soils, known as llicorella. Here, Garnatxa and Carinyena thrive, their gnarled vines demonstrating the region’s resilience and tenacity.  Today the Priorat enjoys the coveted “Denominación de Origen Calificada” appellation which, in Spain, is only shared with the Rioja.

Celler Cooperatiu Cornudella de Montsant

As we concluded our two hour ramble down the mountain, a visit to the Celler Cooperatiu Cornudella de Montsant to sample some of the region’s best wines was most definitely in order! 

 

The century-old winery, founded in 1919, was designed by architect Cèsar Martinell, a disciple of Antoni Gaudí.  A masterpiece of architectural splendour, from its native stone facade to the intricate brickwork and polychrome glazed tiles, every element of the winery reflects the rich tapestry of Catalan modernism and noucentism.

 

We tasted three different offerings from the Cooperatiu; first a delicious vermut from Castell de Siurana, then two complex reds, which blended Grenache Black with Carignan. All were utterly delicious! We also had the chance to explore some of the cellar itself, and see both the traditional oak barrels, and more modern giant concrete containers, within which the different wines are aged. I had never heard of aging wine in concrete before (though I am no connoisseur!) but apparently it is “very much in line with the current vogue for pure fruit flavours,”  according to the FT! 

 

Celler Cooperatiu Cornudella de Montsant, Carrer del Comte de Rius, 2, 43360 Cornudella de Montsant, Tarragona, Spain

Olive Oil Tasting

At Molí del Oli, nestled at the foot of Montsant, the Cavaloca family has tended to the olive groves for generations, cultivating a legacy that stretches back centuries. We stopped by their small store in Plaça del Priorat to sample the fruits of their labour, and were blown away by the both kindness and passion of family matriarch, Neus, as she shared samples of their ‘liquid gold’ with us.

 

From the intense green fruitiness of the Arbequina olive to the subtle elegance of the Negreta, each variety we tasted offered a unique expression of the land—a symphony of flavours that danced across the palate. A radiant burst of vitality and warmth, Neus’ love for her craft truly shone through. Her enthusiasm was infectious; I think every one of us on the tour left clutching a bottle or two of oil to take home. I’m hoping to recreate one of the most wonderful flavour combinations I’ve encountered; a hollow dark chocolate ball filled with olive oil, and topped with flakes of salt. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it—it’s divine! 

 

Molí del Oli, Plaça del Priorat, 7, 43379 Escaladei, Tarragona, Spain 

Cartoixa Escaladei

The Carthusian Monastery of Scala Dei (Escaladei in Catalan) is one of the most important historic sites of the Priorat. Founded by French monks from Provence, who established here the first charter-house on the Iberian peninsular, it’s location was chosen because of a chance encounter with a shepherd, who had dreamt of angels coming down from the sky on a ladder resting on a tall pine tree. For the monks, the foothills of the Montsant mountain range echoed that vision. 

 

For over seven centuries the monastery was a beacon of faith and learning, its inhabitants dedicating their lives to the pursuit of knowledge and spiritual enlightenment. It was here that they cultivated vineyards on the steep slopes, imparting their wisdom to future generations and laying the foundation for Priorat’s renowned wine industry.

Despite moments of great wealth and prosperity, Scala Dei’s fate took a sombre turn in the 19th century, as political upheaval and social unrest swept through the region. With the seizure of their lands by the state, the monks were forced to flee, leaving behind a once-thriving community to languish in neglect and decay.

 

The echoes of their exodus still linger in the silent corridors and crumbling walls, a haunting reminder of the tumultuous events that unfolded within these sacred grounds. Visitors can tour the monastery’s three cloisters, church and refectory, as well as a reconstructed cell, showcasing how the cloistered monks once lived. 

 

Cartoixa Escaladei, Rambla de la Cartoixa, s/n, 43379 Escaladei, Tarragona, Spain

Siurana

Perched precariously atop a sheer cliff, the ancient village of Suirana was once a formidable stronghold of Moorish resistance until its tragic fall in 1153, when the Moorish queen, Abdelazia, chose to meet her fate by leaping from the cliffs rather than submit to Christian rule.

 

Today, the village exudes an air of tranquility, the Romanesque Church of Santa Maria, built betwen the 12th and 13th centuries, standing guard amidst the picturesque cobblestone streets of the village. Sunset is the perfect time to visit, casting a beautiful golden glow over the rooftops, and illuminating the rugged peaks of the Serra de Montsant. The place felt almost deserted when we visited, trapped in time, and home only to a smattering of vocal birds chattering loudly as dusk fell, and a lone cat, strutting along the street to take a leisurely drink at the free-flowing water fountain. 

Dining in Montsant

La Morera

One place you absolutely have to eat if you’re visiting the Montsant area is La Morera, a family-run restaurant with a warm and inviting ambiance, that feels more like a welcoming home than a dining establishment. Located in the charming mountain village of La Morera de Montsant, the seasonal menu was brimming with locally sourced produce and authentic Catalan flavours, with some recipes having been lovingly prepared with recipes passed down from the owner’s grandmother.

 

I had my favourite meal of the trip here; an exquisite strawberry salad with candied tomato, candied onion, cottage cheese and romesco sauce, with a strawberry vinaigrette; followed by beef cheek stewed in Priorat red wine with potato, apple, onion and asparagus. Both were simply divine, but I need to recreate the salad at home this summer. I’m salivating just thinking about it! The atmosphere was so wonderful that we, of course, wanted to linger awhile, and enjoy a dessert and coffee too. I opted for the ‘Menjablanc de Priorat,’ a traditional rich almond-y pudding, served with an almond and orange biscuit. Despite being so full from the previous two courses, I couldn’t resist – it was light, creamy and oh-so-delicious! 

 

Restaurant La Morera, Carrer de la Bassa, 10, 43361 La Morera de Montsant, Tarragona, Spain

el Palauet del Priorat

If you’re seeking a romantic escape or simply craving a taste of luxury, then El Palauet del Priorat is the place to head. A luxury hotel located in the heart of Cornudella de Montsant, and housed in a beautiful 130 year old building, it has 5 exquisitely decorated suites and a charming gastronomic space, Aura, in the basement. We headed here after a full day of regional excursions and were treated to a delicious two-course dinner (because we were simply too full, and too tired, to stay for dessert!). I opted for the tomato salad with pickled tuna belly to start, followed by a fresh vegetable lasagne. The real star of the show though was the salted wild cod, which was served with theatrical flair under a glass cloche. 

 

el Palauet del Priorat, Calle Eres 9, 43360, Cornudella de Montsant, Tarragona, Spain

If you’ve made it this far, thank you—hopefully I’ve inspired you to book a holiday to Costa Dorada!

 

Jet2 have direct flights from Manchester Airport to Reus, which take just over 2 hours, making Costa Dorada a wonderful option for a long weekend of sunshine exploring if you are based in the North-West. They also have a wide range of other luxury holidays to desinations across Europe and, having now enjoyed three Jet2holidays myself, I can hand-on-heart say they are a fantastic travel operator to book with, with super friendly staff, reliable flights (in my experience at least), and fly to over 65 destinations across Europe, from 12 UK airports. 

 

Do let me know if you take a trip; I’d love to hear what your favourite parts of the region are…

This post is in partnership with Jet2 and the Costa Duarada Tourism Board, who hosted this press trip. As always, all experiences, thoughts and opinions are my own. All photography © Kate Baxter. 

Fabric of my Life is reader-supported.

This post may contain affiliate links and I may earn a small commission when you purchase an item using one of these links — at no additional cost to you. If I use affiliate links in a blog post, you’ll see an asterisk (*) next to the link to denote it. Occasionally I am gifted products, with no obligation to feature, and the brand has no editorial control or input as to how they may be featured. Any gifted products featured are denoted with a double asterisk (**). If a post is declared as a Paid Partnership then the brand has required specific (factual) product information to be included and/or specified the type and quantity of images featured. Please note, I only ever feature brands and products on my blog that I genuinely love and would purchase myself, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are always my own. You can read more about my disclosure policies here. Please note: expired links are removed periodically. If a product is no longer linked, it is no longer available. 

Share this post!

3 responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *