We’ve all heard of the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca, but down the coast from Barcelona, in southern Catalonia, the so-called golden coast is one of the unsung heroes of the Spanish beach scene.
A weekend break from Barcelona usually means traveling north to the Costa Brava, but skip the crowds and head south to the Costa Dorada instead. Just an hour down the coast from Catalonia’s bustling cosmopolitan capital, explore the charming town of Sitges, the Roman ruins in Tarragona, the Penedès wine region, and two of Spain’s best beach resorts. The Costa Dorada, or “golden coast,” has a little something for everyone: Whether you’re a gourmand, a wine connoisseur, a fitness enthusiast, a history buff, or simply in need of a break, here are a few can’t-miss spots that make this brilliant place shine.
While the Costa Dorada technically runs 92 miles down the coast from the town of Cunit to Alcanar, locals prefer to start their trip a little further north, just 20 miles outside of Barcelona in the tiny fishing village of Garraf. Soho House’s new Little Beach House Barcelona is set to open on August 6, right on Garraf Beach. The exclusive new hotel and private members’ club will feature 17 bedrooms, some with outdoor terraces overlooking the Mediterranean, while others will have rooftop spaces with al fresco bathtubs and views of the Garraf hills. Common spaces will include a restaurant, bar, and roof terrace, as well as a beach bar, or chiringuito, with a cocktail and tapas menu, and plush striped sun loungers. Gym classes, including daily yoga, will be available in the house and on the beach.
Excellent accommodation can also be found at Le Méridien Ra, about 40 minutes down the coast and just up the road from Tarragona. The sumptuous beachfront hotel is housed in a former sanatorium, which was built here because the glittering Mediterranean water along this stretch of golden sand is said to be healing. The five-star property offers every possible convenience—a spa, kids’ club, half- or full-board packages, and private beach club—all designed to help you relax as much as possible.
It would be easy enough to check into one of these resorts and never leave, but that would mean missing out on the Costa Dorada’s fantastic gastronomy.
The coastal town of Sitges is a top gay travel destination and well known for its nightlife. The food scene focuses on seafood, the best of which can be found at La Marinada. While this classic eatery might not offer the most design-forward interior or the fastest service (the latter is notoriously slow all over Spain, but is always a perfect excuse to linger over an exquisite meal), the high-quality, standout dishes such as the Spanish omelet with cod or the hake in salsa verde are worth the wait. Meanwhile the most authentic seafood rice, or paella, can be found at Can Laury, a restaurant in a serene location overlooking the port, and Club House 27 serves an excellent menu of organic Mediterranean-fusion food served on a laid-back, gloriously sunny terrace.
The kitchen at Tarragona’s La Boella specializes in local recipes, and at its bodega, you can invest in its house-made extra virgin olive oil. Pair that with some vinegar from Avgvstvs Forvm, a small-scale winery in the Penendès wine region that produces world-renowned red- and white-wine vinegars.
Fine dining enthusiasts will want to pay a visit to the charming beach town of Altafulla for Bruixes de Burriac. Chef Jaume Drudis, who comes from a long line of chefs, cooks elegant, unpretentious tasting menus made exclusively from locally sourced, seasonal produce. Idyllic Altafulla beach, at the base of the cliffs on which stands the 11th-century Tamarit Castle, is also one of the most popular beaches on the Costa Dorada.
Garraf and Tarragona are located within 40 miles of Catalonia’s best wineries, most notably those in the regions of Priorat, Montsant, and Penedès. The Wine Road, or La Carretera del Vi, gives visitors an easy introduction to Catalonian wine and covers 12 wineries along the 20 miles from Sitges to Sant Martí Sarroca. If you don’t have time to visit them all, be sure to check out Mastinell for its sparkling Spanish wine, or cava, and the small, family-run Finca Viladellops, which dates back to 1877 and prides itself on its organic production of Penedès reds, whites, and rosés.
Catalonia is not all just wine and food; it also offers an array of water sports, some excellent hiking, and even skiing in winter. If all that eating and drinking has you feeling sluggish, check out the coastal hike from Sitges to Vilanova. Not for the faint of heart, this four-mile, rocky trail, which runs between the railway tracks and along some very steep cliff edges, offers spectacular views of the Mediterranean and secret paths to some hidden beaches along the way.
If you’re looking for something a little less strenuous, wander through the spectacularly well-preserved Roman ruins in Tarragona. The highlight is a striking amphitheater that dates back to the 2nd century B.C.E.
But there’s only so much you can do on a weekend break, and when you realize you never actually found the time to laze on the beach with golden sand between your toes, you may end up staying a little longer on the Costa Dorada.
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