Set amid huge expanses of orange trees, scented by jasmine and with the sea nearby, Alcanar is a municipality made up of an inland village and a fishing village called Cases d'Alcanar, which shares some ten kilometres of coastline with the summer homes of Alcanar Platja. So we have the inland customs of a village that lies on the slopes of the Montsiá mountain range and, only four kilometres away, a pleasant seaside village with a charming square overlooking a fishing port.
Our challenge is to be flexible enough to enjoy the authnticity on offer inland, based partly on the wealth of its Iberian legacy, and, at the same time, be open to the charms of the sun, the beach and the gastronomy available on the coast. And, if your visit coincides with the town's fiestas, you're very lucky indeed!
What's more, if you can only get away for a day, Alcanar has planned an outing from Barcelona that includes the bus trip there, a guided tour, a lunch with a rice dish or seafood in one of the local restaurants and, after a stroll along the beach, a return journey to the city.
We recommend that you drive to Les Cases d'Alcanar and make it your base camp. This town, which is set on the coast, is home to most of the hotels in the town. You can opt for a typical hotel on the beach overlooking the sea, for a guesthouse run by a lifelong resident and located in the village itself, or for a campsite. Whichever option you choose, once you've left your luggage, we recommend that you take a stroll to explore the different types of beaches that make up the local coastline. You'll find intimate coves, along with long sandy beaches, and a pebble beach in the village itself. One of the area's most famous beaches is called Platja del Marjal and it stretches from where the village ends to the mouth of the River Sènia, just beside the border with the Valencian Autonomous Community.
In the summer, Cases d'Alcanar is a cheerful town that celebrates its typical fiestas with music and dancing on the seashore, while kids run around with ice creams and young people gather and sit in circles on the beach. In winter it's a good place to enjoy some peace and quiet beside the sea.
We suggest you enjoy the charms of this fishing village until dinnertime approaches, when it's time to find a good fish restaurant. As Germà Bel, a local economist, once pointed out, this is the only town that has almost more restaurants than inhabitants.
This morning, if you can resist the call of the beach, we'd like to suggest an interesting and little-known alternate that offers both physical exercise and scenic and historical wonders. The idea is to leave Cases d'Alcanar, if possible from the area of Sòl de Riu, at the mouth of the River Sénia, and head in the direction of La Ràpita, walking beside the sea. On the way, you'll come across the remains of different constructions dating from the time of the Spanish Civil War, ranging from machine gun nests, bunkers and air raid defence posts to old military camps. Even though the path is not signposted on many stretches, this is an adventure worth experiencing. In fact, according to a recent study carried out by the town council of Alcanar, this is one of the municipal areas in Spain with the most diverse collection of civil war era remains, and most of them are as yet unmarked.
After enjoying a good lunch, it's time to take a journey to the past. We'd like to propose a visit to the Iberian Culture Interpretation Centre, which is located in the old Casa O'Connor mansion house. A visit to the house is interesting for two reasons: it's interesting on the inside and on the outside.
While this building hosts one of the most important collections of Iberian remains in Catalonia, the house itself, which was built in the 19th century, is worth admiring in detail, especially on the inside. It shows visitors the lifestyle of a wealthy Irish family who moved to the village and fought on the side of Philip V during the War of the Spanish Succession in the 18th century.
In the bedrooms you can still see portraits of red-haired Irish-looking women, as well as paintings and pictures and panels with images of products that denote the purchasing power of the house's owners. The building is now a municipal property and houses all of the archaeological finds from the excavations carried out in the area. On the ground floor there's an introduction to Iberian civilization and a multimedia information point on the town. The permanent exhibition consists of more than 160 pieces among which there is a unique collection of indigenous ceremonial dishes.
First of all we suggest that you have a good breakfast with sea views. In the fishing villages along this coast it was customary for fishermen to make a fish stew as the day was breaking. So, if you want to respect local traditions, you should order some stewed or fried fish, accompanied by escalivada (grilled cold aubergine, red peppers and onion) and a large slice of toasted country bread before setting out for a morning at the beach.
If you prefer to take things easy, we recommend that you head for one of the beaches in or near the town or in the Alcanar Platja, where you'll find a number of coves that are worth exploring. For the more daring, a number of local companies provide rental services for kayaking, paddle surfing and even jetskiing. So make sure you use plenty of sun cream and enjoy the sea! If it's winter, take a book and read beside the sea while you feel the breeze on your body. Sometimes the simplest plans provide the most gratification.
If you're curious about the ancient past you're in the right place. Alcanar has an Iberian settlement on Moleta del Remei, a hill located just above the town. It was once settled by the Ilercavones, an ancient Iberian people who populated the area from the 6th to the 1st centuries BC.
Visits to the site are scheduled for the morning in winter, but from July to September it's also open in the afternoon. But when you visit here make sure you wear suitable footwear. Flip flops are fine for the beach but not ideal for walking up the 134 steps to the top of the site.
Once you're up there, you can see the remains of an enclosed settlement with streets, rectangular dwellings that are attached to the walls and a number of areas that were used for the exchange of products and foodstuffs. According to the historians, the inhabitants of this settlement, which is unique in their territory, were the elite of the tribe who controlled the surplus produce in the area, chiefly cereals, which they exchanged for luxury produce such as olives, salted fish and pottery produced by the different peoples that inhabited the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This is, therefore, one of the most important heritage sites in Catalonia and hosts a number of thematic events exploring this unique legacy.
Before saying goodbye to the area, whether you're a believer or not, go to say hello to the Verge del Remei, a statue of the Virgin Mary in the chapel that stands at the foot of the hill. It's one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the area hosts a number of cultural events, concerts and popular feasts. There is no record of when it was built but it probably dates from the late 16th and early 17th century, a period that saw the construction of many buildings in honour of this particular virgin.