Are you ready to disconnect? As soon as you get to the Ebro Delta the landscape changes completely. There are no hills here and the horizon is an almost perfectly straight line. This 320 square kilometre flat surface creates an optical effect that gives rise almost immediately to a feeling of freshness and freedom. But the Ebro Delta, with the town of Deltebre as its regional capital, has a lot more to offer. To begin with, it's Catalonia's most important wetland area and the second most important one in Spain. You can see more than 350 species of birds here, fish in the river and the sea and eat some of the finest rice dishes in the world. As they say in Deltebre, rice is planted in April, harvested in September and eaten all year round. Welcome to the uncommon Catalonia, as the sign at the entrance to the town says.
The interesting thing about visiting the Ebro Delta is that each season has a different colour. During the winter, the fields are dry; when spring begins, they become mirrors of water when the fields are flooded prior to planting; in summer, the landscape turns green and then yellow once the rice is ready for harvest. And so the seasons follow each other in an endless cycle.
Once you get to the Delta, just driving around the network of small local roads is an ethnological experience, and one you don't want to miss, believe us. Eighty-year-old farmers cycling home after spending the afternoon on the farm, with their accoutrements attached with rubber bands, men and women with their feet in the mud of a canal removing examples of the invasive apple snails, an ultra modern threshing machine opening its way through a group of tourists on bicycles. And every now and then a glimpse of the traditional huts, the most typical construction in the Delta.
We recommend that after you get settled into your accommodation, and you certainly have a varied selection to choose from including campsites, hotels, hostels, apartments, houses, you head straight for the Ecomuseum, which is located in Deltebre. There you'll find a scale model of the Delta, depicting the natural elements that make up its landscape and its traditional activities. It's also a tourist information centre, so you can kill two birds with one stone. They'll inform you of what activities are best suited to your interests and you'll be all set to get the most out of your weekend.
If you have some free time in the afternoon, we recommend that you visit the Rice Museum, located in Molí de Rafelet in the town of Deltebre. This company boasts of producing rice using traditional and organic methods. When it gets dark, don't miss the opportunity of seeing the moon reflected in the water of the river Ebro as it flows past Deltebre. Take a walk on Lo Passador, the bridge that connects the two banks of the river and which has replaced the traditional boat ride connecting the two sides of the Delta. For dinner, we advise you have a light meal and have a drink at one of the lively local pubs.
A visit to the Delta is practically synonymous with cycling. The bicycle is the best way to explore the paths that run by the area's lagoons. It also allows you to get a close look at all the marvels of the Natural Park.
One idea is to set out from the Ecomuseum, where you can hire bicycles, and head for the river mouth, or to the Fangar Bay. The first route is a circular itinerary of some 32 kilometres that takes you to the urbanised area of Riumar and then alongside the Garxal lagoon to Garxal lighthouse. The lagoon has been selected by the Guia Repsol as the Catalan representative in the Best Spot 2014 competition, alongside 16 other places in Spain. The lighthouse is a modern lookout from which you can see the mouth of the River Ebro, where the river meets the sea.
The route to Fangar Bay is also very recommendable and is a little shorter than the first one. It follows the canals and you can even see traditional fishing and mussel collecting boats, known as ormeigs. From the so called Port d'Illa de Mar, you can follow the shoreline of the bay until you reach the Rampent outflow and, from that point, head back to your starting place passing close by Canal Vell and La Canyadora farmhouse. After finishing this route, if you haven't brought a picnic with you, it's time to sample some of the local cuisine.
Rice dishes with fish or duck meat, black rice with squid ink, and rice soup with beans and turnips are some of the typical dishes in the Delta. You can eat well at most of the restaurants in the area though you should always check the prices, since some places, aware of their potential, are starting to charge pretty high prices for their rice dishes.
It'll be better if we continue the day in nature, don't you think? We'd like to propose two special active tourism activities. As you might have seen, Deltebre is located between the sea and the river, so the town has a long fishing tradition. There are people who are trying to show visitors the traditional fishing arts used in the Delta. One of them is Josep Bertomeu, who is better known as Polet. With his knowledge of his ancestors' way of doing things, his passion for the Delta and charisma as a teacher, he'll provide you with an excellent introduction to fishing. As he himself explains, "I learned at a very young age how to catch frogs, rats and moorhens, how to fish with my hands and by using different traditional methods, how to find wild mushrooms, how to trap rabbits ducks..."
Deltebre also offers the possibility of going fishing. There are several companies operating boats both in the sea and on the river. Apart from fishing, you can have the incredible experience of riding a horse down a deserted beach while the sun sets. We also recommend an evening stroll to the lighthouse at Punta del Fangar. If you leave the car in front of the restaurant Els Vascos, you can walk six kilometers to the lighthouse. If there is a full moon, the experience will be more than mystical.
One of the most popular tourist activities in the Delta are the cruises to the river mouth. Although the ships tend to be strewn with banners and supply megaphone commentaries that can annoy sensitive visitors, it's still one of the best experiences in the town. But if you can't stand being made to feel like a tourist it may be better to abstain.
The cruises depart from Riumar, located about 7 kilometres downriver from Deltebre, and there are at least three routes on offer: to the river mouth, where you'll see up close how the river joins the sea; to the River Migjorn, which is the old Ebro rivermouth; and across the Bay of Alfacs, taking in the mussels beds, the salt lakes, the Punta de la Banya, and seeing the Natural Park from a different perspective. These trips generally last between one and two hours. One of the boats even has a restaurant aboard.
If you have time to spare after your boat trip, you can wander around the beaches at Riumar and sunbather or take a dip. There are also a number of services on offer there, including bicycle rental, to help you explore the surroundings in a different way. For lunch, if you have already tasted the region's rice dishes, we recommend that you sample some of the seafood specialities on offer including mussels, clams, deep fried sea nettles, razor clams and delicious cod fritters.
You can't leave Deltebre without doing one of the activities that draws many visitors here. Birdwatching is becoming increasingly popular in Spain and you don't need to be an expert to enjoy it. All you need is enough curiosity to want to distinguish between the most common birds like sparrows, gulls and doves, and gradually increase the list of birds you've spotted. Of course it helps a lot if you have a pair of binoculars and a bird guide.
The best places for this activity are the observation posts at the lagoons, such as Llacuna de les Olles, El Fangar and Canal Vell. The latter lagoon has a large concentration of birds at certain times of the year. The Can Vell lagoon, though privately owned, is interesting for one reason: between October and May, the fishermen of the brotherhood of San Pedro de la Rapita fish using traditional methods, and you can see them in action.
Before leaving Deltebre, you really should do some shopping for local produce. We recommend buying eels, duck, some of the many varieties of rice on offer and the star drink of late, which is rice liquor made of local rice, which is ideal for desserts.