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Getaway to the Costa Daurada: A sea of history

Spend 48 hours in Tarragona, and areas close to the capital

© PTDT/Joan Capdevila

This getaway is made for spring or summer, when you can discover some of the attractions in Tarragona, including the town of Altafulla and the castles in Baix Gaià. And the Costa Daurada boasts gorgeous beaches that are ideal for family days out, as well as a rich history and heritage that gives you an idea of the background of the Catalans. You'll have time to do it all: sunbathing, getting a bit of exercise, and expanding your knowledge of the area.

Afternoon day 1: Medieval streets in Altafulla

Afternoon day 1: Medieval streets in Altafulla

Enjoy the calm and beauty of Altafulla, an iconic town in a privileged location on the Costa Daurada. Its historical centre, known as the Vila Closa, which has been declared a historical-artistic ensemble of national cultural interest, features emblematic spaces such as Plaça del Pou, a square dominated by the porticoed town hall building, and surrounded by a number of noble mansion houses. Opposite the town hall is the monument to the 'castellers' (human towers), which was sculpted by local artist Martí Royo.

The steep and narrow streets lead to the old castle, and the ensemble made up of this castle, the Church of Sant Martí and the rectory ennobles one of the squares with the best acoustics in Catalonia, which has played host to the many music and poetry performances held on summer nights, such as the town’s Voices Festival and Concert Cycle.

If you fancy seeing the sea, head to the neighbourhood of Les Botigues. During the 18th century, small storehouses started being built on the seashore and were used by fishermen to keep their tools in and by merchants to store goods before they were shipped to the colonies. The neighbourhood of Les Botigues ('the shops') was consolidated in this location in the 20th century, when those old storehouses were transformed into houses and used as summer residences.

When you're feeling hungry for dinner, you've got a wealth of restaurants to choose from in the area, many of which, as you might imagine, offer an excellent variety of fresh seafood.

Day 2: Castles in the Baix Gaià

Day 2: Castles in the Baix Gaià

After a good night's sleep, it's time to walk along some of the way along the path of the Baix Gaià castles. This route shows you the legacy that was built in this part of the Tarragona region starting in the tenth century. In those days the Gaià river marked the border between the counties of Barcelona and El Andalus, and the way was lined with castles, including Altafulla, Catllar, La Nou de Gaià, Montornès, Montoliu, Vespella, Ferran and Tamarit. The walk passes through all eight of these sites, along the river and the GR-92 trail, and is suitable for walking or mountain biking. At the Catllar castle, a study centre will help you to discover the history of the fortifications, as well as the life of the Montoliu family. They also put on theme activities where costumes the kids can dress up in are a great way to put themselves in the shoes of the people who lived in the area in the Middle Ages.

After lunch, we suggest a visit to the Hort de la Sínia, which is very close to the mouth of the Gaià river and the Tamarit castle. This agroecological space is dedicated to cultivation, dissemination, education and training in ecological agriculture, aromatic and medicinal plants, renewable energy, and learning about healthy habits. You can head in and look around, and if you want, sign up for the activities they organise.

Day 3: Under the spell of Tarragona

Day 3: Under the spell of Tarragona

Your whole last day is dedicated to the capital city of Tarragona. You might already know that the city has a long and important history, as well as plenty of cultural attractions. But we're not going to have you running around like you're doing an obstacle course just to fit it all in in one day, but instead we've got some suggestions on how you can take it easy while fully enjoying a few parts of Tarragona, and leaving some for your next visit. First, you can take a walk along the streets of the Part Alta and head in to the Tarragona Cathedral. We recommend you book the full guided tour, which, in addition to giving you detailed information on all that was involved in the construction, includes climbing right to the top of the belltower, possibly the best of its kind in the city. Take heed, though, that you do need to be in shape to get up there, because it involves climbing 150 steps. As far as the building itself goes, the portal and interior of the Cathedral are gothic, even though they were begun in a Romanesque style; the cloister features extensive and abundant sculptural decoration on the capitals, imposts and friezes of the angular pillars; and in the Diocese Museum, you'll find an excellent collection of archaeological finds dating from the Roman period – the majority from excavations carried out in the subsoil of the Cathedral itself – and a wide-ranging gallery that encompasses several centuries of art history, goldsmithing and liturgical material.

When you head out of the cathedral, you may want to stop for a refreshing vermouth in Plaça de la Font or Plaça del Fòrum, and then head to Serrallo, the city's seaside neighbourhood par excellence. You'll find plenty of restaurants around, and you can fill your boots with fish dishes with romesco sauce, paella, or anything your stomach's growling for, leaving you to head home satisfied and content.

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Cultural venues

Vil·la Romana de Centcelles

Located in Constantí, just 6 kilometres from Tarragona, is an important monument in Paleochristian art. In one of the rooms you can take in the Roman world's oldest Christian-themed dome mosaic, preserved in its entirety. You can opt to take a guided tour, and they organise activities for kids. The Villa has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Can Bofill

This old house, surrounded by palm trees and located at the end of the Passeig Marítim in Torredembarra, was built at the start of the 20th century by some summer residents of the town, and it’s currently the headquarters for the management of Areas of Natural Interest of the Muntanyans.

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Roman Amphitheatre

Possibly the best known image of Tarragona is that of its amphitheatre beside the sea. Oval in shape and with the stands sculpted into the rock, it was the venue for gladiatorial combats between men and men and men and animals, as well as for public executions. A Visigoth basilica was built here in the 6th century and it was also the site of the construction of a later medieval church.

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Tarragona Cathedral, Cloister and Diocesan Museum

The Cathedral, dedicated to Santa Tecla, stands at the highest point of the city, and was consecrated in 1331. It’s worth visiting to see the cloister, an exceptional architectural and sculptural ensemble dating from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Diocesan Museum has a remarkable collection of tapestries.

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National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona

This is the oldest archaeological museum in Catalonia and an important centre for the recovery, conservation, research and dissemination of the heritage of the Roman city of Tarraco and its area of influence. On display are numerous pieces from the Roman era and the mosaics are considered to be of special value. Other sites also make up the museum, including the Roman villas of Munts and Centelles.

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Praetorian Tower and Roman Circus

A visit to two of the most important constructions that remain from the Roman period. Firstly the circus, built in the first century AD with an estimated capacity for 30,000 spectators. While a lot of it is now buried under the streets of the city, some of the original construction is still visible. It is connected by underground passageways to the Praetorian tower, which housed the stairs that allowed people to pass from the lower city to the provincial forum, and which, in the sixteenth century, became the palace of the kings of the Crown of Aragon.

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