Spain // Catalunya //

The south

The great triangle of land south of Barcelona may be one of the lesser-visited wedges of Catalunya – but it shouldn’t be. This wonderfully varied area encompasses a sun-speckled coast, a trinity of medieval monasteries and the historically rich provincial capitals of Tarragona and Lleida.

West of Barcelona lies cava country, where you can tour Catalunya’s best-known cava producers, especially around Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. On the coast, just south of Barcelona, sits vibrant Sitges, a major gay summer destination that’s also home to some fine modernista architecture. Beyond this is the Costa Daurada – the coastline that stretches from just north of Tarragona to the Delta de l’Ebre – which suffered less exploitation than the Costa Brava. It’s easy enough to see why it was so neglected – the shoreline can be drab, with beaches that are narrow and characterless, backed by sparse villages – but there are exceptions, and if all you want to do is relax by a beach for a while, there are several down-to-earth and perfectly functional possibilities, including Cambrils.

The Costa Daurada really begins to pay dividends, however, if you can forget about the beaches temporarily and spend a couple of days in Tarragona. It’s a city with a solid Roman past – reflected in an array of impressive ruins and monuments – and makes a handy springboard for trips inland into Lleida province. South of Tarragona, Catalunya peters out in the lagoons and marshes of the Delta de l’Ebre, a riverine wetland rich in bird life – perfect for slow boat trips, fishing and sampling the local seafood.

Inland attractions are fewer, and many travelling this way are inclined to head on out of Catalunya altogether, not stopping until they reach Zaragoza. It’s true that much of the region is flat, rural and dull, but nonetheless it would be a mistake to miss the outstanding monastery at Poblet, only an hour or so inland from Tarragona. A couple of other nearby towns and monasteries – notably medieval Montblanc and Santes Creus – add a bit more interest to the region, while by the time you’ve rattled across the huge plain that encircles the provincial capital of Lleida you’ll have earned a night’s rest. Pretty much off the tourist trail, Lleida is the start of the dramatic road and train routes into the western foothills of the Catalan Pyrenees, and is only two and a half hours from Zaragoza.

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