Top Activities in the Tarragona Region Away from the Beach
Sure, the Tarragona region in Spain is the touristy beach destination some might want to avoid. But for the more experienced travelers, a couple of miles inland lies an adventurous world, discovered through windy roads with hardly any other tourists around.
I must admit we were a bit hesitant to go to the Tarragona region. The front lines at the Mediterranean shore are occupied by tourist developments, large campings, and rollercoaster theme parks. In the summer months, places like Salou and Cambrils are packed with teens seeking their first love, and the elderly strolling back and forth on the restaurant filled boulevards.
However, just a 10-minute drive away from the masses, there is a world with mystical castles on fortified mountain tops, valleys covered in wine rakes producing some of the best wines in the world, and natural parks with hundreds of hike, climb, and bike paths ready to be taken. Rock formations provide a backdrop for tremendous vistas and in their shadows are the slow-paced towns that throw you back into medieval times. Times where the Moors, the Romans, and the Knight Templars fought their battles and left behind places of tremendous historical significance.
We stayed in the countryside for a couple of weeks and spent hours driving around the area. Below is a list of activities we found. Some are hidden gems, some the obvious that surprised us. Because the area is so beautiful, getting to them and back was half the fun.
Stroll as the Knights Templars did in Miravet
In a sharp turn of the Ebre, about 70 kilometers before the river ends up in the ocean, the Moors started this picturesque town. Clay pottery has been the main source of income for centuries. The town probably did not change much and strolling through the narrow, steep streets, warps you into medieval times where you could bump into knights in shining armor.
After the conquest of 1153, the Knights Templars transformed the settlement into a fortress-monastery. The Miravet castle is one of the best-preserved examples of Romanesque architecture of the Knights Templar.
- Coming from the other side of the river, there is a small ferry, that can take your car, using the river current. It is not always operational so you might have to make a detour to cross a bridge
- Just outside of town, going East, there is a small boat dock that provides a gorgeous panoramic view of the town
- There is a trail from the side of the castle that takes you straight through the village, past the church and to the riverside square (where you can get a well-deserved refreshment)
Mountain vistas in Serra de Montsant
While in search of vistas of endless miles of wine rakes, we noticed these incredible rock walls on top of the Serra de Montsant mountain chain. In this area, each curve on the winding roads provides a new panoramic view. Each time you go higher, there is new vegetation to enjoy.
La Morera de Montsant
We went on to visit the little town of La Morera de Montsant. A quiet little town, that serves as the gate to Parc Natural de la Serra de Monsant, featuring countless hiking trails. In the distance, you can see the village of Siurana, atop high cliffs.
Siurana overlooks most parts of the region and is a popular area for rock climbing. The village itself is simply beautiful and has historic significance because it was one of the last Muslim enclaves to fall to the Christians in Catalonia. The views are just ridiculous.
- Drive around, visit all the small towns, take in the views, enjoy good restaurants and fine wines
- Get ready to drive on very narrow, windy roads
Exploring fun trails between the red rocks of Montroig
When driving on the coastal highway between Cambrils and Miami Platja, you will likely see this mountain stand out because of its dark red color. Most people visit Mointroig because of the Ermita Mare De Deu De La Roca, a sanctuary perched on a cliff, with outstanding views.
For us, the most fun starts across the street. The red rock stairs take you right up, leading you to a large variety of trails, both easy and intermediate that guide you along the gorgeous red rock formations. Besides some locals walking their dogs and some hike enthusiasts, you won’t see many people out here.
- Park your car at the top in the Ermita parking area, or at the picknick area halfway down the road
- You can choose trails that take you around in about an hour, or you can take longer routes of 2-3 hours
- Wear hiking shoes an bring enough water
- Some trails involve a bit of climbing and past steep cliffs. If you don’t want to go further, you can often go back and find another trail around. Because of the size of the hill and the many viewpoints, it is hard to get lost
Wine tasting in the Priorat & Montsant
Priorat is probably the most famous wine region in Spain and is a DOQ, which means it has the highest qualification level according to Spanish regulations. There are vineyards just about everywhere you look. Right outside this area, you find the Montsant wine region, which produces similar wines. It is unclear where Priorat ends and Montsant begins and if they are separate from each other, but it doesn’t matter as both are beautiful regions.
You can start your discovery of the area in the town of Falset, with lots of tourist information and stores with all the locally produced wines, olive oils, and kinds of vinegar.
- Most restaurants in the area offer affordable 3-course menus that often include a bottle of wine
- There are several wine houses you can visit. Highly recommended is Clos Mogador, that offers an extensive tour, but the pricing is quite steep (which is why we did not go)
Relive Roman times in the City of Tarragona
This is the one activity on the list that is right in the middle of the touristy area but definitely worth visiting. The city of Tarragona was one of the biggest settlements of the Roman Empire and packs an incredible amount of historic buildings in a small city center. There is a cathedral, city walls, an amphitheater, large squares, museums and much, much more. We were particularly impressed by the Cathedral of Tarragona, which also featured many art expositions and archeological sites.
- There are several parking garages right outside the old city but the ‘coastal train’ will also take you right into town
- Take at least a half day to walk around the old city and visit a couple of the main sights