Sitting on the Catalonian Mediterranean coastline, 100 Kilometers south of Barcelona, is one of Spain´s most important historical sites, the port town of Tarragona. Its rich history dates back to the time of the Romans, who left an indelible mark upon the town, with the shadow of Rome still evident today in a number of well-preserved archaeological sites. The good news for tourists is that many of them are still viewable, including a Chariot racetrack and a seaside Amphitheater where gladiatorial games took place. It’s certainly of little surprise to discover that Tarragona is now a world heritage UNESCO Site.
Tarragona is also notable for its idyllic stretch of beach as well as its mix of modernist and Gothic architecture. Furthermore, the town is a gastronomic hub and its restaurants are renowned for serving up fresh, high-quality ingredients brought in from the Mediterranean and surrounding villages. All in all, Tarragona offers a number of unique experiences for its visitors. Here are 7 of them.
If you need to define Tarragona by a drink, Vermouth is the tipple. It’s a wine-based drink blended with herbs and plant roots and has a sweet, complicated taste with hints of caramel. The most common variety served in this area of Spain is the Red Vermouth, usually presented in a tumbler glass with a slice of orange and an olive to offset the sweetness, then topped off with a squirt of soda which makes for a refreshing drink on a sweltering afternoon.Vermouth is available in almost every bar across town, designed to be accompanied by a plate of tapas.In other parts of Spain, the drink has made a spirited rival due to the popular Vermouths being produced in the area. So popular is Vermouth here that Tarragona has its own museum dedicated to this sweet liquor. With a collection of over 1,300 bottles and thousands of Vermouth-related artifacts, the museum houses a bar and restaurant which pair different variations of Vermouths with locally sourced tapas. www.museudelvermut.com
A visit to Tarragona wouldn’t be complete without sampling some fresh seafood. Nestled in the Serrallo fisherman’s district is the popular L’Ancora, a family run eatery which has been providing Tarragona with seafood dishes for over 50 years. The restaurant is an integral part of the city’s culinary history, serving fresh seafood sourced directly from the trawlers that bring in the catch of the day only a stone’s throw away in the port. Renowned for its 100 different types of seafood dishes, including paella and lobster, as well as various elaborate tapas, including the region’s own Escarole salad which is made up of a chicory lettuce with anchovies and a Romesco sauce; roasted peppers and almonds. The average range for a meal at L’Ancora is a very reasonable 15 -20 Euros a head.
Human Castles – “Castellers”
First documented in 1712, the human castle is native to Tarragona. In fact, the city has officially been dubbed “The city of human castles.” The human castle is simply formed by teams standing on each other´s shoulders, providing a base, while another team mounts the base to form the human tower and a rather gutsy child shimmies up to the top to give a wave and complete the castle.Highly skilled human castle teams have broken records to create towers up to 10 stories high, a feat which undoubtedly needs bravery, strength and balance. There’s even a statue dedicated to the“Castellers” on the main thoroughfare, the Rambla Nova. The art of Human Castles has been officially declared a“Tangible Heritage of Humanity.” There are four official tower building groups in the city, with competitions held regularly, especially around the official town Fiesta dedicated to the art which runs from 4 June-24 September.
Tarragona’s significance as a Roman commerce hub has meant that the town is an official UNESCO site of archeological interest.The Roman Amphitheatre dates back to the reign of Augustus, a man considered to be the first Emperor of Rome. It was an arena that hosted Gladiatorial games and wild beast hunts that could hold up to 14,000 people.Beneath the amphitheater is a series of pits and rooms that were used to hold prisoners before they were put to death and for the performers to prepare for the games out of sight. Over the last century, the site has been meticulously restored to its former glory. Entry to the Amphitheatre is priced at €3.30
Swimming with Bluefin Tuna
Just South of Tarragona is the small, quaint fishing village of L’Ametella de Mar. The picturesque village is known as “The Cove” and features bygone whitewashed houses that look over the sea. The tuna tour is a diving company based in the port which provides a unique experience; swimming with Bluefin Tuna. Jump on a luxurious catamaran and sail out 2.5 nautical miles offshore to the Gulf of Saint Jordi and visit the fully functioning Balfegó Bluefin Tuna pools, where you can swim with the fish in open water. They are the largest known species of tuna, growing up to 2 meters in length and 200 Kilograms in weight. After immersing yourself with the fish and hand feeding them, you’ll dine on fresh sashimi on board the boat. Tours can be booked via the Tuna website, with prices beginning at 30€. www.tuna-tour.com
With its calm waters and arching stretch of 500 meters of golden sand, Tarragona’s Miracle Beach is just a short walk from the city center. The beach is known for its clean, crystalline and tranquil waters which are perfect for families and people looking to grab a quiet moment away from the bustle of the city. Overlooking Miracle beach is another of Tarragona’s more intriguing landmarks.The balcony of the Mediterranean has sweeping views over the beach and the Roman Amphitheatre; it is believed by locals that touching the railing will bring you good luck. It is a popular spot at sundown where people stop by to look over the bay.
Eating out at Part Alta
Located in the upper part of the town, Part Alta is Tarragona´s old town and the medieval quarter, it is the beating heart of Tarragona’s culinary scene. The quarter is full of terrace bars and restaurants where you can find some of Catalonia´s signature dishes such as Pan Tomaquet, toasted bread with tomato and garlic and drizzled with olive oil, which is a food staple of this area. Tarragona is also known for the much revered Calçots, a uniquely Catalan dish made up of grilled scallion onions dipped in Romesco sauce, It’s traditional for locals to bar hop around town, tasting different tapas dishes along with wine and vermouth along the way.