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Guide to the Costa Dorada

The Costa Dorada is Spain's 'Golden coast' which stretches for 200 kilometres to the South West of Barcelona. The coastline takes its name from the seemingly endless supply of golden sandy beaches which fringe the south eastern border of the autonomous region of Catalunya.

South of Tarragona, the "golden" coast is still relatively untouched, with great beaches and pretty seaside towns such as L'Ametlla de Mar. At the costa's foot is the Ebro River delta - the biggest Mediterranean delta after the Nile - a magnificent nature reserve and a paradise for twitchers. Temperatures are about 5C warmer than on the Costa Brava, so the winter is short and mild. Inland, the Priorat, Conca de Barbera and Pendes areas are heaven for wine-lovers and foodies, and the Ebro Valley is perfect for ramblers.

Port Aventura, La Pineda, Salou and Cambrils

The beaches have been attracting Spanish summer visitors for decades but it was the opening of the Port Aventura Theme Park in 1995 which placed this section of the Mediterranean coastline firmly in the sights of the international tourist industry. Since then foreign holidaymakers have been flocking here in their millions and the vast majority make a beeline for the three adjoining seaside resorts of La Pineda, Salou and Cambrils.

This trio of holiday towns enjoys the twin advantages of being right on the doorstep of Port Aventura and just a short drive from the international airport of Reus (two hours flying time from London).

Salou has seen the biggest explosion of mass market tourism and these days it can boast some of the best and most extensive range of leisure facilities of any coastal resort in mainland Spain. The town is dominated by high rise hotels and is unashamedly geared to satisfying the every desire of foreign holidaymakers (particularly those of the British variety). The beaches of Salou offer every imaginable water sport and when the sun goes down it's time for all night party people to come into their own.

There are more than enough bars, clubs, cabarets and mega discos here to keep even the most hardened reveler happy till sun up. The place is a paradise for action-hungry teens and 20-somethings but those seeking a slightly less lively holiday experience will prefer the neighbouring resorts of La Pineda and Cambrils.

La Pineda, just to the North of Salou, still has plenty of entertainment and leisure activities but without the frantic round-the-clock partying of its more exuberant neighbour. It's an ideal holiday destination for families with young children as it offers good, safe sandy beaches and the popular Aquapolis Water Park which is awash with daredevil chutes, lakes, kiddies' play areas and other entertainment including a dolphin show.

The quietest of the three resorts is Cambrils, South of Salou, which still retains much of its traditional Spanish charm despite its proximity to Port Aventura. This is the place to savour the delights of some of the finest fresh fish restaurants in Catalunya after sipping a sundowner at the port where the boats deliver and auction off the day's catch each evening.

Port Aventura is of course the major attraction for most visitors to all three resorts. It merits at least two days of discovery with its five themed lands (China, Polynesia, Mediterranea, Mexico and the Far West) and an impressive collection of rollercoasters, water slides, live shows and countless budget-busting kiosks, gift shops, bars and restaurants.

Beyond the boundaries of the main resorts, you can enjoy some delightful unspoilt coves and an undisturbed hinterland which beckons would-be explorers back from the beachfront.

Between the Mediterranean and the mountains of the interior, tranquil villages nestle amid the vineyards and olive groves and you don't have to travel far to find another world of ancient walled cities, crumbling castles and medieval monasteries.