ALEX'S HOLIDAY TO COSTA DORADA, SPAIN
Who: Alex, Katie, Zach, and Alex II (me – Al Fresco’s Content Manager, which is why this is all a touch wordy).
Where: This was a tour of Costa Dorada in Spain, which took in all 4 holiday parks in the region: Sanguli, Cambrils Park, Tamarit Park, and Vilanova Park.
When: 8th – 12th May 2017
Travelling: It was a flight with Monarch from Manchester airport, which was followed by a car hire drive from Barcelona El-Prat Airport. It’s 90 minutes to the seaside resort town of Salou, where Sanguli is based. There are also public transport links from Barcelona (train is the most advisable) which will take you to Salou train station, where a taxi trip would take you up to your destination in around 10 minutes.
I hadn’t been to Spain since 1995. Back then, a family summer holiday sent the Morris clan out to a villa with a swimming pool and a local beach. I can’t for the life of me remember where in Spain it was, being only 10 at the time, but what I do know is there was a vast amount of paella consumed, an accidental purchase by my father of overly expensive cooked lobster, and relentless sunshine.
Despite a 22 year absence, my return to Spain wasn’t greeted by a horde of screaming fans at Barcelona El-Prat Airport, but it did mark my first visit to one of Al Fresco Holiday’s parks. Picked up from the airport with first class efficiency by Katie, we were soon hurtling along the coast in a 90 minute sprint to the first park on my agenda – Sanguli. This is located in the resort town of Salou by a huge stretch of slender sandy beach, which, further down, opens up into something of a tropical paradise.
It’s an absolute gem of a holiday park and is compactly tucked away behind a long stretch of road (Passeig de Miramar) at the bottom of Salou, with the open ocean stretching out as far as the eye can see. Importantly, the mobile homes are only a 10 minute walk from your makeshift home to the surf, and it made for quite the unusual experience, having spent the last 10 years living in Manchester, to walk down to a standard intersection, complete with a traffic light, hear the sounds of the ocean, cross the road, and then find myself on a quite gorgeous stretch of beach. The locals, presumably being too familiar with it all, don’t seem to bother the place as much as you’d expect, so it’s enjoyably empty a lot of the time.
Life on the park is just as impressive. Much had been made prior to my visit – Sanguli is known as a hugely popular destination and its location is simply brilliant for making day trips to tourist hotspots such as Barcelona, Tarragona, and the theme park PortAventura World. However, on park life consists of endless sunbathing and swimming opportunities across multiple water complexes, the most impressive of which (and the most delightful for kids) is the Africa pool, which packs quite a few surprises in the form of wildlife models, a water slide, and poolside amenities such as a restaurant and deli shop, where ice cream and drinks can easily be bought and consumed.
Adjusting to life on park was straightforward, and the handy map of Sanguli saw me rushing up and down to peruse all of the popular hotspots. The wider world was beckoning, though, and, as a bonus for my trip, just up the road from Sanguli is Cambrils Park, which I was able to tour around. A unique feature here is guests can stay in the Aloha Bungalow, which offers a lot of shade from the midday sun and is a stylish way to enjoy your holiday. It's only available at this park, so if you'd like to experience some rustic glamping then this is an ideal opportunity.
The whole of Cambrils Park seems to sit inside a natural bowl which cups the atmosphere up into the air where it hovers over everyone, making it impossible not to feel enthusiastic about being there. Helping my sunny disposition along a great deal was the glorious sunshine, of course, which was already beaming away merrily in the month of May. Perhaps not too surprising, given that it’s Spain, but it pleased me all the same and it remains one of the central reasons why families enjoy taking well-earned time abroad to this spectacular country.
Cambrils Park was an, unfortunately, minor part of my trip to Spain, and as I returned to Sanguli I found I was already extremely fond of the setup the park offers. The mobile homes are perfectly positioned close to the on-site shop – Al Fresco customers, in fact, are almost the closest to the store, which opens at 8 am and is packed out with all sorts of foodstuff delights. It’s also right next to the Africa pool, making for some acceptably lazy days sunbathing, swimming, and enjoying multiple ice creams.
For other local amenities, for the more intrepid amongst your family, you won’t be left disappointed. Sanguli features multiple on-site restaurants, the aforementioned deli (where you can order food late into the night), and there’s a Lidl up the road from the main entrance – back on Day 1, our expedition immediately went there after arrival to stock up on fresh food and there was an impressive selection of traditional Spanish cuisine and British favourites, if you’re looking for familiar comfort foods.
Although I spent most of my time in Sanguli, there was something about Tamarit Park which piqued my interest, in part as it involved my first proper trip out deeper into Costa Dorada. I made the walk from the top of Sanguli to the train station in Salou in just over 30 minutes, slightly delayed as I stopped to take pictures of the beach, and also to take a waltz along the seaside resort’s promenade.
This took me into Salou, the resort town which provides a fun day out should you want to wander away from the beach for a while. There are many British themed restaurants here if you’re craving some traditional fish and chips, but you can also find Spanish cuisine all over the place, and the shops available will provide you with a chance to pick up some unique gifts for friends and family (or for yourself, if you’re feeling indulgent – you’re on holiday, so why not?).
Where is the train station? You may need to use Google Maps to locate it, as it’s tucked away rather inconspicuously. I don’t speak a word of Spanish (well… I know “Cállate”, which I also know means “Shut up!” and this wasn’t going to do me any favours amongst the polite locals) and made the trip to Tamarit Park with ease for a return ticket of around 7 Euros, the nearest town to the park being the historic and peaceful Altafulla. The train station, which was lovely and quaint, is Altafulla-Tamarit and, from there, I took a bit of a tortuous route to the resort (by car would be a lot easier for those of you looking to spend your holiday here), which included stumbling along the beach in shoes (typical Brit abroad) before entering the holiday park from, essentially, the wrong angle.
Regardless, I was in and ready to take a look around after catching up with John, your friendly resident holiday Rep. It’s not the biggest park available to families, but it is peaceful and atmospheric thanks to its excellent setting. Simply put, the main attraction here is the enormous beach a 5 minute walk from Al Fresco’s mobile homes – the homes are located, rather idyllically, under the canopy of trees, but by the time you reach the beach Tamarit Park suddenly opens up into a mini-utopia. It’d be busier in summer, for sure, but as this was May I, essentially, had access to a huge beach all to myself.
Presiding over the stretch of coast is the powerful sight of Tamarit Castle, slap bang right at the top of the beach. This is a venue where many couples head to get married and it’s attracted celebrities over the years due to the natural beauty of the location (according to John, the talkative Rep, famous footballers particularly like it). Whether you’re after swimming or sunbathing this is absolutely the place - there’s even a restaurant right next to the beach for a meal in one of the most beautifully secluded areas of Spain I can imagine. My recommendation? If a beach holiday is high up your agenda, this is the park for you! However, the local town also provides easy transport links to Barcelona, Tarragona, and Salou, so you’ll have plenty of choices for an impromptu day trip.
On to Vilanova Park, this was a car hire run from Sanguli which took us past historic Tarrgona, where I’d visited the day before whilst travelling back from Altafulla-Tamarit to Salou. I’ll include a brief review of the town here as it’s definitely a place to visit on your travels. From the train station, at first, it doesn’t feel overly impressive. It’s akin to alighting at Oxford Road train station in Manchester on a rainy day – you wonder for a second why you bothered.
Then the reality of the situation soon kicks in and you appreciate Manchester is glorious, which is the same experience I had with Tarragona. After stumbling around and along a winding, steep road, I suddenly found myself in the beating heart of the town, which is a giant central square high above sea level and bustling with activity. Impressed, I managed to find a sushi restaurant and that pretty much made my trip for me (although I appreciate not everyone is quite as enthusiastic about raw fish as I am). Tarragona is a mini-metropolis and its mixture of culture, history, shops, and restaurants makes for a special day trip – don’t miss out.
Not that I mentioned any of this as we drove by on our way to Vilanova Park, as my details about sushi would have been lost on non-sushi fans. The rural setting also soon distracted me, as it’s in a beautiful spot with the city of Vilanova i la Geltrú a short trip away which offers shopping opportunities and a local beach (sadly, I didn’t get the time to look around).
The first thing that must be noted is this is a car hire holiday – you’ll need to drive from the nearest airport or ferry destination. As with Tamarit Park, it’s a deeply secluded and peaceful location with the central attraction being a number of swimming pools and Al Fresco’s mobile home area located under a canopy of trees (along with the mobile home canopy, of course).
The on-site restaurants and shop provide the amenities and delights you could need, but there’s simply a lot to see and do, not least with the local driving proximity of Barcelona and Tarragona, which offer super day trips. I’ve not mentioned the giant theme park PortAventura World yet, but this is within public transport and driving distance of all four of the parks in the Costa Dorada region – I didn’t visit whilst I was there, unfortunately, but it’s definitely at the top of my agenda should I be returning in the future. With Ferrari Land alongside this theme park, it’s a guaranteed fun day out so, absolutely, put it at the top of your holiday agenda.
It seemed appropriate to wrap the trip up at Sanguli, with the previous evening meal from the deli consisting of paella and all manner of remaining items from the Lidl haul earlier in the week. Come the morning, it was with a great deal of sadness the trip was at an end – the steady humidity of an early May morning in Salou greeted us all as we packed our bags, chucked relevant items into the recycling areas, and made our way off the park.
Back on the road, our car hire decision made a lot of sense as we traversed the motorways and soon found ourselves back in Barcelona. There’s a historic grandeur about the architecture in Spain, which made even waiting for the return plane journey from Barcelona El-Prat Airport enjoyable. It’s a huge and lively place but, naturally, prices are through the roof and we dined instead on some of the final bits of food leftover from a small Lidl barely a mile down the road from Sanguli, which had proved to be of excellent quality – I think this is the perfect summary for a trip to Spain, locals doing their best to make everyone’s day all the better. It’s a fantastic country and I’ll be returning again as soon as possible.