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Photo: Courtesy of La Carretera del Vino
Photo: Courtesy of La Carretera del Vino

Places

Coastal treasures – a road trip from Barcelona to Alicante

For seasoned visitors to Spain, cities like Barcelona, Valencia, Benidorm and Alicante may already have a “been there, done that” vibe about them. But what about the likes of Sitges, Tarragona, Gandía and Benissa?

Turns out Spain’s Northeastern Mediterranean coast is not only home to many of its most-loved tourist hotspots but also some of its best-kept secrets. Hidden gems include the lesser-known beaches of the Costa de Azahar, the Penedès wine country, too many great restaurants to count, as well as one of Spain’s best beach hotels.

So what are you waiting for? Hop in your rental car, wind down the windows, crank up the volume and get ready to discover the hidden treasures dotted along the 500-km-long stretch of coastal road between Barcelona and Alicante.  

Photo: Courtesy of La Carretera del Vino

Take the wine road

The “Carretera del Vino” (Wine Road) takes wine lovers on a trip along the route that links the vineyards of Penedès with the beaches of Garraf. It showcases the region’s best wines, along the historic route the Romans used to bring the wines of the Penedès into the world. Experience 13 wineries of different sizes, as well as some stunning Iberian villages, medieval castles and some fantastic local gastronomy. The route sets off from Sitges on the coast, going through Sant Pere de Ribes, and the renowned Pinord and Torres wineries near Vilafranca de Penedès, before arriving in the final vineyard in Sant Martí Sarroca, 30 km from the coast. The whole route takes days to complete, but two or three wineries can easily be done in a day.

Carretera del Vino

Sitges, Sant Pere de Ribes, Vilafranca de Penedès

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Sweet on Sitges

Sitges is where Barcelonians go for a spot of luxury when they have had enough of the chaos of the city. But make no mistake, this is no sleepy seaside village. Hidden away between the Mediterranean and the hills of the Garraf, with powdery sand so fine it puts the gravelly grey Barcelona city beaches to shame, it is no surprise that many FC Barcelona footballers choose to live here. Aside from the opportunity to spot a Barça star, the charming old town, excellent gastronomy and buzzing nightlife of Sitges make it a sought-after destination in its own right.

Sitges

Photo: Courtesy of Le Meridien Ra

Relax at the Ra

If you’re looking for somewhere to pamper yourself, look no further than Le Meridien Ra. From the moment you set foot inside this sumptuous five-star beachfront property, you will know exactly why it so often gets a nod as one of the best beach hotels in Spain or, indeed, in Europe – as the soft Mediterranean breeze gently fans through your hair beckoning you to dive into the glittering sea just outside. With an ideal situation right on the golden sands of the Costa Dorada, a luxurious spa, private beach club and excellent gastronomy, Le Meridien Ra really is the hotel you never want to leave.

Le Meridien Ra

Av. Sanatori, 1, El Vendrell, Tarragona

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Do it like a Roman

Who knew that the charmingly unpretentious town of Tarragona, situated just 100 km south of Barcelona, would be home to some of Spain’s most spectacular Roman ruins? The highlight is a well-preserved second-century Roman amphitheater overlooking the sea that used to host up to 15,000 spectators. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000 and having received Michelin’s maximum three-star rating for sightseeing, you’d think this small Catalan town would attract more crowds, but it remains decidedly laid back and mercifully spared from mainstream tourism.

Roman amphitheater Tarragona

Parc de l’amfiteatre, s/n, 43003 Tarragona

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Photo: Courtesy of Rincón de Diego

Fine dine in Cambrils

The seaside town of Cambrils has made a name for itself as the gastronomic capital of the Costa Dorada. Stop off at Rincón de Diego, a hidden gem where Michelin-star Chef Diego Campos serves up his unique brand of creative cuisine, based on top-notch, locally sourced produce. Campos specializes in seasonal tasting menus, which center on the product that is most in season at specific times of the year (squid in October, artichokes in November, and so on).

Rincón de Diego

Carrer de les Drassanes, 19, 43850 Cambrils, Tarragona

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Orange blossom beaches

Spain is known for its costas, the endless stretches of golden sand that attract thousands of sun-seeking tourists each year. But aside from the famous del Sols, Blancas, and Bravas, there are plenty of lesser known, and far less crowded coasts. One of Spain’s unsung beach regions is the Costa de Azahar, or Orange Blossom coast, situated in the province of Castellón. There are too many beaches here to write about, but our favorite is Playa del Pebret in the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Irta – a perfect spot to escape from the sunburnt tourists, where boundless sand dunes and beds of sea lilies blend with the unmistakable fragrance of pines and bougainvillea.

Playa del Pebret

12598, Castellón, Spain

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Photo: Courtesy of Ducal Palace of Gandia

Palatial Gandía

In the 14th century, the magnificent palace in Gandía was the official residence of the Royal Dukes of Gandía, before being taken over by the wealthy Borja family in 1485. Visitors marvel at its exquisitely crafted artesonado ceilings and the spectacular mapa universal floor. Regular guided tours are available in both Spanish and English in exchange for a modest fee.

Ducal Palace of Gandía

Carrer del Duc Alfons el Vell, 1, Gandía, Valencia

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Photo: Aleksandra Olejnik

One for the gourmands

With its two Michelin stars, Bon Amb in Xàbia is the indisputable highlight of the Alicante region for visiting gastronomes. The head of the kitchen is Chef Alberto Ferruz, aged only 33, who is one of the most talented young chefs in Spain and definitely one to watch for the future. Priced at only €86 for seven courses, €98 for nine course or €135 for 13 courses, the Bon Amb tasting menus are a steal for a restaurant of this caliber.

Bon Amb

Carrer Benitachell, 100, Xàbia, Alicante

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Perched on the windy coastal road between Valencia and Alicante is the enchantingly photogenic medieval town of Benissa. Visitors often say it resembles Granada, with its narrow streets and houses decorated with ornate iron window grilles and floral displays in the window boxes bearing witness to ancient local rivalries. When in Benissa, don’t leave without seeing the spectacular neo-gothic “Cathedral of the Marina Alta” church.

Benissa

03720 Alicante

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Last edited: November 13, 2017

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