Getting away from the city means a wealth of variety in nearby regions, a short hop from Barcelona. The beaches south of the city are long and golden. The prettiest seaside town is Sitges, which also has the wildest and most outrageous nightlife. The buzzy, easy-going city of Tarragona is crammed with Roman ruins, but also has a clutch of good beaches and a port full of great seafood restaurants. The resorts of the Costa Daurada aren’t for everyone, but fine if you are just looking for sun, sea and sand. At the southernmost tip are the wild, empty wetlands of the Ebre Delta, a paradise for birdwatchers. Inland, there are Modernista bodegas for trying out local wines and cava, the spectacular medieval monasteries of the "Cisterican Triangle" and a smattering of fine old medieval towns and villages with some fantastic local festivals.
Leaving the city the Garraf Massif drops dramatically into the sea, creating a spectacular coastline of steep cliffs overlooking tiny coves. Beyond the Garraf Massif stretch sandy beaches and a couple bustling seaside towns known as the Costa Garraf. The town of Castelldefels, which started out as a tourist resort, has effectively become a suburb of Barcelona, but it has long golden beaches and some fine seafood restaurants.
Just beyond Castelldefels is the town of Garraf, a quietly pretty seaside town with a great beach, backed by a delightful row of bottle-green-and-white-painted beach huts and a colorful port packed with seafood tascas. Gaudí designed the striking Celler de Garraf (now a retaurant) for the Güell family in 1888, a pointy, fairytale bodega attached to an old keep.
Sitges and Costa Daurada
The belle of the whole coastline south of Barcelona is undoubtedly Sitges, a beautiful whitewashed town clustered around a rosy church out on a promontory, which gets packed with hip Barcelonins on summer weekends. Strictly speaking, it’s not part of the Costa Daurada proper (which begins a few miles down the coast) but it does have some of the finest long sandy beaches on the coast. No one really comes to Sitges for the museums; beaches, bars and the certainty of a good time are what draw the hordes of trendy Barcelonins. Since the 1960s, it’s also become a hugely popular gay resort who put the kick into its famously over-the-top celebrations for Carnival in early spring. The long sandy beaches are invariably crowded, and right at the westernmost end are a couple of pretty wild nudist beaches, one of which is gay.
Vilanova i la Geltrú
Further down the coast and resolutely down-to-earth after flamboyant Sitges, Vilanova i La Geltrú is a busy working port with a large fishing fleet. The palm-lined Passeig Marìtim is crammed with restaurants where you can taste the day’s catch, and there are two good beaches—the nicest is at the end of the Passeig Marìtim. There is also a handful of museums to keep you occupied on a rainy day.
The Wine Route
Catalan cava, the delicious home-grown bubbly, is mostly produced in the valleys of the Alt Penedès region, just southwest of Barcelona and a short trip inland from Sitges. Well over half the land is given over to vines, which snake trimly across the hills as far as the eye can see. Many of the wineries and vineyards are open for visitors, but you’ll have to check with the tourist offices in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia (the main centre of cava production) or in Vilafranca del Penedès for opening hours and times. Most bodegas, besides the really big producers like Freixenet, prefer visits to be arranged in advance. The hills become increasingly rugged beyond Falset, another big wine-producing town, and, lost among them, are some tiny medieval villages overlooked by ruined castles and monasteries.
Tarragona, imposingly perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea, is one of the oldest cities in Spain and one of the most important in Catalunya. The Romans established a military base here at the end of the third century BC which played an important role in the conquest of the Iberian peninsula. Today it’s a brisk, industrious city with a picturesque old quarter curled around the unusual Gothic cathedral, and a busy working harbour lined with great seafood restaurants.
Tarragona is easy to negotiate on foot: right on top of the hill is the old quarter with the cathedral, where most of the sights are concentrated. The old quarter is divided from the newer extension which spreads downhill by the parallel avenues of the Rambla Vella and the Rambla Nova, two long avenues where many of the shops are located.