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The area by the Spanish Mediterranean Sea holds many cultural and natural secrets. Beautiful national parks, mountains, picturesque Catalan towns – all of them could be named as (hidden) gems. But Tarragona certainly is one of the most precious jewels among them! The unique and historical port city by the golden Costa Dorada is built around a Roman circus and other Roman walls and ruins. The history of Tarragona, or originally Tarraco, dates back to around 500 B.C. and was actually the oldest Roman settlement on the Iberian Peninsula. I was enchanted by its historical architecture, the Old Town with narrow alleys and the Amphitheatre, located right by the dazzling coast. Being only about an hour train ride away from Barcelona, it’s the perfect getaway (and time travel) to an ancient Roman Empire.
I arrived in Tarragona around that magical time of the golden hour, when the sunlight leaves a golden glance on the entire city. I came from Barcelona by car, with a dear friend of mine, who grew up in Tarragona and invited me to her place to show me around. Having had her as a "private tour guide" really gave me a deep insight into the city and made me fall in love with it instantly. Starting by the ruins of the Roman circus, we walked down to the promenade by the coast which lead us straight to the ancient Amphitheatre (which by the way is a UNESCO world heritage). Seeing this artefact of Roman history in the midst of Catalonia, with the rosy colours in the sky from the setting sun, was extraordinary! After that magnificent view, we walked to the Rambla Nova, crossing many side-streets and squares of the Old Town until we reached the beautiful Tarragona Cathedral Santa Thecla, built in the 12th century. Along our walk, we even witnessed an authentic performance of the famous Catalan Castells (human pyramids) – a tradition since the 18th century, symbolizing the folkloric Valencian dance. Every two years in October, there’s even a Concurs de Castell taking place, where Le Tarraco Arena and the streets of Tarragona are filled with more than 30 teams trying to make the tallest human tower. Without doubt, something you gotta see once in your life!
If you come to Tarragona in the end of April or beginning of May, you’ll experience the city as vibrant and entertaining as I did. Around that time there’s the iconic Dixiland festival happening, with a diverse offer in cultural events all day long (like free Swing dance lessons... I wish I could say I went, but I overslept) and Jazz concerts at night in many bars and restaurants around the town. Simultaneously you can enjoy the Tapas Festival, where you can go from one restaurant and tapas bar to another, enjoying a speciality tapa for only 2,50 EUR, including a beer (or as the locals say "caña"). You can get a booklet and map at little booths on the main squares, guiding you through the list of participating restaurants and the tapas they’re serving. But whenever you come to Tarragona, you’ll most likely be surprised by interesting events (like the wine festival in May, San Joan in June, Santa Tecla festival in September, Concurs de Castell in October and so on).
One of my favourite parts of visiting a new town is discovering new vegan restaurants. And I can tell you, El Vergel Veggie Restaurant made it to my top 10 of vegan restaurants I’ve ever been to – their hot chocolate tart, topped with meringue alone is worth coming to Tarragona! You can choose a small menu for 12 EUR (main dish, dessert or drink, water and bread) or a big menu for 15 EUR (starter, main dish, dessert or drink, water and bread). I chose a small menu, with an incredibly delicious pizza made with mushroom purée, smoked vegan cheese and truffle oil and the mentioned chocolate tart. The restaurant is light-flooded and charmingly decorated with lots of white and illustrations from local artists hanging on the walls. Come here for dinner and enjoy exquisite vegan food in a lovely ambiance for reasonable prices (and again, make sure to try the chocolate tart – I am literally still dreaming about it at night).
Honestly, Tarragona is not only worth to be recommended as a getaway to an ancient Roman Empire, but even to spend a long weekend or whole holiday here. I cannot wait to be back and see more! Veni, vidi, vici (well... not really vici, but you know what I mean – Tarragona conquered my heart).
Cover Photo: ©️ Paulina Kulczycki
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