Gazing upon the Catalan gothic architecture of Barcelona, sipping beachside sangria in Ibiza, and gorging on tapas while shopping in Madrid are all top-tier daydream fodder when you think about a trip to Spain. But there's one city that packs it all -- the history, beauty, food, and wine -- into a smaller package, and it's just a short trip away from Barcelona. Yet most Americans are overlooking this compact, jaw-dropping Spanish destination.
I’m talking about Tarragona, a port city in the Catalonia region of Spain. Although many travelers have never even heard of this seaside city, it’s somewhere I’ve known all about since I was young, thanks to my Catalan heritage. My mother’s yayo (grandpa) was born in Tarragona in 1900 and her yaya (grandma) was born there shorty after. Since then, most of my Spanish relatives never left. And for good reason.
My own yaya, however, married an American and settled in the US. Growing up, I heard endless stories from her, delivered in her near-indecipherable accent, and my mother about their family summers spent back “home.” I’d curiously examine old black-and-white photos of my mom and our relatives in the ‘60s -- from her siblings and cousins digging in the sand outside of a small, bungalow-style cafe at the beach to Yayo’s hillside house with an awning draped in greenery, the images left me in awe of the sights and people pictured.
After years of painting a picture in my head about what Tarragona was like, I finally had the chance to turn my fantasies into reality. And let me tell you, Tarragona blew my fantasy of it out of the water.
Look to your right, and you’ll see a panorama view of the Mediterranean sea. To your left, a slew of ancient Roman ruins. But the real kicker? Unlike Barcelona -- a sprawling, gorgeous metropolis only an hour away by train -- there aren’t masses of tourists crowding the long pedestrian walkways full of artisan vendors and cafes known as ramblas. When you’re in Tarragona, you truly get a taste of the lifestyle and people who live there.
Despite all its appeal and its close proximity to one of Spain's most toured destinations Tarragona remains one of Spain's best-kept secrets. Here's how to experience this ancient, wholly singular city by the sea.