The Costa Dorada is Spain's "Gold Coast" extending from the city of Barcelona to south of Tarragona in the region of Catalonia. It boasts the dual attractions of seemingly endless miles of golden sandy beaches and the Port Aventura theme park, a Universal Studio's entertainment centre which is the main magnet for many international holidaymakers. This stretch of the coastline has long been popular with Spanish tourists, anxious to escape the stifling summer heat of Madrid and the traffic chaos and congestion of Barcelona. But it only developed as a major international tourist destination after the opening of Port Aventura in 1995.
There are three main tourist centres on the Costa Dorada (Costa Daurada in Catalan) - Salou, La Pineda and Cambrils, all of which are clustered together (unsurprisingly) on the section of coastline nearest to the Universal Studios theme park at Vila-seca. The nearest international airport is just 15 minutes drive inland at Reus which handles regular charter flights from London. International tourists also use schedule services to Barcelona, an hour's drive northeast along the coast.
Salou is the undisputed tourist capital of the Costa - a totally modern resort, chock-a-block with high-rise hotels, bars and entertainment facilities all geared to satisfying the every whim of the international visitor. There are a huge number of pubs, clubs and discos here along with a wide range of watersports and other leisure activities including golf, para gliding, hiking, cycling and horse riding. The nightlife in Salou is one of the liveliest of all the Spanish coastal resorts. Whether you want traditional flamenco, a Mexican meal, karaoke or all-night clubs you'll find it all here. Many of the bars and pubs are geared to the British and Irish markets providing draught bitter, quiz nights, celebrity impersonators and comedians. Don't come here for a taste of the "real Spain" but if you're looking for a purpose-built holiday town with all imaginable entertainment on your doorstep then Salou's the place for you.
Teenagers will love Salou but if you're looking for a quieter and more family-orientated resort, La Pineda, a short drive northeast along the coast, is a better bet. The safe sandy beaches make this a perfect holiday spot for families with young children. The resort is the closest to Port Aventura and has the added benefit of the Aquopolis water park right on the beachfront.
A mini road train runs between La Pineda and Port Aventura throughout the day. The theme park has enough entertainment to keep you busy for three days including the world-renowned Dragon Khan roller coaster which dominates the skyline for miles around. It's one of the biggest of its kind in the world with no less than eight death-defying loop-the-loops. The park consists of five themed lands all packed with thrill rides, cabaret shows, bars, restaurants and shops. As one harassed mum put it: "Blindfold your kids and lock your wallet!"
Cambrils is the most southern of the three resorts and is a world apart from frantic Salou. Parts of the town are still very Spanish in character with narrow, cobbled streets, ancient buildings and typical tapas bars. The resort retains all the charm of a small fishing village and boasts some world-class seafood restaurants. Sit by the quayside with a pre-dinner drink in the early evening and you'll be able to watch the day's catch being landed.