During my trip to the Costa Daurada – located in the southern part of Catalonia – I was lucky to visit some of the region’s amazing historical sites, dating as far back as ancient Rome. This was perfect for me as I’m a super keen history buff. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not my kind of holiday without a few historical sights on the itinerary – castles, museums, ruins; they’re all good!
Here are my top three spots to visit to visit in Costa Daurada if, like me, you love your history…
The Poblet Monastery
This Cistercian monastery is in the lush Conca de Barbera country. It’s part of a ‘triangle’ of monasteries, but it’s the only one that’s still home to monks. I guess that may not be interesting in itself until you find out that the monastery was first constructed in 1151. It was a religious hub during the medieval period and many of the Kings of Aragon and Catalonia were buried there.
Sadly, like many of these places, it fell into disrepair and it was only in the 1940s that Italian Cistercian monks started repair and reconstruction.
Today, much of the monastery has been restored I was absolutely blown away by the stunning architecture, particularly the mix of Romanesque and Gothic.
While the entire monastery is magnificent and there’s so much history, my highlights were most certainly the cloisters and the altarpiece.
If you follow Ladies What Travel on Instagram you’ll know I had rather an emotional experience when I entered the cloisters for the first time. The sun was shining through the archways and it was just an amazing sight as I came through the door. The 12th century gothic stonework has certainly been lovingly restored and the view into the garden is stunning. A gorgeously restored fountain is a central focal point it’s truly relaxing.
The alabaster altarpiece was created in the 1500s and is a spectacular work. The tour guide took us through a number of the inclusions so I highly recommend taking the guided tour. In the same space, you’ll see what is essentially a pantheon of Spain’s royalty from the medieval period. If you have an appreciation of fine details and sculpture, you’ll need to take some time here.
Good to know:
- You can stay in the vicinity, as a guest house was built onsite in 2010. You’re not in the monastery proper, but it’s only steps away.
- You don’t have to worry about finding something to eat because there is also a restaurant onsite with a great 15 Euro set menu.
During Roman times, UNESCO World Heritage site Tarragona was called Tarraco and was a centre of activity for the region. You’ll need at least a day in Tarragona because unlike the Poblet Monastery, the town has multiple sites to visit all around 15 minutes’ walk from each other. The sites range from Roman infrastructure to a medieval cathedral. Many of the Roman sites have been lovingly restored and can be viewed up close. This means history nerds like me can get a little fan girly.
During our short time in Tarragona, we were taken for a guided walk of the ruins and, in some cases, well-cared-for buildings located amongst modern houses. We saw walls and arches that had been incorporated into later buildings, and some places that had been excavated and semi-restored. Our guide was very helpful and could provide a visualisation of what stood before (the Roman-era model of the town helped too!). My highlights included:
With a stunning view of the ocean, the 2,000 year old amphitheatre – which held up to 15,000 people – has been excavated and partially restored. In the centre, younger ruins of a Christian church can be seen. It has a fairly violent history, so do stop by the tourism centre to get the background.
Praetorium and Roman Circus
I can’t express enough how amazing the Praetorium is. You’ll be walking through a tower built in the 1st century and you’ll have the opportunity to visit the roof to see what Romans of the time saw (you know, plus a few modern buildings). The tower also houses some well appointed displays if you’re a museum fiend like me.
The Praetorium also includes the Roman Circus, which as the name suggests was used to hold horse and chariot races. You can take a walk around the archaeological site to get a feel for the size and intricacy of the construction.
The ‘youngest’ of my highlights is the Tarragonna Cathedral. If you’ve seen a lot of cathedrals, you’ll notice immediately that it seems to be missing something: the main façade was left unfinished due to ravages cause by the Black Death. Even though it’s unfinished, it has a number of interesting points, including the stunning rose window and detailed figures of the apostles. Like many of the buildings in the Costa Daurada, it also has many elements of both Gothic and Romanesque style.
Even more interesting is that the cathedral is built over the remains of an old Christian basilica, which in turn was erected over an Arab mosque. So much history in one spot! The inside is also amazing, but I’ll let you find that out for yourself when you go…
I could have spent a whole day in Tarragona. Sadly, we only had a few hours. It’s most definitely on my list to return to!
Scala Dei Monastery
One of the last stops on our itinerary in the Costa Daurada was the Scala Dei Monastery, which is surrounded by the stunning Montsant mountain range in Priorat county. As a history lover, you’ll enjoy walking through the ruins and taking in the natural beauty of the area.
The monastery hasn’t been in use since 1835 and sadly most of it is in ruins. But, one of the very cool parts was seeing a restored cell. The monks lived in complete silence in their cells most of the time. I guess when you think of a ‘cell’, you imagine a small room with a bed and a table for study. Not the case at Scala Dei. As a monk your cell was the size of a small flat with room for a bedroom, washroom, study space and two gardens.
Costa Daurada for history lovers
There’s so much history in the Costa Daurada and I can highly recommend taking a long weekend to get in as much as you can (and some time to relax, of course!).
You can get to the Costa Daurada via the Reus airport and I flew from London Southend Airport with Flybe.
Karis, from But first, we eat! , is an honorary Ladies What Travel, kindly covering this trip to Spain on our behalf when we couldn’t make it!