Summer holidays in Spain's Costa Dorada have a reputation for being cheap and cheerful, but is it really all English pubs, cheap cocktails and sun loungers on the beach?
Earlier this summer, Flea and I were invited to spend a week in Salou, a bustling tourist resort smack in the middle of Spain's Costa Dorada. We stayed with Al Fresco holidays at Camping Sanguli, a large family campsite situated on the outskirts of Salou, directly opposite the beach.
Our Al Fresco accommodation was a generously sized two-bedroom, air conditioned mobile home complete with outside decking, a barbecue, and a fully kitted out kitchen.
The campsite itself is large and busy, but with four swimming pools, two supermarkets, two restaurants, two take-aways, tennis courts, a gym and its own Amphitheatre, it never feels too crowded.
Best of all, the site is just 20 minutes from Reus airport, meaning it's ridiculously easy to get to, and gives drivers the opportunity to have a car free holiday. Once in Spain you can hire a car, but we found the local bus services so good that I really don't think a car is essential.
It's true that Salou does have its fair share of pubs, fast-food restaurants and tourist shops. But there are also miles of family-friendly beaches and countless ways for a family to have fun. Here's our pick of the best:
Llevant: This is the main beach in Salou. It's busy and can get crowded but the waves are great if your children enjoy body boarding. It's also worth a visit for the watersports – this is the beach for you if you want to try parasailing, ride on a banana boat, hire a pedalo, or rent a jet ski!
Cambrils: If Salou is brash and commercial, Cambrils is a much quieter affair, its port lined with pretty seafood restaurants. The beach here has all the amenities you'd expect (showers, food and drink stands, sun loungers for hire) without the crowds you'll find in Salou. It's just a 10 minute drive from the centre of Salou to Cambrils, and buses run along the coast road throughout the day.
PortAventura: Salou is just minutes away from this huge Universal Studios theme park, which includes a newly-opened water park in 2013 called Costa Caribe. The rides are themed into six different 'worlds' with a great range of thrill rides for older children. The rides for smaller children are a little on the tame side for thrill-seekers, we found, but for older kids, I think it's brilliant.
Aquopolis: La Pineda is situated on the other side of Salou to Cambrils, and is home to the region's largest water park. Aquopolis has more than 20 rides and attractions, alongside three huge areas for younger children which have countless water games and mini slides. If you can find time, there's also a twice-daily dolphin show which comes highly recommended.
Barcelona: Salou is just an hour away from Barcelona, which makes for a fantastic day out. While you're here, don't miss Gaudi's famous Familia Sagrada church (book ahead if you want to go inside). There is a regular bus trip to Barcelona running from Salou, Cambrils and La Pineda, costing around 20 euros for an adult and 15 for a child.
Cambrils Port: There are a number of boat trips available at Cambrils Port, our favourite was the catamaran trip, which goes up the coast and back in half a day. There are longer trips and it's possible to take a boat all the way to Barcelona if you choose.
Tarragona: This Catalonian city is now a World Heritage Site, because of the fantastic Roman remains to be found here. There are daily bus trips from Salou to Tarragona, allowing you to see the monuments, the Roman area and the monasteries.
Seven nights accommodation in a two-bedroom Rossini mobile home at Camping Sanguli in July costs £1,470. Return flights from Liverpool on Ryanair cost an additional £386 for one adult and one child. Special offers and discounts are available at certain times of year, see the Al Fresco website for details.
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