As legions of die-hard Formula One fans descend on Barcelona this weekend for the first European Grand Prix of the 2014 season, I take a look at two cities just a hop and a skip south of the Catalan capital, both easily accessible as a day trip to uncover what lies beyond Barcelona.
With its extensive Roman remains, medieval Christian monuments, walls and fortresses, the city of Tarragona is a veritable history lesson in the making. Set atop a rocky cliff along the Costa Daurada with unrivalled, uninterrupted views over the Mediterranean, Tarragona has seen Iberians, Carthaginians and Romans come and go. Indeed under Emperor Augustus Tarraco, as it was once known, was heralded as the capital of Rome’s eastern Iberian province.
Whilst today Tarragona prides itself on being a thriving commercial city and fishing port, culture and the arts abound whilst remainders of its rich history remain, particularly to the north of the Rambla Vella. Head into the twisting maze of medieval alleyways known as the Old Town and you’ll be entranced by the sumptuous 12th-century cathedral situated at the uppermost point of town. Take time also to wander along the Passeig Arqueològic, leading you along part of the Old Town’s perimeter between two lines of city walls.
Descending down the acacia-lined Rambla Nova, a walk to its end finds a balcony, the Balcó del Mediterràni, offering views over the coast and the lower part of the city including the fishing district of Serrallo. From here, a walk up the Passeig de les Palmeres brings you to Tarragona’s most prestigious Roman monument, the mighty amphitheatre, occupying a prominent seafront setting close to the beach. The direct train journey from Barcelona Sants takes around an hour.
Nestled between the Garraf Massif mountain range and the Mediterranean Sea just 35km along the coast from Barcelona, this once sleepy fishing village has been transformed in recent years into a vibrant and bohemian seaside resort with a nightlife to rival Ibiza. Once popular with upper-class city dwellers and avant-garde artists, Sitges now caters for the masses and, in the summer months particularly, is a renowned gay holiday destination (the annual carnival in February/March is also a sight to behold!).
Aside from its long and luscious stretches of sandy beaches (17 in total), a wealth of tapas bars, clubs and restaurants and pumping nightlife, Sitges also boasts attractive whitewashed buildings lining its narrow streets, together with art galleries and a number of interesting museums. It even hosts its own international film festival every October, specialising in fantasy films and horrors. If you’re looking to escape the city for a day, the journey to Sitges-San Pedro de Ribas from Barcelona Sants takes just over 30 minutes.