Shambhala and Dragon Khan, Portaventura.
Rhonda Carrier
Shambhala and Dragon Khan, Portaventura.

A Two-Centre Holiday at PortAventura and Playa de la Montroig, Catalonia

Fresh from a week-long city-break in Barcelona that whetted our appetite for some serious seaside action, we hopped on a train to the resort of Cambrils about 90 minutes south, then took a taxi to the Playa de la Montroig campsite about a 15-minute drive south of Cambrils. Though Eurocamp advises that its guests here have use of a car, it’s possible to do without, as we did – there are cheap local buses to Cambrils and then onto Tarragona with its UNESCO World Heritage listed Roman ruins. Eurocamp itself also runs excursions in the region, as well as bike tours.

Situated on a marvellous long curve of pale sand with a very pleasant beach bar, a pontoon to swim out to and a good variety of watersports, Montroig is an excellent, well-maintained holiday park with a tropical outdoor pool complex. Other pluses are the good restaurant, bar and takeaway counter, the fantastic supermarket (don’t miss the marinated steaks – expensive but a must-have for a barbie) and the well-stocked shop for beach toys/clothing and practical items. We're not one for evening entertainment, but the kids loved the central hub with its stage, bouncy castle, ping-pong tables and playground – and Eurocamp’s section is far enough away for noise not to be a problem for those who aren't up for dancing the night away.

Playa de la Montroig is also within easy reach of PortAventura, Spain’s most-visited themepark, and it's here that we rounded off our Catalonia jaunt as a 10th birthday treat for my eldest, a rollercoaster fiend with his own blog. My husband and I had been dreading this finale, knowing that at least one of us ought to ride Shambhala with my son. Opened only four months before our visit, this is the tallest, fastest rollercoaster in all Europe – it's visible for miles around, including the train down from Barcelona to Cambrils and even from Playa de la Montroig about 20km to the south. (Note that special buses and trains serve Portaventura direct from Barcelona airport and from Barcelona's central Sants train station.)

Heart racing, knuckles bulging as I gripped my restraint for dear life, I rode Shambhala. But it was worth the palpitations to hear Ethan scream with joy all the way around, waving his arms and legs like a mad thing. Emboldened, I also let him drag me on Dragon Khan, which goes upside down no less than eight times – when I got off, I couldn’t feel my legs for several minutes. If you need convincing to try them out, the views from the top – the sparkling Mediterranean on one side and mountains on the other – are glorious…

But PortAventura isn’t all about thrill rides. For my younger and less daring sons, eight and four, there was plenty on offer in the Sesame Street themed Sésamo Aventura in particular and in the rest of the park as a whole. In fact, PortAventura was so packed with fantastic rides and things to do that we had no time to check out the excellent-looking waterpark or even take a dip in our hotel swimming pools.

PortAventura has several on-site hotels, all offering access to the park as part of your package. We stayed in the Gold River, with Wild West themed streets dotted with cacti – tacky, but charmingly so. Our interconnecting rooms were surprisingly stylish, in a modern-rustic way. >Dinner and breakfast, included in the package along with themepark tickets, were the low-points for me – the windowless main dining room (there are three restaurants in the hotel) was rather lugubrious, and the food and wine weren’t top notch (although the kids were happy enough with their churros and chocolate in the morning). But this is a minor niggle given what a fantastic two days at the park we had. 

Staying in the on-site hotels gives you reductions on Fast Track passes to the most popular rides, which I’d advise investing in. Had we had to queue for an hour or more for Shambhala I’d have talked myself out of going on it at all; getting straight on to it gave me no chance to wimp out. And doing that would have denied me what I am sure will remain one of my most treasured memories with my not-so-little boy.

Find out more about Eurocamp's Playa de la Montroig and Portaventura's Hotel Gold River.

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