The regional government consists of consells comarcals, or county councils. The Costa Daurada has a total of six counties: three inland and three on the coast. The coastal counties are El Baix Camp, El Baix Penedès and El Tarragonès. The inland counties are L’Alt Camp, La Conca de Barberà and El Priorat.
El Baix Camp
This county spans 695 km² and has 28 municipalities. Its capital is Reus. It is the largest and westernmost county in El Camp de Tarragona. To the north, it is bound by the pre-coastal mountains; to the south it borders on El Tarragonès and L’Alt Camp. Its towns are small: only one is larger than 70 km² and 13 are smaller than 20 km². The most salient geographical features are the Prades Mountains to the north and the Argentera, Pratdip and Llaberia mountains, collectively known as the Ponent, or west, ranges, in the west. As the region has no rivers and only minor streams, it obtains its irrigation water from the Riudecanyes Reservoir.
Most of the county’s economic activity is concentrated in the towns of Cambrils, Mont-roig, Riudoms, La Selva and Vandellòs, which hold several annual fairs, whilst the city of Reus serves as the economic centre for El Baix Camp county as a whole. Over 80% of commerce and industry jobs are in Reus. Trade fairs such as Expro-Reus and other shows held throughout the year, as well as the traditional Monday street market, serve as a gauge by which to measure commercial activity in El Baix Camp and neighbouring counties. The county’s tourist hubs are Cambrils, L’Hospitalet de l’Infant and Mont-roig, all of which are conveniently linked to the AP-7 Barcelona-Valencia motorway and the Reus airport. The port town of Cambrils is also a busy fishing hub and renowned for its quality restaurants. As for agriculture, traditional crops include hazelnuts (DO Reus), olives (DO Siurana) and potatoes (IGP Prades).
Reus is home to a wealth of stunning architecture, from the 16th-century priory church of Sant Pere to Modernist buildings by the architect Domènech i Montaner, such as Casa Rull, Institut Pere Mata and Casa Navàs, one of the true gems of Catalan Modernism.
El Baix Camp also boasts several other tourist sites, such as: Samà Park, with its Colonial-style building and exotic garden; Escornalbou Castle and Monastery, an ancient Romanesque castle and convent; the seafront promenade, port and Mare de Déu del Camí chapel in Cambrils; Mont-roig del Camp, which was twice called home by the painter Joan Miró and has the Mare de Déu de la Roca chapel; Prades, beloved for its gentle climate and waters, main square, Renaissance fountain and Mare de Déu de l’Abellera church; or Les Borges del Camp, where visitors can tour the Modernist Mare de Déu de la Riera chapel. Additionally, the Prades mountains offer a plethora of fascinating trekking routes, many affording spectacular views over El Camp de Tarragona. They are moreover an internationally renowned spot for rock climbing, above all the town of Arbolí. As for cuisine, both Reus’s blancmange and Montbrió del Camp’s muscatel are musts. Prades is famous for its potatoes, chestnuts and honey, and Cambrils offers visitors a nearly endless array of exquisite dishes, including many made from top-quality local seafood. The entire county is likewise known for its coques amb recapte, a sort of Catalan flatbread pizza, romesco sauce and nuts.
El Baix Penedès
With a total area of 264 km², this county consists of a narrow strip of the central Catalan coast approximately 12 kilometres long. It shares borders with El Garraf, L’Alt Penedès, L’Alt Camp and El Tarragonès. Of its 14 municipalities, only one, Montmell, is larger than 70 km². The county capital is El Vendrell.
It is bound to the south and west by the so-called Gaià Block, which gradually becomes the Roda de Barà passage as it moves southwest. To the east, the final foothills of the coastal range give way to a very narrow strip of flatland in Cunit and Calafell. The rest of the county is set on a plain that slopes downward to the sea.
The most common plant species are palmettos, followed by carob trees, vines, grains, olive trees and almond trees.
El Vendrell, Cunit and Calafell are the three towns with a commercial seafaring past, although today this has largely been lost. Only Calafell retains a traditional maritime atmosphere, replete with a fisherman’s association.
Tourism has had a major impact on the coastal area and features prominently in the county’s economy, which was traditionally based on farming. Small and medium enterprises, primarily geared toward tourism, construction and the service sector are also all flourishing.
El Vendrell, located on what was once the Roman Via Augusta, is a critical junction for land links, whilst Sant Vicenç de Calders is also home to an important rail station.
A variety of civilisations past have left their mark on the county’s personality. The El Vendrell Archaeological Museum is home to archaeological findings dating from prehistory to ancient Roman times. Rock paintings have been discovered in Vallmajor Cave near Albinyana, Calafell offers a replication Iberian settlement, and Sant Jaume dels Domenys still conserves an original Visigoth baptism font. Mediaeval monuments include the Romanesque churches of Calafell, Segur, Banyeres, Santa Oliva and Montmell, as well as the church at Marmellar Castle. The Dolors de l’Arboç chapel is decorated with 14th-century French Gothic paintings. The church of Sant Salvador in El Vendrell, with its Baroque organ and portal and weather vein shaped like the angel Tobies, popularly known as the Belltower Angel, dates from a later period.
The town of Arboç is another must for curious tourists, offering a replica of Seville’s La Giralda tower and the Gener Batet Palace, built by Josep Gener, a merchant who made his fortune in the Americas.
The county also offers several options for rural tourism, food and wine tourism, and traditional family tourism, including several types of rural accommodation.
As for cuisine, El Baix Penedès is known for several succulent dishes, such as xató, a cod and tuna salad served on a bed of curly endive, coques enramades, a type of Catalan flatbread pizza, and seafood specialities like bull de tonyina (tuna sausage), rossejat (an oven-baked rice casserole) or all cremat (sizzled garlic). Of course, mention must also be made of the acclaimed DO Penedès wines and DO Siurana olive oil, an essential ingredient for the region’s delicious roasts. The Les cuines del Vendrell (Kitchens of Vendrell) collective offers a range of dishes based on traditional seasonal produce.
Finally, the region has also kept up a lively folklore tradition, including castellers (human castles), sardana dancing, shawm players and fire-breathing ‘devils’, among other examples.
El Tarragonès is the area surrounding the city of Tarragona. It spans a total of 354 km² and contains 22 municipalities. The exact borders are somewhat vague, except to the East, where it is separated from El Baix Penedès by mountains. Half of the county’s towns span fewer than 10 km², and only one reaches 60 km². The land on the left bank of the Francolí River is marked by gentles hills, although none of the rises stands more than 100 metres high. To the east, the landscape is more dramatic, including small valleys used to grow crops. To the west, on the river’s right bank, lies a fertile plain also used for farming.
The county was first industrialised in the 1960s and 70s, when a major petrochemical complex was installed. Tourism is another mainstay of the local economy: Salou has emerged as the main hub and is home to a large share of the hotel establishments. Mention must also be made of other resort towns, such as La Pineda (Vila-seca), Torredembarra, Altafulla, Creixell or Roda de Barà.
Since 1995, traditional tourism has received a tremendous boost from the opening of the PortAventura theme park in the towns of Vila-seca and Salou, which offers visitors replicas of far-off countries and cultures.
Most of the county’s fishing and merchant shipping is concentrated in the port of Tarragona. Tarragona is the capital of both the county and the province. As such, it is used by the Catalan government (Generalitat), provincial government and national Spanish government to provide official services.
The main thoroughfare in Tarragona is the Rambla, a popular meeting point for the people of the city that leads to the famous Balcó de Mediterrani, or Mediterranean Balcony, with its views of the sea. The lower part of the city is home to the fishermen’s district, El Serallo. The old quarter, located in the high part of the city and surrounded by the Roman wall, is presided over by a cathedral built in the Romanesque-Gothic transition style. The city still conserves several important remains from its heyday as the capital of the Roman Hispania Citerior, including the praetorium, circus, amphitheatre, forum, walls and towers, to name but a few. In the city outskirts, tourists will find the Roman aqueduct, popularly known as the ‘Pont del Diable’ or Devil’s Bridge, and, nearby, the Centcelles Mausoleum, renowned for its mosaics. Travelling along the former Via Augusta from north to south, sightseers will find the Barà Arch, the Roman villa of Els Munts in Atlafulla, Mèdol Quarry and the Scipio family tower, an ancient funeral monument. A total of 13 monuments from the ancient Roman city of Tarraco were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2000.
The county has also kept up a rich variety of folklore traditions. Of special note are the castellers (human castles), ball de bastons (baton dance) and traditional dance groups, among others. The dance re-enactments known as the Dance of the Holy Christ in Salamó are also of great historical interest.
Finally, El Tarragonès also has a wide variety of leisure options: beaches, sport facilities, summer festivals and an endless array of restaurants, where guests can sample traditional dishes, including the excellent romesco sauce and local wines.
La Conca de Barbarà
This county spans an area of 501 km² and has 22 municipalities. To the north, it is bound by terraced lands that climb to La Segarra and Urgell; to the east, by the pre-coastal Miramar and Prenafeta Mountains and Lilla and Cabra hills; to the southeast, by the Prades Mountains; and to the southwest by the Vimbodí and Tarrés Mountains, which separate the county from Les Garrigues. It is crossed by the Francolí and Anguera rivers.
The county’s economy, traditionally agricultural, is still largely based on its production of products such as select DO wines, food oils and grain. These activities are supplemented by industrial activities, particularly in the metal and food sectors.
La Conca de Barberà also has a long tradition of craftwork and art. L’Espluga de Francolí and Santa Coloma are both known for their Catalan metalwork, whilst Sarral has an important alabaster industry.
The county capital, Montblanc, is home to a wealth of world-class monuments and tourist sites. The town walls, which date from the 14th century, are the most important mediaeval military construction in Catalonia. Other monuments that merit a visit are the Santa Maria la Major church, a magnificent Gothic structure with a Baroque façade, the Sant Miguel church, a Gothic building with a Romanesque façade, the Gothic Sant Francesc convent and Sant Marçal church, and the former Santa Magdalena hospital, with its Renaissance-style cloister. The Royal Palace, the Castlà Palace, Jewish Quarter and Pont Vell, a 12th-century Romanesque bridge, likewise date from the mediaeval era.
The 12th-century Cistercian monastery in Poblet, one of the most important in Europe and an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an outstanding ensemble of monumental buildings nestled in a dramatic natural setting. It houses the pantheon of the monarchs of the Kingdom of Catalonia and Aragon. A visit to Poblet is an incomparable tour of the different architectural styles that have marked the history of Catalonia.
Other sites of historical interest in the county include: Santa Coloma de Queralt, a large mediaeval town with an arcaded main square, a church and the Gothic sanctuary of Belloc; the Romanesque church in Forès; Font Major Cave, the Rural Life Museum and the old hospital in L’Espluga de Francolí; the mediaeval town of Conesa; and the magnificent Modernist wineries by Cèsar Martinell, spread throughout the county, except for the winery in L’Espluga de Francolí, which was designed by Domènech i Montaner.
With regard to cuisine, the county is famous for its sweets, including biscuits and pastries such as neules, carquinyolis, merlets or montblanquins, as well as ametlles garapinyades, a local variety of candied almonds.
According to legend, Montblanc was the scene of the legendary dragon that terrorised locals and was finally slain by St. George. The story is commemorated during Mediaeval Week, which is held in April in honour of St. George.
L’Alt Camp is an inland county of the El Camp de Tarragona region. It spans an area of 548 km² and has 23 municipalities. To the north, it is bound by the pre-coastal mountains; to the south it shares a border with El Tarragonès and El Baix Camp. Its towns are small: only one spans more than 70 km² and 13 are not even 20 km². Gaià Mountain and the Miramar and Prades ranges are part of the pre-coastal mountain system.
A section of the Prades Mountains begins at the so-called Strait of La Riba, whilst the flatlands slope down to the neighbouring counties. Both the Francolí and Gaià Rivers slice through the county, and the Brugent River, which begins in the Prades Mountains, flows into the Francolí.
Traditionally agricultural, the county’s economy has gradually grown more mixed thanks to the many industrial companies that have set up facilities, especially in the Valls industrial park, Pla de Santa Maria, Alcover, etc.
Valls is the capital and commercial hub of L’Alt Camp. The traditional market is held on Wednesday and has been drawing farmers and merchants from across the region since the 13th century. Firagost, an annual farm equipment and produce fair, also stands out.
The county is home to major monument ensembles. In Valls, attention should be drawn to the mediaeval Jewish quarter, the bishop of Tarragona’s old parade ground, the Gothic church of Sant Joan, with its Renaissance façade, the chapel of Roser, with its priceless ceramic decoration, etc.
On the banks of the Gaià River stands the imposing monastery complex of Santes Creus, founded in the mid-12th century by the Cistercian order and burial site of the Kings of Catalonia and Aragon, Pere el Gran (Peter III) and Jaume II (James II). There, visitors can take in Romanesque buildings, such as the lovely chapter house, structures from the Romanesque-Gothic transition period, such as the monastery’s church, and examples of the ogival and florid Gothic style, such as the first cloister.
Other monuments to see in L’Alt Camp include: the Vila-rodona columbarium, a Roman burial site; the Romanesque chapel of Sant Ramon in Pla de Santa Maria; the Romanesque church in Alcover; Modernist buildings such as the Montserrat sanctuary in Montferri by Josep Maria Jujol or cooperative wineries, such as the one in Nulles or the one in Vila-rodona, by Cèsar Martinell, who was born in Valls.
As for cuisine, mention must be made of Valls’s incomparable calçots, a local variety of spring onion served roasted with delicious sauce, as well as its widely acclaimed wines.
With regard to folklore, Valls is the birthplace of the Catalan tradition of castellers or human castles. The city’s two castle-building teams, or colles, Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls and Colla Joves Xiquets de Valls, rival each other in both the quality and difficulty of the structures they attempt.
This county has an area of 517 km² and is home to 23 municipalities. Its capital is Falset. The region is an open basin whose mouth points to Mora, at the northwest edge of the pre-coastal mountains. The Prades Mountains open in the direction of the Llaberia Mountains, which split the county, and in the direction of Les Garrigues, by means of the Montsant range. To the southwest, the county shares a border with Ribera d’Ebre.
Falset is the county’s capital and commercial hub, above all with regard to agriculture, and it is known for producing quality wines. The county contains two exclusive wine-growing areas: DOQ Priorat and DO Montsant.
Falset has several buildings of historical interest, such as the mediaeval castle, the Palace of the Counts of Prades (today, the town hall) and the Palace of the Counts of Azahara (future site of the County Council).
At the foot of Montsant Mountain stands the Carthusian monastery of Scala Dei, founded in 1194. It was the first of its kind in the Iberian peninsula and amassed considerable political and economic power during the Middle Ages, as well as significant cultural prestige. In 1835, as a result of the so-called Disentailment Act, the monks were evicted and their assets were sold to private parties. Today, the complex is managed by the Catalan Department of Culture, which has begun archaeological investigations and restoration work and has opened the site for public tours.
Another can’t-miss stop is the mediaeval village of Siurana, perched on an outcrop rising 737 metres into the air, which can be reached by road from Cornudella. It is home to a 12th-century Romanesque church, the remains of an old castle and the hoofprint that marks the spot, known as the ‘Moorish Queen’s Leap’, where, legend has it, the last Moorish queen leapt to her death on horseback to escape the advancing Christians. The village is also home to a bluff known locally as La Trona, or the pulpit, which, beloved by trekkers and day-trippers alike, offers magnificent views of the surrounding landscape. The lovely scenery is rounded out by Siurana Reservoir, which makes the area an equally ideal spot for a variety of adventure sports.
As for nature, 2002 saw the creation of the Montsant Mountains Nature Park, which affords special protection to the emblematic range, ideal for nature walks, trekking, etc. Visitors can also tour the Eugènia Mine in Bellmunt, an old lead mine that has been adapted for tours and was critical to the region’s economy in the last century.
Additional sites of interest in the county include: the picturesque villages of Torroja, La Morera de Montsant, La Vilella Alta and La Vilella Baixa; Casa de la Mina, or the Mine House, in Bellmunt, the best specimen of Modernist architecture in the county; Casa dels Frares in Gratallops, replete with Renaissance elements; Cabassers, with its gothic St. Mary altarpiece; and the towns of Ulldemolins and Cornudella, both with Renaissance churches.
The county’s wine-producing tradition is on display at its cooperative wine cellars, many of which are done in the Modernist style, such as those in Falset and Cornudella, designed by Cèsar Martinell.
The area’s traditional folk culture is celebrated today at such popular events as the Festa de l’Encamisada in Falset or the Clavellina and Majorales dances in Ulldemolins. Among the county’s food festivals, mention should be made of the Truita en Suc (‘stewed’ spinach omelette) festival in Ulldemolins and the grape-picking festival in Antiga de Poboleda.