This was supposed to be an easygoing story about family holidays in Spain when we teamed up with my parents to plan a cool getaway with kids, but it ended up as a trip with a stressful twist. Because things don’t always go as planned…
Our family holidays in Spain
It all started with my parents coming over to Spain for a week. As their flights were linked to Barcelona, we´ve chosen Cambrils in Tarragona/Catalonia as a meeting point. We were supposed to travel to Cambrils by car from Castellon and mom and dad to catch a train from Barcelona Sants to escape the city buzz.
To begin with, there are hundreds of reasons making Cambrils a perfect destination for family holidays in Spain. First of all, if you are visiting Spain with Kids, Cambrils is conveniently located near the famous Port Aventura park. The local infrastructure is prepared for tourism – there are lots of restaurants and holiday rentals. Plus, the Tarragona region is still less touristy than the famous Costa Brava and Barcelona.
After a brief research, I’ve discovered a few nice places to visit nearby Cambrils and that was it. Cambrils seemed like a perfect choice to have a laid-back trip with occasional sightseeing.
Of course, all of it was planned and booked before the Barcelona protests came into the picture.
The protests in Catalonia
You might have heard from the media about the tensions in the Spanish Province of Catalonia. It was right after the local Catalan authorities have held a referendum not authorized/recognized by the Spanish Government. The Spain Supreme Court´s sentence to jail the Catalan independence activists involved came out during our Cambrils family trip.
My parents were supposed to return to Barcelona to take their flight back home. I was so stressed. Barcelona looked like a melting pot in the news. Not that I could have foreseen any of that, but it was my idea to explore Catalonia.
As a tourist, you are not part of Spain vs. Catalonia drama – you’re actually bringing in some money for both. In return, you definitely can´t enjoy your trip in this tense atmosphere. Some of the iconic sites, like one of the top Spanish cathedrals – Sagrada Familia, were closed and there were some major public transport delays. You can imagine, my parents had a wonderful time in their cozy city center hotel back in Barcelona. Pot-banging protests, burning trash cans around you – I mean, as a tourist, you understand it is not about you, but you don’t feel very welcome either, right?
I remember complaining about how way-too-touristy Catalonia was in my Cuenca post and getting politely bashed in the comments for saying this. Who could have guessed back then that crowds would be the least of my complaints?
So, don’t get me wrong – Catalonia is a beautiful region, and Barcelona is known for some unique charm and all that. But it took me a long while to wrap up this family holidays in Spain post: no one wants to sound negative and to write about the unpleasant travel experiences. So, you just skip it. But in the end, this way you´re not telling people your full travel story.
So, did I like Cambrils? – Yes, I did. Was my travel experience good? – No, it was not.
Democracy should not be illegal.
People marching peacefully or standing for their civil rights – thumbs up.
Starting fires, blocking roads, throwing Molotov cocktails … and what about the tourists? People with babies who couldn´t sleep with the noise? Local businesses? Was this whole situation fair to them? What about their civil rights and freedoms?
My parents were incredibly lucky their plane took off early in the morning, cause the protesters blocked the Airport roads later during the same day. Mom and dad could have easily got stuck in that Barcelona nightmare for a few days. Not to mention that many flights were canceled. Taxi drivers were refusing to take people anywhere near the protests, numerous tourists just walked their way to the airport with their suitcases. Some ended up trapped inside the major touristic sites, like Sagrada Familia. Cruises recommended their passengers to stay on board or switched their stops for the nearest port of Valencia.
What makes me so mad is that it was all supposed to be a story about my lovely family holidays in Spain. But it certainly did not feel that way.
Things to see and do in Cambrils
Now, on a more positive note.
While this was not the only protest in Catalonia during my decade in Spain, I should also add that it has never impacted my travel plans so far. So, it’s unlikely to happen to you either. Still, there´s something for you to chew on before planning your trip.
Let’s talk about all the cool things we managed to do in Cambrills, despite the ruined vacation final.
The biggest surprise of our Cambrils family getaway was Parc Sama, a beautiful botanic garden created in 1881. This place has some authentic old charm and will definitely surprise you with its Romantic Spanish vibes.
Puerto de Cambrils
The port of Cambrils offers a cozy waterfront walkway full of shops and restaurants. We really enjoyed fresh local seafood dishes, while I should admit everything was a bit overpriced compared to similar small towns in the Valencia Region. But as we were traveling with a baby and a toddler it was awesome to be able to have quiet walks with a stroller by the seaside.
Don´t miss a cute old tower Torre del Puerto.
Casco Antiguo de Cambrils or Cambrils old city center
A great way to see Cambrils city center is the Tourist train, especially if traveling with kids. You can buy your tickets at the nearest Tourist office.
Don’t miss Callejon de las Flores, Santa Maria Church, Madre de Deu del Cami, Castell de Vilafortuny. Our kids also enjoyed a local park – Parque de el Pinaret.
One of the best parts of our stay was having a wonderful local host Patricia. The apartment was located at Plaça de la Creu de la Missió, 3. They’ve let us check in earlier, prepared a crib and toys for kids. Not only was the host friendly, but she also sent me by a carrier a hair iron I forgot during our stressful packing (in the context of the Barcelona protests). That´s the perks of Airbnb vs. hotels.
As we live by the beach all year round, we were not aiming for a beach vacation in Cambrils. But I couldn’t help but notice that local Platja de la Llosa and Platja Prat den Forés looked nice. Beach sunsets never go out of style even if you don´t go for a swim.
Of course, the highlight of the trip for the kids was Port Aventura. Even though there were only a few attractions they could enjoy because of the minimum height requirement. I suggest you check it for your kids before traveling on the Port Aventura Web. I wish they would have more places for smaller children inside the park.
Deltebre is a unique natural setting full of wetland landscapes, especially beautiful at sunrise/sunset with all the water reflections. However, we´ll wait for our kids to grow up a bit for the sunrise visits.
Also, the Ebro river is an epic waterspouts destination: SUP, kayaking, jet ski. The last one has been on my Spain travel bucket list forever, so we’ll be coming back soon for sure.
Another great day trip idea could be visiting the Roman sights of Tarragona and the beautiful villages of the region like Miravet, Siurana, Tortosa, Prades, Piudecanyes, Montblanc, Altafulla, Aiguamurcia, La Vilella Baixa, Horta de San Joan, Arnes.