Monday, 24 March 2008

Cape Salou 1. The recce

Tarragona was the capital of the Roman Empire for a time and evidence of Roman civilisation in these parts abounds. From viaducts and amphitheatres to pieces of broken amphora that anyone with a mask and snorkel can pick off the seabed. The Romans were careful in their choice of places to settle choosing areas with clement weather and good ports. Tarragona with its rolling coastal landscape of pines, cypress and olives leading down to gently shelving beaches and a plentiful sea appealed.

The coastal landscape has changed somewhat in the last 2000 years. Motorways and railways have cut great swathes through the hills, bridges and buildings and countless cranes clutter the land. There are two large refineries on the outskirts of Tarragona that graffiti dirty grey smears across the sky from flame tipped pencils. A pipeline pumps oil based products onto tankers that arrive from all over the Med and further afield. South of these two tangles of tubes and smoke and orange flame lies the centre of the province’s tourist industry, the town of Salou. An old fishing village it now has 120 high-rise hotels and many cheaply built apartment blocks. In the summer discount flights ship daily hordes of pale, work-weary northern Europeans in to nearby Reus airport and buses ferry them to Salou only to ferry them back again two weeks later, lobster pink and hungover. It’s bargain beer and sex tourism and the punters come flocking.

Tarragona, then as now, has two weather systems, a gentle one that affects the north and an unpredictably malicious one dominated by the Mestral wind to the south. The point that separates the two is Cape Salou, a headland that sticks a hotel-encrusted lump of rock a couple of kilometres into the sea.

The Cape is 15 nautical miles southwest of Onawind Blue’s beach and the fact that it marks a weather boundary has an irresistible pull on this small boat sailor. A trip down there would be like having a tentative look over a cliff edge.

There are several coves on the south side of the headland and looking at Google Earth I was able to establish which might serve for an overnight stay. To verify my choices I drove over one morning and rambled round the rocks in unsuitable footwear.

It was just as well. The sheltered Cala Font was dominated by a 300 bedroom hotel. How everybody fits on a 70 metre beach I don’t know. And Cala Penya-Tallada was too narrow and rocky.

With a thirst for beer and blister on my toe I came across Cala Cranc (Crab Cove) and saw that it was near perfect being protected from the north-west (the Mestral’s quadrant) by a long rocky outcrop and sheltered from the east by a high cliff. There were a few buildings among the pines but nothing too ghastly and with my eyes half shut I could almost imagine it as it might have been just 40 years ago before the onslaught of modern tourism.

I headed home making mental lists of everything I might need for a night at Crab Cove.

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