A short drive from Salou on the Costa Dorada lies a magical natural wonderland that exudes oodles of distinctive Catalan character but in this case it’s flavoured by hints of South East Asia, Devon and even Africa.
The Delta de l’Ebre National Park has been a natural reserve since 1983 and consists of a huge area (7,736 hectares) of wetlands, salt marshes and beaches where the River Ebro (Ebre in Catalan) meets the Mediterranean.
The South East Asian vibe comes from a patchwork of rice fields that cover large swathes of the wetlands; the Devon charm comes courtesy of quaint, thatched cottages sitting in the centre of glassy ponds and the African beat is supplied by flocks of flamingos languidly patrolling Alfacs Bay.
It is a stunningly original example of nature’s artistic genius and deserves exploration at leisure and in depth. But that’s not always a luxury we can afford. However, it’s possible to enjoy the highlights of the Delta de l’Ebre, have some fun and eat some of its delicious inhabitants in a day.
Boat trips from Sant Carles de la Rapita tour Alfacs’ mussel and oyster beds as well as Punta de la Banya, a veritable flamingo city. The highlight is a pit stop at La Caseta del Parrillo in the centre of the bay for an oyster and mussel tasting session accompanied by cava. It’s claimed the Delta’s oysters are unique thanks to the mix of fresh and sea water. They’re delicious and pack a potent punch according to mollusc farmers who say six oysters have the effect of two Viagra pills. Boat trips run on Saturdays, cost around €25 and take two hours.
To get up close to the rice fields, join an ecoculture safari with Delta Polet. As well as learning about the Delta’s rice, you get a chance to wade in the mud and pick some rice yourself. If waddling in mud doesn’t sound appealing, think natural sauna treatments. Some people come to these fields, strip off and roll naked in the stuff. Polet has the pics to prove it. The eco safari includes fishing and traditional games and costs around €15.
End a perfect day with a bit of messing about on the river. Lo Mas de la Cuixota is an ethnological park where you can explore the wetlands by bike, horse drawn cart or canoe. The traditional method is by flat bottomed punt using a long pole to steer. It seems like a romantic way to glide through whispering marshes but the truth is steering by pole is incredibly difficult, especially if there’s the slightest breeze. Maybe not romantic, but definitely a lot of fun.
All these outdoor activities can work up a serious appetite. There are some excellent restaurants in Sant Carles de la Rápita in which to sample the local cuisine. Two culinary crackers are Can Maña and Restaurant L’Estany. Both dish up the best of the Delta’s seafood from crispy squid and perfect paellas to… err, sea nettles; just the thing for topping off a day of ‘alternative’ experiences exploring one of Catalonia’s enchanting natural treasures.
Image credits and copyright: VRoig & Jack Montgomery
Posted : Wednesday, July 4th, 2012 at 10:00
Jack Montgomery is a travel writer/blogger with an appetite for gastronomy, hiking and exploring destinations on and off the beaten track for his Buzz Trips travel site.