Like all ten year olds it is noisy and boisterous during the long summer holidays. The Portaventura theme park celebrated its tenth birthday last May.
It has aged well. The gigantic white-knuckle Dragon Khan was the first in the world to have eight 360-degree loops, plunging its charges into the 60 MPH first of several looping, turning, descents. Its ominous roar can be heard for miles along the Daurada coast and it remains the star attraction. The jagged tracking can be seen for miles. The Dragon offered the finest view in Salou.
Until May, when the new Eu3.6m Hurrakan Condor opened to the public after an elaborate press launch. It is higher than the Fear Fall of Orlando.
This mischievous invention raises its victims in fours to a height of 86m, cunningly tilts you forward and drops you, leaving your stomach behind somewhere along the way.
Your correspondent’s companion didn’t have the breath or the time to scream. It all happens so quickly. You spend the rest of the day wondering what happened and how it happened.
Wise theme park people, those who know their Ethelting from their Alton Towers, will head straight for the Condor and Khan in the morning, before the queues get too long. Then you can cherry pick the rest or the rides. The runaway mine train and tomahawk, and under the Spanish suns the water events, Grand Canyon (wet), Silver Springs Flume (wetter) and Tutucki Splash (wettest). With Ryanair flying to the local airport, the number of Irish visitors has grown 300pc in the last year. As many Irish tourists visit Portaventura these days as visit Croatia.
Portaventura has grown into a resort in its own right. High tech shows such as Sea Odyssey and Temple of Fire have been added, a new Caribe aquatic park has opened and the hotel facilities mean you can stay onsite. The Hotel Port Aventura is like an extension to the Park, with unpretentious architecture and walkways that snake around water features and pools. Euclid was wrong. A straight line isn’t the shortest distance between two points around here.
Early season is a good time to visit. Here you find a rarity, a Spanish theme park manned by real Spaniards, families with smiling polite children and fathers prepared to argue the toss over whether Shelbourne ever really had a chance against Deportivo.
Universal Studios have sold their interest in Portaventura but still have a ten-year merchandising agreement, so they lay the Shrek merchandising on heavy. After every ride you can purchase a photograph of yourself looking terrified for Eu6. Tee-shirts at Eu15 are close to rock-concert rates. Like many theme parks, most of the expense is in the shopping opportunities that crop up with grim predictability throughout the park.
But there is the making of a village atmosphere at the fourth of the themed districts, the spaghetti Western style Wild West (the others are an eclectic mix, Polynesia, China, Mexico and the Mediterranean) Here you can sit and sip as the children get down to white-knuckling and getting wet.
Daurada has discovered over the past decade what Florida learned a few years earlier. It is hard to get the ten year old past a theme park.
The nearby resort of Salou has experienced a rebirth since the Portaventura Holiday Park opened. From a population of 35,000, the resort swells to the size of Cork during the summer: 150,000 people catching rays on the poolside and beach.
The Costa Daurada is speckled with picture-postcard beaches. Salou was the jewel in the crown, particularly for the Irish and English markets.
The English have settled here since the 18th century, and in the 1960s their interest made this one of the fastest growing holiday destinations in Spain until it was struck down by a typhus scare in 1987.
Before tourism, Tarragona was noted for its Roman ruins, wines, hazelnuts, almonds, olives, wheat, tomatoes, fruits, and vegetables. The local restaurants still celebrate the culinary tradition and, although the fishing villages are no more, the fish are still eaten in quantity.
It retains a unique culture. In 1659 the once-proud kingdom of Catalonia was partitioned. France took a small but strategically vital strip, Spain took the rest. Ever since, the Catalans in Spain have fought for self-determination and the use of their own language. The Tarragona province was one of four integrated into the newly autonomous Catalonia region in 1979.
Catalan may have been banned for 30 years during Franco’s regime, but it is now the province’s official language. Their province is the wealthiest part of Spain and has its own semi-autonomous government, the Comunitat Autonoma de Catalunya, which controls education, health and social security.
The restaurants in the area, particularly those found away from the seafront, still celebrate the culinary delights. By the beaches, the insatiable tourist appetite for chips with everything has swamped the paella out of the market.
To the south there are further beautiful beaches, German beach towels claiming Lebensraum on the sand. For those escaping the diet of esses in excess, sun, sea, sand, and seats by the pool, car hire is cheap and the destinations enticing. Barcelona is an hour to the north, the Pyrenees are a little further up with Andorra within easy reach.
The 90 live shows and 30 rides are covered by the daily admission ticket of Eu35 for adults and Eu27.50 for children (three day tickets are cheaper), but be prepared to buy photographs of you and the littluns taken by hidden cameras after they have completed the ride, generally Eu6. Extra shooting stalls and carnival attractions cost Eu2 or so a go. Food is inexpensive, with children’s menus at Eu5.
Caribe Aquatic Park costs Eu17.
Hotel Portaventuras 0034-977358500 www.portaventura.es has special packages which include theme park admission. Three day packages are available for Eu350per person sharing exclusive of flights. Price includes unlimited access to Portaventura and Caribe aquatic park.
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