The pulvinar, the original Tàrraco’s Circus platform where authorities would locate themselves in order to attentively watch chariot races, has been integrated, after over two thousand years, to one of Part Alta restaurant’s interior that actually adopted the name of this area of the circus. Not many people know though, while being surrounded by nibbles and wine sips, that their meal is being held in one privilege area belonging to the old Roman city, and that it is underneath their feet that Santa Tecla’s marble blocks, once extracted from Mèdol’s quarry with over one metre wide, are kept completely visible and restored.
The owners of Pulvinar pizza restaurant, aware as they are of the establishment’s singularity, tell their customers, by means of some paper tablecloths, that one of the semicircular staircases that provided access to the very same platform had also been rebuilt. From the main dining room, one can see the long Roman wall built following the opus quadratum building process, which still preserves part of the original cornice. If you ever book a table in Pulvinar, ask them to show you the transversal vault of the Circus’ structure, that remains intact and that can be accessed using the underground stairs that are connected to the lower dining room.
Outdoors, at the establishment’s terrace –full of Italian tourists today- we find yet another singularity: the wall that separates the restaurant from the exterior, which was part of the original wall erected in the 12th century in order to minimize the effects of a city that was devastated by looting and, mostly, to restrain diseases. Pulvinar offers a set menu at 12.50€, built onto the Mediterranean cuisine’s philosophy, and it is open every single day, from March until the beginning of November. From then though, the restaurant only opens on weekends until spring is back with us again.
The case of Pulvinar though is not the only one in Tarragona; not even slightly. In fact, the whole neighbourhood is built on top of three Tàrraco terraces at different levels: the Circus, the ludic area; the Provincial Forum, the administrative area; and the temple, the building of cult. Part Alta then, is full of buildings where remains of the Roman and other periods are preserved.
Underneath the Pulvinar and the Baixada de Misericòrdia, in Trinquet Vell street, we find another establishment bursting with heritage: Les Voltes restaurant. This is, unquestionably, one of the architectonic jewels of the gastronomic Tarragona. The establishment, located underneath three vaults of Tàrraco’s Circus, was first opened in the 80s and has always been run by Maria Jové and Francesc Sas.
Les Voltes restaurant offers high-quality Mediterranean food thanks to a 10€ (plus VAT) set menu, and an average à la Carte price between 20€ and 30€. In general, the establishment remains closed every Sunday night and Monday, but they will open it for groups, prior reservation.
We go out from Les Voltes and back to Baixada de Misericòrdia and Carrer Major and, if we then turn into Carrer de l’Abat towards Misser Sitges street, we find Els Arcs restaurant, which is recommended by Michelin guideline. This is a building raised during the Middle Ages that still preserves eight Gothic vaults in the interior. The building, initially used as a sort of cottage, still keeps a peculiar charming look to it, and the excellent local and seasonal cuisine served is both precise and appreciated. Carles Llobet offers an executive menu on working days at 23€, while tasting menu is around 38€.
If we walk towards Plaça de les Cols, we’ll find El Gallo Morón, of which interior keeps part of the perimeter vault of the great Forum. The restaurant has a couple of very charming areas in the interior, which add value to their cuisine, also around the Mediterranean style. From Tuesday to Saturday, El Gallo Morón offers a set menu at 12€, 13.50€ on Sundays. If what you want is having dinner, the restaurant provides you with a 14€ option.
Walking up the stairs that lead to the Cathedral and turning then right towards Les Coques street, we find AQ restaurant, one of the most sublime cuisines in the city, which is meant to enter, one of these days, the universe of restaurants awarded with a Michelin star, which already is recommending it. The establishment, located on the inside of the Provincial Forum cult enclosure, still preserve Roman remains on the back wall perfectly kept and integrated that belonged to the cult area of the old temple. Before going in though, don’t forget to take a proper look at the 20th century Sgraffitto you will find in the restaurant’s main door. Having lunch in AQ Restaurant is a unique experience for all the senses, way beyond the fact that you are provided with archaeological remains at the entrance. The restaurant offers three different menus: the Menú Gran, at 50€ plus VAT; the Menú Petit, at 40€ plus VAT; and the weekly Menu, at 18€ plus VAT.
Then, go down towards ‘Col·legi d’Arquitectes de Tarragona‘, at 22, Sant Llorenç street, and you will come across Barhaus restaurant which, by means of its decoration influenced by the art school founded in Germany in 1919 by Walter Gropius, still preserves, in one of the private dinning rooms, an ashlar wall of the Provincial Forum, dated back to the 1st century. You will find a great terrace, at street level, and another one in the first floor. Barhaus offers set menus from Tuesday to Friday at 12€, while dinner and weekend is served à la Carte, with an average price of 30€ approximately.
The Middle Ages have always been a dark period, with both good and bad things, full of stories and legends that defined history. Tarragona was also the protagonist of some of those legendary chapters, some of which are now part of a new guided tour: “Perseguits” (literally, persecuted). This is the new project by Argos Serveis Culturals specially designed for those visitors willing to know more about history.
Camp de Mart is the very first location. The tour starts outside the Walls, just by the fortifications, where allegedly witches gathered to create medical potions, result of their herbs extensive knowledge. All this wisdom though, ended up costing their lives, as they were implacably persecuted by Joan Malet, a Moorish born in Flix that had become a true professional when it came to chasing witches.
In the shelter of the Cathedral, we find the second story that tells us about the Templars, the warriors that took part in the crusades, and that were persecuted during the 14th century by the Church and some monarchs, aiming their economic power. In Tarragona though, Templars managed to save their lives after the favourable decisions taken in the four provincial councils held in the Cathedral’s cloister in the beginning of the 14th century.
However, we can’t fully understand the Medieval Period without talking about the Jews. Tarragona presents clear evidences of this people in the Part Alta area, where a numerous Jewish community used to live until 1492, among which we can highlight doctor Benvenist Samuel, who –among others– was known for having translated treatises about asthma into Latin.
Argos ends “Perseguits” telling us about how, during the Middle Ages, labour slavery wreaked havoc. This story, as the epilogue for this guided tour, has a happy ending. It is about the life of the artisan Jordi de Déu, who worked –among others– in the construction of the tympanum located in the Tarragona Cathedral’s façade, under the orders of the master Jaume Cascalls.
“Perseguits” by Argos is an excellent opportunity to get deeper into the darkness of the Medieval Tarragona, and try to get some light through the stories led by the ancestors of today’s Tarragona people. Feeling curious about it?
Price: 10€ per person
Shedule: 1 or 2 tours per month. Join in at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In Tarragona, one could already find guided tours on foot, by bike (regular and electric), by Segway, using the Tourist train, and now, by electric cars! The company Electrokars, property of Txema Prats and Raquel Conesa, have bet it all on pushing eco-friendly tourism, and have been offering for some months now (together with the guides of Arrel) guided tours using tiny little electric cars that, truth be told, are very easy to drive. We’ve tested it, and it is a very recommendable experience.
First of all, we must make clear that anyone interested on the activity can either hire the electric car plus a guided tour or drive it on their own, with the only help of a Tourmaster GPS system, which includes tourist content and descriptions of the different routes in Catalan, Spanish, Basque, English, French, Russian and German. The reason why we say ‘different routes’ is because Electrokars provide tours within the city, but also on the outskirts, round the Pont del Diable, the beach of Tamarit or the surroundings of the river Gaià
In fact, one of the main characteristics of these Toy electric cars, made by Comarth, is their versatility and adaptability to any terrain. Unlike a normal car, these models have two pedals instead of the more usual three; a throttle and a break pedal, while turning the engine on and reversing is done by means of a little switch next to the steering wheel. Speed is limited at 30mph, fuel is 100% electric and it has a range of about 30 miles. Other than that, few more differences. Despite the fact these cars have doors, they can be removed all together during the summer, which provides a better view and a cooler driving experience; and the truth is, it is a great idea.
In order to drive it, users must only be in possession of a driving license. Nothing else. Once on board, you soon realize it has no further complications. Our route started at the street Nou del Patriarca, next to the Cathedral, where the Electrokars headquarters are. After getting used to it driving along the Part Alta streets –it is very easy to drive! –,we headed the Rambla Vella, towards Via Augusta. The peculiarity of the model makes it the ideal target for furtive photo enthusiasts, which should lead to no surprise when you find yourself on Instagram. Next, we drove to the beach, and then back, following the coastline by the promenade, until we reached the Autoritat Portuària building, where we turned left towards Far de la Banya. The fact these cars are limited makes them easier to drive while enjoying the landscape. Back in route, we enter the Serrallo neighbourhood; then, it is Manuel de Falla, Pere Martell and Rambla Nova streets before returning to the Part Alta along the Passeig and Portal de Sant Antoni.
Prices for these tours and audio guides, detailed down the page, vary according to distance and time, and go from 20€ (per car) on a urban tour within the city of about ninety minutes, to 80€ (per car) if we go to the surroundings of Gaià river. For what rental cars is concerned, prices go from 8€ (1 hour), from Monday to Friday, to 42€ for 10h. Price includes fully comprehensive insurance, and free parking on blue, green and red zones.
Electrokars Tarragona Tours
Contact: Txema Prats and Raquel Conesa
Phone numbers: +34 672 00 72 28
Address: C/ Cós del Bou, 20-22
The lyrics of Bon dia (in Catalan, Nice day), arguably the most well-known and sung tune by the local music band Els Pets, was inspired by a sort of micro-universe in the Part Alta, the one drawn by Portal de Sant Antoni, Plaça de Fòrum and Mare de Déu de la Mercè, Les Coques and Merceria Street, among others. In this tiny area you’ll find both genuine shops –although fewer and fewer these days–, and real neighbours, made out of flesh and bones, actually appearing in Bon dia’s lyrics, even though they’re not being named as such, as it is the case with Las Vegas Bar.
It is therefore not surprising at all that when we asked Lluís Gavaldà (Els Pets vocalist) to name three very personal Tarragona spots –for the #lamevatarragona project we’re opening with him–, he starts by talking about this bar one can find right after walking under Portal de Sant Antoni. “Las Vegas Bar –says Lluís– is a true institution in Tarragona’s world”, but it is also in his particular world because “it is a sort of entrance to the street I used to live years ago, which actually became the inspiration that took me to write the Bon dia song”.
The second photo we got from Lluís Gavaldà tells us about his desertion from the Part Alta –“reason why I’m still being affectionately told off these days”, he says–. In fact, more than just a spot, it is a very personal and private sight, only within reach of those living at the top of Estanislau Figueres Street. Before leaving the small 40m2 flat in Part Alta, Lluís and his wife Núria Serrano searched for a good one for years, until they came across one that had a small balcony with incredible views, towards the Modernist bell tower of the so-called Carmelites Descalços Church. “We fell in love with the bell tower, full of stone pigeons that actually call the attention of real pigeons, plus that incredible sea… This is why we left the Part Alta and moved to the Rambla Vella area”.
His third picture is one of Tarragona’s icons, the Passeig de les Palmeres, which has accidently become over the years the venue for his beloved Minipop Festival, the very first pop-music festival in Catalunya for kids and adults, once created by Núria and Lluís. Lluís himself admits he loves playing a voyeur role at Passeig de les Palmeres “because this is where retired people gather, and their conversations are great as a source of inspiration” for lyrics.
Our conversation with Lluís Gavaldà finishes at Plaça del Fòrum, “the most charming square in the whole Part Alta”, and in which Lluís –almost as a superstition ritual– likes to walk under the still standing remains of the old Roman wall.
In February, #lamevatarragona will welcome Gustau Alegret, Tarragona journalist, Washington correspondent for both NTN24 and RAC1, who does also write for Diari de Tarragona.
Bombs (meat and potato fried balls), bravas (spicy wedges) and anchovies… Tapas tend to improve good weather, but it is only in a number of establishments, like Lola Tapes in Tarragona, where the short-lived art of platillos (little dishes) is performed: traditional cuisine portions that engage with quality and the customer’s satisfaction. It was three years ago that David Amorós and Ivone Romera turned on the stoves for the very first time, and already their restaurant located at Plaça de la Font has become one of the most recommended on the net. Besides the usual crisps and olives, known in Tarragona for being the basic ingredients for a vermut, Lola Tapas make customers start salivating with proper treasures such as grilled octopus with romesco or tanned blackmouth catshark, delicious little communal meals David has decided to bring back from his grandma’s cookbook to turn them into true delicacies for the 21th century.
“We wanted to create something that made a difference, which was full of character”. Tarragona has a sumptuous gastronomic personality, with a never-ending list of dishes, platillos and pots that combine the best of the Camp (campsite area) and the Mediterranean Sea. The wide range of local restaurants have embraced most of the romesco, zarzuela or all cremat recipes, all very traditional fish dishes, and have then tried to adapt them to their own profile. At the same time, however, social and economic transformations of the last couple of decades left the city almost orphan of any other type of establishments: pubs, taberns and bars, where popular classes would fill their stomachs with homemade food, away from any kind of superfluity.
Only a few, just like Bar Cortijo at Part Baixa, are still keeping the tradition for communal meals and little dishes alive, precisely what David and Ivone are trying to boost right in the middle of Tarragona’s tourist core. Together with sublime bites such as tomato with bonito belly, ecologic coca de vidre (a typical thin sweet cake), or handmade cheese from El Catllar (a few miles from Tarragona), Lola Tapes have become known also by their particular wine list, with a great number of natural and bio-dynamic wines, and also for being the perfect place for trying every imaginable combination of the cocktail of the moment, the gin and tonic. Eccentricity or not, but they’re always ideal to enhance dishes that will make you lick your fingers.
Pickled anchovies, ortigues de mar (snakelocks anemone), espardenya (royal cucumber)… All, or almost all references in and out the menu, were born with David’s learning process as a child, helping his grandmother, then increased and improved in Barcelona, London, Amsterdam, Milan and Lisbon, which eventually got him a distinction certificate working his mother-in-law, who was actually born in a fisherman family in Torredembarra. “Tarragona is the ideal city for the type of food we make. It has a great climate, and so one feels the need to sharing portions and little dishes with friends; but, unfortunately, there is no such tradition or offer in here, and therefore, most people have lost contact with tradition food. With Lola Tapes, we have realised that people are willing to going back to eating properly”, he states.
In a city where the choice for bars and restaurants has gone over the top, Lola Tapes have become distinguished not only because of a menu that is pushing traditional cuisine, variable depending on the market’s availability, but also thanks to top-notch, ecologic and local ingredients. The establishment exhibits the Km.0 badge (for local food) and it is part of the international Slow Food movement, a commitment already agreed by nearly 50 restaurants in Catalonia. “We believe customers are becoming more and more conscious about this, starting or trying to eat in a responsible way. In fact, if you think about it, good food is not expensive; not eating as we should really is”, says the cook.
With no more than twenty seats and a smaller kitchen than those in many houses, David and Ivone work as little ants in order to make everyone happy. Despite the slight hassle at rush hour, the atmosphere in Lola Tapes transmits good vibrations, always a wicked feeling. Conversations move from the counter to the tables, from the inside to the outside, from the kitchen to the terrace, and it is very often that the couple running the restaurant gently stick their noses in each one of them. “We are a tinny bit of a joker, and we love laughing. We have eventually created a climate of confidence with customers, who are aware of our sense of humour and play their part. With good humour, food suits you better”, finally says David.
Being a prolific author, gifted with an exuberant imagination, the Veronese Emilio Salgari (1862-1911) wrote a vast number of novels, most set in remote and exotic places, like those of Sandokan the Pirate; places he was never able to visit. Due to her profound admiration towards Salgari and an adventurous soul, the Sicilian Gabriella Nonino has dedicated her life to travel, a permanent physical and mental revolution throughout the years that has taken her to an intense experience in every single country she’s lived in, from Israel to Kenya, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia. Gabriella fell in love with Tarragona some three years ago, and decided to settle in an attic terrace flat at Part Alta, an exceptional vantage point for the Tarragona Blog; an absolute ‘nomadic’ declaration of love born in the middle of the city’s heavy social activity.
When not actually travelling, Gabriella, who works as a professional web editor, does travel around the net. And it is in fact thanks to the Internet, she reckons, that back when she was living in London, she discovered Tarragona, a city that has managed to surpass her expectations. “I arrived one day during a demonstration set at Plaça de la Font. There were a lot of people sharing their indignation against general cutbacks, and yet the atmosphere was calm and festive at the same time, with a sort of complicity among those attending which is difficult to explain and different from everything I had seen before. I can still hum that music, L’Estaca by Lluís Llach. It was like witnessing my infatuation”, says Gabriella, who immediately sold her flat in England and became a devotee of every cultural event in the city, as shown in Tarragona Blog’s sensational photo story.
The historical character of the city becomes more evident in the actual monumental configuration of Part Alta, the old walled district. The vast number of Roman remains, classified by the UNESCO as World Heritage, describes, stone by stone and together with other buildings and locations of later construction, how the identity of this town and its area of influence were shaped. However, Gabriella believes that the most important thing in Tarragona “is not what it may have been, but what it wants to be”: the pre-eminence of a very active social movement, born with the purpose of sharing and fomenting a sort of city pride, capable of sustainably mobilising dozens of people through a number of festive and connecting activities, from castellers to historical reconstruction groups. “The first time I attended Santa Tecla Festivity, I was in shock: the breathtaking events, the massive involvement, the actual evolution of the festivity… It is much more than a social representation; it is a perfect, complete culture expression”, she states.
Gabriella gets involved, enjoys, absorbs. She spreads her passion for Tarragona and its people. She has engaged with those that have a close intellectual relation with the environment –archaeologists, cultural managers, chefs…-, a philanthropic supporters group with which she shares that stunning terrace in her attic, plus an explosive grappa produced by her father. One might think that it is precisely on this gossipy watchtower staring at the Cathedral, the immensity of the sea and clothes hanging up on some terraces around, that Gabriella has moved from liking to loving the city she chose to live in. “Tarragona might not be the most beautiful Mediterranean city, but it creates a choreography of fantastic people, absolutely involved, in a blend of pragmatism, pride and romantic ideal, which comes to confer a unique personality to this place; the one of a mythological beast, whose power lives inside its inhabitants”, she states.
It is three years now since she moved to this city. Her knowledge about some of the city’s lifestyles has gone a step forward. Gabriella has adapted to the rhythm and she feels that, after traveling for so long, it is in Tarragona that her most vital chapter has been written. “My obsession along the years was always discovering things in a different way. My love story has been fulfilled here. My life is an unfinished journey, but I feel like at home now”, she tells us. Her love for Tarragona is now a reasoned one, and an honest one too: “This is the ideal place to explain History and what the Mediterranean is. It is just about time that we believe in it, just a little bit more”.
Wandering along Merceria Street, you come across a store, which catches your attention in a very particular way. Stones covering the bottom of the façade still preserve up to four roman inscriptions, which come to prove we are right in front of a historical building. Its wooden entrance gate is painted in a two-tone green, and the decoration on the window display demonstrates the long commercial activity of a store which talks, which has a characteristic smell, and which is capable of seducing both kids and adults.
In fact, no other store can boast of such a long-standing life as the one of Cal Corderet in Tarragona. The historical wax-chandler’s shop, located at number 17 Merceria St., right in the heart of the Part Alta, is already more than 260 years old, which is not a trifle matter. Maybe the credit must be attributed to its “spirituality”, ventures to say Xavier Pagès, senior craftsman who works there. Whatever the case may be, the historical thread of Cal Corderet continues to be as valid right up to these days; first, as a candle manufacturing workshop, and afterwards, as an altar candle and natural incenses store. Products still appealing to both Tarragona inhabitants and tourists –the latter, more into discovering a place which evokes city’s heritage and history, and that is able to take you back in time–.
Cal Corderet origin should be set back in 1751, when candle manufacturing started –according to written documentation– in a small workroom, located on the building’s side wing, which would eventually lead to the current store.
As a matter of fact, one can still feel its historical atmosphere lingering in the air, and by entering the store, you are be able to admire its very first counter, today used as a display for candles of different colours, sizes and aromas. The rest of the décor is also the original one. Shelves filling its walls are also more than two and a half centuries old, despite showing some small later additions, such as the ‘gold leaf’ (pa d’or) that can be seen at its highest point. These shelves actually hide a sort of secret door, which in the past would lead to the house’s basement, where neighbours would have hidden during the Peninsular War (Guerra del Francès), and later, for the Spanish Civil War. This basement was also used as storage for the hand-made lye soap, very useful and efficient to clean wounds.
Particularly worth mentioning are the four gravestones with roman inscriptions that are kept at the main and lateral façades. One of them is signed to Fabia, a roman patrician beloved by her husband, Caius.
Throughout more than two centuries, Cal Corderet has moved from one owner to another. Despite this, every single one of them have been able to preserve its essence, and have watched over it in order to transmit a piece of history which is part of the Part Alta’s DNA. Nowadays, the ownership of the store belongs to Montserrat Magriñà, whereas Xavier Pagès is the craftsman, both in charge of candles’ decoration, and taking care of customers. As a sort of curiosity, a little detail: one of Xavier’s great-grandmothers had also owned a wax-chandler’s shop at the Part Alta, known as Ca la Filomena, actually located very near Cal Corderet.
What is to be found?
Cal Corderet is a wax-chandler’s shop offering the latest tendencies in aromas, colours, and shapes for the most modern types of candles, together with the most traditional altar candles. In fact, if you are looking for a custom-made product, don’t forget Xavier is an artist with his brush. However, one should be aware of the fact that paint and wax need a certain time to properly work together, and to achieve the ideal solidity grade. That is why a candle made to order may take a minimum of fifteen days to finish.
If you like incense, you can also find a great variety at Cal Corderet, although we would recommend the custom-made kind, which includes unique mixtures using resins from all over the world.
Carrer Merceria, 17
(0034) 977 234 625
Tuesday to Friday: 9.30am till 1.30pm, and 5.00pm till 8.30pm
Saturday: 9.30am till 1.30pm, and 5.30pm till 8.30pm
Sunday: 10.30am till 2.00pm.