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Located in southern Catalonia, about 11 km from the border with the Valencian Community, Ulldecona is a typical Catalan town, only 10 to 15 minutes drive to the sea. The closest beach is at Vinaros followed very closely by Les Cases del Alcanar, but there are other beaches that are very accessible such as Sant Carles de la Rapita and the Delta de l’Ebre. Ulldecona is a good choice for visitors who want to sense the real Catalonia, enjoy nature, visit other towns and interesting sites, yet only be a 15 minute drive to the beach. It has a pretty old quarter, a few gorgeous modernist buildings and the new tourist office is a sight in itself! The new tourist office opened in early 2014, and is a converted olive mill. The mill of 1923 is proudly on display inside, along with a pretty arrangement of local olive oils.
Its medieval castle stands proudly atop a hill and can be viewed from afar. The town is considered to be one of Catalonia’s most important medieval towns. Another one of its attractions – the Ermita de la Pietat is also perched on a mountain side, and is well worth a visit. In the old town there are some Baroque buildings, as well as the Church of St. Luke (l’Eglesia de Sant Lluc).
The town is surrounded by unspoilt countryside, which is home to one of the most important examples of Levantine rock art in the whole of the Iberian Peninsula – the cave paintings in the Sierra de Godall. You may not be aware, but these cave paintings, along with some others in Catalonia, have been classified as UNESCO sites. Actually there are 9 wonders of Catalonia, which are either UNESCO sites or heritage, check these out at Catalonia UNESCO sites.
You won’t find that much English spoken in the town, although on my first visit there I got lost, so I asked someone for directions, in Spanish. This is generally acceptable in Catalonia, as the Catalans realise that you’re not a local. In my case I managed to pick someone else who was not a native, most likely from India, and he answered me in English. However the other locals that I’ve spoken to are happy to communicate in Spanish.
The town of Ulldecona is the perfect size to walk around and explore, and it has a pleasant atmosphere. Of course there are places to stop for a refreshment, where you can relax and watch the world go by. Ulldecona is a municipality, and the other villages that fall under it, each of these have populations of 200 or so down to as little around 30 residents, they are: Els Valentins, El Castell, Sant Joan del Pas, Les Ventalles and La Miliana.
1n 1998 the cave paintings of Ulldecona were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. To see them you’ll need to walk on a mountain path, but once again even the views alone are worth it, assuming you don’t have the same issue I have – more about that in a moment.
The paintings date from the Neolithic Era and are the most important of their type in Catalonia. In 1975 they were discovered by children of the Potholing Team, and take up an area of around 500 metres. The most captivating is entitled El Bruixot, where you can see up to 170 different figures, which include women, archers, goats, deer, and what may possibly be early breeds of dogs. There is a combination of semi-schematic and naturalistic styles, with a variety of darkened red tones and some chestnut brown. Witness hunting scenes and imagine the customs and rituals of our ancestors back as far as 8000 years.
In 2006 an Interpretation Centre of the Cave Paintings was set up in the Ermita de la Pietat (Hermitage of Piety). It is a great way to interact and understand the cave paintings. We went with some English speaking friends, you need to book tours in advance with the Ulldecona Tourist Office. We have an excellent tour guide, Juan Carlos. The tour started off in the Interpretation Centre, where he talked us through the background in plenty of detail. His English is almost perfect and he was delighted with our little group, because we were up for a discussion. Let’s say the Evolution Theory was discussed quite a bit!
Unfortunately I couldn’t do the entire tour …as I seem to have developed vertigo a few years ago, after falling from an attic onto down onto the next floor. I landed like a cat, so hardly injured myself at all, but I haven’t been the same since. So the photos you see on this page of the actual cave paintings were taken by Dymphna. The rest of the group loved the rest of the tour, and I was very disappointed to have to turn back.
This group of olive trees are thought to be the oldest in the Iberian Peninsula and quite possibly in the world. There are 35 olive trees found deep in Arion, around an hour’s journey from Ulldecona. It is one of the most iconic landscapes of the region. The land and olive trees are owned by the Porta Ferré family, who provide an olive oil tasting at the end of your tour.
I loved the exterior of this building the very first time I saw it. It is the work of a Gaudí disciple, Cesar Martinell, with a modernist structure and decor.
Click on the link above to find out more about Cesar Martinelli – he designed wine cellars that were called Wine Cathedrals. If you wish to see more of his work you can visit Martinelli’s wine cathedrals in the following places in Catalonia: Gandesa, Falset, Cornudella de Montsant, Montblanc and Nulles.
The closest beaches are between a 15 to 20 minute drive, in Les Cases de Alcanar. Between 15 to 20 minutes driving, will take you to Vinaros where you have a good choice of beaches. However don’t forget that you’re not that far away from the unusual, striking landscape of the Delta de l’Ebre Natural Park, where there are also unspoilt beaches and birds to spot, including flamingos. From Ulldecona, it’s around 30 minutes drive or so. If you do decide to go there, you could drive via Alcanar town, then head to Les Cases d’Alcanar, drop into Sant Carles de la Rapita and then go down into the Delta. You can find more information in the Day Trips section further below.
The Ulldecona medieval castle is considered the symbol of Ulldecona and its people. Declared a monument of cultural interest, the castle was bought in 1986 by the town council of Ulldecona, so that it could be restored. They did an excellent job of restoring it and now you can access various levels easily. The views from the castle are spectacular! You can see right down to the coast of Vinaros and the castle of Peniscola on a clear day.
Archaeological evidence has shown us that there were civilisations in the area of the castle in the 6th century and maybe even earlier than this. Its position was perfect for strategic control over the surrounding area, perfectly located in a part of the Sierra de Godall. It was constructed on a site where there were remains of an Iberian civilisation. Today you can see the remains of some of the buildings that were originally constructed in the 9th century by Arab settlers.
In 1148, Ramón Berneguer IV conquered this part of southern Catalonia, and it was at this time that construction of the medieval buildings started. The castle was under the protection of the Montcada family of Tortosa, but in 1173 Guillem de Montcada donated his properties to the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem.
In 1222 the first town charter was granted to allow for new housing construction to begin between the two walls. It formed part of the Catalan border with the Saracens until James I started his campaigns of Valencia, in 1230. Then in 1273 Frai Ramon Berenguer, master of Amposta, gave permission for residents of Ulldecona to live in the basin of the valley. In 1836 the castle was however, privately bought, until the town council bought it back in 1986.
On the ground floor there are two rooms that would have functioned as the cistern rooms. It is thought that the first floor served as an oratory, whereas the second floor was most likely where the residential area was. Interestingly, recent excavations found a a Romanesque Christ, which leads us to believe that the function of the castle was not only defensive, but also religious.
For visiting please check with the Ulldecona Tourist Office for the latest prices and offers,their contact details can be found by clicking on Necessities & Contacts above, or going to the end of this page.
The price range depends on how many people visit at once; therefore the more the merrier. Also the tourist office currently has a Cultural Saturday offer on their website, which includes a tour to the castle, the Natural Museum of Millenium Olive Trees and the cave paintings. This is advertised at €10 per person, and is only suitable for those of 10 years of age or more. However do please check to see if this is still available.
In the old town there are a selection of buildings from different periods. The most notable is the l’Eglesia de Sant Lluc (Church of Saint Luke). One of the other notable buildings is the recently restored Casa de Mossen Domingo Sola, who was the founder of the missionary charity Ekumene. Also there are some nice Baroque buildings in the streets – Carrer de la Purrisima and Carrer Sant Cristofol.
The Catalan Gothic Church dominates the old part of the town. Construction started in 1373 and in 1421 it was consecrated. It is a very solid, strong looking church with bricks of a light rustic earthenware tone. It was built at the time when the local people were moving from the castle to the town. It has a solemn interior, which is lighted up by some features such as some of the stained glass windows and the large candelabras that hang over the centre of the church. The chapel is lighter and has some nice tile work.
Majestically towering over Sierra Godall’s southeast slope, with fabulous views over the countryside, lies the Ermita de la Pietat. It is around 4km out of the town and close to the cave paintings also. It is a fine chapel, and well worth a visit both culturally and spiritually, as well as for the marvellous views over the Catalan countryside. There’s a steep approach up to it, but it’s worth the effort.
There’s also a nice bar where lunches, celebrations and even weddings are held. It really does make for an idyllic wedding venue. It’s a nice spot to visit and then just hang out over a coffee or beer, drinking in the beautiful views. Additionally there’s an albergue with 22 beds. Restoration work was carried out in 2012, as ever since the Cave Paintings got their UNESCO status in 1998, tourism has increased.
Ulldecona is very close to the Els Ports Natural Park. The handiest Visitors Centre is located in La Senia, but you can just drive by yourself, you’ll see the signs. Sometimes you’ll see signs for Tinença de Benifassa, but this is basically the same park, except for it’s the part that falls into the Comunidad Valenciana, as opposed to Catalonia. It can be a bit confusing, but the border is there, so that’s why! Find out more about the park here.
The famous theme park is perfect for a day or two out for the younger family members. It’s featured below in the Days Trips section, and you can also read more about it here.
Vinaros is in the Comunidad Valenciana, and can be reached in under 20 minutes. There’s a choice of a few beaches and a number of little coves, dotted around its north and south coast. Vinaros is the capital of the Baix Maestrat region, so it’s a proper, authentic working town. Read more about Vinaros.
If you drive down past the lovely hermitage that belongs to the municipality of Alcanar, continue through the town and then onto the coast, you’ll find the little fishing village of Les Cases d’Alcanar. I would recommend seeing the hermitage on the way, as it’s worth the tiny detour. The setting and views are superb, plus there’s a BBQ area and tables to have food. There’s also a bar there. The hermitage is located a few moments walking from the Iberian civilisation archaegological site – La Moleta del Remei. Read more in the Alcanar Travel Guide.
It would be a shame not to experience the unique, magical landscape of the Delta de l’Ebre, which is a 25 minute drive away from Ulldecona. Picture unspoilt beaches, sand dunes and paddy fields …find out more here.
Another spot to enjoy a day at the beach and a wander around the town, plus the fine port area, is Sant Carles de la Rapita. This can be reached in a little under half an hour. For more information click here.
Also in just under half an hour’s drive, you can visit Tortosa, which is a fine city with plenty of interesting architecture. It also has a pedestrianised shopping area. More information can be found in our Tortosa Travel Guide.
Heading in the other direction, into the Comunidad Valenciana, another lovely town to visit is Sant Mateu – 35 minutes drive or so. Check out the photos of its pretty main square and information here.
Half an hour driving will take you to Peñiscola, which is officially one of Spain’s prettiest towns. It’s got a lovely beach, a modern part, but its highlight is its old town and Templar Castle, that seems to rise out of the sea. Read more about Peñiscola.
A longer journey of an hour or so will take you to another of Spain’s prettiest towns – Morella. Apart from the spectacular views and the gorgeous historical town, Morella has lots of curious and tempting shops. Find out more here.
Another journey of an hour or so will take you to Horta de Sant Joan. This town is best known because of the time that Pablo Picasso spent there, but it is very charming in its own right and from certain part has gorgeous views over the landscape. It was in the surrounding countryside that Picasso became intimate with nature. Check out the photos and information in our Horta de Sant Joan Travel Guide. There’s also a route that takes in Horta de Sant Joan, but features other Catalan towns – it’s called the Route of the Four Geniuses. The geniuses are Picasso, Gaudí, Joan Miró and Pablo Casals – read about the route here.
A little over an hour’s driving will take you to Salou and the famous Port Aventura Theme Park. Read more about Salou here.
Ulldecona is known for its sweet pastries, in particular – Periquillos. Made from egg, sugar, flour and matafaluga, these pastries are diamond shaped and baked in the oven. Other cuisine of the area includes eels, mussels, cod and prawns, and artichoke is also a favourite. You may find artichoke risotto on the menu is some places. Alioli is also used quite a bit – alioli being a kind of garlic mayonnaise.
Rice and other ingredients are frequently sourced from the Delta de l’Ebre. Rice is grown there, and the area is also rich is seafood. In my experience the towns that are close enough to the Delta de l’Ebre to get fresh ingredients, have a good standard of food offerings overall. In the case of the area around Ulldecona, there are two restaurants that have a big following and deserve it!
L’Antic Moli, Crta. Ulldecona-La Senia km 10, Ulldecona Phone: 977 570 893
This is a good restaurant and you really do need to book in advance. It’s a really popular venue for weddings. There are tasting menus available, for between 6 to 18 courses depending on which one you choose. The restaurant is a short drive from the town itself and is on the road to La Senia.
Restaurant Les Moles, Carretera La Senia, Km. 2, 43550 Ulldecona, Phone: 977 573 224
Using ingredients from an ecological orchard, Restaurant Les Moles is constantly evolving and creating innovative dishes. Like L’Antic Moli, there are also tasting menus available here. This restaurant may deserve a Michelin star, one reviewer said during 2013, and indeed it was given one, later that year! We had a very interesting tasting menu there, with creative presentation. However we didn’t feel the experience lived up to our expectations. It is also on the La Senia road. These are only 2 of the restaurants in the area, so just the tip of the iceberg.
If you want to pick up some local produce to cook yourself, or buy other items, then you can visit the market of Ulldecona. The daily indoor market opens in the mornings Monday to Saturday and the afternoons from 5pm during the weekdays. This is where you’ll find the best selection of fresh produce.
This is not one of the biggest markets of the area, yet it’s not tiny either. There is a range of products available, from clothes to food, and some practical things. It is aimed very much at the locals, so you won’t find souvenirs there.
Masia Castell del Domenech is about 1 km out of Ulldecona town, heading in the direction of Tortosa. It’s a place that you need to have been told about to know that it exists. It’s a lovely set-up, perfect to enjoy time away from the town for a while, and the kids should love it. There’s a trampoline for children, horses, goats, peacocks and a bar/restaurant. During the warm weather the swimming pool is open, plus there’s paddle tennis. All year round you can get a menu del dia during the week for €10, and this costs €15 at the weekend or during special holidays.
If you want to go horse riding, there’s a German lady, Yvonne, who can either give lessons or take experienced riders out. I have recently started lessons there, and she’s a patient, highly experienced teacher. She’s been riding horses since she was 6 years old and owned her first horse, aged 15. Yvonne speaks German, Spanish and some English.
A spot that I absolutely love, it’s really beautiful there. The Ulldecona Dam is the confluence of 3 rivers, which was built in 1967. The project was funded by the farmers of the area. There are a couple of good restaurants close by, making it a perfect afternoon or day trip from Ulldecona town. During the summer there is also pedalo hire.
Passeig de l’Estació s/n, 43550 Ulldecona (Tarragona)
Phone numbers: 977 573 394 – 619 770 869
Tours: Be sure to contact the tourist office if you want to see the Cave Paintings, Castle and/or Millennial Olive Trees. There’s a tour that takes in the 3 together, but does need to be booked in advance.
If nothing else, just pop in to see the lovely restored olive mill, and chat with friendly, helpful staff.