Just two hours away from Barcelona, or an hour from Tarragona, the Delta de l’Ebre natural park is home to Catalonia’s largest wetlands. With its fauna-filled lagoons, sprawling beaches and rich agricultural heritage, it offers a rejuvenating escape for those times when you feel the urge to cut ties with the modern world and reconnect with Mother Nature.
Delta del what?
I’d never actually heard of the Delta del Ebro, or Ebro Delta, but my girlfriend Rosana kept bringing it up whenever we talked about escaping to somewhere for a dose of peace and quiet. We had this conversation with increasing frequency as Barcelona’s notoriously hectic summer/tourist season came to a crescendo, so one day we bundled a few beach towels and our newly-adopted rescue dog, Café, into the car and hit the road.
Space, stillness and serenity
The first thing that strikes you as you arrive in the Delta del Ebro reserve area is just how flat and vastly open it is. It gives you the same sense of freedom as being in the desert. A stillness and quietness that you daren’t interrupt. Even the rustling of the reads that fringe the rice paddies and the howling winds that attract kite-surfers from miles around are politely hushed.
Back to simpler times…
Everywhere I looked I saw vestiges of my youth that restored my faith in mankind: families posing for photographs on the beach, desperately trying to get their dogs to pose.
Shoeless cherubs roving the riverside and rattling buckets filled with freshly-caught blue crabs.
Canoodling teens dangling their feet from pontoons, content with little more than a shimmering silver lake to gaze upon and a warm hand to hold.
Retirees with fishing rods and fridges bulging with enough cold beer and sandwiches to last til sundown.
Things to Do in Delta del Ebro Natural Park
My general advice on what to do in the Delta del Ebro reserve area would simply be to relax and explore the natural beauty of it all, to wander in no particular direction and follow the beautiful flamingos that call this area home (a huge highlight for us).
Follow your nose, stroll the beaches, roam the river and eat anything and everything that features the local rice and seafood.
But if you’re the type who prefers a little more detail, here are a few more things I suggest visiting, seeing and doing in and around the Delta de l’Ebre.
See the Flamingos at the Tancada Lagoon
Mention the Ebro Delta and the first thing most locals will think of is the pink flamingos that live here. The best place to see them, and many other beautiful bird species, is the lagoon of La Tancada, which is a protected wildlife reserve.
Just keep your eyes peeled for the photographers at the side of the road with their huge telephoto lenses and tripods, pull your car over and watch these peculiar pink birds enjoying their natural habitat. The Mirador is another good post for birdwatching.
Visit the MónNatura Delta de l’Ebre Cultural Centre
Located on the Tancada lagoon, this stunning cultural centre is one of the ‘must dos’ while you’re in the area. Not only is it a great place to see and learn about the local wildlife, but it also encompasses a restored fish farm and the old Tancada saltworks.
Learn about the historic fishing techniques used in the Sant Antoni salt pans, try your hand at punting a traditional boat in the salty shallow waters, and discover the fascinating story of how the Delta came to be.
Tickets available here for just €8 per person.
Explore the Rugged Beaches of Delta del Ebro
The Ebro Delta’s beaches were the highlight of our trip. They are untouched by the hand of man and seem to stretch out forever. A few favourites included:
Trabucador Beach (Platja del Trabucador) – This spindly, 6 km-long sandbar is bordered by water on two sides and is famous for its world-class kitesurfing credentials. It’s an invigorating sport to spectate and you can also take lessons if you’re in need of an adrenalin fix.
Eucalyptus Beach Amposta (Platja de l’Eucaliptus Amposta) – We stayed right next to Eucalyptus Beach. Just saying the name fills me with a sense of calm. The beach itself is somewhat wild and rugged, with endless charcoal sands that I’d recommend exploring with a dog, or perhaps your kids.
Riumar Beach (Platja de Riumar) – Another refreshingly rugged beach accessed via a huge wooden boardwalk that takes you through a series of sand dunes. There are a few chiringuitos (beach bars) and restaurants here, as well as a Red Cross station and watersports rental company, which makes this a great spot for hanging out with the family. If you continue along the coast towards the river mouth you will find yourself at the El Garxal observation point, which is a great place to watch the local birdlife.
Take a Boat Trip Down the Delta
On the boat tour we took down the Ebro River – the second largest river in Spain – our captain explained with passion how important the river is to the local way of life. But also, with sincere sadness, how many of the rice fields will soon succumb to rising sea levels.
I struggled a little to understand all that he said in his thick Catalan accent, but I caught the bit about how the sediment that flows down river from every corner of Spain has diminished dramatically in recent years. This is a problem for a number of reasons, not least because this sediment is dumped at the mouth of the river, creating a sort of natural barrier against the hungry sea.
Luckily the Delta del Ebro is also home to a thriving fishing industry. Speaking of which…
Explore the Local Fishing Ports
Luckily, perhaps, the Delta del Ebro has another source of income besides its doomed rice industry and fledgling tourist. Some 9,000 tonnes of fish are caught per year by the 2,000 local fishermen.
For an insight into this you can head to the ports of Sant Carles de la Ràpita, L’Ampolla, Les Cases d’Alcanar and L’Ametlla.
Visit the Paddy Fields and Rice Museum
Delta del Ebro’s rice industry dates back to 1860 and has been perfected from generation to generation. It is responsible for a whopping 20% of Spain’s rice production – a considerable amount when you consider how much paella this nation consumes.
Wherever you go and whatever road you take, you’ll eventually come across one of the countless rice paddy fields, which are flooded with water by a network of intricate irrigation channels. I also enjoyed watching the peculiar tractors bouncing around the sodden fields, their odd rubberless wheels like the spindly feet of the local wetland birds who call this area home.
The Museu d’arròs Molí de Rafelet (Rice Musuem)
Located in the main town of Deltebre, the Museu d’arròs Molí de Rafelet (Rice Museum) is housed in a wooden rice mill dating back to 1935. It makes for an interesting visit. To be frank, there’s not an awful lot else to do in the town.
Rent a Bike and Cruise the Coastal Paths
Cyclists, cyclists, everywhere… and not a hill to climb. The Delta de l’Ebre is naturally flat and traversed by a large number of dedicated cycle lanes, making it perfect for exploring on two wheels. There are a few local bike tour companies offering guided cycling tours of the Ebro Delta, as well as bike rentals from around €10. I suggest renting a bike and hitting one of the many routes.
Ramble the River to the Desembocadura (River Mouth)
There’s a beautiful footpath and cycle track that hugs the river all the way to the desembocadura (river mouth) – head to the lookout tower at the end. This is where the river meets the sea and struck me a sort bizarre no man’s land. It’s a romantic place to be at dusk and I wished we’d taken a picnic and a bottle of plonk.
Watch the Sunset
Make it Happen
Best time to visit the Ebro Delta: This is the kind of place you could visit at any time of year, but I’d suggest going in early or late summer, especially if you want to explore the beaches.
How to get to the Delta del Ebro: You’ll want to rent a car to experience this gorgeous region. It’s only an hour or two from cities like Tarragona and Barcelona, and also not far from the glorious beach town of Sitges, so I’d suggest planning your visit to coincide.
Where to stay in Delta del Ebro: The Hotel Mediterrani Blau is an excellent budget option near the beach. The Delta Ebro Apartments are well priced for families/couples. You’ll also find plenty of elegant rural houses in the area, many with private pools and barbecues facilities – great for families and larger groups.