THE EBRO DELTA
The Ebro Delta covers 320 square kilometres and is the second largest wetland area in the western Mediterranean, after the French Camargue. It has many natural habitats not common to the rest of Catalonia: large lakes of salt water (such as La Tancada) or fresh water (such as L'Encanyissada), kilometres of beaches with sand dunes (El Fangar) and salt wastelands (Erms de la Tancada, Punta de la Banya), places where underground fresh water comes to the surface (Els Ullals), shallow bays (El Fangar or Els Alfacs), riverbank woods and fluvial islands that, together with the ecosystems created by man - rice fields and salt pans - constitute a unique landscape of great natural wealth.
This diversity of ecosystems and flora and fauna has led to the protection of a large part of the Delta and in 1983 it was declared a "natural park". It is in fact an ornithological paradise where you can see more than 300 species of birds. Some are sedentary and others migratory, spending the summer or winter here or perhaps just passing through. Species not found anywhere else in Catalonia include the white heron, the glossy ibis, the kingfisher, the squacco heron, and the flamingo, which join tens of thousands of ducks and other limicolous birds. The Delta is also rich in rare plants, amphibians, fish and endemic invertebrates.
The Natural Park provides facilities for visitors and scholars, including an ecomuseum with exhibits explaining the natural and agricultural environment of the area, various information centres, and a library. There is a biological station for the use of researchers, which also has a wildlife recuperation centre.
In addition to the undeniable ecological value of this area, a paradise for ornithologists and nature-lovers, we cannot forget the beauty of its unspoilt beaches. The Delta is also the story of man's struggle to tame a hard and difficult land through the cultivation of rice. The rice fields change colour with the seasons and they become lost in the infinity among small houses and villages. A boat trip to the river mouth is a must.
THE PORTS OF TORTOSA-BESEIT
The Ports of Tortosa-Beseit is a rugged mountain range that is the natural extension of the Maestrat range of Castellón and Teruel. There are eleven municipalities within its 800 square kilometres. Mont Caro (1441 metres) is the highest peak in the range and also in Tarragona province. On days when the sky is cleared by the mistral winds you can see as far as the Pyrenees to the north and the Balearic Islands to the east. In winter, an occasional snowfall clothes it in white.
From the villages of Horta de Sant Joan to La Pobla de Benifassà and from Beseit to Tortosa, the Ports, with its wild, solitary landscapes, large tracts of forest, and a rich and varied flora and fauna, is one of the most interesting Mediterranean mountain ranges on the Iberian Peninsula. A particularly important species is the wild mountain goat, the symbol of the Ports and the reason it has been declared a national hunting reserve. There are birds such as the vulture, the golden eagle, Bonelli's eagle, the nocturnal eagle owl and many species of forest birds. Mammals include the elusive wild cat, the squirrel, the otter, and the river crab, which can still be found secreted in the crystalline waters of rivers such as the Ulldemó, the Algars and the Matarranya, that are also home to various species of fish.
It is a land of Scotch pine and red pine, as well as of oak and holm oak groves, but what really stands out is the most southerly beech wood in Catalonia. All these forests, and the highest areas which are subject to high winds and consequently more barren of vegetation, also have many species of rare and endemic plants. On the cliffs and in the canyons there are waterfalls with names such as El Barber, La Cantavella, Els Ullals and La Caramella. There are also deep gulleys and gorges, and many hiding places in valleys and caves - quirks of a wild and surprising landscape that captivates travellers and mountaineers alike.
The whims of a wild and surprising landscape that will captivate both travellers and mountaineers. In the mountains of Els Ports we can still enjoy nature in its purest state. The highest mountains are within our reach. Naked rocks, rounded and polished, transmit to us many different sensations. Penetrating deep into its hidden corners brings peace to our spirit and takes us closer to our roots.
THE MOUNTAINS OF PRADES
The Mountains of Prades are formed by a range that rises sharply to the north out of the plains of the Camp of Tarragona. It covers 260 square kilometres of territory stretching across four different counties: Baix Camp, Alt Camp, Conca de Barberà and Priorat.
It is an excellent example of a Mediterranean mountain range, dominated by a tabular relief with high plateaus such as Els Motllats - broken by cliffs and gulleys, built on a complex geology that shows such surprising materials as the red clays and white chalks of the cliffs, or the granites and schists of some valley slopes, as well as deep caves and potholes. Several important rivers have their sources here - the Francolí, the Brugent, the Siurana and the Glorieta, nourished by a relatively high rainfall - as well as many torrents that flow down towards the Camp of Tarragona.
The natural wealth of the area is found in the great tracts of forest with extensive holm oak and white pine groves. There are also many oak woods. The most interesting is one of Pyrenean oak, unique in Catalonia, that spreads around the Tossal de Baltasana, the highest peak in these mountains at 1,201 metres. In high or shaded areas it is common to find holly and yew, both protected species, and other varieties belonging to cooler, damper climes that find their most southerly habitats here.
Various springs and streams nourish these woods, which are also home to the wild cat, the squirrel, the lesser shrew, the wild boar and the weasel, as well as many forest birds such as the goshawk, the sparrow hawk, the long-eared owl, and the tiny tit. Dominating the skies we can see the golden eagle, Bonelli's eagle, and even the peregrine falcon.
Autochthonous forests, full of life, that have remained unchanged over the centuries. The heart of the mountains of Prades continues to beat and you can still see the cobblestones that paved the traditional paths used by man. Unbelievable views and a thousand nooks and crannies to discover, creating spaces and atmospheres difficult to compare with any other place.
LA SERRA DEL MONTSANT MOUNTAINS
In the interior of the county of Priorat, and visible from any of the peaks on the coastal ranges, is the imposing relief of the Serra del Montsant, sometimes known as the "Mountain of Peace". At its foot nestles the 12th century Carthusian monastery of Escaladei and at its highest point is the Corbatera Rock (1163 metres). The Serra de la Llena, between the Conca de Barberà and Les Garrigues, forms a natural corridor that links the Montsant with the mountains of Prades to the east. Look for mountain tracks, caves, hermitages and gulleys to observe the flora and fauna of these distant and wild mountains.
The southern face of the mountain, drier and affected by secular forest fires, is home to many types of aromatic plant. In the autumn it can surprise you with a lively display of colour, either from the vineyards around its base, or from the deciduous trees that grow in the crevices of the cliffs. The north face hides oak, holm oak and Scotch pine groves. The wind-lashed peaks and crests have a multitude of interesting plants as diverse as orchids, crag willows, and magnificent peonies. Altogether we can find more than a thousand different plant species. The isolation of the mountains has favoured the survival of many species of animal sensitive to human presence. Particularly interesting are the rupicolous birds that need the cliffs and rocks to nest in. They include the threatened golden eagle and Bonelli's eagle, or other more humble species such as the rock thrush and the blue rock thrush, the black wheateater, and the swift. Finally, we have to mention the importance of the River Montsant and some of its tributary gulleys as a refuge for species of Mediterranean river-dwelling fish and mammals.
These are the most emblematic mountains in the province of Tarragona. The majority are only accessible on foot, which is probably why time seems to come to a standstill when you enter this domain of nature. It is a symbol of reflection, of austerity, where you find only hermitages and silence.