Have you ever been the last one to read the book everyone’s raving about – The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl maybe? Going to Cambrils Park in Northern Spain was a bit like that for me – at least a dozen people had told me how fantastic it is, and I arrived worrying that it wouldn’t live up to the hype.
I know people who go back there year after year, and people who’d like to try somewhere new, but are afraid it won’t be as good. And now having been here, I finally get it. I think it’s because Cambrils offers many of the facilities of a good campsite, but with much better accommodation than your average mobile home. In fact, it’s one of the best places we’ve stayed, and ticked all the boxes bar one, more of which below.
A1 for Accommodation
We’ve stayed in mobile homes for five years in a row now, and having spent two weeks in a Bonita Villa in Cambrils – a cheerful yellow wooden cabin with high ceilings and a lot more space than we’re used to, I can already see that we’ll find it tough to go back to mobiles next year. (To get technical: it’s 65 square meters, compared to about 25 square meters last year in a Eurocamp mobile home in Marina di Venezia.)
Our Bonita Villa was one of my favourite things about this holiday – I think the space made a much bigger difference to our enjoyment than I anticipated. There was less crankiness all round – whether it was because everyone was a year older and wiser, or because we weren’t tripping over one another, or just a fluke, I don’t know. We had a patio outside where we ate all our meals (on really lovely garden furniture) and everything inside and outside felt clean and pretty. In short, I loved it.
The Bonita Villas stand out as they’re all painted in bright yellow, blue, green or red, and wandering between them to go to or from the pool is something to enjoy in its own right. We were in a corner house with a big grass area out front and to the side, put to good use for much cartwheeling and lying around in the sun.
There are also Aloha log cabins (a little smaller than Bonita), and Mediterranean apartments (in a variety of sizes going up to a three-bed apartment that sleeps 8.)
Campsite size – a win for kids of all ages
Cambrils Park is small compared to the huge Italian campsites we stayed in the last two years – the whole perimeter is less than 2km, and kids can wander freely up and down paths between houses. We were able to send our three (aged 9, 8, and 5) to the bakery for pastries and coffees for us – that alone would entice me back.
Pools – a hit with this grown-up
I loved the pools – specifically the Mediterranean Pool which is a shallow-ish saltwater pool with a manmade beach on both sides. It’s beautiful to look at and the calmest of the three pool complexes. (Also, we could still get a lounger there after 11am.)
The kids preferred the busier Caribbean Pool with its slides and pirate ship. The third pool complex is the Polynesian Pool and one of the highlights was swimming to the pool-bar on the last day to have an ice-cream.
This one is busy – we never once got a lounger there, but there are lovely restaurant tables with umbrellas just beside the baby pool and we always got a spot there.
Night-time entertainment a mixed bag
Some of the night-time entertainment is a bit cheesy and not entirely suitable for children, but there’s a disco every night where all the kids get up on stage and my littlest loved it. The atmosphere at night is really, really good, and because the site is small and everything is quite centralised, you have a sense that everyone is in the one spot, enjoying the same event.
The stage is in the Polynesian Pool, and people sit at stepped tables outside the main bar/ restaurant – it means you can go down for an ice-cream or a gin and tonic and enjoy the show or completely ignore it; it’s all good.
Food – the unticked box
The food in Cambrils Park isn’t great. We didn’t know this before we went, though having chatted to many people since, it seems that we were the only ones who didn’t know this. It meant we had to drive down to Cambrils Port to eat, or barbecue, or get take-out (the takeaway food is quite good). We had some lovely meals out in Cambrils Port but it would be good to have the option of great food on site too.
Barbecues don’t come as standard – you can buy one in the site shop for €30 or find a nice person to pass one on to you when they’re leaving (thanks Paul for ours!)
Shops that do tick the box
The supermarket on site is great – all the basics and more (plus cheap shower gel and shampoo so you don’t have to pack it if you don’t want to). There’s a bakery beside the supermarket with great cakes and pastries and takeaway coffees – our kids loved going there on their own to buy bread and donuts. There’s also a good shop with swimwear, flip-flops, sun-cream, toys, inflatables for the pool, souvenirs and the all-important purses and bracelets my kids *need* to buy every time we go on holidays. Oh yes, and did I mention the sparkling Rosé for €3?
You can walk to Cambrils town from the park but the loveliest part of the town is the port, and that’s further away. We had rented a car so we drove there, but you could get a taxi or bus (or walk if your children are good at long walks – mine are not). We visited during the day the first time we went, and it was too hot to enjoy it properly – it was week two before we went at night, and realised that that’s when it really comes alive. There are dozens and dozens of little shops selling jewellery and beachwear and clothes and bags, plus ice-cream shops and restaurants every few steps on the busy streets. There’s a wonderful buzz at night, and you don’t need a plan – you can just wander the streets stopping for ice-cream or coffee or the all important souvenir purses and bracelets.
We ate out in four different restaurants and here’s what we thought:
This was my favourite and my husband’s too – it was recommended by a friend (thanks Mary!) who has been before, but it doesn’t have a kids’ menu and there’s a lot of expensive looking glassware, so we passed on it at first. Then towards the end of the holiday we were meeting friends from home for dinner and everywhere else we checked was either closed or booked out, so we tried Trastavere. We had an outdoor table on the rooftop terrace overlooking the port, and it almost didn’t matter what the food was like, the setting was so lovely.
But the food was great – easily the best meal we had on the holiday. The kids were less excited – no kids’ menu, no colouring, and “too grown-up” but they conceded that the food was very good.
This is very popular – we tried booking twice and were told it was booked out. It’s a crowd-pleaseing kind of place, with steaks, chicken, burgers, fajitas, and a kids’ menu. It’s not Spanish-y but the food is pretty good and the kids loved it, especially the Oreo milkshakes.
Pasta E Basta
This is pizza and pasta, similar to pizza and pasta restaurants anywhere, so again not particularly Spanish, but the food is tasty and our kids loved it. The pasta on the kids’ menu is great, especially when they’re tired of the nuggets-or-burger options. The Afogato on the dessert menu is very nice too… Beware, if you order the house red wine, it may come chilled (but you can ask for room temperature).
We had promised the kids tapas and were advised to try Lekitio. We sat in the restaurant as there were no free tables in the bar, and ordered from the a la carte menu, but stuck to tapas. We ordered patatas bravas, cod croquettes, two types of prawns, and mussels. We should have realised the prawns would come like this:
But we didn’t. The kids filled up on bread, olives, and patatas bravas and avoided what they called “a table full of dead fish”. So a good spot, but take care when ordering!
You can walk to the beach from Cambrils Park – it’s about 1km but not the most scenic walk. Alternatively you can drive down towards the port and access the beach at any spot along the way, or drive to nearby Salou.
Theme Parks – the best bit
We spent a day at Port Aventura which I’ll review in a separate post but all three kids said it was the best day of the holidays.
We also went to the water park in Port Aventura. My verdict is that it was a six-hour endurance test of bumped heads, sunburnt shoulders, not great food, no space, too many people, slippery floors and nowhere to sit. My three small kids and their big-kid dad absolutely loved it.
Getting around – do you need a car?
No, you don’t – you can get a taxi down to Cambrils Port, and though we drove to the giant Esclat supermarket, you can easily get away with buying food in the onsite shop. We rented a car because we flew to Barcelona (an hour’s drive away) whereas most people fly into Reus, a much closer airport. I was glad we had the car for popping downtown, for going to the theme park and water park, and to the supermarket, but it wasn’t critical.
So what’s the verdict on Cambrils Park? Is it like the book you don’t read until everyone else has – the one that doesn’t live up to the hype? No, I think it’s more like the book you really, really enjoy; the book that sets the bar higher, the book against which you measure all future books. There are people who go back year after year – some for twelve years in a row, and having tried it for twelve nights, I can see how it could be addictive.
PS If you know of somewhere with lovely accommodation and great campsite facilities and fab food, please let me know – we’re still searching!