Saturday, 16 June 2012

Santa Susanna

Leaving Birmingham at 07:30 in the morning we arrived in London for our coach pick up at mid day. From there we carried on to Dover, arriving around 4.30pm for the ferry crossing. Thereafter the gruelling trek through France with three stops along the way. In the early hours of the following day we crossed the French Spanish border and headed towards our destination an hour the opposite side of Barcelona at a place called Santa Susanna on the Costa Brava.

This coast line of Spain is quite green. As we trundled on towards our destination the grass and surrounding trees and fields were covered in a light frost, something I had not expected. We finally arrived at our destination around 11:30 am at the Aqua Onabrava Hotel in Santa Susanna. A four star hotel with nice spacious rooms this was to be our home for the next few days. In fact I write this article from the hotel computer whilst I am waiting for lunch to be served. The hotel is faultless. The food and the service excellent. My only criticism would be the fact that the swimming pool and the gym are available but for an extra charge.

The beach is nearby and the promenade and surrounding area is spotlessly clean and well maintained. The beach itself is very impressive and stretches for miles and miles in either direction. I have some photos that I will show you later when I get back.

As with any package holiday the tours are available at a premium. Rather than fight our way through the public transport maze we paid for our day trip to Barcelona ( 120 Euros for four of us which is about 85 pounds ) and also the spectacular monastary at Montserrat, more on this later.

Outside the hotel the lemon trees were bearing their fruit and the hotel pool glistened in the sunshine, spotlessly clean but unused of course due to the chilly weather. The mornings are cool and similar to mornings in the UK at this time of year but the winter sun soons warms the place up and the bright and cheerful weather is a refreshing change.

On the second day we went to Barcelona. What a splendid city. It is both modern and ancient and home to around 4 million people. Thats about 10 per cent of the population of Spain!. This area is called Catalonia. Catalan as well as Spanish is spoken. It was from Barcelona that the Spanish Armada was built. Many of the old villas surrounding the city are from the rich colonial history of the region and its profits from the slave trade and Spanish colonies. Barcelona sprawls for miles and miles. It is actually a collection of villages all merged into one big city.

Perhaps one of the most impressive quarters is the area around where the Olympics took place. This modern and tastefully designed complex includes some spectacular architecture and landscaping as well as parkland and a beautiful harbour. The apartments once used for the Olympic athletes have now been sold off privately and the area has settled into a well used and prosperous suburb of Barcelona. Money has been spent here and the city is still being redeveloped and enhanced. A copy of the gherkin building in London is a prominent feature in Barcelona too.

Our first stop was to the mountain park of Montjuic with its fantastic city views and elegant gardens. This park contains a host of buildings from palaces to sports installations which were built for the Olympics. Although a little misty I managed to get some good photos from the hill overlooking the harbour.

We then drove past the Estadi Olimpic from Placa d´Europa and the Palau Sant Jordi. The Olympic stadium was styled on a previous stadium which dated from 1936 but which was completely rebuilt for the 92 games. This stadium seats 75,000.

Our tour bus dropped us off near the city centre and we ventured down ´The Rambla´, the most popular street in the city of Barcelona. This is a long street full of shops, street entertainers dressed in a variety of costumes and standing motionless until they are tipped. A busy fruit and veg market is both colourful and amazing in its displays of food and produce.

If you follow ´The Rambla´down to the end it comes out at the seafront by the Colombus Monument and the old ship building maritime buildings. A walk along the promenade eventually takes you back to the harbour. There are plenty of magnificent traditional Spanish buildings here.

We had lunch at the Placa de Catalunya, a big square in the heart of Barcelona and its shopping centre. This square is also where ´The Ramblas´start from the city centre. We passed the Casa Mila la Pedrera, a fine example of Gaudi´s work. From here we moved on to the Sagrada Familia, a grand church ( of cathedral proportions ) that has been under construction for the last 100 years and is still being built today. This is a stunning masterpiece and one of the finest buildings I have ever seen. The size and scale of the project is incredible.

Barcelona is truly one of the most impressive cities I have ever visited. Its long avenues and ornate buildings are a pleasure. The thought and design that has gone into this city is astounding.

The language of this area of Spain is Catalonian. Bones Festes - Happy Christmas. The language is widely used and closer to French than it is to Spanish. This region used to be famous for its textile exports but due to cheap imports from India and China the industry has suffered to the extent that it only amounts to some ten per cent of its former glory. As you move inland away from the centre of Barcelona you find extensive factories and industrial output on a grand scale. This is a wealthy region of Spain where land and house prices have increased dramatically in recent years. The outlying fields are fertile and the countryside green and rich in colours at this time of the year. Dotted around the fields are large greenhouses for strawberry production.

The road network is excellent although you have to pay a toll. Also worth noting is the public transport system. Buses and trains are cheap, on time and very efficient.

Our second tour or day trip was to Montserrat about half an hour inland from Barcelona. With breathtaking scenic views and dramatic rock formations this mountain is home to a huge monastry built near the summit. The logistics of building such a complex can not have been easy and the visitor will be amazed at the size of the complex and its extensive outbuildings, roads, walkways and shops. It is worth taking the tram to the very top of the mountain where the views are even more impressive. At the summit there is a small church and further buildings of interest.

The rest of our holiday was spent walking around the Santa Susanna locality and the nearby country park. Despite the fact that this is a new holiday resort there is plenty to do and see nearby. For those a little more adventurous you can catch the train and two stops down the line you are in Blanes, a large seaside resort with a wonderful sandy beach and plenty of shopping. The train station is stuck on the outskirts so you have to catch a bus from the station to the city centre which is easy enough.

This five day break has flown by. I would definately spend Christmas away again. On Christmas day the hotel served a traditional Christmas dinner with champagne and wine flowing for both Christmas eve and Christmas day. They provided evening entertainment and quite reasonable bar prices. I would recommend this hotel to anyone.

Alas this holiday is drawing to a close as we await the dreaded return coach journey. I know how battery hens must feel cooped up in their pens day after day.

Photos : Photo Album

Holiday Booked through Festive Getaways at Champion House, Rookley, Isle of Wight, PO38 3NN Tel: 0871 871 0071

Hotel Onabrava Review

Our holiday was booked through Festive Getaways and we chose the Onabrava due to its location and the fact it was a four star hotel.

Santa Susanna is a resort on the Costa Brava, about an hour from Barcelona. The hotel is about 5 minutes away from a beautiful sandy beach. From the minute we arrived we knew we had made the right choice. The hotel check in was fast and efficient and the staff well organised and pleasant. The hotel was spotless and the rooms spacious and well equipped. You are advised to pay for a safety deposit box as the management will not take responsibility for personal possessions and money left in your room.

The hotel has a good sized outdoor swimming pool but also benefits from a games room, indoor pool, gym, sauna and night time entertainment. On the down side the gym and indoor pool are charged for at the rate of 6 euros a day.

Where the hotel really excels is with its cuisine. Our holiday was a Christmas Festive break and the Christmas dinner was excellent and skilfully presented. Generally meals take the form of a buffet service but the choice and scale of the food offered was truly amazing. All drinks ( and that includes water ) must be paid for separately at main dinner times but this seems to be standard practice in most hotels in Spain.

Bar prices and the prices of the vending machines in the hotel are in line with those locally. In many cases the hotel was actually cheaper. The tours which were not organised by the hotel, were expensive for what was on offer. The most popular tourist destinations nearby are Barcelona, Mountserrat and Girona although the nearby seaside resort of Blanes is certainly worth a visit.

The train service is excellent and very close to the hotel. A return trip to Barcelona is only 7 euros. Public transport in Spain is cheap, clean and efficient.

This is a very good hotel and I would have no hesitation in recommending it to others. 

For the photo gallery please click here

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