Tom testing his balance and pocket pulling in Margalef.
In a week it was never going to be possible to even touch the surface of the climbing on offer in Tarragona, northern Spain, with historic sport venues such as Siurana and Margalef on offer. But, true to our host nation, we sampled the best of the region ‘tapas style’ – and it was delicious.
While the pros flock to the area in search of routes in the high 8s and 9s, After the Send discovered just how many varied top-quality routes there are on offer for even us mere mortals. From 6s to 7s, on slabs and the steep, we found technical test-pieces and incredible lines, all with stunning mountain views in seemingly every direction.
From our base in an off-the-beaten-track rustic caravan near the tiny village of Arboli, we ventured to Siurana, Margalef, Montsant and El Falco – one of a handful of crags close to Arboli itself – some taking a matter of minutes in the car and all within an hour’s drive.
The seemingly endless, world-famous crags of the table-top mountain on which Siurana sits could keep a climber occupied for a lifetime. The ‘typical’ style is technical face climbing on crimps, but we found it offered far more. Steep, juggy lines gave way to vertical headwalls on thuggy 7as and corner crack climbing kept us guessing – as well as the technical routes the area is famous for. Quiet crags and shade can always be found as walls with slightly longer walk-ins or a northerly aspect are available. Incredible views out across the Prades Mountains are to be had at seemingly every crag – don’t forget to turn around before you lower off…
Margalef, renowned for some ground-breaking ascents by the likes of rock stars Chris Sharma and Dani Andrada, offers plenty to go at in the 5s, 6s and 7s as well. Conglomerate walls peppered with pockets are the order of the day making for an unusual style which can be hard to read for those unfamiliar with the rock type, but all the more satisfying on clipping the chains. A great variety of angles makes for endless fun for climbers of all persuasions and the tightly-packed roadside crags make it easy to visit more than one in a day.
Montsant blends the far-reaching views of Siurana with the conglomerate of Margalef. Small pockets dominate the climbing here. Montsant itself is beautiful and being slightly more remote than the other areas we visited it gave a real sense of being out in the Spanish mountains. The crag we visited, Enderrocada, went from super steep climbing in the 8s and gradually changed gradient until it became a pocketed slab at the other end, with routes covering all styles and grades.
The standout crag of the trip was definitely El Falco in the Arboli area. Just a quick glance on its UK Climbing logbook entry is like gazing up at a clear night sky – a two-star route here is of lower quality. Three-star routes between 6b and 7b populate almost the entire cliff face – a striking escarpment of orange and grey rock that overlooks the Siurana dam, reservoir and town itself. Routes vary from 20 metres up to 45 metres, but a monster rope isn’t necessary as mid-height anchors can be found on almost all the longer routes. This place is a must-visit for anyone in the area, and was only a short(ish) walk from our accommodation.
Getting there: Flying to Barcelona is probably your best option as flights the Reus (Tarragona) no longer run from October to March. But After the Send flew in to Girona, about an hour’s drive further than Barcelona, but a lot cheaper. Hiring a car is then your best bet, but public transport will get you to the major destinations.
Where to stay: After the Send recommends staying in Bea and Oriol’s caravan. It’s basic – or ‘rustic’ – but has everything you need and is in a beautiful location. See our review here.
Camping Siurana (campingsiurana.com) is a campsite popular with, and geared towards, climbers and is within easy walking distance of many of the crags Siurana has to offer. Camping and chalet accommodation is available.
Logistics: While there are shops in Siurana, Margalef and some of the bigger villages around, they are limited in what they offer and quite pricey. However, 30-40 mins drive away Tarragona city’s neighbouring town Reus has a number of supermarkets, so stock up here…
When to go: Autumn and spring are the best times to visit, however climbing is possible all winter long, if a little chilly.