Spring and summer getaway to Baix Camp
Where the Costa Daurada meets the mountains
One of the best things about Catalonia is that here you can spend the morning soaking up the sun on the beach and, the next minute, find yourself mountain-biking in piney woods or scaling impressive peaks. This is especially true of the Costa Daurada and specifically the Baix Camp region. Mountain ranges like the Serra de Llaberia, Serra de Pradell-l'Argentera and Muntanyes de Prades are beautiful areas at high elevation located only a few kilometres from the beaches, and they offer a whole world of great views and charming villages just waiting to be discovered.
Afternoon day 1: From Capafonts to the chapel of Abellera
© Rafael López-Monné
The area known as the Muntanyes de la Costa Daurada covers about 350 square kilometers of forested and diverse agricultural land exuding rural Mediterranean charm. On this getaway we'll get to know quite a bit of this territory, which will surely enchant you. Shall we begin?
We'll start at Capafonts, a quiet village from which you'll have great views of the surrounding area. While walking around, you'll probably find yourself drawn to the neo-classical parochial church of Santa Maria which, as stated on the plaque on its walls, dates from 1793. The plaque also gives us information on the church's bell tower and on the bells, which ring out every hour. But what you really must visit here is the village bakery, which dates from the eighth century. It's located on the ground floor of the town hall and both make up a larger building, part of which is now a well conserved museum. It was a working establishment until 1985 and is therefore something of a rarity in Catalonia with an exceptional heritage value.
We said that Capafonts is quiet, but that adjective falls short when describing the place we're heading for now. Located a half an hour's drive away, Mussara has been uninhabited since 1959 and is 1,000 meters above sea level. Why are we going there? Well, it's an ideal place to enjoy the scenery and the views of the Camp de Tarragona region, but also to immerse ourselves in its romantic and enigmatic atmosphere, even more so if it has rained recently and the street of the village are full of water. Mussara belongs to the municipality of Vilaplana, and amid its ruins there stands a church and bell tower dating from the mid-nineteenth century.
We'll finish the first afternoon of our getaway to the Muntanyes del Baix Camp region at the chapel of Abellera, which is located two kilometres from the town of Prades. It was built in 1570 and is embedded in a cliff face, taking advantage of a natural cave, making it a shrine and a unique and highly appealing place thanks to the cave and to the reddish earth around it. It is dedicated to the patron saint of Catalan beekeepers, and the crown of the Virgin Mary (which is not worn in most statues) has fifty silver bees on it and a queen bee and the coat of the town of Prades on top.
Morning day 2: The red town
© X. A.
We'll wake up today in Prades, a town that's worth spending at least a whole morning visiting. It's easy to see why it's known as "the red town." Red is the colour of the fragments of stone walls that remain standing here, the colour of the church, and of many of the houses. We can start our visit at the cross located behind the church, in front of one of the town's best preserved gates. The cross dates from the thirteenth century and has welcomed all those who have come to Prades since that time. We'll now enter the town through the gate and head for the large and porticoed main square, whose beauty is due, in part to the red facade of the church and to the other elegant buildings that we can see here, as well as for its quirky renaissance fountain, which, at least in our case, brings to mind the figure of Galileo and how he tried to convince the world that the Earth was round. The sphere has four bronze pumps corresponding to the four cardinal points, and is a symbol of the town. The church of Santa Maria la Major has a Gothic interior and a Renaissance facade, topped by a triangular frontal. We'll now leave the square via the Carrer Major and, once you have passed Plaça de la Pau (also known as Plaça de l'Ou or dels Alls), you'll see to your left the Arc de Ponos, a Gothic gateway that is very different from the gate from which we started our visit. At the end of Carrer Major, we can see how many of the houses here were built using parts of the wall, and they make for a very curious sight, with the reddish colour of the walls contrasting with the parts of the houses constructed using modern materials. We'll now take Carrer de la Costa del Castell, which is lined with old houses, and halfway up we'll find the remains of the castle and the Church of Sant Miquel. There is very little left of the castle, which must have been very important in its day, since it belonged to the Counts of Prades. Some parts of the church are still standing and are currently being restored. We'll now take Carrer de Baix del Castell to Plaça dels Infants, where we'll find the old town hall, before walking to the end of Carrer Nou del Pont. Here there is Planet del Pont, another entrance way to Prades, in this case for those arriving in the town from the north on the road from Conca de Barberà. On the far right we can see the oldest house in the town still standing, dating from the eighth century, and next to it, Cal Pinyons, a building which has a lot of old farming implements hanging on its walls. We'll now re-enter the town and walk up Carrer de Sant Antoni, to return to the beautiful Plaça Major, right next to the place where we started our visit.
Afternoon day 2: Colldejou and la Mola
© Rafael López-Monné
This afternoon, we'll visit Colldejou, a pretty little village in a natural setting with quiet streets and great views where you can buy craft cheeses. Its location allows us to go for day trips to the surrounding area, one of which is the walk up the peak of Mola de Colldejou at a height of 922 meters, from where you can enjoy exceptional views of Camp de Tarragona, the Ebro Delta and Priorat. On top of the hill, you'll find the remains of a fort dating from the time of the Carlist wars. If you don't fancy climbing up this hill, you have plenty of other trails that will allow you to explore the Serra de Llaberia, an area of great natural beauty.
After making you walk so much this afternoon, we'd now like to invite you to get in your car and explore the landscapes of the hazelnut, which means exploring a whole series of villages and places in the Muntanyes de la Costa Daurada region, since the route begins at Almoster and passes through Maspujols, Aleixar, les Borges del Camp, and Botarell, before finishing at Riudecols. Every one of these places has its own history and personality, and you'll be exploring lands, shapes and colours that have captivated artists like Joan Miró and Antoni Gaudí. Hazel trees will be your constant companions on this trip and you'll discover some cultural treasures. For example, in Almoster, you can see noble mansion houses such as Cal Víctor and Cal Llombart. In Maspujols you'll find the house that gives the village its name. In Aleixar you'll discover a beautiful porticoed square and, on the outskirts of the village, the Mas de Bourbon oak, considered to be the oldest in Catalonia. The shrine of Mare de Déu de la Riera is built in the modernista style on the site of an ancient Romanesque chapel in the village of Borges del Camp. At the entrance to the village of Botarell, there is a standing stone that, according to some historians, dates from the megalithic era, and the area also has the thousand-year-old Font Vella spring. In Ruidecols you must visit the Church of Sant Pere.
Morning day 3: In the land of the dips
© Rafael López-Monné
Speaking of legends, we can start the last day of our getaway in a village with a very ancient one: Pratdip. Located in the heart of the Serra de Llaberia, in the southern part of the Baix Camp region, the very name of the village is rooted in legend. It is said that the hills and valleys here were once haunted by dips, black vampire-like dogs that died out in the eighteenth century. These mythological beings appear on the coat of arms of Pratdip and have their own monument at the entrance to the village as a way of protecting its inhabitants. So, let's explore this land of fierce and demonic dips, because even if you don't believe in these legends, Pratdip is a postcard-pretty town that's well worth visiting. The narrow streets of the village retain their medieval atmosphere and you'll find yourself following their winding course upwards towards the defence tower called Ca la Torre, built in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, together with the Capet tower which, as we will see, also made up part of the old walls. Nowadays, the square shaped, 14 metre high Ca la Torre tower is part of a house. You'll also find the Church of Nativitat de Santa Maria here, which has been modified over the centuries but the first references to which date from the mid-twelfth century. Not far away, you'll see the fore-mentioned Capet tower, which stands 16 metres high and was declared a site of National Cultural Interest in 1985. Its age is underlined by the fact that it's accompanied by a very well conserved gateway, with a semicircular arch, that was once the main access route to the walled town. If you continue your ascent, you'll see an immense rock that is a steep hilltop crowned by the remains of a medieval castle with a restored circular tower. From here, you'll enjoy fine views of the surrounding fields.
In the town's church square you'll find the interpretation centre of the Serra de Llaberia, which has three thematic areas. The first provides you with information about the natural and cultural amenities in the region, its services and infrastructures and the tourist activities on offer. A second area is focussed on the town of Pratdip, while the third takes you on a mysterious trip through the myths and legends of the Serra de Llaberia.
If you have any time left, we suggest that you take a walk on the paths outside the town.
Afternoon day 3: Sant Miquel d'Escornalbou
© Rafael López-Monné
Our time here is running out and we still have a lot to see. So, let's head for the Serra de l'Argentera to visit Riudecanyes and its Landscape and Produce Interpretation Centre. It is located in the old agricultural cooperative building and aims to show how the people of the Baix Camp region have adapted to their harsh environment over the centuries and managed to cultivate high quality products. The explanation is through audiovisual presentations, interactive panels and games, making it a fun option for visitors of all ages.
We'll end our trip at the castle of Sant Miquel d'Escornalbou, which is very near to Riudecanyes. It's actually called a Castle-Monastery, since it was inhabited firstly by Augustinian and later by Franciscan monks. But then came the times of the confiscations of church property by the Spanish state and, some decades later, the period when the wealthy Catalan bourgeoisie acquired historic buildings and adapted them to their own taste to make them their homes. This was when Eduard Toda bought and rebuilt the castle. Today, Sant Miquel d'Escornalbou is therefore a mix of periods and styles of all kinds. It is open to visits and affords magnificent views of the mountains that have been our constant companions over the last few days.
WITH THE SUPPORT OF PATRONAT COMARCAL DE TURISME MUNTANYES DE LA COSTA DAURADA
Where to stay and where to eat
Audiovisual presentations and a museum visit based on interactive modules that engage all of the senses allow visitors to explore the natural and cultural wealth of the Mountains of Prades.
- Carrer de la Muralla, 5, 43364
This centre has three thematic areas, the first offering information on the Serra de Llaberia mountain range, the second on the town of Pratdip, and the third, the most curious one, which explores the world of myth through four stories of magic.
- Plaça de l'Església, 1, 43320
A castle that is peculiar, to say the least, from a time in which the wealthy bourgeoisie acquired historic buildings and adapted them to their tastes to make them their homes. Eduard Toda rehabilitated a monastery founded in 1153, with excellent views of the surrounding area. So, Sant Miquel d'Escornalbou is part early 20th century manor house and partly the remains of a remarkable religious building.
- Carretera d'Escornalbou, s/n, 43771
Located in the old mill and headquarters of the Agricultural Cooperative in Riudecanyes, here we can learn about the history and traditions of this inland region as audiovisual panels and interactive games take us on a trip through its landscapes and products.
- C/ Dilluns, 5, 43771