Spring and summer getaway to Priorat
The heart of the Costa Daurada is a harsh land of wine, olive oil and monasteries
The landscape of Priorat has little in common that of its neighbouring regions, or indeed, with any other place in the Principality. If you approach the area from Reus, shortly after passing by Riudecols you soon start to penetrate a world of rugged mountains, with slate walls and sharp bends on the roads.
The small villages here are surrounded by vines, olive trees and have a spectacular backdrop - the Montsant range of mountains. This is a severe and unique land on the Costa Daurada, whose inhabitants have managed to make it produce high quality wine and oil, and minerals, as we'll see on the first stop on our itinerary.
Afternoon day 1: The Eugènia Mine
Just a few kilometres to the north of Falset lies the town of Bellmunt del Priorat, and just 400 metres from this old settlement you'll find the industrial complex consisting of the Eugènia Mine, with 14 kilometres of subterranean galleries that extend up to 620 metres under the surface. It was still working, extracting galenite to turn into lead, until 1971. Today you can visit some 700 metres of the mine at a depth of 35 metres and get an idea of what the hard life of the miners was all about.
Before going underground, however, take a look at the housing complex built by the company to house their workers, many who came from afar. You'll soon spot the boss' house, the modernista -style Casa de les Mines, which dates from 1905.
Now it's time to enter the Mine Museum, where we'll learn about the history of the mine and the industrial colony. Then (always on a guided tour and with a helmet on) we'll enter the mine, descending the steps of the old emergency exit, and began to cross the gallery. We'll see the wealth of minerals underground and find out about the working techniques used, as well as meeting some "characters" who are still "working" in the gallery. The exit of the mine is by the old slag heap. This visit is suitable for all ages and especially enjoyable for kids.
Morning day 2: 'Little stories inside a bottle'
© X. A.
There are vines everywhere you look in Priorat. But if you want to find out more about their history and their relationship to the region, head for the county capital Falset and call in first at the Castell del Vi. Go to the highest part of the town, since this modern space is located inside the old castle, and the first thing that surprises you is precisely the contrast between the ancient walls of the castle and the modernity of the centre, which uses all the latest techniques such as interactive museum exhibitions to tell its story.
On the ground floor large screens welcome visitors with images of the vineyards and villages of the region, while panels offer some poetic phrases. We especially like one that says: "Wines are little stories inside a bottle." But we also like a statement by writer and winemaker Mauricio Wiesenthal: "When someone comes to the Priorat and loses himself on its trails, savoring the bitter fragrance of its vines, he would say that nothing has changed in this old part of the Mediterranean for thousands of years. There is bread, oil and wine. There is magical stone everywhere."
Going up to the first floor, we'll see a 3-D relief model of the the Priorat region, and panels and cabinets with curiosities and explanations about these lands, while on the other side of the stairs there is a tribute to the people who have contributed to making the wine from Priorat a consolidated quality product that is now known all over the world. In the Costa Daurada region there are five designated origin DO wine areas, one of which is the DOQ Priorat. Finally, on the second floor, large windows provide visitors with truly splendid views of the surrounding area, while glass spheres give you the chance to savour the aromas of the local wine.
The territory of the Costa Daurada has plenty of modernista-style building, and one of the so called 'wine Cathedrals', designed by Cèsar Martinell, is here in the capital of Priorat. It's the modernista winery, which can be visited on a theatricalised tour with actors at weekends or on special days at 12 noon. It's an amusing way to explore this space, which has been declared a building of national cultural interest. If you don't happen to get here on time you can go on a "normal" visit - either way you'll be able to do a wine tasting (DO Montsant) at the end of the tour.
Afternoon day 2: A 12th-century monastery
Visiting the Carthusian Monastery of Escaladei means delving into the very roots of the Priorat region, and into its very name. While it's true that a large part of this 12th-century Carthusian monastery, the first one to be founded on the Iberian Peninsula, is now in ruins, this takes nothing away from its charm, which derives from its surroundings, set among the tall cliffs of the Montsant mountains, and the peace and quiet that reign all around it.
Even so many centuries later, it's no surprise that the monks who arrived here from Provence seeking peace chose this as their place of reflection and prayer. It's also the same place in which a shepherd dreamed of angels ascending to heaven on a stairway resting on the trunk of a tall pine tree, hence the name Escaladei, meaning a stairway straight to God. The tour allows you to view all the rooms in the ruined monastery. One of the three cloisters and a cell have been reconstructed.
When your visit is over, if the weather is favourable, you can explore the area surrounding the monastery following a footpath that takes you on a one and a half hour long walk. Its four kilometres of extension allow you to enjoy the landscapes of the Oliver valley and discover springs, dry stone walls, a lime kiln, hundred year old trees and the Coves Roges caves. Priorat, like the rest of the Costa Daurada region, has an extensive network of footpaths. If you're interested in walking these routes with a guide, get in touch with one of the active tourism services in the area.
To round off the afternoon, we'll investigate a natural olive oil production facility in Cabacés. Here, Fernando or Neus will be waiting for us in the carpark at the entrance to the village and will take us to their olive oil mill and tell us all about their organic production methods, give us a taste of their oils and take us on a visit to their fields to see their olive trees, some of which are a thousand years old. Olive oil from Siurana is one of the designated quality products of the Costa Daurada.
Morning day 3: Around Siurana
Today we've woken up wanting to explore another of the attractive towns of Priorat, while doing a bit of exercise. So let's head for the beautiful and emblematic village of Siurana. Our attention is drawn to an itinerary called Memories of princesses and warriors. It's a three-hour trail which, while not particularly difficult, is best suited to people with some experience of hill walking who are not afraid of heights, and will provide us with some excellent photo opportunities. It's a route full of stories and legends, hence its name, as it passes through paths that were well travelled in the Middle Ages, while the views of the cliffs help to unleash the imagination of the walker. The trail starts near the ruins of the old castle; take the path to Trona and the first sections are already stunning. As always when you go walking in the mountains or forests, make sure you have all the material and information necessary, and enjoy the natural surroundings!
Afternoon day 3: Kayaking on a reservoir
© Pepo Paz Saz
We've put aside some time on our last afternoon in Priorat for relaxing at Siurana reservoir. After two days of hard walking, and after visiting mines, museums, wineries and monasteries, we deserve to take a break and soak up the landscape, with the Montsant mountain range on one side, the Prades mountains on the other and Siurana village up above near the hilltops. So let's rent a kayak and paddle around the calm waters of Siurana. It's safe and easy, even for kids and those with no experience of kayaking. You can stop for a swim at the reservoir's small natural beach before carrying on paddling until you've had enough and decide that the time has come to leave the reservoir, and this unique region, behind.
WITH THE SUPPORT OF PATRONAT DE TURISME DE LA DIPUTACIÓ DE TARRAGONA
Where to stay and where to eat
Located in a unique setting, Escaladei (12th century) was the first Carthusian monastery in the Iberian Peninsula and is a must for all visitors to Priorat. Even though much of the original monastery is now in ruins, you can still get an idea of the splendour of the place from its three cloisters, one of which is fully restored, its church, refectory, a cell that has been thoroughly reconstructed... You can also take advantage of your visit here to explore the surrounding countryside.
- Camí de la Cartoixa, s/n (Escaladei)
With associate Priorat with vines and wines perhaps with olive oil. But is inhabitants have had other ways of making a living, such as working in the mines at Bellmunt, where galena was mined to be transformed into lead. The mine was still working until 1972, and we nowadays we can visit one of its twenty subterranean galleries, which lies some 35 under the ground.
- Carretera de la Mina, s/n, (Bellmunt del Priorat)
A modern centre set in an old building – the castle of The Counts of Prades in Falset – where you can take a journey through the culture of Priorat wine. Audiovisual presentations, large panels and even a tasting room in which you can put your palate to the test, make for an entertaining visit that is suitable for all ages.
- Bonaventura Pascó, s/n, (Falset)
The objective of the Turtle breeding and interpretation centre in Marça is the conservation of the local turtles, a protected species in danger of extinction. It aims to promote the breeding and reintroduction of these turtles into their natural habitat when they are between 3 and 5 years of age when their shells have hardened. Visitors here can see around fifty Mediterranean turtles. In addition, the centre offers the appeal of the Parc de les Olors, a large plant nursery with aromatic plants and herbs, which aims to promote knowledge of the local flora.
- Parc de les Olors de la Miloquera, (Marçà)