Spring-Summer Getaway to Alt Penedès
A trip through historical vines to the origins of cava
Cava and the landscape around it are part of the very essence of Alt Penedès, a region of 100-year-old wineries in which everything revolves around the world of wine. We'd like to invite you to discover its medieval history through its churches and castles, to stroll through a unique rural environment and to explore the world of cava in the regional capital. Sant Sadurní d'Anoia.
Afternoon day 1: The Medieval Penedès
© Josep Cano / Diputació de Barcelona
To delve into history and particularly that of the Penedès region, there no better starting point than the Castle of Gelida, whose recorded history goes back to 945. The building made up part of the line of fortifications that once protected the region; a frontier zone between the lands ruled by the Catalan counts and the Moorish Al-Andalus. The castle is located on a hill between the torrents of Cantillepa and Sant Miquel; the historical ensemble includes the church of Sant Pere, whose recorded history goes back to 998 and was the town's parish church for many centuries, as well as being the site of the town cemetery. In fact, body-shaped anthropomorphic tombs dating from the 10th and 11th century have been found in the area.
The castle has been transformed on various occasions over the course of time. One example is when it was bought by the Barcelona banker Berenguer Bertran in 1367 and converted into his Gothic residence. Bertran himself was interred in a sarcophagus which can now be found in the adjoining church. During the 14th century, King Peter IV of Barcelona, known as the Constable in Portugal, stayed in the castle for three weeks. In the 16th century, the castle began its period of decadence when its military and administrative role was usurped by the Casa del Senyor, another building in Gelida. It was abandoned in the 18th century. It has belonged to the local council since 1968, which has created an interpretation centre with a monographic exhibition, guided visits, educational activities and other activities that allow visitors to delve into the castle's history.
Morning day 2: The capital of cava
© Blai Carda / Enoturisme Penedès
San Sadurní is the capital of cava on its own merits, and both the landscape and the business and cultural activities of the town revolve around this sparkling wine that was first produced in Catalonia in the late nineteenth century. Learning all about its origins and the difficulties that had to be overcome to make the Penedès a leading producer is essential if you really want to appreciate and enjoy the drink. So the first stop on our route is the Cava Interpretation Centre, a facility located in a building with lots of history, Can Fox, a former wine spirit distillery built in 1814 that has been recently refurbished to explain to visitors how the drink was created and how it continues to be produced in the town. A number of audiovisual presentations and 3D touch screens give you all the information you need about the first sparkling wine producers in San Sadurní and its production process.
One of the main protagonists is the phylloxera plague which spread from the U.S. to Europe in the second half of the 19th century, destroying all the vines in its wake. The insect arrived in Catalonia at the end of the century and destroyed all the production of wine and champagne until a solution was found: consisting of grafting resistant American strains onto European vines. In Sant Sadurní the solution was introduced by the so called Seven Sages of Greece, a group of owners from the town whose new system allowed viticulture to survive in the area.
This is just one of the stores you'll hear at the interpretation centre, where you'll also learn about the Phylloxera Festival, a major event in the town's calendar which commemorates the hard years of the plague and its happy ending every year at the beginning of September.
Afternoon day 2: The Freixenet Empire
Now that we're all experts in the world of cava it's the perfect moment to see the production process in action. So, we'd like to recommend a visit to Caves Freixenet, one of the most renowned names in ant Sadurní, whose history dates back to 1861, when it only produced wine, with cava production beginning in 1914. The union of two wine business families created an authentic empire that now operates all around the world. Si it's well worthwhile going on one of the guided visits to the winery.
The projection of an audiovisual history of the caves begins an electric train ride that will take you from the most ancient to the most modern parts of the winery. The grape varieties used, the type of cava and packaging and the highly successful media campaigns that have always characterized the company are just some of the details that you will explore in detail thanks to the visit, which will also give you plenty of pointers about how to savour cava like an authentic expert. As in the case of the visit to the interpretation centre, the tour ends with a glass of Freixenet cava in the bar.If you want to visit both places - the winery and the centre - you can buy money saving combined admission tickets.
Morning day 3: Organic wine and cava in a unique landscape
© Josep Cano / Diputació de Barcelona
Learning all about the history of a Catalan country farmhouse that dates from the 18th century and of the new generations that are taking care of it now is a good reason to visit the Eudald Massana Noya organic winery in Sant Pau d'Ordal (Subirats). The estate has 30 hectares of vines where ten different types of grape are grown to produce both wine and cava. Preserving the flora and fauna of the area is part of its philosophy, which also includes respecting the biological and ecological balance of the area and taking into account the phases of the moon when doing different tasks in the fields. This working method allows them to produce wines and cava without herbicides and insecticides and in maximum harmony with the environment.
On your visit to the winery, you'll also discover a unique landscape and the different steps involved in the production cycle of wine and cava on the estate.
The Eudald Massana Noya winery schedules an extensive programme of activities based on the world of the vines, from a stroll around the vines aimed at beginners in the world of viniculture to those who want to go deeper into the work of the winery on technically oriented visits, as well as tasting sessions and other events.
Afternoon day 3: A stroll around the vine in Subirats
© Josep Cano / Diputació de Barcelona
Subirats is the town in Catalonia with the largest area dedicated to the grape growing. Surrounded by vines and with chapels and churches that are full of history, it's a good place to have a stroll or a bicycle ride to explore its many interesting spots.
One option is to explore the area on the route known as the Camí del riu, an itinerary that crosses the Penedès and, in the case of Subirats, follow a 3.6 kilometre route through the different settlements that make up the municipal area, as well as field of vines, woods and the river banks.
One of the most charming spots in the area is the monumental ensemble made up the Church of Sant Joan Sesrovires and Torre-Ramona. The tower was built in th 16th century as a mansion house, fortified against an expected Saracen pirate raid. The building passes into the hands of the Ramona family, who supported Charles of Austria in the War of the Spanish Succession and was punished by Philip V, who confiscated all of their properties. The Gothic-Renaissance style building is divided into two square-shaped floors at the foot of the Castle of Subirats, the first castle in Penedès for which documentary evidence exists, from the year 917. The castle ensemble contains the Sala del Mil·liari, a hall with a stone from the Via Augusta which are more than 2,000 years old and has been transformed into a sarcophagus, and a museum dedicated to the castle. These unique surroundings provide a good place to end our trip through magnificent landscapes marked by history and vines in the very heart of Penedès.
Where to stay and where to eat
Cultural venues in Alt Penedès
The mountain of Olèrdola has been a strategic enclave with different degrees of settlement since the Bronze Age (a little over 4,000 years ago). You can visit both the archaeological site and the interpretation centre, which stands in a modern building. The museum offers visitors guided and dramatized visits that allow you to discover, among other things, anthropomorphic tombs and the Medieval city, which was when the castle and the walled city were built.
- Castell d'Olèrdola, s/n, 08734
This is actually a group of buildings made up of the former fortified Penyafort manor, a convent and a church. The castle was built around the eleventh century. Tradition says it is the birth place of San Ramon Penyafort (1185 - 1275), a Dominican monk and canon lawyer and councilor to King Jaume I, who was canonized in 1601. Guided tours are conducted on the second Sunday of every month, for which preregistration is required. The castle is also the start of the visit to bomb shelters route, which take place on the fourth Sunday of each month, since this site is also part of a group of exhibition spaces related to aviation and the Spanish Civil War.
- Castell de Penyafort, s/n
Vilafranca’s wine museum has an extraordinary collection of diverse items relating to the history of wine making. These 17,000 items are fundamental to reaching a complete understanding of a territory that has always been marked by wine and vines. The museum’s different exhibitions and audiovisual presentations will help you to understand how wine is made and its historical and economic impact on the territory.
- Plaça de Jaume I, 5, 08720
Also known as the Conjunt monumental de la Roca, this complex of buildings includes the Romanesque church of Santa Maria, dating from the 12th century, the Castell de Sant Martí, which was built in the 10th century, and the museum, which houses a number of archeological and ethnographical collections that include an Iberian funerary monument (3rd – 2nd century BC), a woman’s head in stone (1st century BC) known as the Venus of Pendedès, Roman tombstones and a 15th century Moorish soup bowl from Manisses, a piece that is decorated both on the inside and outside and which is considered to be a unique piece, discovered during the restoration of the church.
- Conjunt Monumental de la Roca, s/n, 08731
Located in a distillery dating from 1814, the Cava Interpretation Centre consists of 1,200 square metres that allow you to explore the world of cava from its origins and history to the manufacturing process and its role in culture and in celebrations. On your visit you’ll enjoy Sant Sadurní d'Anoia in 3D, get to know the towns architectural heritage in an interactive way and experience the phylloxera festival in large format, among other proposals.
- C/ de l'Hospital, 23, 08770