There are people who describe Terra Alta as Catalonia's Tuscany, a land that concentrates all of the essence of the Mediterranean in its landscapes, people and in the quality of its oil and wine. And in the same way that the light of Tuscany inspired geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, the landscapes, round shaped mountains and light of Terra Alta has seduced artists like Picasso. Nowadays, Terra Alta is one of Catalonia's most unexplored regions, despite its enormous cultural, natural and gastronomic potential. Here you'll find attractive routes around wineries and oil mills, as well as sites of historical interest, especially those associated with the Battle of the Ebro during the Spanish Civil War.
Just getting to Terra Alta is an experience that helps you to start to disconnect from your everyday life. While driving through the Ports you'll see some of the most beautiful and spectacular views to be had in this mountain range. If you're really lucky you may even catch a glimpse of a wild mountain goat, which are fairly common in this area. Driving up the road towards Horta de Sant Joan, we'll see the town appear in front of us, with the houses seeming to be heaped on top of each other like a cubist vision left behind by Picasso, who found inspiration in these landscapes. Apart from its fascinating surroundings, the town has one of the most interesting historical centres in the area. In fact, the architectural ensemble of Horta has been declared a site of national cultural interest and is therefore protected.
The arcaded square and the cut stone buildings that surround it were built during the 16th century, a golden age for the village. It also has a number of historical buildings including the Town Hall, the Casa de la Comanda and the ancient prison. We recommend that you have a drink at one of the iconic bars in the square before going for dinner. The local speciality par excellence here is grilled lamb and the town's restaurants cook it superbly. Some have specialised in a dish called crestó, which is kid, from a species of white goat, stewed with garlic and bay leaves. Ask for recommendations when ordering the wine - this is, after all, one of Catalonia's finest wine producing regions. First thing in the morning, it's time to have a stroll around the local grocery shops to experience firsthand what life is like for everyday people here. You can buy some cold cuts at the butchers, bread baked in a wood burning oven at the bakery and some typical pastries such as ametllats, panadons and mantecats, hiding them away in your rucksack in case you need a snack during the day. We're going on a bicycle ride down an abandoned railway line that's now known as the Via Verda, and which offers fantastic views of the Vall de Safan, which is set beween the Cavalls and Pàndols mountain ranges. Old railway tunnels and ponds with springs with drinking water are some of the things we'll discover on our way.
We'll depart from the station of Arnes-Lledó and we'll pass by Horta de Sant Joan, where a stretch of the path begins that has seven tunnels and which will take us to the station of Bot. It's worthwhile spending some time here, since Bot is an agricultural town that traces its origins to an Iberian settlement and is currently one of the main wine producing centres in the region. Continuing along the path, well cross the town of Prat de Comte, where we'll find the sanctuary and spa of Fontcalda, which belongs to the municipal territory of Gandesa and is located on the other side of Canaletes. There's a picnic area here that the ideal place to take out our sandwiches and enjoy a meal in a natural setting.
After enjoying a short siesta in the shade of a pine tree, we'll continue along the path to Pinell de Brai, one of the most southerly located villages in the region. From here there is a bus service running between Tortosa, Arnes and Beseit that will help you to return to your point of departure. This afternoon we suggest that you take your car and head for Corbera d'Ebre, one of the places in Terra Alta with historical ties to the Spanish Civil War. It was built on the ruins of the Old Town, which was completely destroyed during the Battle of the Ebro. It therefore has something of the character of a living museum, in which you can feel the crude realities of war. Among the abandoned streets, there is a permanent exhibition of sculptures that represent the letters of the alphabet and are a hymn to peace and human rights. The recently restored Poble Vell church hosts temporary exhibitions and you can climb up to the bell tower to enjoy the view of the surrounding countryside. You have to pay €3 to access the abandoned site, but it's certainly worth paying for the experience. Just listen to the sound of the wind as it ruffles the pine trees and bushes that have grown inside the abandoned houses.
Today we're going to enjoy some of the products of the land, embarking on a route that will take us to the area's wine and oil producers. Apart from the beauty of the fields full of vines and olive trees, we'll also have the opportunity to learn how wine and oil are produced. We'll set off early in the morning from Gandesa, the capital of Terra Alta and the headquarters of the regulatory organisation that controls and guarantees the quality of the local wine and the site of the modernists-style agricultural cooperative building, which was designed by Cèsar Martinell.
After visiting the interpretation centre located in the basement of the regulatory organisation building, you can enquire about the possibility of visiting one of the wineries in the area. Generally speaking, it's necessary to phone the wineries in Terra Alta to arrange a visit.
After going on a guided tour of a winery, and taking part in a tasting sessiion, it's time to head for Vilalba dels Arcs. The valleys between Gandesa and Vilaba, which are made up of terraces and slopes, account for a large part of the wine-growing land in the region. Winemaking is the economic motor of Villalba dels Arcs is an economic and the town is home to several wineries. We recommend that you have lunch at Nou Moderno restaurant, which is run by the Vallespí brothers, two young men who have decided to take the reins of their family business. They'll advise you on the dishes on the menu and also give you recommendations on the best things the region has to offer. After lunch head for Batea, which is the town in the region with the largest extension of wine-producing land. It's worth strolling down the town's avenues and stopping off for a cup of coffee at one of the café terraces. Its arched façades, porches and cut stone houses make it one of the most beautiful medieval town centres in the region.
Leaving Batea, we'll take the path that connects it to Caseres. You'll find an exceptional viewpoint over the Planes d'Almudefer. Here you can get out of your car, contemplate the vision of the plains of Terra Alta in front of you and swear that you'll come back for a return visit some day. The route ends in Pinell de Brai, where you should visit the cooperative winery designed by the architect Cèsar Martinell. Inside there's an old pneumatic oil press that's worth seeing. The external structure of the winery is the most emblematic image of Pinell de Brai, while the inside has undergone major reforms recently and now hosts a restaurant serving signature cuisine.
Finally, after loading up the boot of the car with wine, oil, fruit and an assortment of food, it's time to finish our trip and say goodbye to Terra Alta.
Where to eat
Succulent grilled meat at very attractive prices. If you fancy a meal amid the warmth of the embers in a family restaurant, Can Lluís is a good choice. To begin, we recommend an assortment of cold cuts to share, followed by lamb chops, 'baldanes', sausages, steak or pigs trotters, all accompanied by grilled aubergine and chips. And, of course, Terra Alta wine!
Lying at the foot of the mountains of Els Ports Natural Park, Can Barrina is a place where you feel at home. This family-owned restaurant, which was founded in 1974, offers dishes made with top quality products, notably fish and seafood from La Rapita, bought directly from the fishermen’s auction, and a variety of local meat dishes.
The Miralles family has been acclaimed as one of the most traditional family businesses in the local restaurant world. Years of dedication to home style and signature cuisine translates into dishes that stand out for quality products and careful preparation. Special mention must be made of their meat dishes – whether roasted or grilled - and the house specialty, 'crestó en escabetx' (a highly rated locally sourced castrated white goat kid).
Home cooking with privileged views of the Pàndols range. These views alone make restaurant Can Josep a good choice. It has a traditional food menu with dishes such as 'trinxat de col' (similar to bubble and squeak), a recapte of white 'ganxet' beans and quail in wine sauce. They also boast a fine selection of Terra Alta wines and homemade desserts.
With the town of La Faterella lying before you and surroundings in which you can breathe fresh air, the Casa Ecològica is more than just good restaurant to eat in, it’s a great example of architecture integrated into the landscape. It’s well known for serving regional dishes such as trout served in its juices, a salad of 'ganyims' (tuna pieces), 'romesco' and sardines served in their own juices, all prepared in the traditional manner.
Where to stay
Rest, comfort and wellbeing. Opened in 2005, Ca l'Àngel, with its ten rooms, combines a cozy atmosphere and a privileged environment. Its restaurant, the result of four generations of restaurateurs, serves outstanding traditional dishes like baked lamb, pig's trotters with mushrooms and rabbit with prawns. It’s a pleasant accommodation choice with all the comfort you need to enjoy the surroundings and the crafts of the village.
Surrounded by nature and lying at the foot of the Serra de Les Capçades range, this three star boutique hotel offers 13 personalized and spacious rooms with a terrace, some of which even have a private garden. In addition, all guests have access to the indoor heated swimming pool and mountain views. The restaurant is also sublime, with fresh, natural, local dishes to savor like a gazpacho of strawberries, tuna tartare with pomegranate and fresh grilled foie gras with a variety of lettuces.
Located in the heart of the old town of Gandesa, Casa dels Abeuradors has a loft, three apartments and a duplex designed for lovers of rural tourism, history, culture and good wine. This is a special place to stay, where couples, families and small groups can enjoy comfort, serenity and relaxation in the capital of Terra Alta.
Specializing in celebrations, Hostal de Anton in Batea offers first class accommodation with 14 rooms, all of which are soundproofed and have heating, air conditioning, flat-screen TVs and a private bathroom with a bathtub. In addition to being surrounded by gardens, it also boasts a gym, a disco with karaoke and free Wi-fi. The café, which has terrace seating, serves simple dishes, though there is restaurant service available for groups on request.
If you’re travelling with children, you’ll love this place. Consisting of 95 rooms laid out like a small village, Vilar Rural d’Arnes is a resort with the amenities of a rural lodging, but with all the advantages of a state of the art hotel. Also, everything here is designed to ensure that children have a great time and there’s a playground, a farm, a vegetable garden, swimming pools and a playground, among other amenities.