Getaway to Alt Penedès: Castles and mill-houses in the land of cava

Visits to Santa Margarida i els Monjos, Sant Sadurní, and Foix Natural Park fill this 48-hour trip
Vinyes prop de Sant Sadurní d'Anoia
© Josep Cano / Diputació de Barcelona
By Xavier Amat |
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Fittingly for a landscape dominated by vines, there are plenty of wine-related activities on offer here. We're not trying to avoid that side of the region, as our recommended visit to the Cava Museum shows, but we would like to get you to take advantage of this getaway to Alt Pendès to explore the other attractions of the area, especially those related to history, architecture and nature.

Castell de Penyafort

Day 1: The Penyafort castle

You'll spend the first hours of your trip in Santa Margarida i els Monjos, where you'll visit the castle where Sant Raimund of Penyafort was born in 1185. This construction, which is considered to be a national cultural asset, is much more than just a castle: it preserves, among other items, the family home of the saint, a church of considerable dimensions with one sole nave, and a convent that was founded here by the Dominicans in the 17th century. The castle has been historically important on various occasions, such as in the Spanish Civil War, when it was used as a prison by the Republican side. After passing through a number of hands, the building currently belongs to the Town Council of Santa Margarida i els Monjos, and in summer there are guided tours of the gardens at dusk, which is a good way to begin your trip to the Penedès region. If you're interested in exploring the interior of the castle and its dependencies, there are guided tours on the second Sunday of every month.

You can also enter the castle, if you've booked a place on the Air Raid Shelter and Aircraft Route. As well as visiting the old Republican prison, you'll be able to explore air-raid shelters in Serral, located a few kilometres away.

Molí del Foix

Morning day 2: History and Nature Study Centre

This morning while you're still in Santa Margarida i els Monjos, you can visit Molino del Foix, which today is a History and Nature Study Centre. The building itself first appeared in records a thousand years ago. And it was certainly one of the first constructions to be finished in the town. It was used as the local mill house for flour production and was later converted into a winery and store house for wine. Nowadays it has an interesting botanical garden outside, while inside it's divided into different spaces: a hall for temporary exhibitions – in which you can still see the original ceiling of the room that once housed the grindstone; a multipurpose space on the first floor which houses the Environmental Documentation Centre; and the current millstone room on the bottom level, which has been restored, respecting its original architectural traits. This last space hosts everything from talks to concerts.

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Parc del Foix

Afternoon day 2: Exploring the Foix Nature Park

It stays light until late in spring and summer, and so in the afternoon, when the heat of the day has died down a little, we suggest an excursion to the Foix Nature Park, a natural space that extends over 3,000 hectares, especially marked by the presence of the reservoir that gives it its name. As well as being one of the few wetland areas in the Penedès region, it's important for the diversity of its landscapes and of the fauna that lives here. As a transit area for various civilisations throughout history, the nature park also contains a number of interesting architectural sites. So all you have to do now is to choose an itinerary and start walking.

Centre d'Interpretació del Cava La Fassina

Day 3: Sant Sadurní – cava and chocolate

You'll be spending the entire last day of your trip in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia, one of the best-known towns in the region and famous for its cava, making it the ideal place to host the study centre devoted to that sparkling wine. The Cava Interpretation Centre (CIC) is housed in a distillery (La Fassina de Can Guineu) dating from the early 19th century, and uses the latest technology to allow visitors to experience, for example, the Philoxera Festival in large-format images and explore the cava-making process. As you can probably imagine, you'll learn a lot about cava at the centre, but you can also find out a lot about other aspects of the town.

And since man (and woman) cannot live on cava alone, we suggest ending your visit to Alt Penedès in the sweetest possible way: with a visit to the Simón Coll Chocolate Experience. Founded in 1840, this chocolate manufacturer nowadays offers guided tours of its facilities. There's an audiovisual space and a reconstruction of the traditional workroom, and you can also observe how some chocolate products are made and, of course, call in at the factory shop to make your purchase from the more than 400 chocolate products on offer.

Restaurants, Catalan

Cal Padrí

One hundred percent Penedès: that’s how the restaurant Cal Padrí pitches itself, and we can tell you that they're completely justified in that claim. Both the views and the food, the ingredients for which come from their own vegetable patch, have the special aroma of this land of vines. From the Catalan cuisine dishes on offer we recommend a local speciality: the stewed duck dishes.

Restaurants, Catalan

Masia Segarrulls

This spectacular 16th-century country house has five dining areas and even a heliport. It specialises in traditional, top-quality cuisine with highlights that include snails, grilled meats, and calçots when they're in season. It’s the ideal place in the region for celebrating special occasions big groups.

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Restaurants, Seafood

Restaurant Cal Ticus

This excellent restaurant is located in the centre of the capital of cava, and serves up top-quality, Mediterranean-style dishes featuring local ingredients, as well as an exceptional wine list. A sense of humour is not lacking here either, which you can see in the names of their selection of small dishes ('platticus') and menus (one of which is the untranslatable 'Al tantu que va de cantu'). All of the dishes are recommendable, and you can order everything from oysters to rice with salted cod and artichokes, and even 'zarzuela' (fish stew).

Restaurants, Haute cuisine

El Racó de la Calma

Modern cuisine with traditional roots using locally sourced products is what you’ll find here. And since you’re in the Alt Penedès, the wine list is top-class, with the accent on wines and cavas from the region, complemented by products from other wine regions. We (and the restaurant management) recommend the cannelloni of rabbit meat with truffle-flavoured béchamel.

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Restaurants, Haute cuisine

Sol i Vi

Surrounded by vineyards, this typical Catalan country house is nowadays a hotel with a very recommendable restaurant serving signature surf-and-turf–style cuisine. Try the soupy rice with lobster if you prefer maritime flavours, or the mute duck cooked Catalan style with prunes if you’re more partial to meat and fancy trying a regional speciality. There is also a wide variety of fixed-price menus that are suitable for all budgets.

Hotels

Can Teulera

This quiet farmhouse is surrounded by vines and offers accommodation for up to ten adults (with supplementary beds for children). In front, there's a barn that functions as a games room, and if you’re interested in sunbathing, there’s also a solarium. Walkers will be pleased to learn that there are plenty of footpaths and routes to complete near the farmhouse.

Hotels

El Molí de Pontons

El Molí de Pontons is a small country hotel located in the centre of the village of Pontons in Alt Penedès and is ideal for couples. It offers elegant suites with a romantic atmosphere, equipped with Jacuzzi spas, and guests can enjoy a variety of spa treatments and massages. The hotel also has an outbuilding with apartments for four to six guests each. The hotel restaurant is recommended and serves good seafood.

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Hotels

Air Penedès

This four-star establishment located in the capital of cava country is equipped with a magnificent swimming pool and garden and serves generous breakfasts. Its comfortable bedrooms are cool in summer and warm in winter, and service is friendly. It has a total of 59 rooms and offers parking facilities.

Hotels, Hostels

Hostal Sant Sadurní

The two-star Hostal Sant Sadurní may not offer great luxuries, but it is very welcoming and cosy, with only ten rooms, all of which have street frontage in the centre of town. It opened in 2006, and all of the rooms are equipped with flat-screen TV and en-suite bathrooms. There is WiFi throughout the property.

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Hotels

Cal Joan Marina

This country hotel has nine single and double rooms and is located in the village of Subirats, an ideal base for exploring the land of wine and cava. The owners also run a restaurant with the same name in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia which specialises in grilled meat, cold cuts, 'escalivades' and calçots when in season.

Museums, History

Museu d'Arqueologia de Catalunya a Olèrdola

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 study 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.

Museums, Historic home

Castell de Penyafort

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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 11th century. Tradition says it's the birthplace of Sant Raimon of Penyafort (1185–1275), a Dominican monk and canon lawyer and councillor to King Jaume I who was canonized in 1601. Guided tours are conducted on the second Sunday of every month, and you must register in advance for them. The castle is also the start of the visit to the bomb shelters route, which takes 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.

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Museums, Historic home

Castell Museu Municipal de Sant Martí Sarroca

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 (third to second century BC); a woman’s head in stone (first century BC) known as the Venus of Pendedès; Roman tombstones; and a 15th-century Moorish soup bowl from Manisses, a piece that's considered unique, decorated both on the inside and outside and discovered during the restoration of the church.

Museums, History

Museu de les Cultures del Vi de Catalunya Vinseum

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.

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Museums, History

Centre d'Interpretació del Cava La Fassina

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 celebrations. On your visit you’ll enjoy Sant Sadurní d'Anoia in 3D, get to know the town's architectural heritage in an interactive way and experience the phylloxera festival in large format, among other proposals.

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