In Priorat, you obviously have to try the internationally renowned wine and get to know the history of wine making in this region of unique landscapes on the Costa Daurada. But the appeal of Priorat doesn’t end with its vines. In addition to the slate beneath your feet, you’ll also discover attractions as disparate as an education centre all about the Mediterranean tortoise and historical mines that, although no longer in operation, demonstrate the difficult lives of those who worked them.
IN COLLABORATION WITH THE OFICINA COMARCAL DE TURISME DEL PRIORAT
Within this area you can visit more than 40 wineries – plenty to choose from. From El Masroig to Escaladei and from Porrera to Cornudella, there’s a lot of wine on offer here, and in many cases you can visit the vineyards themselves, passing through the slate landscape that is so characteristic of Priorat and so important for ensuring that the region’s wine is well appreciated, both at home and abroad. And, of course, whichever winery you choose to visit, you’ll end up tasting some, though moderation is recommended, since the wine of Priorat has a high alcohol content.
One of the most unknown yet most fascinating aspects of the Priorat heritage is its cave paintings and the marks left behind by early humans in times long gone by. The Capçanes valleys boast a treasure in the form of cave paintings, known for their singuarity and quantity: here you'll find the biggest concentration of such paintings – in a 2km radius – in all of Catalonia.
This group of 19 sites located in three ravines en route to the Sierra de Llaberia is of great artistic quality, and the paintings are surprising – even to experts themselves – because of their subject. For example, the mural called 'The slaughter' is a dynamic scene of a human slaughter that is a rarity in Levantine art. A tour of the area is thorough, exciting and entertaining, suitable for all ages, and integrates art, culture, nature, landscape and, of course, some unexpected surprises.
Tours are given the first Saturday of every month at 10.30am (you have to book in advance). If you're in the area when it's not the first Saturday of the month, a good alternative is to walk the dry stone trail, also in the Capçanes surrounds.
We suggest a visit to the Bellmunt Mines of Priorat. At its peak, the pit, from which galena was extracted to make lead, had 14 kilometres of galleries and a depth of 620 metres; it was in operation until 1972. Today you can visit only a small part of it, but it’s one of the most interesting, with 700 metres of gallery about 35 metres underground.
Before you go into the gallery, take a look at the houses that the mining company built for its workers, many of who came from elsewhere. One modernista building in particular is worth seeing – the House of the Mines, which was constructed in 1905 and was, perhaps unsurprisingly, used as the managers’ residence. You should also visit the Mines Museum, to get to know the history of the mine and its settlement. The guided tour will take you underground – helmet included – via the staircases that once acted as the emergency exit. You will see the rich variety of minerals of the subsoil and get to know the working techniques employed, as well as some ‘characters’ who are still working in the gallery unperturbed by the passing of time.
Next you can head to the capital of the region, Falset. If your visit happens to coincide with the second Saturday of the month you can go on a dramatised visit of the town’s Jewish Quarter, in the company of Blanca, and when it’s over, stay for a Sephardi dinner at the restaurant El Cairat de Falset. If it's not the second Saturday of the month, go for a stroll and discover Falset at your own pace.
The place to go next is Siurana, another unmissable town in the area. A windy road will take you to this beauty spot that's located on the edge of a ravine, has kept its stone streets and houses, and has spectacular views across the reservoir of the same name. What’s more, you’ll find the Romanic church of Santa Maria, and the remains of a castle built by the Muslims. To top it all off, there are great restaurants for lunch. There are guided visits of Siurana on Saturdays and Sundays at noon that take you into the castle, and every second Saturday they're more dramatised.
If you've visited Siurana before, or if you still have time after exploring the town, head to the Cornudella de Montsant modernista winery, built by Cèsar Martinell, the great architect also behind the 'wine cathedrals'. The building is categorised as an Industrial Monument of Catalonia.
You can’t end your trip to this region without a visit to the Escaladei Carthusian monastery (Cartoixa d’Escaladei). It’s the extent of the monastery building as well as the beautiful backdrop of the Montsant mountain range, its surroundings and historical importance (the Carthusian monks who came from Provence were charged with repopulating this territory, and it was them who introduced the culture of wine making here) that make it such a worthy place to close your time in Priorat. Indeed, the name of the county itself derives from the Priory of Escaladei (Prior d’Escaladei).
Built in the 12th century, this was the first Carthusian monastery on the Iberian peninsula. Many centuries, wars and battles have passed since then, and today the large part of the construction is in ruins; but despite that, you can still admire its prestige, while various sections have been rebuilt (a cell and one of the three cloisters) to give you an idea of how it must have once been and how the monks lived.
And so it is with the origins of Priorat that your trip comes to an end.
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.
Capçanes has become the new capital of cave paintings in Catalonia following the discover of a concentration of prehistoric paintings, among them a singular mural of 27 figures that represents a slaughter or human sacrifice. The scene is part of the biggest discovery of cave paintings since the early '80s. The group of cave art features 19 paintings representing 150 human and animal figures, among which is a 54cm bull, one of the biggest documented to date. Other of the singularities discovered and that makes the area of Capçanes more important is a group of engravings on the ceiling that represent three deer.
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.
This Olive Oil and Productive Economies of Montsant Study Centre boasts two levels: you enter on the top floor and that's where you'll find the visitor information, and where you can see an oil washer in action, as well as a replica of a traditional kitchen. There's also a screening of a short film, 'The fruits of the earth', which helps you become familiar with the Montsant Natural Park and the economic activities that go on here. The lower floor, with more of a museum feel to it and featuring restored pieces, shows you different stages in the oil-production process that you learn via a self-guided tour and an accompanying leaflet. Here you see how the olives are crushed and pressed, decanted through tanks, stored in vats and weighed, and how the oil is transported once it's ready.