Priorat, on the Costa Daurada, is a sparsely populated village that makes the most of its lands to produce an excellent harvest, including olive oil and wines with an intense flavour and a quality that's recognised all over the world. This quality is undoubtedly a combination of the climate and the soil, which make the area a unique place – almost like a tiny country – that's worth taking the time to visit and explore the ancient streets of its villages.
IN COLLABORATION WITH PATRONAT DE TURISME DE LA DIPUTACIÓ DE TARRAGONA.
Afternoon, day 1: Visit a bodega
The villages in the Costa Daurada area include five that are internationally recognised for their Designation of Origin (DO) wines, the vineyards and bodegas of two of which, Montsant and Priorat, are included in today’s visit. Priorat is in fact the only place in Catalonia that bears the label DOQ (Qualified DO), and you can’t visit Priorat without going to one of its many bodegas, where you'll learn about the process of making these excellent wines. Head to the bodega of your choice – you'll be treated like royalty at any of them – and they'll show you around the spaces where the fruit of the grape from the vine ages, explaining the wine-making process, and some will give you a tour of the vineyards, and of course you'll get a wine tasting as well.
If you're looking for something a bit different to do related to the world of wine, try out the Hotel Hostal Sport, in Falset, where they offer flower and wine pairings, a combination that lies between traditional and the avant-garde, with a focus on the flavours and scents of the Priorat area. And if you want, you can have dinner and spend the night there as well.
Morning, day 2: La Vilella Baixa
The first morning is set aside for exploring one of the fascinating villages of the area, La Vilella Baixa, tucked into the Montsant mountains, and with its famously tall houses built precariously on the cliffs, some of which have as many as seven storeys. They're constructed in a specific way to save the cliff edge on which they're built, and the front door is usually on the second or third floor. In the village, other sights to visit are the Great Bridge over the Montsant River, the village’s ancient streets – including the oldest one of all, the 'carrer que no passa' ('the street that doesn't go through') with its Saracen gateway – and the church square.
The neighbouring village of Vilella Alta also has bodegas and olive groves to visit. Here you can see the olive mill run by the cooperative Vinícola del Priorat, with olive trees that are hundreds of years old and which produce exceptional oil that bears the Siurana DO. The best olive tree of all is the arbequina variety, and the last oil you'll sample on your visit is made from 100 percent arbequina olives. Heavenly.
Afternoon, day 2: The origins of everything
As you're so close, it would be a shame to miss out on a trip to the Escaladei Carthusian monastery, possibly the area’s most significant monument. The monastery is today mostly in ruins, but it's still worth a visit to see the pure size of the site, and the beauty of its setting against the Montsant mountain range. The monastery is also of historic importance: not only were the Carthusian monks from Provence charged with repopulating the whole land, they also introduced viticulture to the area. The name Priorat, in fact, comes from the Prior of Escaladei. The monastery was built in the 12th century and was the first Carthusian monastery on the Iberian Peninsula. Some of its interior, including a cell, one of the three cloisters, and the refectory, has been rebuilt in recent years in the original style, so visitors can see how the monks would have lived.
Morning, day 3: Sant Joan del Codolar and Siurana
The last morning of this visit is also the most exciting, beginning with more of Montsant, and a trip to one of the hermitages at the foot of the spectacular mountain range, Sant Joan de Codolar, three kilometres from Cornudella de Montsant. The hermitage was built by Carthusian monks at the end of the 15th century, and today is still home to one resident, who's more than happy to open her doors to visitors. The name Codolar comes from the large rocks that surround the site.
And so from one unique spot to another. Around a few bends in the road you'll reach the picturesque village of Siurana. You can wander round on your own to take in the pretty cobbled streets, old houses and amazing views over the Siurana reservoir. Or you can choose to take a theatrical tour, on which you can learn plenty of facts about the magic of this clifftop village, in a fun tour of many fascinating cultural attractions such as the Romanesque Santa María church and the remains of the Moorish castle.
Afternoon, day 3: Albarca, a near-deserted village
Not far from Siurana you'll come across another interesting village, Albarca. The village originates from when the Moors ruled these lands, and it had close links with the castle in Siurana. The village is practically uninhabited, but several families have set up second homes here in recent years. Its streets have a special charm, and the Romanesque church is worth a visit. The village also has fantastic views, and a trip to the Mare de Déu de Montsant hermitage is recommended, on the edge of the plains where the Pèlags cliffs begin. The village is a fitting place to finish up your visit to Priorat.
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.
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.
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.