The rocky coast of the Garraf, the county's natural park and one of great ecological interest, and the soft, vine-covered landscape of Penedès are the main focuses of our getaway to this region. This diverse natural wealth, together with a lot of unexplored corners, is often overlooked, due perhaps to its very proximity to Barcelona.
One of the most attractive characteristics of Garraf is its sea and beaches, and the water sports on offer there. There are plenty of companies offering services. So, let's phone to book at Nootka Kayak Centre and try out their sea kayaks on one of their programmed excursions - the simplest and one for which no previous experience is necessary, called La Platja Llarga. This will allow us to explore the seafront of Vilanova i la Geltrú, the county capital, and learn how to get about by kayak at the same time. The starting point is the town's municipal nautical centre and from there we will be heading south, passing by Ribes Roges beach, the statue of Pasifae (with its three tons of bronze), to the protected beach at Platja Llarga. The excursion includes some rest stops. It will take all of our first afternoon but will be well worthwhile.Let's stay in Vilanova i la Geltrú this morning to visit two interesting museums that are located practically next to each other. The first one is likely to be of more interest to kids than the second; it is the Museu del Ferrocarril, a railway museum located in the town's old locomotive deposit. It has a number of different sections, such as those dedicated to station items and signals, but without doubt, the most visited (and the biggest) part of the museum is given over to period engines, especially the valuable collection of steam engines. This August, the centre is also organizing a number of activities with the aim of bringing the world of the railway even closer to its visitors.
A few metres away, a beautiful façade welcomes you to one of the largest art galleries in the country; the Biblioteca Museu Víctor Balaguer has paintings by Ramon Casas, Santiago Rusiñol, Joaquim Sorolla, El Greco and Goya, among many other illustrious names in the world of art. Moreover, in the Egyptian room you will find a number of items from ancient Egypt including the mummy of a five-year-old boy, while on the upper floor we can see works by contemporary artists such as Guinovart and Ràfols Casamada. Finally, the library conserves the airs of time past and has a collection of 19th-century books.
It is now time to visit a religious centre that is very different from what we usually find here. In the Garraf range the Romanesque style Palau Novella, is a Buddhist community where meditation and monastery life have been going on for some time now. You can take a guided visit and offer an approach to both the inside of the mansion house and to Buddhism, and the Catalan Buddhist community, through the explanations of the monks.
Our final visit of the day will be something quite different, though we hope it will be full of fun and nostalgia. Cubelles was the birthplace of Josep Andreu Laserre, one of the most famous clowns of all time, was born. If that name does not mean anything to you, you should know that when his face was painted and he put on his clown nose and big shoes, took out his chair, and began to give out his distinctive shout, he did so under the name of Charlie Rivel. The exhibition has moved location recently and is now very well housed in the castle of the Marquis of Alfarràs. The exhibition includes the clown's personal items, a large collection of photographs and private documents. To visit, book at the Tourist Information Office in Cubelles.
The clock is ticking on and we have not left Garraf! It is time to head for Penedès, the Catalan region wine par excellence. It is almost obligatory to pay a visit to at least one of the cava producers in San Sadurní. From among the multitude on offer, we have chosen Codorniu, which is huge, full of history, and set in a building designed by Puig i Cadafalch. Here we will find out all about the process of cava making, from the grape harvest on and we can get aboard an electric train to get around the numerous cellars. In the end, of course, we simply cannot miss trying a glass of chilled cava!
And since we are in the territory, we are going to explore the world of another of the region's star products - wine. To do so, we must head for Vilafranca, capital of Alt Penedès, to visit a modern museum VINSEUM, also known as the Museum of the Culture of Wine in Catalonia. But this is more than just a museum, cultural and touristic activities are held throughout the year at the Museum - in Palau Reial in Vilafranca - with a special emphasis on how wine culture has shaped the character of this territory.We do not want to finish this getaway to the region without paying a visit to Baix Penedès. At Calafell, very near the sea, we can visit an Iberian settlement, la Ciutadella, which was inhabited by the Cossetan tribe in the 4th century BC. We have visited remains of those times on other trips, but this site is singular: after being excavated and studied, it was rebuilt just as it was in its supposedly original state. So, you will see not only ruins, but will be able to go inside the houses and climb the towers, giving you a clearer idea of the daily life in those ancient times.
We will end our trip with a dose of fun and excitement. Calafell Slide is a 700 metre long bobsleigh ride that is both safe and easy - kids of 8 can ride alone. It is open till late in summer, so we can take advantage of the afternoon to chill out before finishing our getaway to Garraf and Penedès.
By train: Should you choose to follow our route and begin in Garraf, there are railway stations in Sitges, Vilanova i la Geltrú and Cubelles (902 24 02 02 / www.renfe.es).
By bus: The Sant Pere de Ribes Cintoi Bus SL company offers an extensive service covering the whole region (938 937 511).
By car: From Barcelona and Girona, take motorway C-32, or road C-31 if you want to save yourself the toll. You can also take the AP-7 to Vilafranca del Penedès (exit 29) and then the C-15. From Tarragona you can take the C-32 or go by road on the C-31 and the N-340. From Lleida, take the AP-2 and then the AP-7 to Vilafranca and then continue along the C-15
Where to eat
The same year that the US reached the moon, this establishment in Sant Pau d’Ordal started serving dishes featuring the finest products from the region and the nearby sea. Since then, both cuisine and decoration have seen renovations but travellers can always count on Penedès wine to accompany their dishes of meat and fish.
C/ de Ponent, 20, Sant Pau d’Ordal. Tel 93 899 30 28. www.calperedelmaset.com.
A la carte: €45. Closed all day Mondays and the evenings of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday.
Some years ago, many of the visitors to Sant Pere de Ribes went there for the casino, and nowadays many do the same to dine at this restaurant, located at the entrance to the town, that serves dishes like multi-coloured rice and sea-bream in salt with fried prawns, by a chef like Juan Fran González that is always looking to outdo himself.
C/ Blades, 1, Urbanització Los Viñedos, Sant Pere de Ribes. Tel 93 896 47 97. www.elsecreto.cat.
Diverse fixed price menus from €36. A la carte €45. Open for lunch Tuesday to Sunday and for dinner Fridays and Saturdays.
You will have to head for the outskirts of Vilanova i la Geltrú to find this restaurant, but it will certainly be worth your while when you are served a dish of stewed locally caught prawns. It is located next to the sea. And if you do not care for prawns, the restaurant has an extensive menu that even includes dishes of pasta and pizzas, reminding us of its origins as an Italian restaurant.
Racó de Santa Llúcia, s/n, Vilanova i la Geltrú. Tel 93 815 19 34. www.restaurantlacucanya.com.
Diverse fixed price menus from €36. A la carte: €30-50. Open every day.
The patatas bravas served in Genil are famous in Vilanova. It has been open since 1971 and its tapas attract people from all over the region. We can also recommend botifarra sausages with a reduction of Pedro Ximenes and foie.
C/ Jardí, 77, Vilanova i la Geltrú. Tel 93 893 14 73. www.genil.es.
Fixed price menu: €10.50. A la carte: €20. Closed Mondays.
Tasting a fish and rice stew right next to the sea, or a dish of black rice with cuttlefish, is a tempting thought. You can do it on the terrace of restaurant El Capità. Fresh fish, rice dishes and good wine.
Port Ginesta, local 214, Castelldefels. Tel 93 664 58 55. www.restaurantelcapita.es.
Fixed price menus from €14. A la carte €40. Closed Sundays evenings and Mondays.
Where to sleep
Despite its name, this hotel is actually located in Sant Pere de Ribes, though very near Sitges. Perhaps you have a large family and always find it difficult to find a large enough place? No problem, this hotel has rooms for up to 7 people. It is also new and elegant.
C/ Xarel·lo, 2, Urbanització Els Cards, Sant Pere de Ribes. Tel 93 896 59 66. www.hoteldesitges.com.
From €70 for a double room including breakfast.
If you would prefer to stay in an apartment, this complex has 102 apartments in Vilanova that are well equipped and near to the beaches. It also offers a garden, a swimming pool, a gym... as well as international style breakfasts and dinners.
C/ Juan Sebastián Elcano, 4, Vilanova i la Geltrú. Tel 93 815 06 38. www.ateneapark.com.
From €85 per apartment.
A four star hotel in the centre of Vilafranca del Penedès with 43 sound-proofed rooms, a spa and a relax area. It offers a variety of romantic, wine-tasting and gourmet packages. getaway offers.
C/ Francesc Macià, 4, Vilafranca del Penedès. Tel 93 817 24 26. www.domohotel.com.
Double rooms from €100€.
If you are looking forward to a luxury stay, Mercer Hotel Casa Torner i Güell is a good choice. It offers 16 warm and sophisticated rooms and its own restaurant Mercerino.
Rambla de Sant Francesc, 26, Vilafranca del Penedès. Tel 93 817 47 55. www.casatornerguell.com.
Double rooms from €120.
L’Olivera combines the charm of rural-style accommodation, with rustic-style rooms, and all the comforts of a hotel, with a spa, a sauna and a swimming pool. To this, we should add the fact that it is surrounded by vines and located in a peaceful spot only a few kilometres from the coast.
C/ Nou, 14, Albinyana. Tel 977 68 70 76. www.lolivera.com.
Double rooms from €80.