Falset, the county capital is the staring point for our “wine journey” through the Priorat. During this visit, we will admire the arches in Plaça de la Quartera, as well as pausing at several Renaissance mansions, including the Palau dels Ducs de Medinaceli, which now houses the Town Hall, and Palau dels Comtes d’Azara. The latter, also known as La Casa Gran, now houses Priorat County Council. The weekly market takes place on Tuesdays… If you are lucky enough to visit Falset on that day of the week, take this chance to buy some of the finest local wine and olive oil. If you can arrange your trip for the first weekend in May, moreover, you will be able to discover the local Wine Fair.
But don’t worry if your visit takes place neither in May nor on a Tuesday: you are invited to enjoy a guided tour, tasting included, of the Celler Cooperatiu, one of the leading wine-making centres in Falset. This will enable you to try some of the superb Priorat DOQ and Montsant DO wines at one of Catalonia’s most outstanding cellars, housed in a Modernista (Art Nouveau) building designed by the architect Cèsar Martinell, a follower of the great Antoni Gaudí.
At lunch time, try the Hostal Sport, a classic local restaurant that serves traditional Priorat fare. Ask for the meatballs with artichoke (mandonguilles amb carxofa) followed by pig’s trotters (peus de porc) or country chicken in Priorat wine (pollastre camperol al vi del Priorat). For dessert, a surprise: the wine ritual, a pleasure that you will never forget. Now it’s time for a siesta to restore your energy ready to go up to the Castell del Vi, or wine castle, an oenological museum housed in the old medieval castle of the counts of Prades. A veritable journey through Priorat wine culture.
Your first incursion into this wine county has begun intensely… Now enjoy a slow food dinner at Quinoa and, if you are an agritourism fan, spend the night at such rural accommodation facilities as Les Quimeres or Casa Fontanals. What could be better than relaxing swim in the pool in summer or a pleasant read or a quiet chat by the fire on an icy Priorat winter evening? In the morning, have a good breakfast, for it is a long walk to Gratallops.
Following the white and yellow signs on the GR-174 long-distance footpath or taking a shorter route along the old Falset to Gratallops path, get on the move, crossing the county through a sea of vines and olive trees. Alternatively, if you don’t feel like walking, you can also complete this route by bicycle. If you take the GR route, don’t miss the chance to visit the famous Bellmunt mines along the way. Then, before setting out again, have lunch at Cal Quel or L’Economat de les Mines. The dish to try here is badejada, a casserole with beans and badejo (cod). Traditionally, this dish is prepared by the men of Bellmunt on the last day of the local festivities, known as the Festa Major dels Innocents, on December 30, when a street meal known as the Badejada takes place in the village.
The second route is much shorter. At most, it will take you a couple of hours to reach Gratallops. Enter through the arch known as the Arc de Pedra and take Carrer Major to the Casa dels Frares. Sit and rest for a while, then visit the local winery, known as the Vinícola del Priorat, a farming cooperative that brings together production from a number of villages, including Lloar, Vilella Baixa and Vilella Alta.
A veritable gastronomic delight awaits at the Cellers de Gratallops is the Wine Fair menu: coca pie with botifarra sausage, apple and dried fruits; the chef’s speciality, slowly-cooked pork or lamb fillet… with surprise dessert and a glass of Gratallops white wine. Spend the night at Cal Llop, sleeping in the old granary, now converted into the main suite.
On your third day here, cycle or walk to the Cartoixa d’Escaladei, the true cradle of this county. Indeed, the very name of this Carthusian monastery, founded in the twelfth century, has its roots in the name “Priorat” (“priory” in Catalan). All that remains standing from the original religious site, however, is the main entrance arch, flanked by cypresses, and several of the cells inhabited by the monks who were the first wine-makers in the region. Pause and “listen” to the silence, as the members of this religious community once did, no doubt, when they prayed to God. Commemorate your visit to this historic local site with a wine tasting at Cellers d’Scala Dei and a dinner pairing food and wine at the Celler La Conreria d’Scala Dei.
In mid-September, what better to round off this third day than by visiting the traditional wine harvest festival known as the Festa del Vi i la Verema a l’Antiga in the nearby village of Poboleda. Put on a hat, an old shirt and some shorts and take part in the harvest with the local people, or tread the grapes in the old way, in the wooden vats.
Your hard work will be rewarded by an excellent dinner and a good night’s sleep at Populetus. In the morning, jump on your bike again and peddle through vineyards and olive fields to the village of Siurana, the last stop on our “wine and oil tourism” visit to Priorat county. Sit on the cliffs where the remains of the Moorish fortress stand and admire the spectacular views over the legendary drop known as the Salt de la Reina Mora, or Leap of the Moorish Queen. Then stroll around the charming village streets before enjoying a meal at Els Tallers. In the truffle season, the restaurant serves a special menu, a veritable delight to the senses.
To round off your tour of Priorat county, visit one of the local oil mills and, if you like, help with harvesting the arbequina olive, from which the fantastic Siurana DOP (protected denomination of origin) oil is made. A delicious, tasty way to finish our trip to Priorat, as we leave this lovely county, nestling in the peaceful Serra de Montsant mountains.
Text: Roger Jiménez / Slowing Catalunya
Photos: Turisme Priorat / Enoturisme Priorat