One thing I would do differently if I had to go back to each country I lived in would be to visit them more. I have always been keener to explore faraway destinations and neglected a bit local places.
Now that I live in Barcelona, I have decided that I will take every opportunity to go around Catalunya in particular and Spain in general. It makes all the more sense as Catalunya has some really stunning and diverse landscapes. This leads me to tell you about my day trip to Priorat.
Priorat is a region in the south of Catalonia that produces wine and olive oil. The route we took was spectacular: hills, cultivated terraces… From what I have seen anyway … the road was so sinuous, I had to focus on a point because of travel sickness. Bring your pills if you are as sensitive as me.
Our destination was the village of Scala Dei. This village is particularly interesting because in addition to the wine cellar and the oil tasting, it is also the home of a Carthusian Monastery, “the” first carthusian charterhouse of the Iberic península. It was constructed by French monks at the foothills of the Montsant mountain range. The monks built mills and taught different farming techniques including planting vineyards on the steep slate-based slopes of the region. Thanks to these monks, the Priorat became famous for its wines. In the charterhouse, we learn that the monks spent their lives in silence. They were also living a solitary life as testifies the reconstructed monk cell that can be visited. Other than that, only ruins are left of the monastery. In Pretty Woman, when describing the hotel room where she was in to her friend, Julia Roberts said that the bathroom only was bigger than the Blue Banana…Well this monk cell is as big as my apartment…. Colder though I assume because of its location and the tiled floor. Anyway… these monks might not be speaking but they were pretty well set and the place is beautiful. I highly recommend this visit. A full photo gallery is available on my facebook page.
After the charterhouse, we went for some wine tasting further up the village towards La Conreria d’Scala Dei. We were a group of 20 people and I understood that the wine cellar specially opened for us. Someone told me that Priorat wine was pretty bad so I could not fully understand why we bothered visiting this wine cellar. That was until we entered the showroom and saw all the award winning bottles they had. And they were international prizes, beware! The confusion was cleared during the visit: the Priorat wine was not of a great quality beforehand. These products have nothing to do with the new generation of Priorat wine that is now in the rise. Priorat wine is now meant to be one of the best in the world… No more talking, let’s taste the wine and make up our minds. We tried one white and 3 reds. We are in a small winery. These were the only wine they produce. The emphasis seems to be put on quality (hence the price as well). I like the white one. The reds won’t let leave you indifferent. I will say no more. It is better for you to go and taste them yourselves.
Afterwards we had lunch in one of the local restaurants. I tried there a dessert called menjablanc made out of almonds, cinnamon, lemon zest and sugar. It is a traditional dessert, a specialty in Reus, a nearby city. It is quite nice, a strange texture though not quite like a mousse more like a dense cream. After lunch, with my tummy so full again, I would have been happy to go for a siesta. But we had our third activity of the day: olive oil tasting! When we arrived at the shop, the place was all set up for us: tables full of food and oil of course! And guess what? This place has also won awards!!! Each one of us grabbed a covered cup containing oil. Until that day, I did not know that there was a special ritual for oil tasting too. It consists of warming up the recipient, a tapped cup, with your hands, rolling the oil into the tapped cup then smelling it like with wine, drink it and swirl it in a certain way in your mouth. This one was spicy in the throat. It is such an interesting experience. The owner of the shop who conducted the visit also had local cheese and sausages for us to try in addition to 4 olive oils they were producing. It was all yum! We were so happy most of us bought something from her. To be honest it was not difficult. She had a range of branded artesan products from biscuits to olive oils that were screaming “I am delicious, buy me…”
That was another great day I had here in Spain. If I had to do it again, I would do the oil tasting before lunch because after two hours drive, the visit of the Charterhouse as well as the countryside walk you are so hungry. It will be like an aperitive. Plus you won’t have a full belly getting into the shop, you will appreciate better the delicacies.
The Carthusian charterhouse:
The wine cellar:
The olive oil tasting: