Having slept for 12 hours, we awoke at 8:00am rather refreshed after our long, arduous day before. After a quick buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant, we were ready to go! In the lobby was my colleague from the Torres winery who is a native Catalan and would be guiding us throughout our visit to the area. We hopped in a van and headed two hours west – to the Priorato region.
Priorato is famous for its wines though only in the last 20 years have the wines been garnering attention, and the spotlight has been particularly intense for just the last 8 to 10. Priorato has the benefit of a hot, dry, continental climate and spectacularly poor, rocky soils on steep hillsides. Perfect for growing red wine grapes. The geography is stunning. Steep hills dive into valleys and historic little towns of only a few hundred inhabitants dot the windy roads every dozen kilometres. These towns are themselves hundreds of years old, each with a monastery clock tower boasting its highest point on the skyline. Wineries are plentiful but sparse, and the vineyards are terraced because of the topography – steps have been carved into the hillsides so as to provide workers with sufficient footholds and working conditions.
From Priorato we drove northeast to Milmanda – a small, rural area featuring a castle owned by the Torres company and surrounded by vineyards, most of which contribute to their finest wines: Milmanda and Grans Muralles. The castle is at the foot of a long, ancient wall built in the 13th century and at its head, in the Monastery of Poblet and the town of Conca de Barbera. The monastery was founded in the mid-12th century and still functions with about two dozen monks at its helm. A beautiful lunch was enjoyed in a restaurant in Conca de Barbera, which included traditional Catalan toast as prepared and shown to us by our host – simple toasted baguette slices, rubbed with garlic, rubbed again with the insides of raw tomato, lightly salted and covered in olive oil. Apparently it’s eaten constantly by the locals, and I can understand why. Lunch also featured beautiful Xato salad with Romesco sauce, a baked vegetable and sardine sandwich-type dish, duck ham with beans and lettuce and thin-sliced veal with mushrooms. It was all accompanied by a Francola sauvignon blanc and a beautiful 2001 Grans Muralles.
After Milmanda we made the two-hour drive back to the hotel, where we regrouped for a walk to Sagrada Familia and then downtown. Sagrada Familia is, despite all I’d heard and read, absolutely gigantic. Monolithic is probably a better word. I was blown away by the scale of it. My wife, who enjoyed his homes (Casa Batllo) and other facades (Palau de Musica Catalana), disliked this work; she thought it was tacky. Ironically it was I, who didn’t care for his other work, who thought this was fantastic. I mean, if you’re going to be an over-the-top, sensational artist, you might as well go big or go home! The Sagrada Familia, being about 20 stories tall or more, and a full city block square fits the bill. And do you want to talk about a stalled infrastructure project? This has taken and is in fact taking more than 130 years and counting to construct – it’s still not complete (slated for completion in 2026)!
We left Sagrada Familia for downtown, intending to get to the coastline. That plan failed miserably as our efforts to use the provided tourist maps failed (few streets are actually named and Barcelona’s innate navigability really falls apart near the shore) and our stubbornness to not use data-hogging Google Maps on my iPhone persisted. We ended up heading east when we thought we were walking south and before long we had sore feet and were back where we’d wandered the night before. And it was 9:00pm and we were tired. So back to the hotel we went. We’ll try again tomorrow!
distant town of Gratallops in Priorato
Torres winery in Priorato
The Grans Muralles – great wall – near Conca de Barbera
The 13th century Great Wall from the Grans Muralles vineyards
Milmanda chardonnay – serious stuff (not an oak monster!)