On Saturday, May 19th, we drive from Zaragoza through the mountains to Hospitalet de l’Infant, south of Tarragona in Catalonia. On the way, we stop in Alcañiz and Horta de San Joan.
Alcañiz – domicile of the Calatrava order (still in Aragón)
We follow the road to Morella up to Alcañiz. Here we maneuver our Audi through narrow-narrow streets, find the last parking slot near the city wall and walk to the Iglesia de Santa Maria Mayor – baroque from the 18th century – where we have a café solo.
We do not find the way out of the small town and land on top with its castle (now a parador) and this gorgeous view. This was the domicile of the order of the Calatrava.
Does our famous architect Calatrava have a relation with this order?
Culture and lunch break in Horta de San Joan (now in Catalonia)
Horta de San Joan is a pretty small town in the mountains El Ports. Young Picasso was here twice, once as a teenager, when he stayed with the family of a friend of his and about ten years later again. This quote in Catalonian says: “Everything that I know, I have learnt at Horta”.
We visit the museum that tells the story of Picasso and Horta de San Joan. All the places that he painted are documented with photos. When he was here the first time, he recovered from an illness. And when he was here for the second time, he is said to have started his cubist way of painting.
Horta de San Joan also appears in literature. Perucho in his “Las historias naturales” described, how the scientist Montpalau (an invented figure) visited Horta de San Joan, when looking for the vampire Dip that terrorized the area in the first Carlist War, in 1840 (p. 164f): “Días más tarde… nuestras caballeros… abandaron Gandesa, en busca de la pista sangrante del vampiro… En Horta de San Juan visitaron la Plaza gótica porticada…
… y el convento de San Salvador…
… El aíre era muy frío y tuvieron que abrocharse hasta el último botón de la levita…El paisaje había cambiado ahora: Salvaje, grandioso, y como telón de fondo las altas montañas del Maestrazgo…”
(Some days later, our men left Gandesa, looking for the bloody track of the vampire… in Horta San Joan they visited the gothic square with the arches… the monastery of San Salvador… The air was very cold and they had to close their jackets up to the last button… The landscape had changed now: Wild, magnificent, and in the background the high mountains of the Maestrazgo…).
We do what Perucho’s Montpalau has done… we visit the gothic square, enjoy the view of the wild mountains and the monastery and stroll through the narrow streets…
… adorned with Amaryllis…
… and barked at by cute little dogs,…
… until we lose our way and in the maze of streets and end up in front of this door. It is the restaurant “Gran Parrado”. It is one o’clock and we are hungry.
All tables are taken… the friendly manager offers a table in the bar. Lucky we are. We have a delicious lunch. This is the first course, cannelloni (yes, the Catalonians picked that up in Italy) and codfish salad. My second course is oxtail in chocolate sauce – very tasty. For dessert we choose fresh goat cheese with honey – a marvellous Catalonian specialty.
The host has a small wine cellar that he is proud of. Already Perucho’s Montpalau praised the wines from Terra Alta: “Se consumieron grandes bocoyes de vino de lágrima, finísimo al paladar…” (we drank large glasses of Lagrima wine, very fine in the palate”), p.163. I buy two bottles, one of them produced in Horta de San Joan (Els Costums made from Granatxa negra).
Back at Hospitalet in the apartment of or friends
About one hour later, we are in Hospitalet. The full moon welcomes us.
Two quiet weeks are ahead of us. Reading, swimming, going for excursions and enjoying the Mediterranean.
Looking back at our tour that we have completed in Northern Spain
Our route through Northern Spain started with a short break in Donzenac in France and then continued to
- Hondarribia (with excursions to Bayonne, Biaritz, St-Jean-de-Luz and Hendaye as well as San Sebastián)
- Bilbao (visiting Getaria on the way)
- Santillana del Mar (with excursions to Altamira, Comillas, Bárçena Mayor and the origin of the Ebro, Cabrales)
- Oviedo (visiting Covadonga on the way)
- Zamora (visiting Benavente on the way, excursions to El Campillo and Toro)
- Santo Domingo de Silos (visiting Peñafiel on the way)
- Zaragoza (or Sarragossa)
- Back to Catalonia (visiting Alcañiz and Horta de San Joan on the way)