In Catalonia – Spain: Discovering Escornalbou, Falset and Siurana

On a very windy, chilly and cristal celar day we explore the monastery Escornalbou, the small town of Falset and gorgeous Siurana perched on a steep rock. All these places we find near Hospitalet de l’Infant, where – in the apartment of our friends – we spend a few days end October until mid November 2016 .

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Castillo-Monasterio de Sant Miguel d’Escornalbou

A sinuous road takes us up to the Castillo-Monasterio de Sant Miguel d’Escornalbou on about 800m above sea level. The monastery is perched on a pass with the chapel Santa Barbara above it. We look at the monastery from the viewpoint across.

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From here we also have a gorgeous view of the mountains…

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… and of the sea.

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The monastery was built in the 12th/13th century. First Augustinian monks lived here and later it was inhabited by Franciscan monks. In 1835 the monastery was confiscated.

This is the façade of the Romanesque church.

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Inside we find Maria and her son.

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From the cloister there is an impressive view of the Mediterranean Sea. It must have been a pleasure to pray and meditate here.

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In the 17/18t century the castle has been added to the monastery. It was in use until about 1980. Mr Toda lived here. I am impressed by the luxury and in particular by the library…

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… and by the view from the window.

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Perhaps it was a bit lonely to live up here.

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Shopping and lunch in Falset

We continue our way on the sinuous path through the mountains to stop in Falset. This is the central town of the Montsant and Priorat area. The name “Falset” comes from sickle – and their are two sickles in their coat of arms (see Wikipedia and Miquel Hudin: “Vinologue Montsant”, Leavenworth Press 2014, p. 64).

My “Vinologue” tells me that Vins I Olis offers a good selection of wines from the area of Monsant and Priorat on one spot. We buy some cheese…

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… and some wine – in particular I look for “Scala Dei” (Granatxa), and with the advice of the shopkeeper, Marc, I acquire a selection of cuvées with local and international grapes.

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Marc, reserves a table for us in the El Cairet in the old city center – for 13:30, which is early here. The restaurant opens so early – just for us.

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It is a small and cosy place.

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The restaurant owner is proud of the meals that she prepares with great care using regional products. Hence we order the local menus suggested by her. We particularly loved the hazelnut soup, the autumn salad with dried fruit, the bacalao (codfish) a la plancha and the fig dessert on puff pastry. This restaurant is a place to remember and return!

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Siurana – perched on a steep rock – an Eldorado for climbers

We leave Falset and using sinuous roads we drive to the small town Siurana perched on a rock above the river Siurana. Campers are bordering the road and climbers are hanging in the cliffs or crags. This is an eldorado for climbers. The recent edition of “Insipiration”, the newspaper of one of “my” Swiss outdoor shops, talks about “Sehnsucht Siurana” or “Longing for Siurana”. Also the Internet is full of information about the climbing routes (e.g. planet mountain). One route is called after the princess Abdelaza that jumped down with her horse, because she did not want to be captured by the Christians, when they conquered Siurana in 1150.

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On three sides the village is surrounded by cliffs. Using the small gate we enter and stroll through the narrow streets.

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The Romanesque church Santa Maria is located above the cliffs.

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The portal has a modestly decorated tympanum with Christ, the sun, the moon, two lions and eight persons, presumably apostles.

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Across we see the table mountain Montsant under clouds. It is chilly and very windy in Siurana.

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Before leaving we have a cafecito in the friendly bakery at Cornudellas. We are by far the oldest guests. We are surrounded by young climbers that are taking a warm drink before spending the night in their campers. We are happy to return to our warm apartment in Hospitalet, and I look forward to having a swim in the heated public inside pool.

 

Priorat – the DOC wine area amidst steep hills

Just 30km away from Hospitalet – this is what we discover on the map – there is the small town Falset (‘Falset – accent on the first syllable) which is the gateway to the DOC wine region Priorat and the adjacent DO region Montsant . On the map we select a round tour from Falset to Gratallops and back to Falset. Later we will return to explore the Montsant region with Escaladei (literally staircase to God).

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Falset – a charming small country town

Falset is a charming small country town located in a friendly broad valley with olive trees, fruit trees and vineyards. There are many wine cellars, the most known one being the Cooperativa Scala Dei. Falset also hosts an enology school and a wine technology institute called Vitec that allows the local wine growers to analyze and optimize their wine production. I found this in Miquel Hudin: “Vinologue Montsant”, Liberdúplex 2004.

The town is quiet on this Sunday, the restaurants are full with people eating around three in the afternoon (the normal time for lunch in Spain).

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Continuing through steep hills to Gratallops

We continue north towards Gratallops. Our road climbs and meanders through steep and rocky hills. No vineyards. I am surprised. Where are the Priorat wines? We have a coffee and a crema Catalana in the restaurant “La Cassola del Priorat”.

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Around this place we can see the first vineyards, terrassed on steep hills.

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The vines are loosely arranged, it must be hard to grow wine here.

Behind the next hill appears this gorgeous village perched on a hill. This is Gratallops.

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We enter the village. Narrow streets…

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… a church,…

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and a restaurant closed right now, on Sunday.

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Also the shop selling honey is closed today.

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One shop is open. We buy some wine – Garnatxa red (Lluna Vella) and white (l’Udol), a bottle of  Vermouth by de Muller, some local marmalade and the guide to the Montsant wines by Miquel Hudin. Three innovative wine growers have their cellars just outside of Gratallops: Alvaro Palacios, René Barbier and Carlos Pastrana. This is for some other time… I would have had to call them beforehand.

We continue our way along a narrow street above the Siurana river. Around us the steep vine gardens of the Priorat.

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Torroja of Priorat is just above the river Siurana.

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The road winds uphill with vineyards and olive groves on steep slopes. I had not imagined Priorat being so precipituous. In the “Vinologue Montsant” I read that in the DOC area of Priorat, 90% of the vines grow on llicorella slate (slate mixed with quartz), while DO Montsant has many different soils which also makes it interesting, as winegrowers start to produce wines exploiting the variety of the terroir.

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Montsant – I am curious and will go back to Priorat

In the background we see the rocks of Montsant.

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Prices for wines are not as high as in the Priorat region, where prices reach even several 100 Euros. The Canadian Miquel Hudin fell in love with Monsant and wrote his book “Vinologue Monsant”.

While already the Romans had grown wine here, this tradition was interrupted during the Moorish reign, until 1153. Then the “Cartoixa de Santa Maria d’Escaladei” was  founded as the first Carthusian monastery in today’s Spain. A shepherd had a vision here: Angels climbed a staircase to heaven. Hence the name “scala dei” or “staircase to god”. The monastery owned the land that subsequently was called “Priorat”. In 1835 the ecclesial possessions were abolished and the farmers destroyed the monastery.

After reading this book and having seen the rocks, I am curious and decide go back to the Montsant area of Priorat with its staircase to God (Escaladei)