|The wine region of Priorat, Spain
||[Sep. 12th, 2014|06:36 pm]
Travel talk, tales and tips
There is a place barely two-hours drive away from Barcelona that enjoys worldwide fame, yet is so barely known to most tourists. Even most Catalans have no idea that in the year 2000 their Priorat received the highly coveted right to put a DOC marking on labels of its wines - the highest honour for a Spanish wine region. This elite list now consists only of two entries in Spain: Rioja and Priorat. (Wine labels are also frequently marked DOQ, which is the same thing, just shortened from Catalan Denominació d´Origen Qualificada instead of Spanish Denominación de Origen Calificada.)
Restaurant owners in Barcelona do not bother popularizing the local treasure: it is seldom that one sees a section of a wine list dedicated to Priorat wines, and if there is one or two Priorat bottles mentioned amidst the contenders from Rioja, it is already considered a win. At the same time, the author of the esteemed wine guide, wine critic Robert Parker, lists 133 superb Spanish wines in his 2012 edition. 20 of those are from Priorat, even though the Priorat's share in the overall wine production in Spain is less than 0,1%.
Since Barcelona does not want to promote the brand Priorat among the tourist masses, I will do Priorat the honour and show that Barcelona is not the only treasure on the Catalan land.
First, let's get our names straight. There are two Priorats: one is the administrative district (comarca) in the province of Tarragona, and the other is the wine region in the centre of the comarca. The rest of the comarca produces wine too, but under a different name - Montsant).
If you are headed to Priorat wine region and do not want to accidentally end up in Monsant, here is the list of towns, whose wineries have the right to label their products DOQ Priorat: Bellmunt del Priorat, Gratallops, El Lloar, El Molar, La Vilella Baixa, La Vilella Alta, Scala Dei, La Morera de Montsant, Poboleda, Torroja del Priorat, Porrera. The total population of these pueblos does not exceed 3000 people. The administrative center of the district, the town Falset, is a local metropolis with a population of 2900 people. Falset is found outside of the Priorat wine region boundaries, but is visited by almost every Priorat-bound guest, due to having the tourism office and one of the two gas stations in the whole region.
Getting to Priorat from Barcelona is easy: drive towards Tarragona, then keep right towards Reus, and from Reus follow the signs to Falset along highway N-240. The rest is up to your itinerary, but the whole driving distance won't exceed 150 km (93 miles).
The Priorat tour plan is also easy to come up with, as a typical day would look something like this: breakfast, some outdoor activity, lunch, afternoon nap, winery visit, mountain-view meditation with a wine glass in hand, dinner. Morning outdoor activities may include: walks around tiny towns of Priorat, visits to local sights, day hiking or cycling trips along vineyards and olive plantations, exploration of the nature reserve park Montsant (El Parc Natural de la Serra de Montsant). The local department of tourism has Priorat maps with lots of routes marked for all types of activities, so everyone is guaranteed to find something suitable for their fitness level and interests.
Most winery visits require at least a preliminary call, to make sure English-speaking staff is available to give you a tour. Choosing a winery that would suit your itinerary is easy on the tourism portal of Priorat.
Only two out of five great chateaux that resurrected wine-making in Priorat in the 1980s are open to the public. The Great Five includes Álvaro Palacios, Mas Martinet, Clos Erasmus, Clos Mogador, Clos de l´Obac, the last two being those that can be visited. When you can afford to price your wine at 700 euros per bottle (this is the average cost of Álvaro Palacios main hit L'Ermita), collecting 25-30 euros per person for an hour-long tour is simply not worth the hassle.
Organizing accommodation in Priorat is not as easy as getting tipsy there. On the one hand, each town has either a hotel, a hostal (a guest house) or a rural house with a traditional facade, restored to have suite-type accommodation inside, which can be recognized by keywords such as allotjament rural, casa rural or agroturisme. On the other hand, the holding capacity of all these hotels is not that great, which is logical considering the size of all Priorat towns (two or three hundred people on average): for example, Belmunt de Priorat can accommodate 7 couples, La Vilella Baixa – 8. Things are slightly better in Gratallops with its grand total of 47 hotel rooms, but it receives a lot more guests, as Gratallops has the most famous wineries in Priorat. Therefore if you are not travelling during major holidays, you should be fine, but if you plan on going during Easter or Christmas, it is always a good idea to book in advance.
Several places in Priorat have been already tried and tested by me personally. For instance, the absolutely charming hotel Cal Llop in Gratallops is a well-known great choice – its front door is covered with recommendation stickers from Michelin and Trip Advisor. The restaurant on the ground floor is absolutely fabulous too.
The winery Buil & Giné, apart from its own restaurant, also has two hotel rooms and one apartment upstairs, for those guests who rightly think that driving after tasting lots of wine is not the best idea. Staying at Buil & Giné for dinner and overnight is a great way to end your first day in Priorat.
The official tourism portal of comarca Priorat
The official site of the regulatory body DOQ Priorat
The map of wineries, hotels, restaurants and sights of Priorat