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Skyscrapers of Priorat

Katya R
Posted September 3, 2014

If during a Priorat tour you hear the guide mention "New York of Priorat" (Nueva York del Priorat), it is not your hearing playing tricks on you, but a common nickname for the local town La Vilella Baixa. The department of statistics of Catalonia tells us that the local "New York" currently has 215 residents, 2 stadiums, a tennis court, 2 restaurants and 2 hotels with a total of 8 rooms. The town owes its wonderful nickname to peculiarities of its urban development.

Buildings that are seven and eight floors high look strange in this barely populated region. And it gets even stranger since often you need to climb to the fourth or fifth floor to access the street, despite owning an apartment on the first floor. Apparently, ancient land developers found no better way to render local steep hills habitable.

As you can see, the lack of drying laundry, window drapes or even glass on said windows indicates that many apartments and whole buildings are empty. The official statistics tell us that 45 out of 237 residential units in La Vilella Baixa are currently not being used. The real estate portal idealista has an active listing for an apartment with a total space of 270 sq meters, in fairly good state, priced at 42 600 euros. The listing has been there since May and probably even before that. The price is not a joke; here is a good emigration opportunity for those who know how to use their hands apart from uncorking wine bottles.

After taking pictures of the "skyscrapers", add a shot of the 18th century church and the ancient Romanesque bridge to your camera album, and you are free to continue with the main local interest – wine.

There are three wineries in La Vilella Baixa: Celler Bujorn, Celler del Pont and Celler SabatГ©. The last two will gladly give you a tour and organize a wine tasting, but by appointment only.

Celler del Pont

year founded: 1998
wine label: Lo Givot
address: C/ Riu, 1
email: stefan@cellerdelpont.com

Celler SabatГ©

year founded: 1910
wine label: Mas Plantadeta
address: C/ Nou, 6
phone number: +34 977 839 209

You can spend the night in the hotel El RacГі del Priorat or in the apartment complex Apartaments Ca la VictГІria. The hotel has its own cafГ©, and the main restaurant in town, Cal Pep, is right around the corner, 30 meters away.

El RacГі del Priorat

number of rooms: 3
address: C/ Priorat, 9
phone numbers: 977 839 065 | 618 144 992

Apartaments Ca la VictГІria

number of apartments: 5
address: C/ Riu, 10
phone numbers: 977 839 008 | 635 923 264

Cal Pep

address: C/ Nou Priorat
phone number: 977 839 454

Priorat's First Wine Factory

Katya R
Posted August 22, 2014

The second and last in the short list of outstanding wine regions of Spain, Priorat, owes a lot to the Carthusian monastery Escaladei (Cartuja de Escaladei). The monastery gave the region not only its name (in many monastic orders the superiors were called priors), but the culture of wine-making as well – Carthusian monks of Escaladei were the first to start making wine in Priorat.

The Carthusians descended on the Iberian peninsula in the 12th century, right after King Alfonso II gifted the Carthusian order some local land to build a monastery. The exact date is known: it was 1194. Fully aware of the responsibilities borne by running the first Carthusian mission in the country, the Escaladei monastery actively promoted expansion of the order's influence in Catalonia, Aragon and other areas of kingdom of Spain. Up until its sudden closure in the 19th century the monastery played an active role in establishing the Brotherhood of Spanish Carthusians (CongregaciГіn Nacional de Cartujas EspaГ±olas), independent from Grande Chartreuse, the head monastery of the Carthusian order in the French Grenoble.

To say that Escaladei played a vital role in the daily life of Priorat is to say nothing of its exceptional influence: the prior of Escaladei held jury powers and mayorship of all pueblos in the region, effectively turning the monastery into the only municipal regulatory body in Priorat.

Following the decree of 1835 all land that belonged to Escaladei was forcibly transferred to the state, and monks had to abandon the estate they ran for centuries. Ordinary folk wasted no time to thank the Church for tithe and taxes and over the course of two years looted Escaladei thoroughly, razing it practically to the ground.

In 1990 a family of winemakers who owned this land gifted it to the Generalitat of Catalonia. In 1993 Escaladei ruins opened to the public, so that visitors with good imagination could visualize the monastery courtyards, chapels, monastic cells and refectories that once were so vital to Priorat.

At the same time a major renovations project has begun to transform Escaladei little by little. The restoration is still ongoing, and the end is not in sight, but the results so far have been impressive. Escaladei is well worth a visit and an hour of your time on the way from one winery to the other.

Check opening hours and up-to-date admission charges to Escaladei here.

Wine With a Pedigree

Katya R
Posted August 19, 2014

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 DenominaciГі dВґOrigen Qualificada instead of Spanish DenominaciГіn 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, we 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 ГЃlvaro Palacios, Mas Martinet, Clos Erasmus, Clos Mogador, Clos de lВґObac, 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 ГЃlvaro 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 us. 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 & GinГ©, 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 & GinГ© for dinner and overnight is a great way to end your first day in Priorat.

More posts about Priorat to follow, but you needn't wait to start tasting the Priorat most famous product when you get a chance!

Useful links:
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

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