This itinerary for Priorat, Spain is part of our travel guide series. Learn about unique, beautiful and flavor prone regions that any discerning traveler and wine enthusiast should explore in his or her lifetime!
We’ve discussed Priorat in the past, and it’s because this region is both so beautiful and so delicious wine-wise that we’re going to discuss an itinerary for visiting Priorat Spain in more detail. Winederlusting contributor Ashlee McRae already explained a background on Priorat and what makes it so great, so today I’ll simply provide an ideal route and bodegas (wineries) worth visiting.
If You’re Near Northeastern Spain, Don’t Miss Priorat
I enjoyed Priorat because of its seclusion. And while I may be using the word secluded, it’s a wine region that’s actually incredibly easy to access. However, once you’re there, you feel (and you are), in a foreign land filled with small picturesque villages beset beneath a beautiful mountainous landscape.
Priorat is a DOQ, which is short for a rare style of wine region known to produce wines of unmatched quality. When you envision Priorat on a map, think of it as a donut hole. The entire Priorat region is surrounded by another wine region called DO Montsant (see map right, courtesy Paisatges del Vi). In Catalan, DOQ stands for Denominació d’Origen Qualificada (Qualified/Controlled Appellation of Origin), whereas DO is a simpler version of wine appellation.
How To Get to Priorat from Barcelona
Arguably the easiest and cheapest way to get to Priorat is to take a relatively short (under 2 hours) train ride from Barcelona. Many wine enthusiasts, climbers and hikers alike make this an easy day trip. I usually hop on the train at Estació de Sants (Barcelona-Sants) train station. Tickets are around 12 euros, which you can purchase via any of the orange automated ticketing machines at the station. Your final destination will be the MARÇÀ-FALSET station, and usually the platform is either 9 or 10 at Barcelona-Sants (make sure you’re not hopping on a local train bound for the aiport!). You can view / search current train schedules and fares here.
What to do in Priorat Spain
So now that you made it into Priorat, where to begin? You could honestly just spend the day driving through Priorat and Montsant admiring the scenery, but let’s make things a bit more interesting and include some ancient monestary visits, wine tours and jaw-dropping scenic hikes.
First Stop: Visit the Escaladei Monastery
Priorat is steeped in history. The region has been influenced by a number of ancient religions and cultures for thousands of years. The Escaladie (Catalan Pronunciation) Monastery makes for an ideal first stop because not only will it get you in the adventurous mood and peak your curiosity, it’s also tucked beneath the hills of Montsant, on the outskirts of Priorat.
The monastery was originally founded by French Carthusian monks around 1285, not far from the Catalonian village of La Morera de Montsant. The monastery was built in one of the most beautiful locations in the region. It’s said that a shepherd had a dream about angels coming down from heaven at the location, on a ladder placed atop a pine tree.
The monastery is no longer in operation (it was a functional monastery until 1835), but the ruins and history of the area are well preserved. Remember that the Christian religion has been widely responsible for the spread of vine-growing across the globe, which was also true here in Priorat, with the Carthusians’ arrival in the Middle Age.
Innovative farming techniques that are still used today were perfected here. Ancient Vintners planted their crops on the steep slopes of the surrounding area, which forces the vines to work for their nutriment. This practice is still widely utilized around both Montsant and Priorat today, and is one of the major reasons why wines produced here are so good.
The Carthusian Monastery of Santa Maria d’Escaladei ruins are currently open to visitors. Guided tours and self exploration of the area are both options. Self guided tours cost as little as 3.50 euros, while guided tours start at 6.50. The monastery opens at 10am, and may be open as late as 7:30pm depending on time of year. Winter months close earlier (around 3:30).
My favorite scenic destination in Priorat is undoubtedly the ancient village of Siurana. This dreamlike mountaintop village was constructed in such a way as to be an unconquerable fortress that oversaw the surrounding Catalonian area. It was originally erected by the Moors, but after a lengthy reconquest by the Christians in the area around 1153AD, it fell. For centuries, Siurana was protected by natural defenses. It was the last Moorish stronghold to fall to the Christians in Catalonia. The legend goes that Abdelazia, the ancient Moorish queen of Siurana, rode with her horse off of the summit of Siurana, rather than be captured by the Christian invaders. It’s also said that her horse left an imprint of his horseshoe on the summit rock before the two leaped to their death.
The rest is history, but we highly recommend you make the hike up to Siurana to enjoy a quaint feel of the surrounding area. The entire village sits beside cobblestone roads and ancient architectural structures. Below the summit, you can find a beautiful flowing reservoir. Swimming and kayaking are both options any day-tripper can explore. Siurana is also touted as one of Spain’s best climbing and hiking destinations if you’re looking to enjoy an active day. You can also checkout these guided tours of Siurana. Following your visit, we recommend you taste some wine :).
Priorat Travel Tip: Are you really into hiking? Do you want to combine hiking, wine tasting and gain an intimate knowledge of the Priorat region with a guided tour? We recommend contacting Sergi and Meritxell of El Brogit for an unmatched experience.
Third Stop: Taste the Wine of Priorat!
Last but not least, and certainly my favorite thing to do in Priorat, is wine tasting! This largely undiscovered yet beautiful and flavor prone wine region is well worth exploring — and there’s no better Vintner to start with than Celler Devinssi.
This past May, I had the opportunity to explore Priorat in detail with Jordi Ustrell of Celler Devinssi. Jordi holds a PhD in Tourism Management and is a certified wine tour guide. He’s also a great friend.
Celler Devinssi is currently crafting beautiful white and red wines intimately tied to the terroir of Priorat.
“We invade minimally the environment, so we let the vineyard just grow in its natural environment, alongside with weeds, flowers, oaks, wild roses, nut and olive trees… There’s fauna galore around: wild boars, rabbits, foxes, eagles, butterflies, bees… We also mostly use local varieties: garnatxa (Grenache) and samsó (Carignan). We also try to highlight the fruitiness and minerality in the wine, with some good acidity, the latter being vital for wines coming from such a hot region, where grapes are prone to excessive ripening and high sugar content (i.e. wines may be around 15% of alcohol),” says Jordi.
If you have the opportunity to visit Priorat, I highly suggest letting Jordi craft a custom, intimate and private wine tour / tasting for you and yours. Experiences may include, but are not limited to, intense feelings of natural euphoria, wine tasting atop the summit of Siurana and gastronomic exposure at some very picturesque and quaint Priorat villages. He’ll also be able to take you to other areas in and around Priorat, including the stops we mention throughout this itinerary.
The Wine Trail Traveler also provides a great in depth review of Celler Devinssi.
Fourth Stop: Tarragona
Most notable for its Roman history, Tarragona provides a feel unlike any other near Priorat. From ancient Roman Gladiatorial amphitheaters to picturesque Mediterranean beaches, Tarragona is something special. Step back in time.
Given that you’ll likely only be visiting the Priorat region for a day or two, we’ve narrowed down our favorite things to do in Tarragona below. Including a visit to the cities’ famous squares, a visit to the ancient Roman Gladiator Ring / Amphitheater and a walk along Tarragona’s beaches. Tarragona is also intimately connected with the surrounding landscape and villages through a series of “green” style paths. These public paths have been in use for centuries, and are still used today in an effort to promote alternate routes of transportation throughout the region by leaving a smaller carbon footprint.
Things to do in Tarragona:
Wander the paths of Tarragona
What’s nice about wandering Tarragona’s ancient dirt pathways is that you can use a multitude of alternative transportation. Walk them, speed hike them, or traverse the trails via mountain bike. You can even go horseback riding. There are over 75 kilometers of paths to explore.
What sets these ancient pathways apart from others in Spain is that they are still the same routes used for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. French soldiers used these routes to ‘route’ the remaining Moorish strongholds in the Priorat area. Some were used as simple paths merchants would use to bring their goods to local markets. As you walk them and traverse old quarries and ancient ruins, try to imagine yourself in another age. One of the more chilling (literally) uses of these ancient pathways was that the ice taken from the nearby Prades mountains was used to make old style brandy drinks or to lower the fevers of the sick (tip of the hat to Tarragona Turisme). The paths of Tarragona will give you goosebumps.
Eat in Tarragona
While Tarragona may be most well known for its Roman roots, there’s a food culture here that is certainly worth exploring and savoring.
There’s a particular maritime area called Serrallo, which is loaded with seafood restaurants and to this day is still largely unexplored by international visitors. This port area is characterized by its narrow streets and somewhat simplistic style of maritime architecture. This truly is an authentic fishing village. Both visitors and international tourists can expect to have an authentic, Catalonian seafood experience. According to some of the locals in the area, a favorite restaurant is ‘A Bordo.’
A Bordo is quaint, with just enough capacity for 30 people. Upon entering, foodies can expect a maritime style of decor that helps warm the senses for a great seafood based meal. Don’t be shy and dive into their anchovy croquettes and fresh mussels with a side of crisp white wine.
Stop by the Ancient Roman Amphitheater
Like many of the gladiator rings designed during and before the 2nd century, this ancient piece of architectural magic overlooks the Balearic / Mediterranean Sea. What makes this particular gladiator ring so special is that the entire structure, including the seating was carved out of the bedrock that covered the coastal area. It was able to hold a maximum of 14,000 people. The site is steeped in history, and was used for gladiatorial duels, as well as fights between wild animals. It was also the location where Bishop Fructuosoand and his clerics were burned alive in 259 AD.
Visit the Beaches of Tarragona
Last but not least, how about a visit to a series of beaches that are somewhat unrecognized when compared to the nearby city life of Barcelona and Sitges. There are a large number of beaches, both large and small, as well as numerous picturesque small coves along the 15 kilometer coastline. Not to mention, the water itself is for the most part crystal clear and shimmers in the sun.
Not unlike the summer months along many of the coasts in the United States, the “Costa Daurada” (Gold Coast) beaches or Tarragona are ideal to visit between June and September. You can view images and a complete guide to all of Tarragona’s beaches here.