Getaways in Catalonia: discovering the world-renowned wines of the Costa Dorada and Michelin-starred restaurants
Vineyard owner Albert Jane examines rolling hills and exhibits the art of winemaking. “Through our wine we really express this landscape,” he says. It is strong and robust.
We are in the middle of the vineyards of his Acustic Celler estate in the Priorat area of the Costa Daurada, an hour and a half southwest of Barcelona.
Its long, hot summers and low rainfall make it ideal for growing Garnacha (Garnacha) and Carinena grapes. And although the wine produced here is scarce (Mr. Jane produces 150,000 bottles a year), it more than makes up for it in reputation.
Natural beauty: Gratallops village in the Priorat area of the Costa Daurada, Catalonia
Acustic’s Grenache has been voted one of the best in the world and is at the forefront of a gastronomic regeneration in the region. There are already three restaurants with Michelin stars: Can Bosch and Rincon De Diego in Cambrils, and Deliranto in Salou.
The Costa Daurada (the Costa Dorada) is in the heart of Catalonia. Our tour runs through Cambrils, Vila-seca and Salou, the latter struggling with its past thanks to the ‘Saloufest’, when thousands of drunken British students used to descend on it. Now tourism authorities are focusing on a healthier treat: food.
Eating seems to be a full-time leisure activity, be it pica pica (sandwiches) or more elaborate dishes with traditional touches. At the Arena Restaurant in Salou, you can sit overlooking the beach and enjoy a fideua (like paella but made with short spaghetti-type pasta) with cuttlefish, prawns and wakame aioli, or more chopped Catalan dishes like duck and truffle cannelloni .
Meanwhile, the delights of the popular L’Indret de Cambrils include black squid rice and mussels with garlic and starfish, scrambled eggs with potatoes and truffle oil. The whole concoction mixes in a pan on the table and has a theatrical feel to it.
Pictured above is the Carthusian monastery of Scala Dei, which was founded by Carthusian monks in 1194
Wine was brought to this region by the Carthusian monks, who in 1194 founded the Charterhouse of Scala Dei (God’s stairway). It is said that when the monks were looking for a place to build a monastery, a pastor told them that he dreamed of angels coming down from heaven by a ladder to a pine tree.
The monks took this as a sign from God and planted vineyards. The monastery, in Morera de Montsant, is being restored and for € 6 (£ 5) you can stroll through the cloisters and learn about its life.
Thirty of the main priors had their own cells and the life of a medieval monk was not so bad. They had their own bathing area, patio and vegetable garden.
The tourist authorities of Salou, in the photo, concentrate on promoting the gastronomy of the region
And being a silent command, they were practicing mindfulness long before it was a thing of the 21st century.
But the monks weren’t the first to make their mark in the region. In Cambrils there are the remains of the Roman villa of La Llosa, which is believed to date from 1 BC. It was discovered in 1980 and it was revealed that it had its own jetty, as well as a lodge for slaves and cattle. A fun app on the site gives you a virtual reality picture of what life was like for a wealthy Roman.
Today’s wealthy citizens are more likely to meet at Salou’s Infinitum Beach Club chi chi. Located overlooking the ocean with seven pools and three golf courses, this vacation destination is moving to the next level.
While visiting the city of Cambrils, pictured, dine with black squid rice and mussels at L’Indret restaurant
Its Flamma restaurant serves red tuna marinated in soy and garlic, as well as acorn-fed pork with mango. We love crystal bread, a homemade antipasto: tomato and garlic are rubbed on toast and sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt.
After a break from lunch, we headed to PortAventura World. In high season and in non-Covid times it can have up to 40,000 visitors a day, so queues are inevitable. But it is well designed with six different subject areas.
Leaving the roller coasters behind, we return to our hotel, the Palas Pineda, to rest. A few minutes from the beach, a swim in the Balearic Sea followed by a long walk along the beautiful stretch of sand certainly clears the cobwebs.
Traveling to and from Spain can involve a bit of paperwork. But sitting by the sea, the waves crashing, the sunset and a glass of red in hand, it seems worth it.