Catalonia 2020

Villa Retiro

The main building is what you see in most ads and reviews, the fairy castle building. The main building is set in landscaped grounds with a pool (looking a bit dated) and the restaurant in a separate building, then with the addition of the 10 garden suites also in the grounds. Our room was very large, with a small patio sitting area at the back. It was new, modern and well fitted out. You would find it hard not to like it The two negative points about the hotel, were firstly the reception was terrible. No warmth of welcome, no effort to explain anything about the hotel. And the breakfast was poor for a 5 star hotel. In a pokey basement room with no view, and a pretty average buffet even in a lesser hotel . But you have probably booked here to eat in their Michelin Restaurant.

There is little in the town, we walked around the windy streets without finding much of interest.

A restaurant with a Michelin Star has a lot to live up to, and what might be acceptable in any other restaurant can be viewed a below par for a starred one. So it was with us. We booked their gourmet package in the hotel, which included a dinner in the restaurant. Problems with one of the starters, and the way it was dealt with were more of a problem here than they would have been in a tourist restaurant in town. The selection of pre-starter were excellent, but my starter, a pasta, was inedible. The pasta was almost cold, and served on a stone cold plate, make it so rubbery that it was not digestible. The head waiter did not seem too concerned, nor did reception when I explained the problem on checkout. They will just have to hope that the next Michelin inspector does not order pasta Apart from that it was a pleasant, but not great meal. As I said, a Michelin Star gives a restaurant a lot to live up to


Pinel de Brai - Cathedral of Wine

This is one of the so called " cathedrals of wine" that dot this area of Catalonia. It is certainly one of the most inpressive wineres that I have ever visited. We saw the outside of a number of others of the period in our travels in the area, but this was the ost impressive

The modernista winery at Pinell del Brai shows the architectural expression of the agricultural cooperatives in Catalonia at the end of the 19th century. Its construction, in 1919, was under Cèsar Martinell who used all the elements of the traditional Catalan architecture, the modernista aesthetic, and enriched it with the technical innovations of his teacher Antoni Gaudí. You can certainly feel Gaudi´s influence here. The light that is filtered from the windows, the floor plan reminiscent of a church and the feeling of spaciousness recreates the interior of a Gothic Cathedral.

But it is not just a stunning building, it was also a functioning winery. Important technical innovations were incorporated:

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Terra Dominicata

We had a two night stay here. I was particularly impressed by the warm and professional welcome which gave us a tour of the facilities and lots of information. So much better that what many hotels do - sign here and your room is upstairs. By the time the tour was finished, our bags had been taken to our room .

Our room was really luxurious, with well thought out interior design. It did not have any view, but we were prepared to overlook that., given that everything else was perfect. We had a lovely dinner each evening And I would particularly like to mention the breakfast, which was excellent, and a staff member took us round to explain each dish - all fresh and local We also had their wine tour and tasting - the languages vary daily, and English is not always available. I was happy to have our tour in Spanish, even though the guide took no prisoners..Only thing I would say is the samples of the four wines we had, could have been done with being a bit bigger

There is plenty to do here, with lots of local walks, including the ruined Charterhouse Monastery fairly close by: or up the hillside tracks tyhrough the vineyards. If you want to drive, Siurana is a very scenic almost deserted village, about 20 minutes drive away, which has three small restaurants for food or drinks

The staff at the hotel were excellent - both professional and friendly, and anxious to please. (there was one exception, there always is, and I will not dwell on him) We hope to return here soon, and would recommend the hotel to anyone looking for top quality accommodation in the surrounds of really magnificent Catalan countryside.

We had dinner on each of our two nights in the hotel. Both were very enjoyable experiences, and I would thoroughly recommend this restaurant The restaurant has fabulous views over the newly planted vines on the hills beyond - though darkness in winter does blot out the view in winter. The portions were a bit large for us, but were well presented and well cooked. The menu is quite limited, and does not change from night to night, so if you stayed for three nights you would need to negotiate a few new dishes Service was professional and friendly, and smoothed the speed of the flow of food to match our requirements The wine list is certainly substantial, but for a foreigner like me needed to have a "hotel selection" to cut down the choice of many local wines that were alien to me. The atmosphere in the restaurant is very relaxing . And they o to extraordinary lengths to ring changes - with for example different coloured knives and forks at each meal - silver, black and gold

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Sirana is small village in the north-east of the Priorat, overlooking the valley of the river Siurana, between the Montsant massif to the west and the Prades mountains to the east.

Places of interest include the church of Santa Maria. Although open, you have to stand in a glass porch just inside the door, where you can view the interior.This is a well-preserved building from the Romanesque period. It was built between the 12th and 13th centuries, following the arrival of Berenguer IV's Christian troops in 1154. At that time Siurana was a bastion defending the Islamic frontier and was in fact the last Muslim stronghold in Catalonia, conquered between 1153 and 1154. The church is a fine example of beauty combined with simplicity on a floor plan with a single nave and a semicircular apse. Its doorway features a carved tympanum framed in three round arches resting on columns with capitals decorated with a range of motifs.

Siurana also conserves remains of the Arab castle, a military establishment or “hisn” built around the 9th century as a centre to control the territory. It was part of a large area under Muslim domination, and this strategically-placed fortification guarded the way into the village. Currently visible are the results of a first phase of renovation, which has left its boundaries clearly visible, together with the defensive towers and other features. The conquest of this castle by Ramon Berenguer IV was planned before those of Tortosa and Lleida, but was not achieved until 1153 or 1154.

Following its fall, it passed into the hands of Bertran de Castellet and then Albert de Castellvell. It served as a dowry for Catalan queens, to guarantee pacts and loans and even as a prison for people of some importance. The Salt de la Reina Mora, or Moorish Queen's Leap, is a section of cliff which is named for the legend of Abdelazia, daughter of the Wali of Siurana, who when the Christian troops broke in preferred to cast herself off the cliff into the abyss on her horse rather than fall into enemy hands. When the horse saw the dizzying cliff it tried to stop, but its momentum carried it over the edge. Today, just by the edge of the cliff you can see the deep mark made by the animal's horseshoe in the rock itself as it tried to stop.

Siurana offers some stunning views from the rock known as La Trona and the climbing routes in this area are world-famous. Walkers are recommended to try the old path up to Siurana from Cornudella de Montsant, recently restored as part of the Priorat footpath network.

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Scala Dei

Close to our hotel was the Carthusian Monastery of Scala Deiis one of the most important historic sites of the Priorat. Founded by French monks from Provence, who established here the first charter-house on the Iberian peninsular. They chose one of the most beautiful places to site the monastery, at the foothills of the Montsant mountain range, where a shepherd had dreamt of angels coming down from the sky on a ladder resting on a tall pine tree.

Scala Dei was a fully working monastery until 1835. During the seven centuries the monks lived here, they built mills and taught different farming techniques which included planting vineyards on the steep slate-based slopes of the region. Thanks to these monks, the Priorat is now famous for its wines. The Prior, whose name was taken to define the region, was in charge of the villages within his territory and was also in charge of their jurisdiction.

In the nineteenth century, the monks fled due to the seizing of their land by the state. The cells, cloisters, church and hostalry buildings were abandoned. In just two years, this impressive monastery was converted into a ruin, due to the local peasant farmers ransacking and burning it, tired of being submitted to the tirany of tithes, serfdom and oppression.

Nowadays this historical site shares its name with the wine appellation DOC Priorat which can be found in the central area of today's county of the same name.

We wandered round the ruins of the monastery, which is just that "ruined". The siting is impressive, but the buildings have mainly disappeared. But there is a reconstructed cell which shows how the monks lived.

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Falset is the capital of Priorat

Falset has an agricultural cooperative housed in an Art Nouveau building built in 1919 by the architect from Valls Cèsar Martinell, a disciple of Gaudí. It is one of the most outstanding wineries in Catalonia.

The main square, the Plaça de la Quartera, is surrounded by old arches and is one of the few in Catalonia to be built on a slope. A market is held there every Tuesday. The town's two important palaces are in or near the square. That of the Dukes of Medinaceli, Renaissance in style, was built in 1630 with a sober, elegant dressed stone façade; the interior has been completely rebuilt to house the town hall. The other palace is that of the Counts of Azara, also known as the Casa Gran; it also has Renaissance features and dates from the 18th century. It now houses a cultural association, the Centre d’Estudis Falsetans. It has a dressed stone façade and a large stairway built in a typical Catalan arch form, and a skylight decorated with four coloured crests. The ceiling is coffered.

The church of Santa Maria was consecrated in 1770. Some stones from the castle and the former Romanesque church were used to build it. It has Baroque-style features and consists of three naves and a bell tower. The remains of Santa Càndia (St. Candida) are kept there.

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