Escapades in Catalonia: discovering the world-famous wines and Michelin-starred restaurants of the Costa Daurada
Walking the hills, vineyard owner Albert Jane explains the art of winemaking. “Through our wine, we really express this landscape,” he says. ‘It is strong and robust.’
We are surrounded by the vineyards of his Acustic Celler estate in the Priorat region of the Costa Daurada, about an hour and a half southwest of Barcelona.
Its long, hot summers and low rainfall make it ideal for growing Grenache (Grenache) and Carinena grapes. And while the wine produced here is small in quantity – Senor Jane produces 150,000 bottles a year – it more than makes up for its reputation.
Natural beauty: village of Gratallops in the Priorat region of the Costa Daurada, Catalonia
Acustic’s garnacha has been voted one of the best in the world and is at the forefront of gastronomic regeneration in the region. There are already three Michelin-starred restaurants: Can Bosch and Rincon De Diego in Cambrils, and Deliranto in Salou.
The Costa Daurada (the Gold Coast) is in the heart of Catalonia. Our tour includes Cambrils, Vila-seca and Salou, the latter having struggled with its past thanks to the “Saloufest”, when thousands of drunken British students descended there. Now the tourism authorities are focusing on a healthier pleasure: food.
Eating seems like a full-time leisure activity, whether it’s pica pica (finger food) or more elaborate dishes with traditional touches. At the Arena restaurant in Salou, you can sit facing the beach and enjoy fideua (like paella but made from short spaghetti-like pasta) with cuttlefish, shrimp and wakame aioli, or more full-bodied Catalan dishes such as duck and truffle cannelloni.
Meanwhile, popular L’Indret à Cambrils’ delicacies include black squid and mussel rice with garlic and estrellates, scrambled eggs with potatoes, and truffle oil. The whole concoction is mixed in a pan at the table and has a sense of drama.
In the photo above, the Carthusian monastery of Scala Dei, founded by Carthusian monks in 1194
Wine was brought to this region by Carthusian monks, who in 1194 founded the Charterhouse of Scala Dei (Staircase of God). It is said that when the monks were looking for a place to build a monastery, a shepherd told them that he dreamed of angels descending from heaven on a ladder to a pine tree.
The monks took this as a sign from God and planted vines. The monastery, in Morera de Montsant, is being restored and for € 6 (£ 5) you can walk through the cloisters and get a glimpse of their 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 swimming area, their yard and their vegetable garden.
Salou tourism authorities, pictured, focus on promoting the region’s food
And being a silent order, they practiced mindfulness long before it was a 21st century thing.
But the monks were not the first to leave their mark on the region. In Cambrils are the remains of the Roman villa of La Llosa, which are believed to date back to 1 BC. It was discovered in 1980 and is revealed to have its own jetty, as well as quarters for slaves and cattle. A fun app on the site gives you a virtual reality picture of the life of a wealthy Roman.
Today’s wealthy citizens are more likely to find themselves at the chi chi Infinitum Beach Club in Salou. Located overlooking the sea with seven swimming pools and three golf courses, it takes this vacation destination to the next level.
While visiting the town of Cambrils, in the photo, dine at the restaurant L’Indret with black squid and rice with mussels
Its Flamma restaurant serves red tuna marinated in soy and garlic, as well as acorn-fed pork with mango. We love crystal bread, a DIY antipasto: rub tomato and garlic on toast and sprinkle with olive oil and sea salt.
Taking a break from our meals, we head to PortAventura World. In high season and outside of Covid periods, it can accommodate up to 40,000 visitors per day, so queues are inevitable. But it’s well laid out with six different themed areas.
Leaving the roller coaster behind you, return to our hotel, the Palas Pineda, for a downtime. A few minutes from the beach, a swim in the Balearic Sea followed by a long walk along the beautiful stretch of sand certainly erases spider webs.
Travel to and from Spain can involve a bit of paperwork. But sitting by the sea, the lapping waves, the setting sun and a glass of red in hand, it’s all worth it.