A change of plan
We have to admit, we never planned to explore the east coast of Spain. Without knowing too much about it, we had a vague idea of coastal beach areas, and the big cities Barcelona and Valencia which we’d visited before. Our loose Spain “plan” was to visit the mountainous north – Pyrenees and Picos, Basque Country and Galicia, then head south through Portugal to explore the parks and Muslim history of the South, then catch a ferry heading east towards Sardinia and Sicily etc.
Instead 2 weeks ago we found ourselves needing warmer climes and so we headed to the east coast of Spain, and have shelved our northern Spain plans until the summer. We needed to fill the time leading up to Christmas, so we decided to meander down towards Valencia where we’ll be stopping for Christmas to meet up with some friends.
And what a wonderful surprise Catalunya was. Yes there’s been the warm sun filled beach coast where we’ve enjoyed “recovery time”, but exploring the numerous natural parks that run parallel to the coast and are usually a mere 30-45 minutes away has been such an unplanned pleasure.
Catalunya’s natural parks
Montserrat, which we visited last week, was a no-brainer given it’s proximity to Barcelona, and is a well known place to visit. But when we looked at Google maps, we noticed a string of parks that continued south, and so we decided to explore them too.
Parc Natural Serra de Montsant lies west of Tarragona in the Priorat region. It features a long, tall and dramatic ridge which we did an epic hike up. Heading up the ridge you have expansive views of the Prioriat area which looks like a jumble of hills and mountains sandwiched between bigger sierras and mountains. Vineyards scale the sides of the smaller mountains and small hilltop villages dot the jumble of mountains. It was a breathtaking sight. We stopped frequently and took way too many pictures. We wondered if the multiple eagles flying nearby thought Zeus looked like a tasty snack.
Parc Natural dels Ports lies south of Montsant, and from what we can tell is an expansive park of dramatic limestone mountains and ridges. We climbed up Roques De Benet, a dramatic conglomerate rock jutting out of the mountain. We saw climbers scaling it and were greeted at the top by a family of wild goats.
We feel we’ve only scratched the surface too. We could easily spend a week or 2 in each of these parks, and we look forward to returning to them at some point our our future.
It’s also been a pleasure exploring the wine regions of Catalunya. Last week we visited a cellar in DO Penedes, Cava country.
This week we visited Perinet, a winery in the prestigious DOQ Priorat region. Prioriat red wines are renowned in the wine world as bold, complex and top notch wines. And you can see why when you visit the region – it’s a tough place for vines to grow. They grow on steep slopes of rocky slate hills, and endure extreme extreme temperatures. So the grape yields are low, but the vines grow grapes with deep and concentrated flavours.
It was great to explore inside the winery – from the lab where the winemaker determines when to start/stop key steps in the wine making process, to where the picked grapes are cleaned and sorted, to the enormous fermentation tanks, to the underground cellar where the wine ages in oak barrels.
Prioirat wines are delicious. And the price of the wine reflects this. We picked up a bottle as a treat to go with our Christmas meal.
We previously knew nothing about Tarragona, but when we read about it’s Roman past life as Tarraco, we had to visit. And it did not disappoint. The amphitheatre was an impressive sight, situated overlooking the sea. You could see Roman relics littered throughout the city, including a circuit for chariot racing, the forum, a theatre and quite a bit of the original city wall.
We also spent 3 days chilling in Cambrils, a coastal town just south of Tarragona, which we can report has an epic fishmonger – Peixos Savall. We think Zeus is slowly getting used to the feeling of sand under his toes. He’s still hilariously curious and scared at the same time about waves, but he did manage to have a beserk run on the beach which was great to see.
We’ve left Catalunya, and have just arrived in Aragon, where we’ll be spending 3 days in Alcaniz where James hopes to climb some rocks. From here we plan to meander down towards Valencia via a natural park or two.
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