Itinerary 7

MONTBLANC - GANDESA (185 km)

Regions: Conca de Barberà / Priorat / Ribera d’Ebre / Terra Alta

1. Montblanc

To see

Itinerary 7 begins in the town of Montblanc, capital of the Conca de Barberà region. You will appreciate the Prades Mountains and the Montsant Natural Park. You will continue to visit the Priorat region and cross the Ribera d’Ebre region. Finally you will reach the region of Terra Alta, wine lands of great quality and high alcohol content!

Montblanc has about 7,500 inhabitants. It is one of the most outstanding medieval cities of Catalunya Nova. It has an unmistakable profile for its walled enclosure (12th Century) which is a masterpiece of medieval military fortification. It is perfectly preserved with its thirty-four towers. With four entrances or bastions, corresponding to the four cardinal points of access to the medieval walled enclosure plus a fifth portal for use of civil authority. Of course, it is best to stroll through the historic center and stop at some of the many medieval monuments of civil, religious or military style: The Royal Palace, Old Bridge, Mill of the Cures and several splendid noble mansions and palaces, public baths etc. The majestic and basilical Church of Sta. Maria la Major (14th Century), the old church of St. Marçal (14th Century). And a long etc. the river Francolí crosses the town. Visit the Town Hall website: www.montblanc.cat

Accommodation

Masia del Cadet (L’Espluga de Francolí)***

2. Monastery of Poblet

To see

When leaving Montblanc you must take the N 240 to L’Espluga de Francolí and there take the T 700 that will take you to the Monastery of Poblet, second station in your Itinerary.

The Cistercian monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet is a history book made with stones. It was founded in the 12th Century by Ramon Berenguer IV Count of Barcelona and King of Aragon on the land ceded to the Monastery of Fontfroide in Llenguadoc for this purpose. The monks dedicated themselves to the vineyard, oil and the exploitation of the immense forests of the Mountains of Prades. Over the centuries, they built a monumental walled set, a true museum of the art of building all styles and their overall figure is very beautiful. Protected by the Kings of the Crown of Aragon and Catalonia, it became the mausoleum of the Catalan dynasty. It is necessary to make a leisurely visit and contemplate the many pieces that compose this book of history made of stones: the various Doors, the palace of the King Martí, the Gothic cloister with a beautiful stone pavilion with the source of the ablutions, the chapter room, the Romanesque church, the cellar etc. At the beginning of the 19th Century, it suffered unfortunate devastation and an irreparable looting of stones and books. During the 20th Century and thanks to private and public initiative it was reformed in its entirety and now once again has active monastic life, architectural splendor and spiritual, social and tourist projection. We take pride in saying that Poblet is a World Heritage Site, declared by UNESCO. Visit the Monastery website: www.poblet.cat

Accommodation

Hostatgeria de Poblet (Vimbodí)

3. Prades

To see

At the end of your stay at the Monastery of Poblet you will take the TV 7002 to Vimbodí, you will follow the TV 7004 in the direction of Vilanova de Prades and there TV 7005 until reaching the town of Prades.

Forest. During the journey you will have passed through a good part of the mountains of Prades that are an extensive forest mass that covers the greater part of the territory, except some fields of cereal cultivation and hazelnuts. Above all you will see oak trees of different types, oaks, kermes oaks, pine trees and holly. You will also find chestnuts that produce vinegar and yellowish spots when autumn arrives.

Prades. It is a small village, with narrow and wavy and winding streets typical of medieval architecture. The porched square, the church of Santa Maria la Major (12th Century) with reddish stone, the castle and the rest of the walls are the most remarkable elements. In the square is the well-known Renaissance Fountain of reddish stone and spherical shape with four fountains that indicate the four cardinal points. It has become the symbol of the village. Visit the Town Hall website: www.prades.cat

4. Siurana

To see

Taking the T 701 you will leave the village of Prades until you reach the C 242 that will take you to Cornudella de Montsant. You will have entered the Priorat region. To your right you will see the majestic Serra de Montsant which is a Natural Park since 2002.

From Cornudella de Montsant comes a road of 8 km which will take you up to Siurana. On the way you will see the ravines flanked by rock walls that are highly appreciated by rock climbers from all over the world. Siurana is a village placed under the tip of a rocky mountain that was once impregnable Saracen castle until the 12th Century. There are some important remains and a beautiful Romanesque church in its simplicity. The houses of the street, of stone, lead to the prow of the mountain from which you can behold a total and impressive view of the Montsant mountain range and an extensive view of the Priorat region. At the bottom of the valley there is the Siurana River that forms a dam. The visit to Siurana is unforgettable… and nearly addictive!

Accommodation

La Siuranella (Siurana) ***

5. Escaladei

To see

Siurana is a dead end so you will return to Cornudella de Montsant taking the same road and in Cornudella you will take the TV 7021 in the direction of Escaladei.

Escaladei was a Carthusian Monastery founded in the 12th Century, governed by a Prior and from which comes the name of all the current region of Priorat. Historically, the name of Priorat constituted the lands under the jurisdiction of the Carthusian prior and that initially were the municipal terms of six villages: Gratallops, Porrera, Vilella Alta, Torroja, Poboleda and Morera de Montsant in addition to the Montsant mountain range. The monks of the Carthusian Monastery introduced the cultivation of wine and for centuries the rough lands of the Priory at the foot of Montsant, produced a large amount of wine of impressively high alcohol content. This is because the geology of the Priorat is primary formed by slates of easy decomposition that is called stone “llicorella” or slate. This is one of the factors, together with the mistral winds and the intense summer sun, which produce the strong and substantial wines of the Priorat. As we will find the slate throughout the route of the Priorat it is good to describe it with the inspired words of our writer Josep Pla: “The slate of Priorat have much more colour: next to the black tone, of a quality of shiny tar, appear ferruginous tones, rusty and shiny, warm and this produces a mixture of blood in the process of coagulation”.

It is essential to visit the Carthusia of Scaladei, reconstructed in part and make the circuit on foot that takes you to the Bonrepòs from where we will have a perfect view of the Montsant and the valley.

The Montsant hermitages are famous – sixteen in total – that are accessible from several villages of the Priorat. If someone wants to do an excursion to one of these elevated hermitages, the reward at the top is assured. The views of ravines, hills, valleys, cliffs, natural amphitheaters and forests are unforgettable.

On the road to Escaladei you will have passed the village of Morera de Montsant, proud, bright and surrounded by the silence of the Montsant mountain range on its back. It is a popular starting point for excursions in the Montsant Natural Park trails, well signposted. Visit the Town Hall website: www.morera.altanet.org

6. Porrera-Gratallops

To see

From Escaladei you will take the T 702 to Poboleda until you find the local road TP 7402 that will take you to Porrera and Gratallops passing through Torroja del Priorat.

At this point we propose to drive patiently along the road that winds from Porrera to Gratallops to capture the landscape of the Priorat which is a wonderful combination of rough, broken, rocky, steep countryside but turned into a kind of garden of olive trees, almond trees and above all of vineyards on all the geometric surfaces imaginable: on terraces or on pieces of ground in the hollows but always uphill, steep climbing up the rocky slopes (llicorella or slate) of the mountains. In the seasons of summer and autumn this rough landscape becomes a fascinating picture of greenish or yellow, reddish, vinegar colours depending on the season and the type of species of each vineyard. You will also see the countless dry stone walls on the slopes to turn them into flat terraces, giant work of dozens of generations of farmers. If you want to do a 15-minute excursion to the hermitage of the Mare de Déu de la Consolació (12th -15th Centuries), you will be able to admire a beautiful combination of colours, gardening, botany and geology. On the tour you will find well-designed wine cellars, to make a wine tasting and even spend the night surrounded by vineyards.

Gratallops is a village that before the scourge of phylloxera was one of the richest villages in the region. It still retains the appearance of a large village, with wide cobbled streets and manor houses of good proportions, which retain the old arch stone portals. The church of St. Llorenç (17th Century) is the most outstanding building.

The same can be said of the village of Porrera. The abundant solar clocks from 19th Century are a landmark of the village. Visit the Town Halls websites: www.porrera.org and www.gratallops.altanet.org

Accommodation

Buil & Giné S.L. (Gratallops) Hotel i Celler**** www.builgine.com
Trossos del Priorat S.L. (Gratallops) Hotel i Celler****

7. Falset

To see

From Gratallops you will take the T 710 to Falset, capital of the Priorat region, destination of this stage of your Itinerary.

Falset is the administrative capital of Priorat. It is the most populated municipality of the region (2,838 inhabitants) with a much-concurred weekly market. Like all the towns of this ancient country, it is a town loaded with history. In the 12th Century there was already the castle residence of the Counts of Prades which was, among other things, the cradle of two Catalan queens: Elionor of Prades, queen of Cyprus and Jerusalem, and Margarida of Prades, Queen of Aragon and last queen of the dynasty of Barcelona as wife of the King Martí l’Humà.

We recommend a leisurely visit in the Castell del Vi (Wine castle), located in the grounds of the old county Castle, which is a modern and interactive information and exhibition centre of the Priorat region and above all of its prized wines. Visit the Town Hall website: www.falset.org

Accommodation

Hotel-Hostal Sport (Falset)****
Hotel-Restaurant Lotus Priorat (Falset)***

8. Gandesa

To see

In Falset you will take the N 420 in the direction of Mora d’Ebre (5,000 inhabitants) capital of the region of Ribera d’Ebre, crossed from north to south by the meanders of the river Ebre. Ribera d’Ebre, as its name indicates, is a wide valley in which everything revolves around the immense stream of the river: orchards, olive groves, fields, forests, villages and small villages along with all their agriculture and industry.

In Mora d’Ebre, you can climb the castell de Móra, of Islamic origin, and appreciate the excellent panoramic views on the river and a good part of the Comarca with the profile of the Pàndols-Cavalls mountain range in the west. Then you will drive to the village of Miravet on the T 32. This is a small village of narrow streets full of history that rises steeply up the river from the rocky side of the mountain. At the top of the mountain there is the famous and colossal castle of Miravet of Saracen origin and then ceded to the Order of the Templars with constructions from the 9th and 12th Centuries, largely rebuilt and open to the public. The castle is strategically located in front of a spectacular meander that forms almost a semi-circle and dominates and visually controls both the plains and the course of river itself.

Miravet still preserves “El pas de la barca” which is a barge that transports people and some vehicles from bank to bank of the river Ebre. It is an old way of crossing the river without a bridge and at the moment a tourist attraction, picturesque and quite practical!.

If you want to know, however, the river Ebre up close you must consider the possibility of doing “the canoe route through the Ebro, from the passage of the boat in Miravet to the village of Benifallet”. It is said to be the most beautiful part of the Catalan Ebre. It is a small adventure within reach for everyone. From the water, and gently carried by the stream and with the help of our oar, we will see pictures of great scenic beauty (riverside forests, rocks, ravines, river islands) and historical (castles, mills and villages) and above all you will feel the emotion of the passage of the river enclosed between the mountains of Cardó and the walls of the Pàndols-Cavalls mountain range. Unforgettable experience!!

Once back to Miravet and recovered from the adventure, you will take the T 324 and go to the village of Pinell de Brai, already entered in the Region of La Terra Alta. There you will find an architectural gem of worthy an essential visit: The winery of the cooperative built by the architect César Martinell in 1918 under commission of a several owners of farmland of vineyard and olive.

This wonderful Winery, together with another in Gandesa, needs a brief introduction:

La Terra Alta

La Terra Alta was, like many regions of Catalonia, land of vine, olive and almond trees. The catastrophic plague of phylloxera devastated and erased the French vineyard in the second half of the 19th Century and spread relentlessly through Catalonia beginning with the Empordà at the end of the 19th Century and the rest of Catalonia in the early 20th Century. Until the grapevine was again grafted on a scion of American origin (resistant to phylloxera), the whole vine crop suffered a crisis without historical precedents. The countryside became impoverished and the rural villages were depopulated. However, not everyone left the field and those who stayed willingly or by force, large, small or leased owners, saw that the only way to survive was to unite forces: the agricultural cooperative was born that revolutionized the countryside and launched its modernization. Union leads to strength. This social fact started to energize the field again, raised the self-esteem of farmers and restored production. The euphoria after the storm, the entrepreneurial spirit of the cooperatives and the styles prevailing in architecture and engineering, resulted in spectacular wineries amidst a rustic landscape and in modest villages. In Terra Alta there are two wine and oil cooperative cellars, called by the Catalan poet Angel Guimerá “Cathedrals of the wine”, of Modernist aesthetics, but of Noucentist operation, examples of an advanced agricultural and industrial engineering in the service of the improvement of the productivity, rationalization and quality of wine and oil in the region. The architect of these two cellars was César Martinell, disciple of Antoni Gaudí, who pursued and managed to unite utility, economy and aesthetics, using simple materials (clay brick) and smart solutions (parabolic arches, brick and beautification ceramics).

That said, please come in to personally visit the Cellar of Pinell de Brai and undoubtedly the visit will leave you praising it!!

Horta de Sant Joan

From there we propose to take the N 230b to join with the T 333 until reaching the village of Horta de San Joan, after crossing the rocky Mountain of Pàndols. This small town (1,200 inhabitants), full of history, rural, mostly agricultural and livestock is located on a hill from where you can appreciate a landscape of cereals, olive, almond trees, many vineyards, forests and as a background the high masses of the Ports de Beseit. The medieval centre is attractive: narrow streets, the church porched square, the renaissance Town Hall and so on. A visit not to be missed is one of the impressive building of the Convent of Sant Salvador (or Mare de Déu dels Àngels) from 13th -17th Centuries at the foot of the rock of Santa Bàrbara, 2 km away from the village.

Horta de St. Joan is also known for the footprint of the painter Pablo Picasso. The painter spent two seasons of his youth here and wrote: “Everything I know I have learned it in Horta.” There is the Picasso Centre of Horta in homage to whom immortalized the town.

The personality of the village, the landscape, the vineyards of the Terra Alta, and being an access gate to the Ports de Beseit have made the volume of tourism increase in recent years.

From Horta we propose doing a little exercise and take the Green Route of the Terra Alta by bicycle from Arnes to Pinell de Brai (25 km) of gentle downhill slope following the route of what was once the railroad of the Valley of Zafan and that was to link The Municipality of Puebla de Híjar (Aragon) and the Mediterranean Sea in Tortosa. It was in service for about 30 years and finally the railway line closed down in 1973. It is now enabled with great success as Via Verda (green Trail) for the enjoyment of hikers and cyclists. The crossing is memorable, bridges in the style of Harry Potter films, tunnels, forests, cliffs and halfway there is the must stop at the Strait of Fontcalda with the Sanctuary of Font Calda. Footbridges along the rocks allow access to beautiful pools of the stream. Picnic area and swimming are available. It can also be reached by car. The place is of extraordinary beauty.

After our adventure, you can go to the village of Bot (which you will have already seen on your cycle route) from Horta de St. Joan on the T 334. There you can visit the wine and oil cooperative to get well informed on the vineyard of the Terra Alta (garnacha above all) and the extraordinary effort that has been made and is being made to obtain wines and oils of the highest quality.

Finally you will go to Gandesa, the capital of the region, by the TV 3531. There you will visit the other wine cathedral by Cèsar Martinell (agricultural cooperative) and you will finish Itinerary 6 accompanying your lunch or dinner with a good wine from La Terra Alta, if you cannot defy temptation!! Visit the Town Halls websites: www.gandesa.cat and www.hortadesantjoan.cat

Accommodation

Can Josep (Bot)***
Les Capçades (Horta de Sant Joan)****

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