The Priorat, located a mere 40 minutes drive from Tarragona, has undergone a wine renaissance over the past twenty years, becoming a magnet for any serious wine buffs and would be wine maker.
But the great attraction about the Priorat is not just about the wine but also its landscape; its muscular hills covered in Mediterranean woodland, smelling of wild thyme, rosemary and lavender, provide deeply rewarding walks along some of the re-discovered paths which link village to village. On the far, set in the blue haze and enclosing the horizon, is the worn pre-coastal range of the Monsant, like a petrified wave stopped in it’s track by invisible forces. It’s a spectacular sight which appears and disappears again from view as the path deeps deep in to the valleys.
We started off from the village of Falset following the ancient historical paths once used by laborers and traders coming from the imaginative named Gratallops (Scratch the Woolf). The track has only been recently re-discovered thanks to the efforts of one of Catalonia’s great photographer, geographer and landscape explorer Rafael López-Monné. It had survived in the memory of two local people and the remains of it took five intensive days to locate; its re-discovery was a very emotional moment as so much of Catalonias ancient routes has been obliterated through agriculture and landscape modernization.
The path winds up the stony slate soil the gives the local wine its famous mineral undertones, winding up the crest of hills along the ancient terraces built with block of stone. Much wine was grown here in ancient time but it’s production went in to dramatic decline when the the phylloxera pest ravaged the crops at the end of the 19th century, forcing the local population in to migrate in order find work elsewhere and to survive.
Look closer and the sign of ancient human intervention is everywhere; the ancient stonework gnarled wine stumps, hazelnut and almond trees growing wild in a happy symbiosis with the natural wilderness of the area. There is the crossing of a stream and then the path moves up again in a climb towards to the hills where the new vineyards of Priorat have made their home; Along the steep terraces, which are still hand worked by plough and mule, we pass Mas Martinet, then the large waving sweep of Clos Mogador and finally Gratallops comes in to sight with its terracotta roofs, medieval houses and church.
We end the three hour journey at the restaurant and 300 year old cellar of Clos Figueras where cheeses and and a simple lunch is accompanied by several bottles of the sumptuously rich Serras del Priorat, a young wine testament to the soil, sun and fantastic produce this area has to offer.