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Catalunya: 'Passport to Plate' My Catalan Culinary Adventure


SPAIN | Monday, 18 July 2016 | Views [608]





Our guide for the afternoon is a British historian and wine expert, this repository of knowledge will serve us well as Priorat and Montsant are fascinating in terms of history and viticulture. The area was the first wine appellation in Spain with monks cultivating grape vines in the 12th Century.

We drive up a dusty track to higher ground and eventually park at the top of a vineyard that sweeps down to the valley, The vineyard belongs to famous winemaker, Alvaro Palacios. We pop open a bottle of Dofi 2012, which the guide emphatically informs us is a “VERY good drop of red”. It’s uncharacteristically windy today and I clasp my hat with one hand and attempt to steadily sip the wine with the other whilst Rebecca delves into her lecture on winemaking in the Priorat.

She explains that the steep slopes, of which we currently have a panoramic view, are particularly difficult to work as the grapes must be handpicked. This unusual terrain combined with the bedrock being rich in mineral content means that the vines produce superior, high quality wine. Alvaro Palacios is credited with shifting the focus of the vineyards in this area from barrel quality for mass export to produce quality bottle wine – an insight that has gained him world-wide fame and piqued the interest in Spanish reds.  The dry region is also known for growing quality olives, almonds and hazelnuts that can be spotted in the distance.

There’s a small old stone church surrounded by poplar trees on the crest of the mountain. The guide warns us to be quiet as it is apparently now the unofficial residence of a reclusive nun. We hush our voices and polish off our wine.  We continue driving the snaking roads through the Priorat, carved into the mountainside and into the outer region of Montsant where we wind our way up to Suirana.

We pass a village, the name of which translates to the  ‘Village of Fear’. This is due to the steep hills and narrow valleys that characterise the main road which once connected the village to the city and therefore was once ripe with bandits and highway robbers. As we ascend the mountain we overlook a strange old home that was rumoured to be where an escaped Belgium Nazi was hiding for years after the Second World War. A local historian has since proven this local gossip to be true after the Nazi had died.

The scenery gradually becomes more dramatic; the metamorphic rock of the region creates jagged cliffs layered in beautifully earthy hues and the trees are more dense and a brighter green than the arid valley. We continue to twist and turn, so by the time we reach the heights of Siurana most of the crew is suffering from carsickness. It’s a relief to step out into the fresh air and we look up in amazement at this picture perfect village.

It’s like something from a fairy-tale, perched high on the cliffs of Montserrat. Think narrow cobbled streets, medieval buildings, terracotta rooftops and sweet smelling rose bushes decorating the outside of each home. The village is small and isolated, with a population of a mere twenty-something people.

It does have a charming little Hotel La Siuranella with a restaurant attached called Els Tallers. This traditional looking villa sits by a beautiful flowering garden that overlooks the epic mountain scenery. It is the last place I would expect to find an inventive, avant-garde menu – but lo and behold I am surprised by what can best be described as an ‘edible art work’.

We sit outside in the garden and the dessert is presented on a large white board  – the deconstructed elements are artistically assembled in front of us by the humble, quietly spoken chef.


Meanwhile, his wife passes him the ingredients –from chocolate brownie pieces, strawberry sorbet, minted cream, sweet biscuits, solidified jellies, nut encrusted truffles, sponge cake, chocolate mousse, dark chocolate shards with dehydrated raspberries and popping candies. Despite our hearty lunch, there wasn’t anything left on the board when the crew tucked-in and extra strawberry sorbet is summoned.


The sun is starting to fade a little, so we bid our hosts farewell and venture to explore the village before nightfall. We walk to the rocky cliff side where a crumby old church proudly stands despite being a little over run with vegetation.  I jump as I see a black scorpion scuttle past my foot. “Are the black scorpions dangerous?” I inquire, a little concerned about my open sandals. “What do you mean? Did you just see one?”, asked Rebecca, who then explains that supposedly they can be found in the region but she had never encountered one in all her years of living there. “Yes, they’d certainly have a nasty sting”, she adds with a frown. We wander over as far to the cliff edge as we dare, and below is a gem blue river elegantly carving its way through the valley. The light has turned golden in the early evening making the church and cliff glow with an ethereal majesty.

Walking back through the village we come across a beautiful church still used by locals for worship. The other side of the cliff is Salt de la Reina Mora (‘jump of the Moorish Queen). Just as one would expect from a fairy-tale hamlet, there’s a macabre legend. The Moorish Queen Abdelazía is said to have ridden her horse off the cliff to plunge herself towards the rocks below rather than loose her pride by surrendering to the conquering Christians. There is still an imprint of the horseshoe where the animal tried to stop before he met his grisly fate.  We all peer down to the rocks below a little horrified.


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Tags: catalonia, dessert, history, siruana, spain, wine

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