We set off on one of those shimmering hazy spring days when the bare trees have just the slightest hint of new green buds. The almond blossom was at its peak with clusters of creamy white flowers decorating the trees. The peach blossom, not to be outdone put on a rich pink display with branches pruned into regimented shapes and precise rows across the fields and the dusty green olive trees were everywhere.
The mountain roads wound around the freshly cleared terraces where the ground was tilled between the bare vines and the land sat waiting for spring to burst out of its box with a blast of insects and leaves and sunshine.
We were visiting the Priorat wine region in Catalunya, Spain where each little village has a distinctive aura as well as a cosy little restaurant or two with very reasonably priced lunches. And there is the local produce. Wine, of course; but also olive pastes and romesco which is made from roasted red peppers. There are all types of meat and chorizo and calçots (a cross between a spring onion and a leek), as well as all sorts of jams and marmalades.
We stopped at Buil & Giné one of the futuristic wine bodegas where the gorgeous Pili explained about the wines that we were to taste. In this region the shale and the slate give the wine a distinctive flavour and the vines are mostly old and distressed due to the soil and the climate which is apparently all desirable. Some of the grapes which go into the more expensive wines are even picked with tweezers so that they are not adulterated in any way. And so we swirled and sniffed and sipped some lovely wines before moving on to the next bodega.
In the little village of La Vilella Baixa we stopped for a coffee at the local butcher’s where we also negotiated to return later and buy some of his calçots which he first had to go and dig out of his garden. Typical of many Catalan villages the honey coloured stone buildings tumble down the mountainside to the small river with its little arched stone bridge. Looking across the valley, the blossom laden trees appeared to float in dainty little ethereal puffs of cream and pink and the farmers’ tractors lazily went up and down on the stone terraces.
We ate lunch in one of the village’s two restaurants and were enchanted to find that the local school children also lunch here several times a week. Approximately fifteen boys and girls of all primary school ages were dressed in little red gingham dust coats to protect their uniforms and were eating around one long table and chattering away in Catalan.
We polished off a Menύ – a set 3-course lunchtime meal with yet more excellent wine and dishes made from local produce and local recipes before heading back home when the following day we had a calçotada – a barbeque of our calçots. With their bulbs wrapped in damp paper they were steamed over the hot coals. At the table you peel the outer leaves off with your fingers, dip them in aioli or romesco and lower them greasily and dripping into your mouth. Complete decadence.
I look forward to returning to the Priorat region or the neighbouring Montsant and tasting more of the wines, cheeses and chorizo that Catalunya has to offer.