For exhilarating mountain views over Catalunya and a true taste of the region’s wine and food, this Montserrat and Pla del Bages vineyard tour is simply unmissable.
“The Old City of Barcelona was behind walls. It was closed off, but it caused many problems for the residents. The average life expectancy was 36 years old. There were 900 people per 100m2. And to put that in context, at the same time there were 90 people per 100m2 in London. So they decided to extend. And this is what ‘L’Eixample’ literally means, ‘The Extension.’ This is where you can see many of Gaudi’s masterpieces, including Casa Batlló, which you can see out of the windows to the left. It’s like being inside a fairy-tale, no?” said Ana, as our bus stuttered through the traffic.
It was refreshing and exciting to be reintroduced to Barcelona, to learn more about its staggering 2,000-year-old history.
“And here on the right is Casa Milà, also known as La Padrera. Gaudi was heartbroken when he unveiled it and the reviews said that it looked like ‘a building after an earthquake.’ In fact, no one liked Gaudi’s work until the 1992 Olympics came to the city, when tourists were amazed by the quirky, colourful designs. And that’s when the locals began to appreciate Gaudi.”
The city disappeared behind us and we were suddenly surrounded by the satellite towns and industrial spaces that take Barcelona’s population from 1.6 million to about 5 million. The landscape is broken up by agricultural land and the potato-shaped peaks of baked red rocks and electric green pines.
Many of the factories, which hark back to the Industrial Revolution, and the towns that fuelled them are completely abandoned, leaving behind strange, Disney-like film sets filled with dead palm trees and graffitied churches.
“Nobody wants to invest money in them to keep them in good condition and no one is allowed to pull them down, so they end up like this. It’s totally strange, no?”
Discovering the Mountain and Monastery of Montserrat
The roads began to wind and snake and swarm with skinny cyclists. My fellow sightseers – mainly brash Australians and gentle Americans – became agitated and excited as we ascended the mountain and caught our first glimpses of the Montserrat Monastery, which is nestled snugly in the bosom of gargantuan boulders.
Montserrat is important because it is considered to be the physical centre and symbolic heart of Catalunya. Catalans believe that everybody should visit Montserrat at least once in their life.
The hazy, sun-struck views from the top were thoroughly arresting. Ana went on to tell us about the 4,000ft elevation and the Benedictine monks who live in the monastery and the choir boy school – yes I know, that’s what I thought too – but most of us were too dumbstruck to do anything but gawk into the misty skies and frantically snap photos.
Ana took us into the abbey, where heavenly ceilings and gilded features drip and gush from every decadent nook and cranny. People lined up to touch the ‘hand of the Virgin’ and a thousand or so pilgrims waited patiently for the sermon to start.
“And now, it’s the time you’ve all been waiting for! We will take a short drive to the winery where we will taste some of the beautiful wines of the Oller del Mas vines. Oller del Mas is a Château, meaning they only use grapes that they grow themselves. They focus on making high quality red wines that are easy to drink.”
The Castle and Vines of Oller del Mas
Turning down a narrow dirt track, our little pink bus took us right to the main vinification building, which was so small that I thought it was just where they kept their equipment.
This is a very small vineyard, specialising in quality, not quantity. Here they produce something like 120,000 bottles per year, whereas a company like Freixenet, which is just a few miles away, produces around 40 million bottles per year.
Propping open the door with a piece of old wood, Ana led us inside and showed us around the giant tanks and conveyor belts and machines that they use to separate the grapes from the vines. A sharp, sweet smell of black fruits hung softly in the air, cool and still, sheltered from the relentless sun that lurked outside.
“This machine uses optical technology to scan each grape. Most of the grapes that come through here are not considered good enough to be used in the Oller del Mas wines.”
Back into the sun and up to the castle, we baked a little longer whilst listening to the family history that lights up this ancient plot.
“The current generation is the 36th generation of the same family to own and run the vineyard. They are so serious about keeping the family bloodline going that when they fly, the mum goes with one of their sons and the dad goes with the two other boys, just incase something happens.”
Wine Tasting and Tapas at Oller del Mas, Catalunya
Under bare-brick arches, a long, medieval-looking table waited for us, furnished with colourful plates of goats cheese and roasted red peppers, tuna, and jamón tapas. The wine tastings – finally – were fun and informative, with flavours ranging from lighter reds, which snap to a finish with the acidity from picapoll grapes, to the huge, full-bodied family reserves. Made with 100% handpicked merlot grapes and aged in superior French oak barrels for twelve months, the “family reserve” did nothing but impress. And judging by the skill and confidence my fellow tasters demonstrated whilst swirling and swilling and sniffing, I’d hazard a guess that these were some fairly serious wine connoisseurs.
Ana’s eyes grew wide and her hands animated as she guided us through the tastings, gushing with enthusiasm and sincerity. “The Reserva really fills our mouths; it’s very well balanced, no? A bit dry, a bit acidic, nothing stands out too much. It’s like drinking caramel, no?”
We sipped and slurped and discussed the flavours, the mineral qualities, the leathery smokiness, the sweet prunes and salted nut. And for just a moment, as I stared contently into the deep cherry nectar that filled my glass, I lost myself in a world of pure and simplistic bliss. It didn’t take an awful lot to convince me to buy a bottle to take home, and after a comatosed siesta on the bus back to Barcelona, I relived that blissful moment in all its decadence and glory.
Make it Happen
Booking: You can book this tour, as I did, through the Trip4Real portal
Duration: The tour I took started at 9.30am and I was back in Barcelona at about 3pm.
Price: There are variations of the tour (some shorter, some longer), but you can expect to pay either 49€ or 89€.
Meeting Point and Start Time: The meeting point for the tour is outside of the Hardrock cafe in Placa Catalunya in the centre of Barcelona. You meet at 9.30am and the tour starts as soon as you get on the bus.
Dress Code: Comfortable and casual – you’ll be out and about for most of the day, so make sure you have comfortable shoes and plenty of sunscreen.