Seven was the magic number on this trip to the Garden of Catalonia in Southern Spain. It was a small group of familiar faces and 1 newbie who immediately got the memo as the energy we created together was palpable. From the moment we landed in Barcelona greeted by our friendly Catalan guide, Meritxell who I nicknamed Mary (so yank of me), it was perfect. I didn’t imagine such beauty in the variety of landscapes and the mountainous character of this under-the-radar part of Spain. We started in the Roman ruins of Tarragona overlooking the beautiful
Mediterranean Sea to walk off our “plane legs” for a couple hours before proceeding to our destination for the next 2 days in a charming village of Gratallops in the centre of the compact Priorat-Montsant wine producing region. The streets were so narrow that we had to walk our luggage up this giant hill to our hotel (imagine the visual) but as it turned out it was good preparation for our strenuous walks (as the locals call them).
I call them hikes as there were times when we were using all four limbs. Impressive and sacred mountain ranges of Montsant covered in morning clouds was so serene as we made our way to the ancient village of Siurana, known as one of the world’s best climbing destinations…who knew? But here we were on top of the world when we came across a couple doing Acroyoga of all things, my favorite! Thank goodness our wine tastings during the day weren’t excessive but we did indulge in the organic olive oil tastings. We were even “invited” to shake down the olive trees on our big walk across Els Ports National park. We picked up a dog along the way (channelling sydney) who kept us company for the entire 8 hour walk from Horta de Sant Joan to the town of Pauls. It was a tough but rewarding experience as we learned about the cypress trees at the Scaladei monastery…
it is a ladder to god and we are certainly close to the top! If there ever was a down day on a STAT trip, our bike ride along the Greenway would be a contender. This spectacular rail route that was blasted throughout the canyons and over rivers still exists but it has been transformed to accommodate bikers. The landscape is gentle but the scenery is anything but. Loved biking through the dark tunnels with our headlamps on our helmets….a few hairy moments of complete darkness! And just a couple wrong turns but hear to tell the story. The highlight of the day was our visit to the local orange producer, after all we were in Valencia, the smaller province where the most delicious oranges are grown. Some of us couldn’t resist the local custom of downing the liquor made of mandarin oranges.
Good thing we didn’t have to ride our bikes back to Horta where incidentally Picasso lived briefly in a cave at 17 years old where local folklore says he received his inspiration as a young artist. I have to say that the cave wasn’t very impressive but with Picasso’s name attached, it makes for a good story. And this journey was certainly a good story all around. We not only embraced a culture but made a difference in the area we visited by donating to a very important center helping people with disabilities engage in the world.
Travelling for me is inspirational. I love learning and knowing about other cultures and the diversity of people. I learned a lot about the beautiful and friendly Catalan people. They are not from Spain but from Catalonia which is a very distinct region. They are known as the Mediterranean people and they speak Catalan not Spanish. At this particular moment in history, they are fighting for their independence from Spain eager to create a Catalan state. On our last night in Barcelona, I noticed the Catalan flags hanging from the balconies of some of the magnificent architectural buildings urging voters to take control. We, on the other hand, were busy taking control of enjoying the best Paella in town with “Pa amp tomaquet”( bread with tomato).
However, it isn’t exactly that. It’s tomato squeezed and spread on a piece of toast without the actual tomato on top. A little dip in the olive oil and it’s the Catalan Way. This among other things is rarely found in other parts of Spain. I raise my glass and toast to the future of the beautiful and proud Catalan people on their journey to become independent. Cheers.