Brian and I had originally planned to travel to the south of France this past weekend with our roommates and Tylor, but the plans were off and then on again after Tylor was sick and then made a speedy recovery late last week. By the time the plans were canceled and then rescheduled though, Brian and I had already come up with our own Plan B and decided to stick with it. Before we left the states, our friend Jay had gifted us with a "Far From Ordinary Wine Guide" about Spanish wines, and we decided to explore one of the nearby regions outlined in the book - Montsant and Priorat.
One of our last-minute purchases (of many) before leaving for Europe was these handy-dandy backpacks for weekend travel. Mine is on the right, and Brian's is the jam-packed, not-closed one on the left. ;) I am proud to report that I indeed packed for our two-night, three-day trip in my backpack. So there. And there's even a blow dryer and diffuser in there.
Driving in a foreign country is always an adventure, especially when the cars are all standard transmission! I learned in high school when my sister drove a little manual Toyota Paseo, but it had been a loooong time since I'd driven another. Brian grew up on four-wheelers and the like, but doesn't know how to drive standard, so I was the official driver for the weekend. Ahhhh! Allow me to introduce you to our cute little blue Ford Ka that we rented from Centauro at the airport. There were closer rental companies to our piso, but I didn't want to have to brave driving in Barcelona so we took the shuttle to the airport and rented from out there. It actually drove really well and was pretty roomy for two considering it looks like something my nephew Austin should be playing with. The only near-catastrophe was learning that it takes diesel fuel. No pasa nada! We figured that out BEFORE putting gas in the car.
The region we were visiting is only about a 2-hour drive from Barcelona and is still in Catalunya. So we took our time on the road and decided to take advantage of having a car and made a pit-stop at a nearby beach town called Sitges that everyone had told us is must-see. It was just as cute and quaint as everyone said. We had lunch at a local sports bar (odd choice, but they had a patio WITH HEATERS overlooking the ocean) and then walked along the boardwalk. We probably only spent a couple hours in total in the little city, but we plan to return for sure!
Brian and Kayla 50 years from now. This old couple sat in their little chairs just soaking up the sun and enjoying the beach. All you could see were their old-people puffy hair-dos poofing up from the back of the chair. Brian and I decided this would most definitely be us on some beautiful beach one day.
We also had our first official cold front since living in Spain. The news reports were all filled with stories on the subfreezing temperatures and the snow blanketing the country. It's hard to know exactly how cold it is because of the Celsius versus Fahrenheit issue but I don't think it got out of the 20s or 30s this weekend where we were. And yes, these guys are SURFING! Brrrrr! They had on wetsuits and footies and the whole nine yards, but come on. Really? Brian and I stood and watched for a few minutes and never saw either one of them catch a wave. Brian said it must be "exhilarating" being out there in that cold water. I had a different word for it.
After a few Euro in tolls, a wrong turn or two, LOTS of winding roads up and down mountains, and a phone call in broken Spanish to the hotel owner (who, lo and behold, we learned later speaks English! Ha!), we finally found our little home for the weekend - Balco de Priorat! Do not let Brian's lack of layers fool you; it was COLD! But amazingly beautiful.
The room was perfectly cozy, clean and modern and had the MOST comfortable bed we've slept in yet. The view from our balcony was breathtaking, and I only wish it hadn't been so cold so we could enjoy a glass of wine out here watching the sunset.
The view from our room. We asked our new Catalan friends working at the hotel why people typically come to this area and they said three things - 1) Wine tasting of course! 2) To explore the many quaint old villages sprinkled throughout the mountains. 3) Rock climbing and hiking and such. Even though I'm not very outdoorsy, I could totally see the allure of all three. The mountains just seemed to be begging to explored!
The view from the parking lot. We arrived at about sundown so we were just about ready for an evening meal. I hadn't eaten much at the not-so-great Sitges sports bar restaurant, so we asked about where to go around town. The bartender/chef/hotel staff/Tomas kind of laughed at us and said that there were two restaurants in town - the one we were in at the hotel and another that only served lunch. Hotel restaurant it was! Since it's the low season, there was only one other couple staying at the hotel and the staff was really accommodating. There was no menu really - they just asked what we wanted for dinner, and they made it for us. Super sweet! I had an unbelievable salad with goat cheese to start and Brian had what he claims is the best onion soup he's ever had in his life. :) After, we both ate garbanzos with veggies for dinner - DE-LI-CIOUS. The food in Priorat/Montsant did not disappoint all weekend. Sadly we were too full for dessert because I would have loved to experience some authentic Catalan cream.
Another view from the parking lot. We didn't really have a game plan aside from finding wineries somehow. So luckily there was a map of the region at the hotel along with a list of wineries. Most require you to call ahead to book a tasting, so we scoured the list for the ones you could just drop in on. We found five in total that looked to be in our area and mapped out a plan for the next day. It was very funny, very MBA-style. We both made Excel spreadsheets of when the wineries were open and strategically blocked times that it would make the most sense to go to each. Of course, our plan didn't quite go as planned (haha) but that's what we've learned since living abroad...flexibility. We went to bed that first night with happy tummies on a soft, cozy bed and got ready for a full day of adventure!
To Be Continued!