Water to Wine Pleasures… cont

7 08 2009

Wine Pleasures country bike tour.

The ride into town is, once again, a pleasantly rolling downhill cruise. I am beginning to wonder, “all that goes down must come back up right?” The thought passes as my stomach, growling at me, brings me back into the moment. 

We ride through town in search of a simple sandwich and a glass of fine bile la llacunaPenedès wine.  Along side streets paved with stone, I begin to realize that every store seems to be closed. Banners hang from open windows displaying messages like, “Ball de Diablos” and “La Fiesta Mayor.” Upon reaching what seems to be the town center, it dawns on me that everywhere is closed because of the festivities here before my eyes. We park the bikes out of the way and take in the unique sights. A group of younger boys and girls wrap eachother in long green cloths around their torsos. One holds the wrap tight while the other spins themself until wrapped. I am not sure why… 

human towersOnce everyone is wrapped, they begin to build human structures. Some are five people high! I look in astonishment as a very brave little boy, crash helmet secured, scurries to the top and stands fearless. All the while, horns serenade the event. This is followed by, what must be, a traditional dance involving wooden sticks that are struck together rythmically.  

After the dancers clear, a group of several children near where I stand suddenly scatter. Moments later several men dressed in devil costumes emerge carrying pitchforks.  Most in the crowd seem as oblivious to what is about to happen as I am.  “Los Diablos” gather in a circle and attach little red diABLOSfireworks to their pitchforks. One devil lights them all and, sparks flying everywhere, they parade around in a circle. Those in the crowd that had not fled to safer ground certainly did now! Luckily I am standing halfway behind a pillar and get very little of the hazard.  The danger, though, is well worth sight as sparks rain down in a most amazing display. Suddenly, POW! Then again, POW! Nearly coming out of my shoes, I realize it is from firecrackers and not gunshots. Checking to see if my reaction was noticed, I see a few children laughing at me. 

estrelaOnce the excitement has passed Anthony tells us of a place that is open on the edge of town to get what we came for. Arriving at a little sidewalk cafe we park our bikes and sit for some much needed refueling and refreshment. With no fine wine available in this bar (strange as we are slap bang in the middle of a wine region) it’s an easy choice. The local beer is Estrella Damm, and it has become a favorite of mine for it’s heavy maltiness and full bodied flavor. We order a round and three “omelette” sandwiches. The sandwich is very tasty and simple: scrambled egg, diced tomato, olive oil and salt served on hard crusted white bread. 

Refueled and refreshed, the ride home is all that is left for the day’s bike uphillevents. Almost all uphill, I guess the saying IS true. We are undoubtedly going back up! 

Alec Cruickshank – cardman9to5@yahoo.com

Photos courtesey of Nic Myers

Here are a couple of videos of the Fiesta Mayor de La Llacuna:

Theater: Dance of the Devils:

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Wine Bike Tour & Wine Pleasures in the High Penedès

28 06 2009

foto16A cycling tour of the Catalonian countryside interspersed with a visit to local sights and a regional winemaker; sounds ideal doesn´t it? Cycling up undulating roads through the pine trees of the high penedes overlooking the Montserrat mountains, sipping wines and seeing local sites of interest seems like the perfect way to spend the day.

Our group of five set out at half past nine for the start of the day. Combining a passion for wine and cycling, the plan was to cycle to a nearby winery, stopping along the way to take in the feel of the place. I was lucky enough to be in with a group with a real knowledge of wines; two locals who were researching local winemakers and a former wine exporter. All were keen to experience products direct from the source with descriptions from the people who make them.

But there were many stops to enjoy first along the way to the winery. Our first stop was La Llacuna, a traditional village with small windy streets leading to a picturesque courtyard. A crowded restaurant overlooks the plaza, spanish chatter filling the square. The village square, dappled with bright light and with olive tree dotted about, is where the summer fiesta takes place, when the fountains water is changed to cava. Sadly that was not the case on that day, so on we cycled. Biking through the village and beyond, past old buildings and tiny churches, it´s hard to believe that busy Barcelona is only thirty-one miles away.

Wine & bike webA dusty track lies to the right of us, we turn and suddenly from the tall trees we have moved into fields of wheat and poppies growing wild, the smell of hay wafting from the grass. The sound of crickets and birds are in the air and the weather is phenomenal. I can´t work out why everyone else isn´t out here too, experiencing this for themselves. The track gets smaller and smaller until we reach an opening, which winds us down to sheltered and secluded spot to rest in during the warmth of the day. In between the trees there lies a pond created by a spring of fresh mineral water, with a young family playing nearby. Here we stop and take the opportunity to refill our water bottles directly from the mouth of the spring. The water tastes unbelievably cool and fresh, invigorating us on this hot summers day.

After we manage to tear ourselves away from the spring, we head towards the winery. We spot vineyards hidden through the hills, sudden pockets of order in the wild countryside. Lavender bushes lined the roads up to the winery, creating not just an exqusite smell, but attracting clouds of butterflies overhead. The actual wine visit I won´t describe here, as it has been depicted in past blogs. Suffice to say, the location was stunning, the host genial and the wines delicious. After some Montenegro, Riesling and Merlot it was back on the bikes for the final leg.

rentadorsThere was a final stop on our way home, the old communal washing site of Sant Joan de Mediona where women would gather to chat and socialise during their chores. Women could work together by the river and collect water from the village fountain next door. At this point the sense of past and present intermigled, and it was easy to believe that women even now oculd come here to wash their clothes. After taking plenty of photos we journeyed on, where we knew food and drink would be waiting. 43

Finally, our cycling finished, all that was left to do was enjoy the nibbles, sip the cava and reflect on the wonderful views and experiences of the day.

Amy Wilkerson, Wine travel writer for Wine Pleasures.