Water to wine bike tour (Penedès) – taste the difference!

4 08 2009

panormaic view montserratI am quite pleased to say that I survived the 30 km excursion winding through the hills (sierra) of the Penedes wine region. We started out on a 3 km trek up the hill where, Wine Pleasures base is located.  Road winding this way and that, magnificent, panoramic views jump out from around the next bend as we ascend to the top.  Just as we get there, Nic’s bike gives out, and our breakdownexcursion stalls until Anthony can zoom down and retrieve another bike.  Seemingly moments later, up pulls the support vehicle and we pull the bikes out and Nic familiarizes himself with his new ride. 

We are off again, this time a pleasantly winding cruise down the other side of the hill leads us to our first scheduled stop, a natural spring (Els Canals).  The clear, fresh water pours from a rock just at the perfect spring waterheight for filling our water bottles.  Once refreshed and bottles no longer empty, down the little gravel road we shoot, skidding a bit here and there only adds to the excitement.

Our next stop after about a 20 min. ride is an ancient oak tree over 1000 years old.  Its massive trunk juts up to about 2m where several thick, gnarled limbs curl their way toward the sky.  Nic, all the while snapping photos, climbs the trunk to a perfect spot to sit and have your picture taken in this arborous wonder. 

Continuing along, not far from our oak stop, Anthony pulls his bike off the road and stops.  Seemingly there is something wrong, there doesn’t seem to be anything in sight.  He motions for us to follow, and nearly falling into our next sight I realize what we are stopped for!  A pot hole some 30m deep opens at our feet.  Only about half a meter wide and a meter and a half long, very little light is shed into the potentially massive cavern below.  There is just enough light to see some impressive stalagtite formations near the rim.  Without any climbing gear we are unable to explore any deeper than we can see; but all is well, It is rumoured that past inhabitants of the area used it for disposing of dead livestock, and who knows what else!

Before reaching the pinnacle of our bike tour, one more stop is made. abadoned houseThis time at a vacation house of Belgian Royalty used 200+ years ago.  Nearly intact, the structure is beautifully constructed from locally found stones.  A well house is also on the site. Nearly 3m across, I am impressed with the size and depth, and peering down the well there are still thousands of litres of water contained within.

abandoned monasteryAfter a short ride we reach the monastery ruins that we set out to see.  One partial exterior wall is all that remains.  All around though, we see the outlining foundation where the walls once stood.  Walking from room to room I can almost picture how the ancient inhabitants lived.  Several fairly small rooms (maybe 4m x 3m), probably living quarters shared by two or more monks at a time, connect to a larger, likely communal room.  Erected in 1155, these monks only lived here until until 1168 when lack of water forced them to move on to nearby Santa Creus. 

Water bottles empty, the same has forced us to do as well.  Only drops of the crystal clear spring water remain from our first stop.  Anthony tells us of another spring nearby, and we’re off.  Once again an exhilerating downhill leads us to this much needed refreshment.  Like the one previous, the water rushes from a hole, seemingly pierced into the face of a rock.  Strangely enough, the cool water has a distinctly different taste.  More like a difference in texture explainable only to the palate.  Drinking our fill, we top off our bottles and head into La Llacuna for lunch, fine wine, and La Fiesta Mayor…

                                         To be Continued…

Alec Cruickshank – cardman9to5@yahoo.com

Photos Nic Myers

Here’s a video we took during this fantastic wine country bike tour organised by Wine Pleasures:

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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.