THURSDAY, June 5:
THIS became one of the most astounding travel days of my life. It remains a highlight of the trip.
Franco loaned us a car, Emilio was going to take us to a medieval monastery, but we ended up driving what seemed a mysterious round trip through very remote hill areas of Catalunya. We found later that this is one of the most renowned, romantic medieval parts of Spain……
HERE in what seems innocent beauty, a land of farmers growing grapes, olive trees, gardens, produce, then steep hillsides, and absolute beauty, rich history exists. This part of the world has had its long share of occupation: Arabs conquered and ruled this land for hundreds of years BC, and then came the Romans who built many of the ruins found today. They were welcomed at first as liberators (sound familiar?), then the “Church” began to grow and empire really came to mean forced subjugation.
But today, in these rural spots, we see some ghostly but spectacular architectural and historic masterpieces. Some have been beautifully restored.
In a few places, at every turn in the road, large medieval churches AND castles could be seen in every direction you’d peek.
The car would come around a corner to see on hilltops, the ancient beauty of a castle, and Church with little farming settlements in the river valleys below …..It left me wondering just how many of those families today are the same families that were there 500 years ago. I’m claiming this was a spectacular place in beauty AND history.
The day began in Reus where one gargoyle seemed to be calling out, “I’m watching you………….”
We’ll skip much of the day’s travel, but the first truly significant village we come to is a classic late medieval place on its own. It’s largely restored, and the Roman gates still surround these lovely streets (tiny lanes…with homes/shops either side):
Santa Coloma de Queralt – an ancient village still much alive, and vibrant, but I do NOT think one person we met spoke English. We were kind of “stared at” if we saw someone…..I KNOW not many tourists come through this gorgeous sumptuous place. This place had the look and feel of Old Europe….a walled inner city, no cars, four midieval gateways stll preserved into town, an open plaza or two with shops all-round and stylish people shopping, dining, and living life. Gorgeous.
Unfortunately, the large Cathedral was closed:
But one of the side doors, just a side door mind you, was open to show this ceiling for a minor hallway. I know, this was modern and not part of the restoration…just showing what these people are willing to go through to make something beautiful:
We move on, stopping at a rural cemetery, other points of interest, then we come to the place I’ve heard about:
PONTILS – THIS soulful place almost requires more writing later. SO few visitors come here, that as soon as the car was parked and a door closed, an older lady opened the shutters from her 2nd floor, and kept watching us, front and back ….Emlio explains who we are….and she immediately warms up to tell us her daughter is married to a Canadian and living in Toronto.
Somehow we KNOW that THIS is not the location of the real “ruin” we intend to see…..so we get to the close next corner, and there it is:
IT is here in Pontils we hike to the gothic ancient small church and embattlement tower…..that is, nowdays, finally collapsing. THIS tiny medieval church now falling in with defense tower adjoining it was somehow full or more soul than anything I’ve ever seen in my life. Almost ghostlike, you could feel that time hundreds of years ago when villagers would be alerted by a flame in the tower that invaders were coming, and to get themselves with livestock UP the hill to the protected tower and church.
We all explored the entire spot, almost silent, it truly felt reverent:
Inside was no less powerful a feeling:
That was hard to leave, but the hours were moving on……. Emilio’s plan was to get us to Santes Creus, the old monastery.
The Monastery at Santes Creus is next……………and we haven’t had LUNCH yet!
Santes Creus – A Monastery 500 years in the making, and begun around 1100. This was a huge religious compound, with the walls outside and leading up to it being private expensive homes, bookstores, giftshop, etc….all in typical old stonework. This ALL has been masterfully restored. The CATHEDRAL has a spectacular window inside…..
Just the FRAMING of the window is pretty nice………don’t you think?
The front of the church is this:
Getting to the walkways let you past this beauty in stonework:
The covered walkways surrounding gardens have THIS much detail in the work:
Those walkways surrounded gardens like these:
And THAT was only the parts of the place that have been restored. Lots of work still waits:
I had to keep reminding myself this was an ordinary place, NOT one of the famous Catholic Shrines to history.
It was obvious SOME of the old spiritual leaders either had more money or influence than others. Many were of course buried in the floor, but some had crypts built in their honor:
OR this one:
That was enough. Our minds/souls were full. WE were now starving, it was 1:30 pm, and we had NO idea if any good food was in this village.
After asking the giftshop crew “where” we should have lunch, they reply there were only two places IN the village, one a pub with simpler food, and a restaurant at the hotel. After walking down the hill toward the two places, we see ALL the locals walking INTO the Hotel venue. So, the decision was easily made. We eat at Hostal Grau – A pleasant surprise when the Waitress was told, “Capisco umpo L’Italiano” and she replies that she’s from “Jersey” FABULOUS lunch…. NO printed menu, just daily specials. The place is filled with locals, workmen, and the food spectacular.
At the end of the lunch we watch in amazement at the table next to us, an older gentleman drinking from what we learn to be is a Porron. They see us gawking, and insist we share the wine from their Porron:
, a lovely sweet dessert wine. (The narrow tip allows drinking from the Porron without touching lips to it, and so the “sharing” is safe, traditional, and a bit fun.
I don’t remember a day so full of rich experience in my life.
The Day does end though. We’re once again in Salou, as mentioned previously with a fabulous Tapas Dinner in the company of new friends Franco, Maite and our hosts Emilio & Elena. What an end to a life-changing day. We were happy tired Americans seen here in front of one of the royal family’s homes in Salou: