There is always a tension in writing about hidden away places where I have enjoyed staying. Were they to become overly popular, that would destroy much of their secrecy and solitude! However, earlier this year I discovered somewhere really lovely, and hope that by mentioning it here others will take the opportunity to enjoy what it has to offer.
The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet in La Conca de Barberà just to the north of Reus and Tarragona, and some 130 kms west of Barcelona, is one of a group of Cistercian monasteries founded in Catalunya in the 12th century, shortly after the conquest of the province by the Catalan-Aragon monarchy. Others include the monasteries of Vallbona de les Monges in l’Urgell and Santes Creus in L’Alt Camp. One day I must walk the Ruta del Coster that joins them all up!
The monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet itself had become very run down by the early 19th century. The confiscation of church lands in 1835 and the consequent expulsion of the monks led to further decay, and it has only been in recent years that some of its character has been restored. A community of monks returned to the monastery in 1940, and in 1991 it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Since then it has attracted increasing numbers of visitors, many of whom are drawn there by its magnificent setting among woods and streams sheltered by the Prades mountains.
In 2010 a new modern guesthouse, the Hostageria de Poblet, was built within the old walls of the monastery, and it provides a simple, minimalist place to stay. For those who like quiet, hidden away places, set amidst vineyards and rolling hills, the Hostageria is most definitely worth a visit. As their brochure notes, “There are no televisions in the rooms to respect the silence and the living dynamics of the monastery”. That having been said, the guesthouse does have Internet access for those who do not want to escape the modern technological world completely! Currently, the Spring price for a double room varies between $49 and $59, which makes them really excellent value for money.
The Hostageria also has a restaurant that serves delicious local food – but do note that the lunch menu is much more extensive than that available in the evenings. Alongside the restaurant is a culinary school, designed to provide both a theoretical and practical training for people living in the comarca of Conca de Barberà. The Spring menu offers three courses for €20, with a typical choice being
- Torradeta d’escalivada i formatge de cabra gratinat
- Llom de bacallà a la mel a l’estil dels monjos de Poblet
- Iogurt del monjos amb gelat de nata i xarrop de grosella
The monastery also has its own wines, developed in collaboration with the Cordoniú Group. Nine hectares within the walled enclosure were planted in 1989 with Pinot Noir grapes, chosen in memory of the Cistercian wine makers of Burgundy. Although Pinot Noir is not widely grown in Catalunya, the wines from the monastery, include the 100% Pinot Noir Abadia de Poblet, as well as a lesser wine known as Intramurs, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Merlot, and both are definitely worth tasting while staying there.