Heading east we arrive in Zaragoza. Our main objective is to meet old friend Marisa. It is also our first encounter with the Ebro river in this trip, and of course we also take the opportunity to stroll through the city and visit El Pilar, its famous cathedral. It´s great to meet Marisa and David, catch up and have amazing sandwiches with sardines and calamari.
Our next stop is in Barcelona to spend some time with family and friends.
As we head south into the Tarragona province, to the Poblet Abbey, which dates from the 12th Century, when it was founded by a community of Cistercian monks. It lays in a valley, surrounded by olive trees. As other buildings that have endured the hands of time for so long, it catapults you to the past and you start wondering how has life been here along the centuries, how was the abbey built. I think the most impressive part is the church, with a very rich stone pulpit restored by Josep M. Subirachs and a pantheon hosting the tombs of up to 15 kings and queens of Catalonia and Aragon.
Our next stop is in Montblanc that, according to the legend, is where Saint Jordi (whose onomastic on the 23rd of April is the Catalan National Day) defeated and killed the dragon and saved the princess.
Then we reach Priorat, one of the wine regions by excellence, and apart from driving amongst vineyards and olive trees, we of course use the opportunity to visit some of its little towns and taste and buy some wine.
Also in Priorat is the Montsant Natural Park, a mountain range with very diverse landscape, ranging from imposing walls made of bare calcareous rock, to sides totally covered with trees. We camp in the little town of Margalef and hike up one of the trails, where apart from feeling the scent of the wild rosemary, thyme, laurel and pines mixing magically in the warm afternoon air, we also have the opportunity to see the ancient terraces that were built in the mountain in preterit times, to be able to cultivate olive trees. From the top we also enjoy wonderful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
We meet the Ebro river again at the little town of Mirabet, which is settled on a rocky hill, right at shore. It´s crowned by an old castle. Climbing the steep alleys of the village is well worth it, not only to enjoy the history of the old town, but also because it offers a great view of the river meander and surroundings from the top. And all along the way impressive prickly pear cactuses.
Next we arrive to the decadent beauty of Tortosa, also anchored at the shores of the Ebro river. With more that 2000 years of history, this city has seen many civilisations passing by, the Iberoroman, Arabic, Jewish, Christian. All of them leaving traces behind. Currently some parts of the city could do with a bit of restoration, but still worth the visit.
Then we are lucky to spend a weekend with friends Dani and Marta, that come from Lleida to meet us. We spend the Saturday hiking up and down the limestone massif of the Ports of Tortosa-Beseit. It seems that Dani had spend some time looking for a hike of moderate difficulty, but for me the result enters more the wild mountain goats territory, so we have a good laugh about it as we stumble up and down the rocky paths. Of course at the end of the hike we have a huge ´lunch´ at 4 or 5 in the afternoon.
The day after we go down to the Ebro Delta and spend the morning walking around La Tancada, a lagoon that hosts thousands of flamingoes. As it couldn´t be any other way, in the afternoon we have another delicious and copious lunch at the nearby town of Les Cases d´Alcanar. I strongly recommend restaurant Casa Ramon (http://casaramonlescases.com) if you are nearby and like fish and traditional rice dishes. A long walk along the promenade after lunch helps us with the digestion and to continue chatting about everything and anything. The weekend is a blast.
Heading south we get to Peñíscola, a fortified sea port built on top of a rock. The narrow streets of the old town and its white little houses are crowned by a lighthouse and a castle built by the Templars in the 13th century. It became the pontifical seat for Pope Benedict XIII (Papa Luna) in the 15th century.
Following the shores of the Mediterranean we arrive in Valencia. Our first incursion in the city is at the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies. Designed by Santiago Calatrava and , it´s a campus of mostly white grand futuristic buildings, that host museums, the opera house and other entertainment and cultural facilities. The whole set is impressive. The reflections of the buildings on the water just adds magic to it.
And in the evening the buildings get a second life, enabled by careful illumination.
But the thing is there’s much more to Valencia than that, more interesting architecture both old and new, graffitis, cafés, giant paellas and of course lots of orange trees.