Catalonia’s Superlative Wine Region
When we talk of the Alt Penedès generally the first thing that comes to mind is excellent wine and cava as the Penedès is still probably the best known of Catalonia’s increasingly popular wine regions.
In fact, the comarca or county of Alt Penedès is part of a larger Penedès region, which includes the neighbouring comarcas El Baix Penedès in Tarragona Province and part of L’Anoia and El Garraf, which are both in Barcelona Province.
The comarca is made up of many small towns and villages, most of which are nestled between the vine groves, and there are only two towns of any real importance.
With 37,000 inhabitants, comarca capital Vilafranca del Penedès is by far the largest but Sant Sadurni d’Anoia is better known internationally because it is the self-styled ‘capital of cava’.
The region is becoming increasingly popular for enotourism and other kinds of wine and cava-related trips and holdays and it really is a lovely place to visit.
You should consider staying in Vilafranca or Sant Sadurni for a couple of nights and hiring a car to make forays out into the wine-growing areas.
If you are staying in Barcelona, you’ll find an excellent choice of wine and cava trips and tours leaving from the city, many of which include stops in Alt Penedès at Sant Sadurni, in particular.
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The Penedès Plain
If you take the road or train from Barcelona to Tarragona, you notice a clear geographical change once you pass Martorell.
You enter an extense plain defined by two lines of mountains – the Sierra d’Ordal i Garraf to your left and the Sierra Prelitoral to your right.
You have just entered wine country and one of the most pleasant comarcas in this part of Catalonia..
The capital – Vilafranca del Penedès – is located in the centre of the plain between the River Foix and the Riera de Ribes that act as natural drainage for the plain as they flow down to the sea.
The Prelitoral Mountains – formed by the Sierras of Mediona, Font-rubí, Torrelles y Pontons – are low and gentle particulrly when compared to the Ancosta range that rises to 1,000 metres.
The Penedès plain has long been the route south from Barcelona to Tarragona.
It is still crossed by the Roman Via Augusta, and wine production here dates back to Roman times too.
The D.O. Penedès is one of the most firmly established in Spain and gives rise to the fine white wines around Vilafranca and the sparkling Catalan cava centred on Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.
Both towns are excellent places to visit and you can enjoy wine-tasting at many of the factories and there are a number of extremely interesting wine museums.
History and Architecture
One of the attractions of the area is that since both Sant Sadurní and Vilafranca have been centres of wine production since the eighteenth century, the wine patrons had the funds to employ the best architects during the Modernista period.
The Cordoniu factory in Sant Sardurni by great Modernista architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch is definitely worth a mention here.
However, of the two towns Vilafranca del Penedès is much more attractive, in general, and is much nicer to wander round.
It was founded in the eleventh century in an attempt to attract settlers to land retaken from the expelled Moors, and soon became a prosperous market town.
This character is still in evidence today with fine arcaded streets adorned with restored medieval mansions and both towns are well-worth visiting if only for their small town charm.
One of the problems you may find even in the larger towns is a lack of hotel accommodation so you may find it easier to book a hotel room in nearby Sitges and then visit the area by car.
If you understand some Catalan, you can find up to date news about L’Alt Penedès on the Consell Comarcal de L’Alt Penedès Website.