Just 30 minutes driving from Barcelona, the Bages is an inland region full of history, landmarks like Montserrat and an old tradition of excellent food and wine. We decided to discover a small piece of this land visiting Artium cellar and Món Sant Benet monastery. It was a gastronomic, cultural and historical journey to the heart of Catalonia. In this post we explain all what we learnt, what we ate and what we drank in this one day trip from the well known capital of Catalonia. As always, we try to recommend unknown but valuable sites and experiences out of Barcelona. Hope this post is useful for your next trip to this mediterranean country.
Caves Artium are located in the small town of Artés. In the town centre, the wine cellar can be found easily. In the terrace in front of the entrance some people were already having a vermouth when we crossed the door. Once inside one guy welcomed us and suggested to start a private visit of 2 hours to the Caves. (Caves is the Catalan word for “cellar”). From the first sight we realized that Damián was proud about what they achieve with the grapes and his passion was rapidily put across.
Cava is a sparkling wine which origin is in Catalonia. It can be white or rosé and the way to produce it needs to follow the champenoise traiditional method. It was first produced in 1851 and nowadays it is the most popular beverage to celebrate any kind of event in Catalonia and also Spain. Damián explained us the history of Artium Caves and all the process that grapes and their juice make to become cava.
The most popular kind of grapes to produce cava are Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo and they are mixed in a way to take the best of all of them. Then, the champenoise method starts: this method consists in fermenting the sugar into alcohol inside the bottle. The fermentation is made in different stages. Then, the bottle is placed in a semivertical position with the cap at the bottom. At this stage the bottle needs to be twisted an eight of a turn every day to ease the sediments go down towards the cap.
When we finished the visit to the cellar, Damián offered us a wine tasting with some typical local cheese and meat with chips. We tasted three wines, white, red and rosé, two caves, one of them a “Reserva” one, which means that it has to be aging during more than 15 months and finally two liqueurs: a vermouth and one ratafia. Ratafia is also a liqueur typical from Catalonia which is flavoured with lemon peel and herbs in various amounts: nutmeg, clove, mint, rosemary, anise, etc., typically combined with sugar.
After all these alcoholic beverages, all delicious and well paired with local food, we were quite happy and not able to drive. We took a short walk around the streets of the town because we had to be ready for driving towards Món Sant Benet, located next to Llobregat river, where we visited the monastery, had lunch in one of the three restaurants and walked by Alicia foundation. But before that we made a stop with our car to see the grapes that Artium is going to transform to wine and we will drink the next years.
Món Sant Benet is also a hotel and it can be a full day experience itself. However, we started having lunch in the restaurant called La Fonda. You can also choose the restaurant Món or L’Ó, this one with a Michelin star. As said before, this is a place to enjoy Catalan gastronomy and it doesn’t matter the power of your wallet, you’ll have all the options.
I started my meal with a soft leek soup with fried cod. Considering that we already had a taste of 7 alcoholic beverages, meat, cheese and chips, this was an appropiate way to start our lunch. The Fonda restaurant is located just in front of Alicia Foundation, Ali-mentació i cièn-cia (Alice, Alimentation and Science), it is a research centre devoted to technological innovation in cuisine, to the improvement of eating habits and to the evaluation of the food and gastronomic heritage. It is a centre with a social vocation, open to everyone to promote healthy eating.
The second dish was rabbit with sauce. Just a delicious main dish before the always sweet deserts. When we finished our meal we were so full that we thought we were going to fall asleep. However, we had to go to the monastery for the guided visit. The Benedictine monastery is one of the best preserved medieval monastic sites in Catalonia. It was founded in 960 by the family of the Viscounts of Conflent.
It initially held the relics of Saint Valentine by direct grant from Rome and it achieved its highest profile and greatest prosperity in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, despite the attacks it occasionally received from Muslim troops. The plague, problems with neighbours and vassals and a lack of maintenance sank Sant Benet into decline from the 15th century onwards. After 1620, the monastery became the site of a College of Arts and, shortly afterwards, it became a home for elderly monks from Montserrat.
The abolition of the religious orders halted the monastic activity of Sant Benet in 1835, this time permanently. Only the church continued its activity and the site was abandoned and deserted until, in 1907, it was acquired by the family of the artist Ramon Casas and the architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch was commissioned to restore it.
Once inside the church we were impressed of how well preserved it was and the audiovisual was astonishing. It was so well designed and integrated with the old stone walls, that we could not do anything else than listenging to the story of this site. The monastery was also important for the wine industry, as it had an important cellar. We all know how monks were devoted to wine.
After visiting the main church we were guided towards the cloister were the guide explained us the meaning of all the chapiters in the columns of the cloister. You can discover some bible stages, local common daily activities or other not decoded ones. Finally we were headed towards the old cellar were another audiovisual took place under our feet on the cold stone floor of the room.
We ended our visit watching how the monks lived in their rooms and the kind of jobs they had between those walls.
As said, this monastery was bought by Ramon Casas family, so they make it their home. This is another visit that can be purchased in Món Sant Benet, so you can see the heritage that this family left. However, we didn’t buy that tour. It was already late and we were happy of our gastronomic, cultural and historical journey to the heart of Catalonia.