Torroja del Priorat

Why did we choose Torroja? Well, that’s because fate took us there: my mother’s grandparents owned a “textile store“ there, Cal Teixidor, which is now owned by my sister and is located right next to Cal Batistet-Ferrer, one of the summer cottages.

We girls (like our mother before us) were born and bred in Barcelona. Only during summer recess did we have a chance to enjoy the remote village which didn’t even have blacktop roads in those days; we came here for three months in a row every summer since Spanish children have long summer vacations, but – to this day –, hard full-day school.

In later years, my language studies took me to Germany where in 1972 I married a German electrical engineer who has been happy (and privileged!) ever since to visit his ”second home“ Torroja several times every year.

We bought a house for ourselves there, Cal Alemany, and renovated another one. First limited to friends and acquaintances only, we have since 2001 been welcoming guests from all over the world. Back then we had no idea that the Priorate would take such an incredible upswing. The wine, nature, the climbers, the cyclists and hikers – suddenly everybody wanted to go there and there were barely any guesthouses or any such thing.

Since time immemorial, Torroja has been so poor that there was never any money around for ”modernization” projects. Now the streets are renovated, but they are still paved with bricks and not ”blacktopped“, something the richer villages were accustomed to years ago. But it is a pleasure to just walk through the village and marvel at every house, portal, façade, or rock wall.

Lately, Torroja even has a luxury hotel (with a restaurant, what else?!), and it has always had its village tavern (where simple fare is served), as well as a luxury wine shop (who would have though that possible?!). Plus a little store for everyday staples. Although usually open mornings between 11:00 and 13:30 hours and some afternoons between 18:00 and 20:00  hours, you shouldn’t on it, because sometimes it just stays closed for reasons unknown. We always advise our guests to bring along food for their first breakfast or supper or to buy something on the way.

Naturally, Torroja has a beautiful church with a Cuvillies organ. During the summer months, the organ experts flock to the church and can be heard playing rapturously. Across from the church is the village’s main road (Carrer Major) lined by the ”Casas Pairals“ of the important families. All of them were built some 200 years ago and are magnificent to look at. The most beautiful building among them is Cal Compte, restored to absolute perfection, including its façades, and always brimming with life. If you find the heavy timber door open, simply enter and ask Ana or Joaquin if, as Montserrat’s guests in Cal Viola, they won’t let you have a look at the house. It would surely be a loss not to see it! The young couple came to the village a few years ago looking for a vineyard and left Torroja with a house (albeit a completely run-down house at the time) ”on their hands“, plus 40 hectares of land, although some of these hectares were the originally sought vineyards. They have been working like crazy ever since and have succeeded in building in about 13 guestrooms underneath the roof and overhauling all of the other former living quarters as well as possible under the circumstances. An effort worth the highest praise! The building has several stories “above ground“ plus a few surprises underground. We are very happy whenever new and interesting people with new and interesting visions come to the village and decide to stay, like Dominik Huber, the owner of the Bodega Terroir al Limit. He rents a flat on the third floor of Cal Alemany and will be happy to show you his Bodega in the same road. Why not let yourself be enchanted by his stories, and by his wine?

Of course we could go on like this forever and tell you all about the history of every house and nearly every resident in the village, but then we would end up with a book and not just a travel guide. On another page we are cordially inviting our guests to publish their own experiences with Torroja and the Priorate on our homepage, for all other guests to enjoy. Surely there must be many things that seem quite normal to us but are worth mentioning to others.

Naturally, it’s not only Torroja which keeps forever beckoning us to continue exploring it. The surroundings of the village offer equally ample opportunities for nice walks, e.g. around the village on the barely used road, from where many farm roads branch of “into the wilderness” (sturdy shoes and long pants are a must, even for hikes along the Montsant, because the thorny “macchia” is unforgiving!).

To get to the river, take a left the cemetery and keep going left until you are down by the river. The river is a paradise for frogs, water snakes, wagtails, bee-eaters and a myriad of other creatures; last year we even saw a Spanish tortoise!! Even swimming is possible in certain places, although not every little pool is suitable. It takes a bit of the good old spirit of adventure to find a good place. If you want to hike upriver, you will find yourself in Poboleda after about 2 hours’ time; whereas if you hike downriver, you will find yourself in Gratallops (also after 2 hours’ time) – but be sure to bring along a bit of the jungle spirit in both cases (and food, because uncharacteristically enough, we were unable to spot any restaurants along these routes).

Longer hiking trails are increasingly signposted these days (e.g. the hiking route to Villella Baixa or Gratallops, Poboleda, Scala Dei, etc.). Some of these GR (Gran Rutas) are interconnected and will take the hiker through miles upon miles of unchartered territory, far removed from any signs of tourism.

Retired farmer Joan is a bit of a “jack of all trades“ in the village: he used to be a shepherd, a garbage collector and a museum owner all rolled into one (he will be delighted to personally show you his self-funded wine museum if you ask him nicely and if he has the time). This unusual personality is easy to find, because he owns a Japanese fighting dog (a kind of long-haired, German shepherd-sized cow), the present of a former hotel owner, now virtually bankrupt and disappeared from village life. Joan can often be found sitting at the glass-encased bus stop across from the cemetery whenever he is not occupied by his latest passion, the “production“ of strong mules by breeding genuine Catalan donkeys, who are very big and robust, with horse mares. Das problem being that donkey studs are not very fond of horse mares, which is why the project is taking quite a bit of time, patience and lots of persuasion. To get a look at Joan’s animal collection, simply take a hike on the trail between Torroja and Villella Alta.

Lately, Torroja also has “Astronomic Society” (crazy, isn’t it?), which allowed us to watch the 1999 solar eclipse in style from the marketplace, fortified with the very best equipment (+ wine and pastries). They are also offering “stargazing nights” which attract more than a dozen telescopes from all over the area to gaze at Jupiter or the Milky Way or whatever is currently in vogue from the sports field. Naturally free of charge, and meant as great big fun for everyone. What started as a bit of a joke has become a fixed institution in the entire region – all the way up to Tarragona.

It goes without saying that Torroja has an outdoor pool (open from late June until mid-September, between 11:00 and 15:00 hours and again between 17:00 and 19:00 hours). Here is where everyone meets during the summer months for a refreshing chat by the poolside or in the water. Here is where the children and young people organize their activities while the more settled folks enjoy the excellent tapas served at the bar and the magnificent view of the entire Montsant from the water. Our guests have discovered that if they show up there “as early as“ 11 a.m., they will have the entire pool to themselves, because ”tout Torroja“ doesn’t usually show up until 12 noon. Afternoon is usually the time when the real “tourists“ come, and by that I mean the people from the city, because we hardly every have any real foreigners in these parts).

August offers many festivals and activities, especially since the period between August 1st and August 20th is the time when former residents of the village show up who have made their fortune in the city. The village is full of children who meet year after year and “grow together“ that way; this is how friendships for life are forged. I can bare recall how many generations we have seen that way, and the funny thing is that sometimes I will look into the eyes of a child and be reminded of someone from my youth.  Roots go very deep, don’t they?