I always thought the Accu part of Accuweather was short for accurate or accuracy – not any more. It was one of those grey mornings that don’t encourage you to leap from your bed into enthusiastic activity. When I did venture onto the balcony it was windy and there was a hint of drizzle on the breeze. So bye-bye lazy day by the pool. One of the great things about paradors is they all have loads of corners where you can sit and knit, read, sew or paint according to your inclinations. However once I had made the effort I decided to drive up the Ebro valley for a bit towards a place we had visited before – the so-called Cathedral of Wine – a modernist masterpiece in Pinell de Brai. There might be a theme emerging here! First however I detoured into Xerta which lies right on the banks of the Ebro and its clever canal. I parked and sat down in the main square for a coffee and the sun came out. Coffee done my jacket went back into the car as it was already 20° at 11:30 and I’m only 10 Km up river from Tortosa which still looks cloudy. It’s a typical old medieval village with one exception to the norm. Being on the river bank it’s flat whereas all the other villages I went to today are built on the top of extremely steep hills – ooh my calves!
The river bank walk reminded me very much of a similar stroll also beside the Ebro but way west in Haro in the Rioja. Elegant wooden fences, plenty of places to sit and picnic and the interesting contrast of the slow-moving Ebro and the rushing canal.
As I walked back through the village there was evidence that the citrus season is all but over although I did see another septuagenarian scrumping a few remaining oranges – to be fair he may have been legit. I didn’t like to ask. On my perambulations through the narrow streets I concluded that a third of the population was over 70, a third pregnant and the other third at work or in school. Back in the main square I discovered the reasons for the canal.
This marker up the side of the church shows the level of the floods – it’s ten metres at the top – that used to devastate the whole area because of the unpredictability of the flow in different seasons. So in 1857 they built a diagonal dam across the river – some evidence points to a much earlier Moorish effort to control the river – which siphoned large amounts into the canal which is used to supply towns and villages and irrigate the fertile lands of the area. A hydroelectric plant followed in 2002 so the waters of the Ebro are put to good effect.
That’s my history quota for the day so I set off for culture. The town of Horta de San Joan has a Picasso Cubism Centre so I think I’ll pay a visit. On the way I get diverted by an amazing mountain rock formation. This one is in the Natural Park of Els Ports and it made me think how, wherever you go in this amazing country, you’re a never far away from mountains with amazing outcrops. This one is known as the Dog’s Head and, of course, The Castle. I think the dog’s a spaniel given its long ears – maybe a setter. But as I looked at them I remembered the mountains at Montserrat far north from here and those of El Torcal hundreds of miles south near Antequera all with amazing shapes. Fabulous!
On the way I have an opportunity to snap one of the roundabouts I obsessed about the other day and a sign that I thought would amuse any of the IT buffs out there with its nifty digitalism.
Of course after parking up and mounting the steps and steeps to Horta de San Joan I discover that the Picasso place only opens on Saturdays and Sundays – rubbish planning again. It also seems only to have reproductions and photographs of the mates he spent time with in Horta – might have been quite interesting but not essential, I think. After all that effort there was an attractive square with a bar with a beer with my name on. It was lunch time for the workers who are destroying the town centre before rebuilding it and they are all playing cards – quite competitively I would say.
On I go with a brief stop in Gandesa to El Pinell de Brai and the Cathedral of Wine. Designed by César Martinell, a follower of Gaudi, it opened in 1917 and has elements in common with yesterday’s winery at San Sadurni. There’s a lovely ceramic tile frieze showing the wine making process. Sadly since we were there before it has now opened a Michelin starred restaurant but it’s only open on Saturdays and Sundays – poor planning again. Totally inadequate prior research I’d say. For me the amazing brickwork of the vaults inside and the windows that look like wine bottles to me are pure mastery of form and function. And the way the modernists use light is brilliant. Glad a made a return visit.
I also walked up to the top of the village up streets so steep they reminded me of a trip to Zahara de la Sierra in Cadiz province where we and the locals traversed diagonally from side to side in order to make it up vertiginous slopes. It also gave me an insight into how quickly and recently Spain has modernised. This municipal water supply was only turned off in 1998 when piped water was made available to the whole village.
Back to Tortosa and back into the gloom – warm gloom it has to be said and a wander through its excellent central park and splendid market hall – a pre-modernist architect making great play with light again (some dispute about who actually designed it) – and past a poster that told me the medieval festival – Renaissance I stand corrected – happens every year in July – probably won’t make it back this year though.