Hotel Gastronòmic La Boella
For a foodie, there’s not much more enticing than a gastronomic hotel. Nestled at the heart of a sweeping olive farm not far from Tarragona, Hotel La Boella is a real hidden gem.
The property is a centuries-old country house, beautifully restored and teeming with character. One of the highlights is the extensive garden. It’s bursting with life and colour, and the perfect place to walk around – or cool down in the outdoor pool. Although just ten minutes’ drive from Tarragona, this boutique hotel feels like a complete haven of solitude. There are only thirteen rooms, so guests can really get the sense that they have the place to themselves. And at the heart of 110 hectares of olive groves, you’ll feel totally cut off from it all. This is the ideal place to escape!
Don’t miss the chance to tour La Boella’s olive groves and mill, which currently produces around 190,000 litres of oil a year. The mill at La Boella dates back to the 12th century, and olives have been cultivated here since the Roman times. Today, the mill is famed for producing some of Spain’s best olive oils – although the process has been completely modernised to make production as efficient – and as clean – as possible.
The real highlight of a gastronomic hotel, of course, is the food – and the tasting menu at La Boella does not disappoint. As this is a working olive oil farm, it’s only fitting that the menu is themed around the estate’s oils, with each course paired to one of the oils produced here. Dining on the terrace, surrounded by the ivy clad walls of the beautiful La Boella estate and the fragrant garden, feels like pure gastronomic luxury. The perfect way to discover some of the very best olive oils in Catalunya.
Hostal Gastronòmic La Creu
For those wishing to discover the culinary highlights of Catalunya, a visit to one of the Catalan Gastronomic Hotels is an absolute must. This is a collection of several boutique hotels throughout the province, all of them below sixty rooms, and all of them focusing heavily on local gastronomy. The restaurants and their menus are of the highest quality, but more importantly they’re as Catalan as can be.
Hostal Gastronòmic La Creu is a shining example. With only fifteen rooms, this boutique hotel has a lovely, intimate feel. Accommodation is simple but comfortable, and the hotel’s location at the heart of Móra d’Ebre, is perfect for discovering this region.
The small restaurant is the shining star at Hostal La Creu. It focuses heavily on traditional Catalan dishes, and specialises in using local produce from the richly fertile Terres de l’Ebre region. The Ebre river’s delta is surrounded by fertile farming land, especially rice fields, so of course there are plenty of rice dishes on the menu.
As well as rice, beans are a big feature of the cuisine around Terres de l’Ebre, so give a dish like morcilla con judias a try. Judias are large white beans, and morcilla is a Spanish blood sausage which is very popular in Catalunya.
Sweet lovers will be impressed by the dessert trolley at La Creu, which is jam-packed with local treats. Don’t miss the super traditional Crema Catalana, which is similar to creme brûlée but using lemon and cinnamon instead of vanilla. Or, keep an eye out for San Marcos, a decadent cake featuring sponge, cream, chocolate and a caramelised custard topping.
Catalunya has a very distinctive cuisine with loads of unique dishes that can’t be found anywhere else in Spain. Heading to gastronomic hotels and locally-focused restaurants like Hostal La Creu is the ideal way to experience the culture and gastronomy of this fascinating region.
Arión Museum and la Farga de l’Arión
The natural, living, Arión Museum is not at all what you’d expect from a museum. First of all, it’s completely outdoors. Second of all, it is, essentially, nothing more than a simple olive grove.
But this is one of the most historic olive groves in the world. Planted by the Ancient Romans, many of the trees here – 35 of them in fact – are over 1300 years old, earning them the title “millenaries”. And the oldest tree in the museum, la Farga de l’Arión, is just over 1700; making it the oldest carbon dated olive tree in the world. Researchers at Madrid’s Technical University used advance laser-based techniques to date the tree and conclusively found that it dates back to the early fourth century.
Visiting la Farga de l’Arión is one of the highlights of olive oil tourism in Catalunya. Standing in front of that tree, which has seen so many centuries, it’s hard not to feel a little bit awed. La Farga has survived wars and wild fires, climate changes and epidemics, all the things which must have destroyed most other trees around it… and yet here it is, still producing olives – which are still being used to produce oil.
This region of Catalunya, the Montsia Plains which lie in a dry valley close to the rich Ebro Delta, is home to the largest concentration of millenary olive trees in the world. Already, more than 4,400 trees over a thousand years old have been catalogued in the region, and most of them are still producing oil.
The oil making process is done with huge care nowadays, but the Arión Museum is still a working olive farm. What better way to experience the olive oil of Catalunya than at the heart of one of its oldest groves?
Cooperativa de Pinell de Brai
The mountainous Terra Alta region of Catalunya is famous for its wines. The fertile valleys and rolling mountain scenery create a gorgeous setting for wine buffs in search of a few tastings. But perhaps even more spectacular than the jaw-dropping scenery are the so-called Wine Cathedrals dotted throughout the region. That’s right; not wine cellars, not wine houses… wine cathedrals.
Catalunya is home to 24 such wine cathedrals, and one of the best is Terra Alta’s Pinell de Brai. A modernist palace designed by César Martinell – a disciple of the famous Catalan architect Gaudí – Pinell de Brai is a culmination of some of the best bits of Catalan culture.
The “cathedral” was founded in 1917 by a group of local farmers who formed a cooperative. Farming cooperatives were growing in strength and numbers around the beginning of the 20th century and played an important part in Spain’s agricultural history. So, the cathedral at Pinell de Brai is, today, something of a monument to those times. It’s also one of the most impressive, and the most visited, wine cellars in the region.
Monumental, towering, beautiful… but also functional. Everything about the building’s design was meticulously thought out by Martinell to make the wine and olive oil production processes run as smoothly as possible. It’s fascinating to explore the interior and discover the intriguing history of the building. Particularly eye opening is the original olive mill and equipment, which really brings to life how things were done before technological advances made things so much simpler.
Although today it’s run on a smaller scale, wine and olive oils are still produced at Pinell de Brai by the local agricultural cooperative, and a tour of the so-called cathedral finishes as all good tours should – with a tasting!
Identitat Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Identitat might have the best view of any oil mill in the world. In fact, it might have one of the best views in all of Spain. The tiny town of Horta de Sant Joan hugs a hilltop in the Terra Alta region of Catalunya, overlooking the north-western foothills of the Ports de Beceite mountain range. Almost at the top of the village is the ancient building where Toni and Ariadna decided to house their boutique olive oil mill, and from the upstairs windows, the views across the lush farmlands and rolling green mountains are enough to take your breath away.
Downstairs, it’s a different story. The ground floor of the property is hundreds of years old, and the dark stone rooms are full of history. The setting is pretty impressive, but the mill itself is housed in a bright, clean room full of shiny technical equipment. This small mill is clearly Toni’s baby, and he’ll talk guests through the oil production process with pride, and in as much detail as they could possibly want.
Identitat focuses on the Empeltre variety of olive oil, which is native to the local area. It’s a bit of a niche, as there are few brands using this variety, which helps keep the boutique oil mill unique. A guided olive oil tasting with Toni is a real experience, in the atmospheric stone rooms of the historic building’s lower floor.
While you’re in Horta de Sant Joan, don’t miss the chance to try Clotxa – a unique and surprisingly tasty meal once eaten by farmers while they were out working the fields. You start with a bread roll, a specific type which can only be bought at local bakeries. Cut off about a third from the top, and dig out the soft bread from the middle until you’re left with a small bread container. The hole is filled with a combination of chopped tomatoes, lightly roasted garlic, cooked sardines, olives, and olive oil. Lots of olive oil! It’s a bit of a monster to eat, given the size of the bread rolls, but making a mess is part of the fun!
For those who are really interested in olive oil tourism in Catalunya, or in fact have an interest in gastronomic and food-related tourism in general, a trip to the Fundaió Alícia can be a really interesting experience.
The foundation is essentially a food lab, and it was really the first of its kind. Founded in 2005 by Ferran Adrià, the head chef from Catalunya’s esteemed elBulli restaurant (of 3 Michelin star fame), Alícia is a leading cuisine technology research centre. The name is a blend of the Catalan words for food and science, and that is exactly what lies at the heart of the centre.
Fundació Alícia’s state-of-the-art kitchens and modern, open-plan offices are filled with not only chefs but researchers, scientists, chemists, and even anthropologists; whoever may be helping on the centre’s current projects.
One of the foundation’s big focuses at the moment is on olive oil. Working with various institutes, the goal is to create an international gastronomic vocabulary for olive oil – as there is with wine. As chef Jaume Biarnés explains, one of the challenges olive oil producers are facing is that it’s too complicated for the consumer. Fundació Alícia want to make the language more universal, and the understanding more accessible, in order to put the pleasure back into the process of tasting and choosing olive oil.
Although the centre might not seem the obvious choice for a tourist visit, it is a really eye-opening experience. They run visits and workshops, as well as various educational activities. And one of the highlights is the visitor shop, which is packed full of some of the best regional produce and foodie gifts from all around Catalunya. From cheese and deli meats, to chocolate, and of course olive oil – there are plenty of products to discover, all of them fantastic quality. If nothing else, this is a great place to stock up on your favourite Catalan goodies.
Museu de l’Oli de Catalunya & Centre de la Cultura de l’Oli
La Granadella is a tiny town of just over 800 people, so it seems like something of an odd choice as the location for Catalunya’s Museum of Olive Oil. But the brand new museum was opened here because this area, in the fertile Les Garrigues region, is one of the most historical olive oil regions in Catalunya. The town is very representative of olive oil in Catalunya, and it also has one of the best-preserved olive oil mills in the province.
What’s special about the Olive Oil Museum in La Granadella is that this is a “living” museum. Although the cooperative have a new, modern mill for most of their production – some of the antique machines in the historic mill at the heart of the museum are still being used.
A tour of the museum is pretty fascinating, whether you’re an olive oil enthusiast or not. Videos and interactive exhibits really bring to life the way olive oil was produced nearly a hundred years ago, and the museum’s guides come from local olive farming families, so they really know their stuff.
After the museum tour, head up to the state-of-the-art Olive Oil Cultural Centre, a brand new building also found in La Granadella. Housed in a former convent, the cultural centre’s aim is to promote Catalan olive oil. It’s a really unique idea, and the setting is fantastic. Perfect for an olive oil tasting!
With the help of an expert guide, visitors can learn the professional way to taste olive oil. It’s normally done using light blue, rounded glasses – because this way professional tasters can’t see the colour of the oil and be influenced by any pre-judgements. There’s also the chance to try a few locally made olive based products, like tapenade and sweet olive jams. Give polvoro de oli a go, a sweet made from sugar and olive oil. This is a really fun way to discover all the delicious ways Catalan olives can be used.
As you approach Oli Migjorn in el Bages region, it’s hard to imagine that you’re about to visit an olive farm. The winding country roads lead up and up above the valley, through thick pine forests and mountainous scenery. This feels very different from the landscapes around most of Catalunya’s olive groves.
And yet, perched up above the Cardener valley, sits the new family-run olive farm Oli Migjorn, overlooking the rolling green hills and dark green forests. It’s worth the drive for the views alone!
Then there’s the olive oils, which are equally worth the visit. El Bages is one of the newest oil producing regions in Catalunya, and farms like Oli Migjorn are at the forefront of the movement. Historically, the Cardener valley was full of olive groves, but over the years they were gradually replaced with other crops. Now they are very much back on the scene.
Although the farm was started with Arbequina trees, Catalunya’s most popular olive variety, the true focus now at Oli Migjorn lies in recuperating and promoting the Bages region’s local variety, the Corbella.
The owners work hard not only to produce fantastic extra virgin olive oils, but also to raise awareness for this region’s emerging olive oil scene and the distinctive local variety. They offer a great range of Oleotourism activities to show visitors everything that Bages has to offer.
As well as visits and olive oil tastings, Oli Migjorn also work with other local businesses to offer more activities. Things like the monthly tasting menus where olive oil is the unifying thread of each dish, served up at Castelladral Hostel – using produce from local suppliers.
And, if you visit in harvesting season (September to November), you can try your hand at harvesting the olives – to really get a feel for where your olive oil comes from. There are so many ways to discover the olive oil of the Bages region at Oli Migjorn, so this is a wonderful place for a visit.
Restaurant El Castell
Olive oil tourism and regional gastronomy go hand in hand in Catalunya, and nowhere more so perhaps than at Restaurant El Castell. Head chef Montse Freixa is a well-known local expert on all things olive oil, and works closely with local producers – who often seek her advice on the best ways to harmonize their products with different foods.
Set within an old stone house, the restaurant itself is a fascinating blend of modern and historic. Just like the food. History feeds into the menu quite heavily, because the current aim of the El Castell is to create a tribute to the history of les Garrigues. Chef Montse has designed a menu that showcases some of the most symbolic dishes of this fertile region of Catalunya.
Les Garrigues is one of the most historic olive producing regions in Catalunya, and famed for its oils. It’s in this region that you’ll find Catalunya’s Olive Oil Museum and Cultaral Centre – over in nearby La Granadella. So it makes sense that Montse has used her expertise in the subject to create a menu that truly celebrates and shows off the very best local olive oils, pairing each one perfectly with the food it’s best suited to.
House specials include esqueixada, stuffed bundles of super-thin pastry filled with orange and edible flowers. One of the menu highlights is a cold almond soup, a twist on a traditional Catalan recipe, with finely chopped Iberico ham, cucumber, and pear – plus a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. And don’t miss Montse’s unique twist on the classic crema catalana, which comes in a cute glass pot. Presentation is of all dishes is artful and fun, and everything tastes as good as it looks.
A gastronomical history tour of the region through traditional food with a distinct modern twist – this restaurant is a great way to explore the Catalan cuisine. Food lovers will not be disappointed!
Oli de Ventalló
Olives are one of the oldest cultivated plants in Spain, brought to the country by the Phoenicians some 3000 years ago. So, as Josefina at Oli de Ventalló puts it; “olives are in the genes of the Mediterraneans”.
It’s small wonder, then, that Josefina has so much passion for her family’s olive farm. They’ve been producing olives on this spot for generations, at a small but picturesque grove and olive mill in the sleepy town of Ventalló. Although they no longer use the town’s historic mill, having moved to more modern premises, Oli de Ventalló is still very attached to its roots.
Josafina is in charge of the oil pressing process, a trade she learned from her parents. Her husband Miquel cultivates the groves, which he inherited from his father. Together, the husband and wife team are blending modern practices with ancient traditions in the search for the perfect olive oil – and their passion really shines through.
Guided tours begin with a walk through Ventalló town, learning about the history of the Empordà region, particularly its olive producing past.
The grove itself at Oli de Ventalló is particularly pretty, and Josefina seems to know each tree on an individual basis. There’s nothing better than meeting the passionate people behind small businesses, especially food producers, and it’s fascinating to hear Josafina talk about her farm.
While many of the olive farms in Catalunya focus largely on the region’s main olive variety, the arbequina, Oli de Ventalló also produces agurdell olives which are native to Empordà. Their signature oil, Serraferran, is a blend of the two – and it has a really unique flavour.
A tour and tasting at this lovely family-run farm is the perfect insight into the cuisine of Empordà.