It’s been over a month since I returned from Spain, but I thought it important to share some insights on my visit to Penedès. Wine tourism is not always easy. There are obvious language barriers, but perhaps more importantly, different customs in different regions regarding wine tasting and tours. I went largely unprepared and encountered some stumbles because of it. Here are my recommendations for visiting Penedès.
or better yet, learn some Catalan. We stayed in a lovely little village where no one spoke English. The simplest tasks were difficult. Barcelona (about 40 mins away) is a bustling, beautiful, international city where, as a result of its tourism industry, has a lot more English speaking citizens. If you can’t speak a lick of Spanish, stay here. You’re life will be much easier. Make day trips into wine country.
Know your Spanish/Catalan Holidays
If you live in a small town in the U.S. you might be used to stores closing for a week or more when their owners go on vacation…if you live in a very small town. I can tell you from experience this custom is alive and well in Spain. We visited Catalonia at possibly the worst time. Our Labor Day is Catalonian Fiesta Day, while 9/11 is Catalonian Independence Day. During this two-week period it is not uncommon for store and restaurant owners to close for the duration. All three restaurants in our little town of Sant Pau d’Ordal were closed for nearly the entire duration.
Adopt the Siesta Life
Prior to visiting Spain I, of course, knew about siesta. The French and English have similar customs of closing during lunch time. However, the Spanish take this concept to a whole new level. Siesta starts somewhere between noon and 1pm. No problem here. However, I never did quite understand when it ended. Stores have posted hours of operation like we do here, but unlike us these are more-or-less intended as “guidelines” vs. rules. Also, unlike France and the U.K., in Spain EVERYONE goes on siesta. Not just stores, but bakeries, charcuteries, national parks, museums, and even tourism offices. From the hours of 1p to 3p-ish, towns appear to be literally abandoned. Larger cities like Barcelona are an exception, but in the small towns siesta is serious, um, non-business. As a tourist you need to plan accordingly. Even though you’re on vacation, get up early enough to see sights and tours. This is really the only time of day you can be somewhat spontaneous. During siesta, there are some tapas bars open to at least get lunch, but afternoon events can be dicey if unbooked.
You’re Not in California Anymore
Wine tourists are pretty spoiled throughout California. They can find an abundance of wineries open nearly everyday including Holidays. The more adventurous know that most smaller wineries are by appointment only. Throughout Europe, appointments are the rule with virtually all wineries. The problem is most family-owned wineries are unknown to us Americans, so how does one find them. I didn’t do enough research before I went, but I got lucky when I visited Albet i Noya. My host Marta was gracious enough to give me a list of wineries to visit–which is how I learned about Can Rà fols dels Caus. Another method is to find a wine bar and inquire there…which I did at the Vinseum in Vila Franca. In any case, plan ahead as much as possible and try and keep your schedule open to appointment availability.
Take the Path Less Traveled!
There are easier ways to travel to foreign countries. Most Americans take the path most traveled. They stay at brand name hotels, go on English-speaking tours, eat at English-friendly restaurants and ultimately, see and do all the same things every other tourist does. Some of the best memories I have are when I stumbled into places where I had to use a lot of hand gestures while struggling to communicate. In a weird way I think I connected more personally with these people than the ones who spoke English. It was like our shared awkwardness was in some way also an ice breaker. At least for me, the people I’m with and the people I meet make a vacation more memorable than the sites I see. So, wine tourists, I say be awkward and take the path less traveled!