THE IDEA of going to see some of the industrial tourism highlights of the Spanish region of Catalonia sounded a bit dry – until I found out that cava is one of its biggest exports.
Sales of the sparkling wine, made by the same method as Champagne, are apparently booming as people save money when they want a glass or two of bubbly.
The biggest firm by far are Freixenet with their Cordon Negro in its black bottle that is a familiar sight in British supermarket wine aisles.
I was bought my first bottle to celebrate my 21st birthday when I was on holiday in Ibiza.
The company’s picturesque winery is situated bang opposite the railway station at Sant Sadurni D’Anoia in the Penedes wine-growing region and they have a museum there that explains about the wine and how it is made. Outside there are crazy promotional vehicles shaped like bottles and corks on display.
Regular tours take visitors through the museum and into the cellars that are so vast you travel on a little train.
Inside, it resembles a huge multi-storey car park filled with millions of bottles and it felt a bit like a James Bond movie going through the tunnels, as if a secret missile silo was hidden down there somewhere…
The firm’s certainly planning world domination as it exports to more than 150 countries.
After the tour, you can enjoy a glass of cava that’s included in the 6.10 euro ticket price (children get grape juice).
There’s a whole wine route through the region and you can arrange to visit lots of the cava wineries for tastings.
We also visited a much smaller firm, Vilarnau, where, as we went last month during the September harvest time, we saw the grapes being offloaded from a lorry directly into a hopper that crushes them to extract the juice. It’s a bit like olive oil, as the best cavas are made from the first pressing.
Weirdly, at Vilarnau there is a small reservoir which houses a water ski training area. Probably best to leave the fizzy stuff until afterwards, though.
The whole region, which has Barcelona as its capital, is beautiful and green and mountainous – the stunning-looking Montserrat with its jagged outline can be seen from all over the place – and it’s a shame that not many of us Brits explore it.
Nowhere is more than an hour’s drive from the city.
There are plenty of pretty towns and villages and we enjoyed a few hours exploring Terrassa, which made its money as a textile town.
Its past glories can be seen in many of the Modernista-style buildings in the city centre. Modernista is the name the Spanish give to what we think of as art nouveau, and even art deco.
This is reflected in the way that natural forms and curves are an integral part of the building. Mostly this is not as over the top as the famous Gaudi buildings in Barcelona, but the exception is the Masia Freixa in Sant Jordi Park, a former rich family’s home that looks like something off the set of Lord of the Rings.
It is used as offices now but you can look inside on weekdays.
There is a trail round the city centre with information boards giving details of the buildings of interest.
Terrassa also has a tourist office with English-speaking staff who can point you in the right direction of the highlights.
One is the amazing science and technology museum, the Museu de la Ciencia i de la Tecnica de Catalunya, set in a huge former wool mill (website: www.mnactec.com).
Inside you can learn about the history of the textile industry and be grateful that you weren’t a child worker darting under the deafening machines clacking away day and night.
It’s also a great place to stop for lunch at the rooftop terrace restaurant.
The most beautiful modernist building we saw was the Casa Museu Alegre de Sagrera, a former merchant’s home in the main shopping area.
Make sure to go inside and look at the glorious conservatory with its ornate stained glass and the lovely mosaic details on the outside of the rear of the building.
There’s more about the lives of textile workers and bosses in the Parc Fluvial des Colonies del Llobregat, another part of the region where industrialists built a series of villages, known locally as colonies, to serve their cotton mills that are strung out along the Llobregat river.
It’s like Richard Arkwright’s village of Cromford that he built to serve his mill in the Peak District.
We visited one of the colonies, Viladomiu Nou, where the boss’s summer residence has been turned into a museum. You can also walk around and see the workers’ houses, although they are all now privately owned.
An old warehouse in the neighbouring colony of Guixaro has been turned into an excellent restaurant, called La Nau.
While you are in the region, make sure that you visit the amazing Muntanya de Sal (Mountain of Salt) in the pretty little town of Cordona, that had just held its last bullfight when we visited as a ban was put in place.
Details of guided tours of the salt mines can be found on www.cardonaturisme.cat and it is well worth seeing where the miners worked and also the spectacular stalactites and stalagmites that grow in the caverns.
Of course, after all that salt you’ll need a refreshing glass of cava...