If you rent a car, you can make a 30- to 45-minute drive through picturesque mountain passes to one of Catalunya’s most evocative and atmospheric monasteries. As a side benefit, it’s smack-dab in the middle of an up-and-coming wine-growing district. Real Monestir de Poblet ★★ (Plaça Corona d’Aragó 11, Poblet; tel. 97-787-00-89; www.poblet.cat) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its most striking feature is the pantheon of the old kings of Aragón—a catacomb of royal tombs. Constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries and still in use, Poblet’s immense basilica reflects both Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. Re-established in 1940 as a Cistercian monastery after remaining vacant since 1835, Poblet is the largest Cistercian community in Europe. The monks pass their days writing, studying, working a printing press, farming, and helping restore the building, which suffered heavy damage during the 1835 revolution.
The monastery is also surrounded by vast stretches of Pinot Noir grapes, originally introduced by Cistercian monks from Burgundy. The monastery’s winery has been rebuilt by the Cordoniú group and is open for free tours and sales. It belongs within the D.O. Conca de Barberà wine region, but is one of the few properties making reds from Pinot Noir rather than Garnatxa (Grenache) or Ull de Llebre (a local clone of Tempranillo).
Admission to the monastery costs 7€ adults, 4€ seniors and students. From March 16 to October 12, it’s open Monday to Saturday 10am to 12:40pm and 3 to 6pm; October 13 to March 15, it’s open daily 10:30am to 12:40pm and 3 to 5:30pm. Except for Monday, when no guide service is available, visits to the monastery usually include tours, mostly in Spanish but with occasional English translations. They depart at 75-minute intervals.