A JEWEL IN THE MEDITERRANEAN TO BE DISCOVERED BY “THE GUARDIAN”
La Matarrana, Spain
Chosen by Annie Bennett
A convenient situation is usually regarded as an advantage, but not in my book. Places that are not particularly handy for anything are invariably more interesting than those that are an easy drive from an airport or half an hour from a resort. La Matarraña is just the ticket. Tucked away in the right-hand corner of the Spanish region of Aragón, it is only around 80km from the Mediterranean but feels like a remote medieval kingdom. Inhabitants are pretty thin on the ground in Aragón, let alone tourists. The region is inland from Tarragona – sort of between Barcelona, Zaragoza and Valencia – but not really near anywhere.
Although the area is sparsely populated, you can barely move without bumping into an artist, writer or poet. Pablo Picasso spent time in nearby Horta de Sant Joan, which had a great influence on him, but these days the real cultural hub is the pretty village of Calaceite, which has a glut of creative types in residence.
Driving across a landscape of olive groves, vineyards, almond orchards and forests of holm oaks, you reach Valderrobres, which passes for the capital of La Matarraña, with around 2,000 inhabitants. On the banks of the Matarraña river, the town comes complete with a 14th-century castle, a couple of Gothic churches, a Renaissance town hall, a spectacular medieval bridge and a labyrinth of cobbled lanes flanked by elegant mansions in golden stone. It’s rated as one of the most beautiful villages in Spain, but the only tourists you are likely to come across are hikers or cyclists.
This village is a good base for exploring the area, but I always stay just outside at La Torre del Visco a surprisingly chic hotel in a 15th-century mansion which is hidden down a track. There are no televisions, no phones and not another building in sight.
If I can force myself to move, I drive down to the fishing town of Sant Carles de la Rápita on the Ebro delta, to gorge on oysters and gaze at the sea. Now that’s my idea of a Mediterranean holiday.
· Writer and broadcaster Annie Bennett, based in Madrid and Barcelona, specialises in Spanish food and culture