A xalar! walking, wine, art (and fun!) in Catalonia, Spain

The village of Barbera de la Conca in Spain seen from a distance

You won’t easily find Barberà de la Conca (locally called Barberà) — it’s so small it doesn’t even feature on signposts — until you’re practically there.

The name aXalar, pronounced asha-LA [/əʃə’ɬa/:] or acha-LA [/ətʃə’ɬa/:], is inspired by the Catalan verb xalar, which means double the fun: doing an activity you already enjoy, but with an added dose of fun on top!

It mattered to us to use a Catalan name: we want our business to be an organic part of the community where we live. It also mattered to us to promise fun: life’s too short!

We have other ideas about how we want to grow, not so much in size, but in responsible tourism principles… but one step at a time, we’ve only just begun!

How the fun started

We are Anne and Ailish, originally from Ireland, who, longer ago than we care to remember, ended up in our corner of Catalonia: a village off the beaten track called Barberà de la Conca. Year after year, as spring turned to summer and summer to autumn, and as we carried on with our rather humdrum, computer-tied lives as translators/editors, nature often reminded us that its particularly Mediterranean glory and exuberance was very different from that of our native country.

big tree at the side of a road in evening-light

Picture Spain … but differently

Picture Spain… but now try to picture a different Spain, it’s Catalonia: fire devils, papier-mâché giants and human towers, not flamenco and bulls. Picture Spain again … but imagine heading inland, away from the madding crowds of the coast, to where you begin to see low green hills, copses of Mediterranean pine, abrupt escarpments, deep ravines, terracotta-coloured earth and, depending on the time of year, fields of flaming-red poppies, golden cornfields, cascades of pink almond flowers, lush grape-laden vines…

wild flowers in a field

A picturesque hilltop village

You won’t easily find Barberà de la Conca (locally called Barberà) — it’s so small it doesn’t even feature on signposts — until you’re practically there. From a distance you’ll see it perched on a hilltop, a picturebook image of a village that grew in the shadow of a Crusader castle built to repel the Moors, and whose distinctive silhouette is shaped by an imposing Baroque church with a belltower that rises high above the village rooftops.

View over rooftops towards the church of the village of Barbera

Cooperativism, winemaking and wine cathedrals

Vineyards, interspersed with the occasional olive or almond grove, cover the terrain sloping away on all sides from the village, which has long been associated with wine- and cava-making. Barberà is home to Spain’s first wine cooperative — which explains the strongly cooperative spirit that pervades all its economic and social activities down to this day. The villagers continue to come together to mark the seasons of the year and age-old traditions in numerous festivals and neighbourhood dinners held throughout the year.

peiple walking around a local market

Barberà’s cooperative building is one of the many modernist “wine cathedrals” in the region, designed by disciples of Anton Gaudí in the late 19th/early 20th century. Its sister building is the original cooperative, nowadays home to a winery incubation project. Indeed, novel and innovative approaches are now a hallmark of Barberá’s contemporary wine and cava industry, based on, among other varieties, an ancient grape variety called trepat, honoured in an annual wine and art festival, Festa del Trepat Vi+Art (held in June).

signs for cultural events

Endless walking and hiking possibilities

The immediate surroundings of the village offer endless possibilities for easy walking through gentle Mediterranean landscapes, while the nearby Prades mountains, Tossal Gros and Vall del Corb offer more challenging walking and trekking routes.

Part of St. James’ Way

Barberà itself is located on the Catalan stretch of St. James’ Way (Camino de Santiago), which takes in the three 12th-century Cistercian monasteries of Poblet (UNESCO World Heritage), Santes Creus and Vallbona de les Monges, themselves linked in a 110-km route called the Ruta del Cister.

walking signpost and path past tree

These monasteries reflect just some of the ancient artistic and architectural richness of the region, which also includes cave paintings (UNESCO World Heritage) and medieval public buildings and monuments, not to mention the more recent but no less spectacular “wine cathedrals”, so-called because of their similarity to religious cathedrals.

Walking bundled with culture

As you will see from our webite, aXalar offers monographic walking, wine or art breaks or holidays, and combinations thereof, all bundled in with cultural activities from the wide range available both locally and further afield.

Example activities

For 2019, for instance, as scheduled activities — all focused on the village and its environs — we offer As I Walked Out in May, In Vino Veritas in May and September and Painter, Paint! in October, each with flexible options for accommodation, main meals and additional cultural visits.

wine-cellar entrance, tractor driving through narrow streets, and view onto Barbera village from a local road

We also offer bespoke breaks, holidays or special events. Above all, we offer a unique and intimate experience of a little-known region of rural Catalonia. Use the aXalar contact form if you would like to know more, we’d love to hear from you!

Also see our listing on WalkingHolidayInfo.

Anne and Ailish

About Anne and Ailish

Anne and Ailish run Axalar, a small rural holiday company in Catalonia. It's their mission to support the local community and offer authentic holidays that ensure an intimate experience of life in rural Catalonia.
Posted on by Anne and Ailish
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