Despite its industrial heritage, Bellmunt is true to its name, meaning “beautiful mountain.” Beautiful mountain could refer to the mines that have been so important to the village and the region. The mountain in Bellmunt’s crest could suggest the costers (steep slopes) of sparkly llicorella that attracts swallows.
Bellmunt is unique in the Priorat. Andalucian-style housing was built for the workers who came when there were not enough people in the Priorat to do the work. The former administration building for the mines is built in the ornate Modernist style.
At its heart, Bellmunt has always been agricultural. Thanks to income provided by the mines, those who owned land were able to continue to care for it. When their work was done at the mines, they would head to the land.
Bellmunt is the lowest, most southern part of the Priorat, so in addition to the llicorella on the mountains, there are also rich sedimentary clay and rocks brought down by the rivers from the Montsant Mountains long ago. Hot, dry winds enter from the Ebro Valley, but cool winds from the sea find their way through the mountains, giving relief to the vines. Garnatxa is the dominant grape, so the wines are softer than others in the Priorat and pretty on the nose.
On a clear day the villages appear across the landscape like wedding cakes sprawling down hillsides. They are close enough to each other to feel connected, but before there were roads, which was not that long ago, they were too far apart to reach in a day. Imagine working in the vineyards, seeing a friend on a hillside across the valley collapse from the hot sun and having no cell phone to call for help. These circumstances kept each village reliant upon its own community. But some people managed to fall in love with “exotic” spouses from other villages, though they were all intrinsically bound by the Montsant.
Technically there are nine villages in the Priorat. Only the land around El Molar and Falset is within the DOQ Priorat, not the villages themselves. Scala Dei is technically part of La Morera, but it has its own community and terroir distinctive enough to be referenced independently. Some villages have less than 10% of the population they had at beginning of the century. After the phylloxera epidemic the population plummeted, and by the end of the Franco era the region was in stasis. But the Priorat was not depressed because, while the people had little money, they still had their land and their freedom, which had value all their own.
As the region finds prosperity again, families are returning to their ancestral villages and restoring their family homes along with the regional pride. Narrow pedestrian streets now make room for modern cars, but the church squares remain the place for social gatherings. The older generation stroll the streets, recollecting each stone and plant along the way. Some things are changing, but others never will.
Ethos Priorat is vividly panoramic. It is best viewed in landscape format to fully enjoy the experience.