Are you planning a trip to Catalonia and looking for a charming town to explore? Look no further than Vilafranca del Penedès. This historic town, founded in the 12th century, is located in the heart of the Penedès wine region. With its relaxed village feel and numerous buildings and monuments that recall its past, Vilafranca is a must-visit destination for history buffs and wine enthusiasts alike.
The town dates back to the 12th century. During the Middle Ages, Vilafranca del Penedès played an important role as a border town between the Christian and Moorish lands. The town was granted special privileges by the Count of Barcelona, which helped it become the most populated town in the Penedès region.
In the 19th century, Vilafranca del Penedès became known for its wine production. The town’s location and climate were perfect for growing grapes, and its wines quickly gained a reputation for quality. Today, Vilafranca del Penedès is still considered the wine capital of the region.
Things to do in Vilafranca Del Penedes
Table of Contents
- Things to do in Vilafranca Del Penedes
- 1. See the Basilica of Santa Maria
- 2. Drink Cava at the top of the Santa Maria Bell Tower
- 3. Walk the Art Nouveau Trail
- 4. Learn about Human Towers
- 5. Learn about the History of Wine at Vinseum
- 6. Hit the Bar a Vins Trail
- 7. Visit the Saturday Market
- 8. Admire the town’s street art
- 9. Eat Black Rooster
- 10. Take a day trip to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia
- 11. Visit a winery – Torres
- Best Time to Visit Vilafranca del Penedes
- Festivals in Vilafranca del Penedes
- How do I get to Vilafranca del Penedes?
- Where to Stay in Vilafranca del Penedes
- Hotel Mercer Casa Corner i Guell
- Mastinell Cava & Boutique Hotel
- Hotel Boutique Font de la Canya
1. See the Basilica of Santa Maria
One of the most impressive landmarks in Vilafranca del Penedes is the Basilica of Santa Maria. This stunning Romanesque church dates back to the 13th century and is known for its beautiful gargoyles and intricate carvings. Inside, you’ll find a variety of religious art and artifacts, including a 15th-century altarpiece by artist Jaume Huguet. The door on the side wall is actually original.
Opening hours for the church vary across the week but it is open most mornings from 9am to 1pm and in the evening between 630 and 830pm.
2. Drink Cava at the top of the Santa Maria Bell Tower
One of the most impressive elements of the Basilica Santa Maria church is its 60-meter-tall bell tower Campanario de Santa Maria. And I can’t think of a better way to experience this tower than to climb it at sunset and have a glass of cava at the top!
Walking up the bell tower requires the navigation of a rather small spiral staircase. The first stop is a small interior room with a beautiful weather vane represented as an angel. You’ll also see the cells where the monks slept. The monks could ring more than 27 different sounds, announcing religious and social events.
The top terrace is 52 meters and has fantastic views over Penedes. This is where you can enjoy a glass of cava and watch the sunset.
Sunset visits to the bell tower are run by the tourism boards on Saturdays during summer. The bell tower building is independent of the church and located next to it.
3. Walk the Art Nouveau Trail
In Catalonia, Art Nouveau is known as Modernisme. This style erupted in Penedes after the phylloxera disaster wiped out many of the region’s grapes towards the end of the 19th century. Modernisme converted Vilafranca from a rural town into a small city.
Today there are still many beautiful examples of Modernisme in Vilafranca del Penedes and the city has put together an art nouveau route. The tour starts at the Basilica of Santa Maria and has 20 stops in the town’s historic center. Be sure to keep an eye out for the Casa Miró, a beautiful building that is considered to be one of the best examples of Art Noveau in the region.
4. Learn about Human Towers
One of the most unique and exciting cultural experiences in Vilafranca del Penedès is witnessing the Catalan tradition of Castellers. These human towers are a symbol of unity and teamwork, and they are truly a sight to behold. The Placa de la Vila is where human towers are created on key festivals and holidays. The public can watch both the main performance and the rehearsals.
Vilafranca del Penedes has three casteller teams with over 1500 members! If you’re visiting town outside of a festival or holiday, you can learn more about the town’s human towers at the Castellers Exhibition.
5. Learn about the History of Wine at Vinseum
The vinseum is dedicated to the vineyard and wine. It was the first wine museum in Spain when it was established in 1945. Today it is undergoing a massive exciting renovation which is due to open in 2024.
In the meantime, an exhibition displays just a few of the museum’s vast collection of wine-related artifacts and provides an overview of the current renovation.
Vinseum also runs regular wine-tasting events, an international wine festival in the summer, a wine cinema festival competition in November, site visits and concerts.
But best of all, Vinseum has a brilliant on-site wine bar called Taverna de Vinseum. They serve a huge range of wines by the glass (200 from Catalonia alone) as well some fantastic local meats and cheeses. I loved my visit to Taverna de Vinseum and the delightful sommelier Enric. Don’t miss it when in Vilafranca Del Penedes.
6. Hit the Bar a Vins Trail
The Bar a Vins trail is 16 wine bars located in the historic old town of Vilafranca Del Penedes. Taverna de Vinseum is on the list and I also visited L’Angelus, which has outdoor seating facing the Santa Maria church.
There is a Bar a Vins passport and if you get it stamped at all 16 bars, the tourism offer will give you a bottle of DO Penedes wine as a gift!
7. Visit the Saturday Market
The Saturday market is held in the old center of Vilafranca on Rambla de Sant Francesc between 8am and 2pm. There are generally over 200 stalls selling products from all over Catalonia.
8. Admire the town’s street art
In addition to all the beautiful historic buildings in the historic part of Vilafranca Del Penedes there is also loads of modern street art in town. If you follow the art nouveau trail or the wine bar trail you will walk past the majority of the street art in town.
Each piece of art has a QR code that provides more information on the piece as well as the artist.
9. Eat Black Rooster
The black rooster is the star of Penedes cuisine. Every year before Christmas a rooster fair is held in Vilafranca del Penedes but if you are visiting at another time of year you can enjoy black rooster at many of the city’s restaurants.
I tried some very tasty black rooster cannelloni with a cream sauce at the outstanding Cal Blay Origens in nearby Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. Find out more about it in the next section.
10. Take a day trip to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia
The lovely town of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia is just a 20-minute drive or a 15-minute train journey from Vilafranca Del Penedes. Sant Sadurni d’Anoia is the home town of cava wine and there are over 15 cava wineries in town running tastings and tours.
I highly recommend visiting Freixenet for a cave wine tour and tasting. If you take the train, Freixenet is located literally next to the train station so it couldn’t be more convenient. The standard tour is very reasonably priced and includes two glasses of cava. Or do what I did and enjoy one of their tasting pairings. I can highly recommend the chocolate passion tasting.
Have lunch at the outstanding Cal Blay Origens. Their seasonal menu regularly changes. Cal Blay owns several highly-rated restaurants in Spain and opened a stunning boutique hotel last year (more of that in the where to stay section of this article).
After a tasting and lunch, it’s time for chocolate. Head to Espai Xocolata, the Simon Coll chocolate factory in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. Take a guided tour of the chocolate production process (which, of course, includes a chocolate tasting), or just head straight for the fantastic shop. I went home with quite a bit of chocolate.
If you want to learn more about cava, head to the Cava Center. There is an immersive exhibition, all the information you could need about tasting cava in Penedes as well as a tasting space.
11. Visit a winery – Torres
The Torres family has been making wine in Penedes for three centuries. The company was founded in 1870 and the fifth generation now runs the winery. Torres runs tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in three different languages.
Take their small train across the vineyards where you’ll see the sheep and roosters who do a job previously taken care of by tractors. The cava cellars are quite spectacular.
After the train tour it is time for tasting. The tasting I experienced combined Torres wines with locally sourced delicious tapas. I followed this with a fantastic lunch at the winery’s restaurant, El Celleret. If the weather permits make sure to book a table outside so you can enjoy the amazing views all the way to the Montserrat mountains.
Best Time to Visit Vilafranca del Penedes
Vilafranca de Penedes is a great place to visit all year round, but the best time to visit is between May and November. During these months, the weather is warm and sunny, making it perfect for outdoor activities such as wine tours and hiking. However, keep in mind that these months are also peak tourist season, so expect larger crowds and higher prices.
If you prefer to avoid the crowds, consider visiting during the off-season months of December to April. The weather may be cooler, but you’ll have a more peaceful and authentic experience. Plus, you may be able to snag some great deals on accommodations and activities.
If you’d like to read more about Spain check out my articles on the best wineries in Rioja, things to do in San Sebastian, Barcelona landmarks, most beautiful cities in Spain and Spain’s most famous landmarks.
Festivals in Vilafranca del Penedes
Fiesta Mayor de San Fèlix takes place in August every year. This festival is in honor of the town’s patron saint and includes parades, concerts, and fireworks. One of the most famous events during the festival is the Correfoc, where people dress up as devils and run through the streets with fireworks.
In May this capital del vino holds Ferias de Mayo.
If you’re planning a trip to Vilafranca de Penedes in September, be sure to check out the town’s annual wine festival. The Harvest Festival is a celebration of the region’s wine-making heritage, and it’s a great opportunity to sample some of the area’s finest wines.
How do I get to Vilafranca del Penedes?
The easiest way to get to Vilafranca de Penedes is by car or train. If you’re coming from Barcelona, you can take the train from Sants station, which takes about 45 minutes. If you’re driving, take the AP-7 highway towards Tarragona and exit at Vilafranca del Penedes. It takes just under one hour depending on traffic.
The town is situated about 60 kilometers southwest of Barcelona and 30 kilometers east of Tarragona.
Where to Stay in Vilafranca del Penedes
Located in a Catalan Art Nouveau building that dates back to 1884, this branch of the stylish Mercer Hotels is the perfect place to stay while in Vilafranca del Penedes. It has a brilliant location on the old main square just a few short steps from the pedestrianised old town center and the Plaza de la Vila.
The hotel has 14 rooms and 3 suites. The interiors are modern and stylish, with flashes of deep reds and browns. My room was on the top floor and it had a lovely balcony with views over town.
The ground floor has a bar and a lovely glassed-in conservatory in the back where an excellent buffet breakfast full of locally sourced ingredients is served.
For such a stylish boutique hotel it is also very reasonably priced.
If you’re after a more decadent stay whilst in Vilafranca del Penedes check out Mastinell Cava and Boutique Hotel. Its location is not as good as Hotel Mercer Casa Corner in Guell as it is just outside town. However, this is an award-winning design hotel designed to resemble a stack of wine bottles with a Gaudi-esque mosaic tiled roof.
If you’re looking to stay somewhere special when visiting Penedes, I highly recommend the beautiful Hotel Boutique Font de la Canva. The hotel is owned by the wonderful Cal Blay Group (I mentioned their restaurant earlier in the article) and is one of the most delightful boutique hotels I have stayed in recently.
The hotel is a 20 minute drive from Vilafranca Del Penedes and sits in the countryside surrounded by olive trees and with amazing views of the mountains of Montserrat.
Staying here is like staying at your most stylish friend’s country retreat. The grounds are just stunning and so beautifully landscaped with palm trees, olive trees, an outdoor swimming pool and a small lake. (there is another stylish swimming pool inside).
I lost track of how many photos I took of the interior of the hotel as it was so inspiring. The design aesthetic is simple with soft furnishings in shades of stone and grey-green. This carries into the eight beautiful rooms. Polished wood floorboards, white walls and ceilings, plants and loads of plush pillows and robes create a stylish yet oh so relaxing experience.
You will absolutely want to eat all of your meals here when you stay, as the food is amazing. There is also an honesty bar that is home to loads of local wines (and cava of course), plus snacks. The ground floor is filled with comfortable shared areas inside and out that are perfect for wine tasting.
You’ve reached the end of your trip to Vilafranca de Penedes, and hopefully, you’ve had a fantastic time exploring the town’s many attractions. From the historic town center to the wineries and vineyards, there’s something for everyone in Vilafranca de Penedes.
If you’re looking for a more rural atmosphere, Vilafranca de Penedes is the perfect destination for you. The town is surrounded by beautiful countryside, and there are plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors.
My trip to Vilafranca del Penedes was sponsored by the Catalan Tourism Board. However, as always my opinions are my own.
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