If you're visiting Barcelona, leave two or three days for an escape to Mas de Torrent, a 10-year-old Relais & Châteaux in this hamlet, an hour and a half north of the city. It occupies a 1751 farmstead, and you need remember only one thing when you book: Get one of the 10 rooms in the original farmhouse, for the 20 rooms in the annex, while certainly pleasant, have a could-be-anywhere feel and decor.
In contrast, my room, a junior suite on the second floor of the old building, had massive chestnut beams, thick ginger-colored tile floor, handsome antique farmhouse furniture, a spacious bath with separate tub and shower, air-conditioning, and a CD player and stereo. The stone arch of my balcony perfectly framed the panorama: an amber quilt of wheatfields and vineyards, fig and olive trees, and old stone farmhouses.
The hotel has a large pool and an excellent restaurant that serves not only Catalan classics like fideu, fine noodles cooked in fish broth with shellfish, but great modern dishes like roasted rabbit in herbs and monkfish in saffron. There's also a serious wine list, with several superb and difficult to find Priorat wines from farther down the coast. Close by, in Roses, is El Bulli, Spain's most exciting restaurant right now (see Departures July/August 1999), and in Figueres, the Salvador Dali museum. Plus 10 minutes away is La Bisbal, one of the biggest pottery towns in Europe (most shops will ship). Designs run the gamut from scary to sublime: I picked up a three-piece dinner service for six for $150 that has been the envy of my Parisian guests. $250-$280. Dinner: $80. 17123 Torrent; 34-972-303-292; fax 34-972-303-293. www.mastorrent.com