From the outset, I knew I was in trouble in Costa Brava, Spain. Not only did I love the people, architecture, and scenery, I loved the food! As if conspiring to pierce my Achilles heel, Costa Brava Girona Tourism Board, the main sponsor and host of the Travel Blog Exchange Conference I had come to attend, focused on the cuisine of Catalonia. It began with an opening night party, held at the 12th century Castell de Sant Gregori. I stuffed my face with lacy fans of Parmesan cheese that dissolved on the tip of my tongue and devoured an exquisite mushroom risotto. I swooned over mango and chocolate desserts, all prepared by El Cellar de Can Roca, said to be the second best restaurant in the world – no argument from this aficionado.
By the end of the conference I’d gained five pounds and there was more to come. A press trip on the heels of TBEX would keep me gorging on the cuisine of Catalonia more or less continuously for the next three days. Our itinerary included sampling organic yogurt at a local dairy farm, a traditional Catalonian breakfast at a 700-year old farm, and a catered party at the ancient Arab Baths in Girona. On day six I rolled out of bed like a beached whale and perused the day’s schedule, overjoyed to discover we would be hiking volcanoes in the Llemena Valley. Finally, a reprieve that would allow me to work off the bulge that was beginning to creep over my waistband!
A short while later our bus ground to a halt and spit us out in front of a peaceful farm that squatted at the base of a densely forested humpbacked hill. We climbed steadily to a ridge where the panorama revealed itself; from east to west, a string of eroded hills ringed the valley like a circle of overturned bowls. Though placid on this sunny morning, 10,000 years ago these now extinct volcanoes spewed lava in living testimony to the fiery forces that formed this fertile valley.
We descended through loose scree, grasping for tree limbs to keep from tumbling headfirst down the slippery slopes, finally arriving in a leaf-littered clearing punctuated by a giant cork trees that are still tapped for cork used to seal wine bottles. Emerging from the dappled clearing we crossed a road and continued down to Torre de Canet d’Adri, a natural spring with a source buried deep beneath nearby Rocacorba Mountain. The crystal emerald waters flow into the volcanic gorge and collect in its bellybutton. My companions gratefully stripped off shoes and socks and soaked their weary feet in it chilly waters as I ran around taking photos, determined to work off as many calories as possible.
After our brief rest we headed back uphill, emerging aside Sant Vicenç, a 10th to 11th century Romanesque church in the village of Canet d’Adri. Grinning, our hosts led us to the interior courtyard of the massive stone structure, where ivory china and crystal goblets set on a table covered with peach colored linen. We were about to sit down to lunch, but this would be no ordinary feast.
The Remença Uprising, one of the most important historical events of the middle ages, took place in and around the Llemena Valley. During the second half of the 15th century, the peasants of Catalonia were among the first to fight for the abolition of “mal usos,” taxes levied on them by feudal lords of the region.
Our hosts explained that the Remenças were serfs, bound to the soil. “If you wanted to get married, you had to pay a tax. If you wanted to have a baby, another tax. And so on – everything required paying a tax.” They toiled under harsh physical and economic burdens and their wives and daughters were open to assaults from nobility, including being forced to work as wet nurses for nobles’ wives. The long-suffering Catalan peasants finally rebelled in what would become known as the War of the Remençes. Today, Remença history is celebrated by the Coal Gastronomy Association, a collaboration between local restaurateurs who are determined to preserve the rustic food traditions of that era.
I took my place at the table and scanned our lunch menu: Coca de Recapte with cheese; fresh salad; grilled vegetables; fig stuffed with foie; snails; rabbit with aromatic herbs; wild boar with chestnuts; chicken with wild mushrooms; and for desert crema Catalana wth Ratafia (a liquor made with traditional herbs and fruit) and cottage cheese with honey, nuts and dried fruit.
So much for working off calories. And then I dove in with relish. Fortunately, being a vegetarian meant I could bypass all the meat, but I made up for it with the desserts. Three hours later, with distended stomach, I boarded the bus for the ride back to Girona. By the light of a sky fired golden-orange I dug into my pack and perused the itinerary for the following day: Shopping in the grocery market and show cooking by a local chef. I groaned inwardly and just accepted that I would be eating my way through the cuisine of Catalonia, Spain for another few days. There are lots worse things in life than a few extra pounds.
My tour around Girona, Spain was hosted by Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona. However, the receipt and acceptance of complimentary items or services will never influence the content, topics, or posts in this blog. I write the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If you love to hike, the Catalonia Region of Spain is an ideal destination for you. To receive a special “Hiking Routes” booklet or for more information about gastronomy in the Llemena Valley, contact the Girones Centre de Visitants (Gerona is the Catalan spelling of Girona) Avinguda de Franca, 221, Sarria de Ter, Girona 17840, Phone:972 011 669 (country code +34), Website with contact form: http://www.turismegirones.cat/uk/index.html.