Summer is almost over and yet some people have been busier than ever; my 90 year old friend Lluis is one of them. First he was busy sorting and platting the onions and garlic and now he is working on this years hazelnut harvest, by hand of course.
Getting off the paved roads in the mountains above Camprodon and Ripoll is not generally recommended in winter with snow on the ground but if you have the right vehicle (a Land Rover in this case) and good maps it can be the perfect way to discover some hidden gems. As well as seeming to step back into a time when people lived in close proximity to their animals and the way of life revolves around these very animals, weather, seasons and church which is what is so different and appealing about this area.
The churches that are found in some of these remote places are some of the best preserved, at least from the outside, in the whole Pyrenees. It was really in the 12th Century that the existing churches were built at a time when there was peace and prosperity in these parts on top of older more basic structures that date back to the 10th Century and earlier.
Near the tiny village of Ogassa (pop 46 alt 1,200m) we find two particularly fine examples in Sant Marti Surroca and Sant Marti d'Ogassa. The first gets its name from the massive outcrop above it as it means under the rock in Catalan. These mountains later became famous for their mines, especially coal and lead in the 18th and 19th Centuries.Now the mountain scenery is the main attraction and in summer it is a great place to escape the crowds and heat of the coast.
Camprodon is about an hour's drive from Girona up into the Pyrenees and only some 20 kms from the French border. It is also close to Vallter 2000 the nearest ski resort so at weekends in winter lots of skiers are wandering around shopping and looking for places to eat.
We are here to shop for local specialities too- on offer there are some mouth watering displays and quaint old shops which seem to be from several centuries back and still going strong.
One of the so called advances of our age is that we can get everything anytime and we take for granted being able to consume food items which are linked to an area or region at any time without really putting them in context. Camprodon is a market town in a mountainous region where the local foods reflect what they produce, and they have made sure to promote and preserve their local products which is fantastic.
So what are they? Well, you can find all types of pork sausages, a variety of cheeses made from goat, cow and sheep milk, pastries made with walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and honey from the high mountains. The animals are left to roam free eating what is available in the different seasons and consequently are leaner and more flavourful than the bland intensively farmed alternatives we are so used to.
Shopping becomes a pleasurable, exciting event as each shop you enter has their own way of making sausages or pastries that have passed down through the generations and which they insist you try and will explain in detail if you show the slightest interest and language is not an insurmountable barrier.
Once you have loaded up these foods lend themselves to picnics along some of the walking paths or next to some of the clear streams marked all around the area so head for the hills!