Romanyà is a tiny village perched at 400m with sweeping views over the valley of Llagostera all the way to the Costa Brava in the distance is dominated by several large medieval houses around a Xth century church.
This is worth stopping to look at if you have time but from here is where things get interesting if you follow the signs to the menhir which is a large granite stone standing in a pine forest some 5 mins walk from Romanyà. Keep going along the marked path, past the village cemetery and you enter an old cork oak forest full of gnarled trees and filtered light. Soon you approach a small hill with what looks like some rocks on it and as you get closer it starts to take shape. This is the Dolmen of "La Cova d'en Daina" a 2,000 BC megalithic burial chamber surrounded by a cromlach of smaller stones forming an 11m circle around it.
The size and location under some huge cork oaks and pine trees was breathtaking. It is a place to just sit and wonder about, imparting a feeling of tranquility, peace and reflexion. It reminded me of Stonehenge before people were excluded from approaching the stones and the setting is Mediterranean instead of bleak England which makes it even better!
Yes, we are talking about the corks that are normally found in a bottle of wine or sparkling wine. This is an industry which has been important for Girona province for 150 years. It is centred on the towns of Palafrugell and Cassa de la Selva, either side of the Gavarres hills where most of the cork oaks are found.
Cork is an amazing natural product which was discovered by the Greeks over 2,500 years ago to seal the amphoras of wine and olive oil they transported around the Mediterranean basin.
As well as being lightweight, it is waterproof and fireproof which means the cork oaks are some of the very few trees that survive the regular fires which sweep through most forests. The trees take about 30 years to mature sufficiently to produce a layer of cork (its bark) but another 15 is needed before it is thick enough to be used for commercial purposes.
So, this is no short term industry, the trees take about 14 years to re-grow its bark for the next harvest which is all done by hand up in the hills. This area is the second largest exporter of corks in the world after Portugal and some 1,500 people are still employed in some way by the industry locally.
Unfortunately, like all mature industries, there is severe competition from other methods of closing bottles which are more economic and the market for corks is sliding steadily. Their niche is still relatively secure in the more upmarket sectors of the wine and champagne sectors but the cheaper end is moving to plastic corks or screw-caps.
Make sure you come and take a tour of a cork making factory (ask at the local tourist information offices) or visit the cork museum in Palafrugell before this fascinating industry disappears forever!