View down table of all gold, main dining room, Les Cols, Catalonia

Les Cols Restaurant in Olot: paradise in Catalonia

Where do I start with Les Cols? This two Michelin-starred restaurant is housed in a 15th-century country house refurbished and extended by award-winning architects, and set among apple orchards and tall oak and acacia trees that sway and rustle in the wind. The restaurant has its own vegetable garden in a nearby valley among the hills. My idea of paradise: where food, nature, landscape, design, poetry and music meet.

The location: on the edge of the town of Olot in the Garrotxa Volcanic Nature Park, en route to the ski slopes of the Catalan Pyrenees. The Garrotxa is known for its extinct, tree-covered volcanic hills, its vesicular black rocks and for a white bean from the village of Santa Pau.

Les Cols is where Fina Puigdevall was born. She is now the owner and chef at Les Cols – translated from Catalan as the ‘cabbage heads’.

I took a photo of Fina in an outside ‘building’, the Envelat (the marquee) of Les Cols. It’s not a building but a “filter to capture nature“. These are the words of the Pritzker award-winning architects, RCR Arquitectes, whose founders went to school with Fina.

FIna Puigdevall, Chef & Owner, Les Cols, CataloniaThe Envelat is “like a wood with trunks, branches, leaves and clearings” – the space was bathed in light when I was there, as well as at every moment when the sun is up.

I could write a book and shoot a film about my visit one Wednesday in September to Les Cols. Instead, I have limited myself to the below.

5 things about Fina

  • Fina Puigdevall has three daughtersMartina, also a chef at Les Cols, Clara and Carlota. Two were there the day I visited, dressed in black like all the other staff – the best colour for letting the surroundings speak for themselves. Fina’s husband, Manel Puigvert, meanwhile, is the restaurant manager.
  • Puigdevall translates from Catalan as ‘hill of the valley‘; exceedingly appropriate given that Fina, when not in the family country house, or masia, lives in a strikingly modern house in a valley, overlooking the restaurant’s vegetable garden and R&D centre.
  • She speaks to apples. Not any old apples… apples whose varieties are (almost) as old and as local as the hills of the Garrotxa. I found this out from watching the beautiful short film on Les Cols by Spanish film director Isabel Coixet, a friend of Fina’s.
  • Her grandmother went to school with Salvador Dalí, who was born in nearby Figueres (see my visit in 2015), home to the Dalí Theatre & Museum.
  • My favourite quote from Fina is “I try to establish the relationship between each moment and the beauty, and to live intensely every minute”.

    5 things about Les Cols

    • The restaurant is on the refurbished ground floor of the family’s 15th century masia, with the family house of Fina’s mother upstairs.
    • It’s a pleasant 45-minute drive from Girona. A stopover between Bilbao and Barcelona?
    • You can stay in one of the five pavilions of Les Cols Pavellons, each with a heated onsen, private bathroom and a comfortable futon – and no one can see through the all-glass walls. No radio. No TV.  Pure contemplation, watching the sunlight – or the stars – shine through the trees. I did not have time to see the pavilions. Next time. Nighttime and daytime picnics are available.
    • The symbol of Les Cols is buckwheat – the Garrotxa is the only place in Catalonia where buckwheat grows. “Its flavour embodies all the idiosyncrasies of a race of mountain dwellers that is happy to obtain everything t needs to live from the land,” I read. In September, a carpet of white buckwheat flowers – humming with insects – spread across the field behind Fina’s house in the valley and overlooking the vegetable garden and R&D centre.
    • The book Anima by Les Cols Restaurant is the best ‘food’ book I have ever held in my hands. In Catalan, Spanish and English.

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    5 things about the menu

    • The cuisine favours the “rural landscape and the seasonality: simple but essential; austere and humble but intuitive, intimate and authentic.”
    • I opted for the ‘Summer & Nature‘ (Estiu i Natura) Tasting Menu – there is also the vegetarian ‘Garden & Henhouse’ (Hort i Galliner) Tasting Menu. Difficult to choose.
    • Special Thursday menu for €20, with spring and summer centred on a typical local rice dish served in the Tossols Pavilion and in autumn and winter the traditional Catalan soup & stew, escudella, in the Envelat, or marquee.
    • The menu itself is pure poetry, while the experience is accompanied to music selected by a local music teacher and friend of Fina’s – I picked out the dulcet tones of the mediaeval music for which Catalonia is so famous.
    • The dining room overlooks the orchard, where the hens scratch, peck and strut – as calming as watching flowing water. The scene unfurls almost at eye height as the restaurant is where in olden days the cattle were kept, under the main house.

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    Les Cols in pictures

    Apricot & radish canapé, aperitif, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Apricot & Radish Canapé. My first bite of food from the Summer & Nature Tasting Menu, served on the terrace of the masia with a glass of  house cava… Cava Natura Les Cols Mont-Ferrant, made by Catalonia’s oldest producer of cava, founded by Agustí Vilaret, who made his money in South America. 

    Aperitif, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Then came the above… served on a locally made plate, resembling the volcanic nature of the Garrotxa region.

    The terrace for the aperitif, Les Cols, Catalonia

    The terrace, with garden designed by Fina’s father. For me, it had the feel and simple lines of an amphitheatre – a space for a performance, with a sense of expectation.

    Carbon bean tempura served with romesco sauce, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Carbon Bean Tempura Served with Romesco (a sauce of red pepper, garlic & almonds) in the kitchen with a glass of local Poch’s beer … which gave me a chance to take a picture of the kitchen.

    Black and white view of the kitchen, Les Cols, Catalonia

    The kitchen at Les Cols.

    Buckwheat spaghetti into a smoked broth, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Buckwheat Spaghetti into a Smoked Broth. Buckwheat, or fajol in Catalan, is a symbol of Les Cols and of the Garrotxa region – a staple for many centuries, which has largely been forgotten.

    Menu, Les Cols, Catalonia

    The Summer & Nature (Estiu i Natura) Tasting Menu, with words that create a story for each dish.

    Leaves, herbs & flowers, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Leaves, Herbs & Flowers – from the vegetable garden in the valley.

    Dishes of olive oil, salt & bread, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Olive oil, bread, salt – the basics of life.

    Tin of the Garrotxa caviar, white beans from Santa Pau, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Garrotxa caviar – white beans from Santa Pau, a few minutes’ drive southeast of Olot, and a speciality of the region.

    Frozen Cottage Cheese (made with sheep’s milk), Anchovy & Basil… from the Ripollès sheep I had seen on the farm that morning.

    Wine pause at Les Cols

    For the first part of my meal, the suggestion was Ekam by Castell d’Encus, a Riesling with a touch of Albariño with noble rot, that fungi beloved by winemakers looking for fuller flavour and a more intense sweetness (but not enough in this case to make the wine sweet).

    Castell d’Encus is a high-altitude winery, at 1,000 metres, in the Catalan Pyrenees, just north of Tremp, in the province of Lleida. The winery only uses herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers permitted by organic farming.

    Glass of Ekam white wine, Les Cols, Catalonia

    I then went on to a glass of SantBru 2015, from the Monsant Denominació d’Origen, just south of its more famous neighbour, Priorat. A blend of Syrah, Cariñena and Garnacha Tinta.

    Label of Santbru wine, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Back to the menu

    Summer truffle royale and maize dish, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Summer Truffle Royale (left) and Corn Royale (right).

    Fresh eggs and bread dish, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Fresh Egg in Different Colours (potato, green bean, carrot, red pepper) and Fresh Egg with Chanterelles & Stew Sauce… and especially made bread.

    Trout, jabugo ham consommé, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Trout & Jabugo ham consommé. Jabugo ham is from the Andalusian town of Jabugo.

    Tomato with sheep's cheese, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Tomato from Our Garden with Sheep’s Cheese – described in the menu as “best right now” and it certainly was.

    White plate with salt cod, loin, brandade, cod gut, kokotxas, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Salt Cod Loin (fattest part of the fillet), Brandade (a creamy mix of poached salt cod and olive oil), Cod Gut, kokotxas – from left to right. When I ate them, I did not realise that kokotxas were cod throats – they were good.

    Duroc breed pork rib, peach, mint, with knife and fork, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Duroc Breed Pork Rib with Peach & Mint. Sometimes things are just too good and I forget to take a photo… until after I have tucked in.

    Plate of local cheeses, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Catalan cheeses with jams – my favourite was the tomato jam.

    Glass of ratafia with watermelon & vodka

    Glass of ratafia – a local drink infused with herbs – with Watermelon & Vodka

    Blackberries from the forest with ice cream, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Blackberries from the Forest with Ice Cream.  This dish was introduced as ‘collected in nature’.

    Hens in orchard, view from restaurant, Les Cols, Catalonia

    The view from my seat in the restaurant.

    Summer volcanic landscape on black plate, Les Cols, Catalonia

    Summer Volcanic Landscape – ‘inspired by the nature that surrounds us’.

    5 pastries along a trunk of silver birch, Les Cols, Catalonia

    The pastry finale, served on a trunk of silver birch

    The farmhouse, Les Cols, Catalonia

    The masia or country house – with the terrace where I had my glass of cava under the arches.

    The exterior of the marquee at Les Cols Restaurant, designed by RCR Arquitectes

    After lunch we walked over to the Envelat (the marquee at Les Cols Restaurant), also designed by RCR Arquitectes.

    Old stone wall inside the marquee at Les Cols, Catalonia

    Old stone wall inside the Envelat of Les Cols

    The finale at Les Cols

    It was the perfect day. Life slowed, allowing time to feel, savour, look and listen, appreciate; to see new colours and enjoy new pleasures, in new ways.

    I would travel across the world to meet a person as unique and as warm as Fina, and to experience her food. I could not help likening my experience at Les Cols to my visit to Central Restaurant in Lima, at the start of my journey into the world of ‘food and wine experiences with a dash of art and consciousness’.

    The Tasting Menu at Les Cols is €95 including VAT and excluding wine pairings.

    When I first heard about Les Cols, I was taken by the idea of visiting this magical place. This was made possible by the Tourist Board of the Costa Brava and the Girona Pyrenees, who I was presented to by Mrs O Around The World.  Thank you to everyone.

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