12 Sep 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.
The 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 daughters – Martina, 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.
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.
Les Cols in pictures
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.
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.
Back to the menu
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.
You may be interested in other blog posts from my trip to Girona this September:
Girona, and the medieval right bank, where I met lots of cyclists.
A visit to Cadaques on the Costa Brava, including Dali’s house at Port Lligat and Cap de Creus.
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