LES COLS near Girona: Nov 2023/2018

I had a dream … to visit Les Cols, in the outskirts of Olot, a town in the foothills of the Girona Pyrenees. Les Cols is a two Michelin star restaurant in a 15th century masia, or country house, refreshed with an architecturally striking modern touch, and set among the trees in the volcanic lands of the Garrotxa nature park

Les Cols is the personal project of Fina Puigdevall, born and brought up in the masia. At the time when my dream became a reality, in 2018, Fina was head chef, assisted by her three daughers – Martina, Clara and Carlota – and her husband Manuel Puigvert.  

This November, Martina Puigvert, who has taken over the kitchen at Les Cols, won the Michelin Young Chef Award 2024 in Spain. Her two sisters have also grown in the family business: Clara is now front of house and Martina specialises in confectionery and desserts. It seems like it’s time to go back for a visit.

Les Cols in 2018

The translation of les cols from Catalan is the ‘cabbage heads’.  I saw no cabbage heads when I was there that September day, even though I did visit Les Cols kitchen garden in the nearby Vall de Bianya. 

Since Fina took over in 1990, the masia has been renovated and extended, interesting architectural outposts designed by the local Pritzker prize-winning practice RCR Arquitectes, whose founders went to school with Fina.  I took Fina’s picture in the Envelat, an outside marquee, a space bathed in light and designed to be like a wood with “trunks, branches, leaves and clearings”, writes RCR Arquitectes. 

For this is a land of trees: mature oaks and acacia trees, and apple orchards … as well as scratching hens, and birds and bees.

5 interesting things about Fina and Les Cols 

  • Puigdevall translates from Catalan as ‘hill of the valley‘. 
  • Fina speaks to apples. Not any old apple… 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 the nearby town of Figueres. 
  • My favourite quote from Fina is “I try to establish the relationship between each moment and the beauty, and to live intensely every minute”.
  • The symbol of Les Cols is buckwheat – the Garrotxa is the only place in Catalonia where buckwheat grows. In September, a carpet of white buckwheat flowers – humming with insects – spread across the field behind Fina’s house in the Vall de Bianya. 

The menu at Les Cols

I opted for the Summer & Nature Tasting Menu. The two options now are the Living & Mystical Nature Menu and the Green & Sustainable Horizon Menu. One is vegetarian and one is not, with both having an emphasis on local produce, from goats’ cheese to potatoes from Vall d’en Bas, beans from San Pau, as well sa chestnuts, wild mushrooms, and much more.

The menu itself is pure poetry, and the whole experience 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. 

First I was taken to the terrace, where the garden is designed by Fina’s father. Here I was served  an apricot & radish canapé with a glass of  house cava… Cava Natura Les Cols Mont-Ferrant, made by Catalonia’s oldest producer of cava, founded by Agustí Vilaret. 

Nice and relaxed after my 45-minute drive from Girona, I was then escorted first to the kitchen for a glass of local Poch’s beer served with carbon bean tempura  romesco (a sauce of red pepper, garlic & almonds) and then to my table by the window, overlooking the orchards and the free-range scratching hens. 

This was when the courses began:

  • Buckwheat spaghetti in a smoked broth – buckwheat, or fajol in Catalan, is a forgotten staples of the Garrotxa region, once used to make porridge.
  • Leaves, herbs & flowers – from Les Cols vegetable garden in the Vall de Bianya.
  • Garrotxa caviar – white beans from Santa Pau, a few minutes’ drive southeast of Olot, accompanied by olive oil, bread & salt (the three staples of life).
  • Frozen cottage cheese, anchovy & basil… made from milk from the Ripollès sheep grazing in the field adjoining the vegetable garden.

A pause for wine

I had two glasses of wine:

  • Ekam by Castell d’Encus, produced at 1,000 metres in the Pyrenees. The wine is a Riesling with a touch of Albariño with noble rot, the fungi beloved by winemakers searching for a more intense flavour.
  • SantBru 2015, from the Monsant Denominació d’Origen, just south of its more famous neighbour Priorat. A blend of Syrah, Cariñena and Garnacha Tinta.

The next courses…

  • Summer truffle royale (left) and Corn royale (right).
  • Fresh egg in different colours (potato, green bean, carrot, red pepper) and Fresh egg with chanterelles & stew sauce.
  • Trout & Jabugo ham consommé –  Jabugo ham is from the Andalusian town of Jabugo.
  • Tomato from our garden with sheeps’ milk cheese – described in the menu as “best right now” and it certainly was.
  • Salt cod loin (the fattest part of the fillet), brandade (a creamy mix of poached salt cod & olive oil), cod gut & cod throat – from left to right. 
  • 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.

Then cheese & desserts….

  • Catalan cheeses with jams – my favourite jam was the tomato one.
  • A glass of ratafia – a local drink infused with herbs – with Watermelon & vodka.
  • Blackberries from the forest with ice cream – this dish was introduced as ‘collected in nature’.
  • Summer volcanic landscape – ‘inspired by the nature that surrounds us’.
  • The pastry finale, served on a pristine silver birch branch

Visit to Casa Horitzó in Vall de Bianya

Before arriving at Les Cols, I had visited the restaurant’s kitchen garden in the nearby Vall de Bianya, reached by a small, winding road through the woods. 

Casa Horitzó, the ‘horizontal house’, a family home and the Les Cols research centre, is embedded into a ridge overlooking the garden. It too was designed by RCR Arquitectes as a ‘universe of shared creativity’. 

On the other side of the ridge from the kitchen garden, the dining room, which looks out across the fields of buckwheat,  is half inside and half outside, with views towards the wooded volcanic hills and a Romanesque church.

In the kitchen garden, as much as possible is composted; the old bread  fed to the sheep; the homemade hen coup – the width of a row of vegetables – is moved around to fertilise the soil; the paths are sown with clover and wildflowers grow among the vegetables, attracting butterflies, bees and other insects

It is here that much of the produce for the restaurant is grown, and research carried out by the two agronomists on site as to the most suitable varieties.

It might have been September, but the sun was so strong that day that my usual 1/60 shutter speed was pushed  to 1/4,000.  No wonder the kitchen produce grows so well and tastes so good! 

The Tasting Menu at Les Cols is currently €165.  My visit was organised by the Tourist Board of the Costa Brava and the Girona Pyrenees who I was introduced to by Mrs O Around The World. Thank you to everyone.  For lovers of modern architecture and design, and nature, you can also stay at Les Cols Pavillons

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