In July of 1994 electrical sparks ignited a fire in Berguedà. High summer temperatures and winds spread the flames to nearby towns. The fire lasted 16 days, ravaged 48064 acres of land and caused the death of 4 individuals. One man inspired by devastation found opportunity among the ashes and created Els Casals; a magical place almost in a world of its own.
The rustic hotel is cozy and inviting, filled with smiles and memories to be made. The restaurant brings together tradition and modernity in a way that does the local and seasonal produce justice. Owned and operated by Oriol Rovira, he carries on a legacy of farming with the help of his family. The main focus at Els Casals is to always emphasize a powerful bond between cuisine and countryside. In Els Casals cooking is another way for them to communicate who they are and what they stand for.
Els Casals is divided among 2 properties. The one most people become acquainted is home to the hotel and restaurant where spectacular views, fresh air and birdsong can be appreciated wherever you choose to sit or walk. The other property houses livestock raised for the kitchens, crops used to make animal feed, a processing plant where cured meats and sausages are made with old recipes, student and employee accommodations and an extensive vegetable garden. The garden rotates seasonally and produces strawberries, carrots, multiple lettuce varieties, eggplant, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and so much more! I was unable to really appreciate the bounty of the garden due to the autumnal season when I visited.
Catalunya is not Spain. I usually pride myself on being well-informed and researching my destinations before choosing them, but occasionally I miss my mark. I had looked up the restaurant location and studied the chef. I found articles in Spanish and maps of Barcelona. Catalunya is a nationality of Spain comprised of 4 provinces seeking to be an independent country. Arriving at Els Casals it was obvious that I was completely in the dark as to what to expect. Imagine my surprise when Oriol picked me up from the local airport, with his children in tow, speaking rapid fire Catalan. The language was unlike anything I had ever heard before; it was dense, guttural and enveloping.
He took me on a quick tour of downtown Barcelona through the different neighborhoods and we stopped for a bite at another restaurant he owns. His charming, energetic kids were quickly amused with my foreign sounding name and excited to practice English and Spanish with me. Oriol treated me like a long-time friend; I felt at home instantly. I could tell from my quick introduction into the Catalunya culture and the world of Oriol Rovira, I was in for a ride. Throughout my stay in Catalunya I visited historical towns, farmer’s markets, local bars and spent many a night enjoying the company of new friends and colleagues.
Everything is different in Catalunya. Pool tables only have red and yellow balls, decks of cards are adorned with 19th century designs, most people work split schedules with siesta time (similar to Italy and Mexico) and politics as well as soccer are serious issues. The kitchen staff even invited me out to watch a soccer game at a local hole-in-the-wall style bar; naturally I chose to root for the opposite team contrary to every single other person at the bar. I do not recommend doing that if you value your life. Luckily everyone realized I was doing it for fun and I got away with it.
I truly feel Els Casals is a phoenix, not only because of what it was born out of but also because I believe you arrive as one person and leave completely changed. Els Casals owns a piece of my heart and I would love to experience it again at least 3 times, one for each season I am missing. I grew fond of the people who make Els Casals what it is as much as I fell in love with the establishment itself. It was an experience to grow from.
Until next time… Adéu.