Going “off the beaten track” is always great fun. And this little gem is truly hidden in a valley tucked away in the borderlands of the Alberga natural park and mountain range in north eastern Spain. The Alberga mountains are the easternmost section of the Pyrenees. A short trek north and you will be in France. To get to the Vall de Sant Quirze you need a car, and you need a good map or GPS. An alternative is to park your car at the small village of Rabós and walk the picturesque path along rivers and under cork trees the 6 kilometres to the valley. In addition to all the ramblers who walk the mountain trails, the area is also a popular destination for weekend bicyclists.
We were staying at Costa Brava for a week’s summer holiday, and we got a tip from a friend in the area that the restaurant in the valley served fantastic food, and since we are suckers for local produce, we had to take the trip via the valley on our way to Girona.
It was hard to find for sure, and we were sure we were lost a few times on the way. Lots of wine yards in the region, and a lot of cork tree farms (yes, the wine corks come from the bark of a tree) and we passed many trucks filled with cork tree bark on their way to processing.
When we finally found our destination, we were surprised to find a ruin of what looked like an old church in the valley, and it was not a small parish church, it was big! Very fascinating indeed. After a bit of Googling we found that this was the Sant Quirze de Colera monastery and church dating back to the 8th century! How cool is that? The church was protected in 1931 and has undergone renovations later years, during summer the church and monastery is open for visitors.
Behind the church is the restaurant El Corral de Sant Quirze. This restaurant mainly serves gastronomic fare from the Alt Empordà region, based on home recipes. Charcoal-grilled meats with different garnishes predominate the El Corral de Sant Quirze menu. There are also other house specialities that should be ordered in advance, such as snails, rice casseroles and suquet of ray fish with potatoes. It is quite often full, so booking is recommended. This establishment is in an old farmhouse. The interior is rustic with a large fireplace and the beautiful countryside that surrounds it can be appreciated through all the windows. There is a nice outside patio as well where you can enjoy a coffee after your meal. We had a grand lunch with lots of grilled meat and vegetables, more dinner than lunch, but it was delish!
The hidden valley was totally worth the detour and getting lost on the backroads of Spain is always enjoyable. There are plenty of wine yards to visit, and a few cool places to spend the night if you would like to explore more of the area. Check out Mas Tres Puig for wine and camping options.
We stopped on the way in the small village of Rabós and had a look around. It is a small and very Spanish unspoilt village with an old church the Eglesia Sant Julia from the 14th century, and it is a starting point of many great hikes in the Alberga natural park. The town is dedicated to agriculture, especially olive trees, and wine. The Moscatell grape is really appreciated in the region. Today, most houses in the village serve as a second residence for people looking for tranquility, as have some artists like the British novelist Martin Shuttleworth and the painter Joan Comella. There is a restaurant in the village, Can Tomas, where the traditional regional cuisine is offered at a really good price.