Over the mountains – off to France!
From the Costa Brava, the French border is just a stone’s throw away. We spent a day on a road trip to discover the mountains and two ancient factories in french Pyrenees. The skylight is open, the radio is turned on and finally the fresh, mountain air is in our lungs. The sun is shining, and a breath of tramontane is blowing through our hair. We go along the rough coast, with a view of the horizon, where sky and sea meet.
Then through the evergreen cork and holm oak forests of La Garrotxa. And all of a sudden we are already in the Pyrenees. The landscape shines in a surprisingly lush green, very soothing after the long, hot and dry summer by the sea. With a deep breath we enjoy the fresh mountain air. The bells of the cows ring homely. The first snow is already visible on the highest peaks of the mountains.
Mountain peaks & weekly markets in the Pyrenees
We stop in calm, little villages. Time seems to have stood still in them. In Sant Pau de Segúries there is a weekly market. We buy cheese, tomatoes, sausage and bread. Then we continue to the centuries-old small mountain town Camprodon. We are tempted to take a little break and walk through the village. Walking along the torrential Ter river, over the bridge with the enchanting view of the peaks of the Pyrenees. Colourful houses, small cafés and many pretty shops with the products of the region invite you to linger and shop. Delicious sausages and ham, well-ripened cheeses from happy sheep, goats and cows and handmade bread from wood oven, end up in our shopping basket as a souvenir for home. Of course, we have to bring along the delicious Birba biscuits—which have been made in Camprodon since 1893.
We have another “Café con hielo”—the refreshingly light iced coffee in Spain—and continue heading towards France. Shortly before one o’clock we make a small detour to the village Espinavell. It is time for lunch. The restaurant Les Planes at the foot of the village and the imposing mountain peaks, attracts you on every excursion with its regional cuisine made from fresh regional products. We eat a fresh farmer’s salad and trout from the river. Delicious! In the afternoon we cross the pass and approach today’s destination: Saint-Laurent-de-Cerdans. Here we have arranged a visit to the two small historical factories of the village.
Traditions and handcrafts: How the factories were built
„Les Toiles du Soleil“, the Catalan weaving mill, was founded at the end of the 19th century. At that time, Saint-Laurent-de-Cerdans became one of the places where the textile industry and sandal production flourished. Hard to imagine, but even the miners wore the traditional Catalan lace-up sandals made of fabric—called vigatanes—when working underground.
In the ancient factories in french Pyrenees, the tradition of Catalan weaving was industrialized, and high-quality fabrics made of cotton and linen were woven in the colours and stripes typical of the region. The company “Sans & Gracerie” from Saint-Laurent-de-Cerdans was very successful and made a name for itself throughout Catalonia with woven fabrics, braided cords and sandals. In 1939, the company reached its economic peak and expanded its product range. From then on, the weaving shop sold not only yard goods, but also finished tablecloths, napkins, pillowcases, bags and curtains. Unfortunately, the factory had to close in the post-war period due to economic crisis. From 1955 the machines stood still, and the factory halls were empty.
…But fortunately, not forever. In 1993 the Catalan couple Henri and Françoise Quinta bought the former factory and reopened this traditional production. Henri Quinta, who still runs the weaving mill today, studied art in Paris and draws inspiration from stored samples when designing the fabrics. Nevertheless, it took courage, innovation and creativity to adapt fabric design to today’s trends and to re-establish it in the highly competitive textile market. The products are successful because of the quality, authenticity, classic style and colourfulness. The style fits perfectly in French and Catalan country houses as well as on the terraces of holiday homes by the sea.
The old weaving looms are still rattling today during our visit. The friendly faces of the workers convey the joy of craftsmanship and product. After visiting the factory, we also browse extensively in the shop and take home colourfully striped fabric remnants for pillowcases and beach bags. If we want to buy some more, the products can also be found here: www.toiles-du-soleil.com
The craft of sandals
“Création catalane”, whose workshops are located right next door in the former “espandrilles” workshop, is our next appointment. The small shoe factory also closed in 1955 but was reopened in February 2008. To produce this comfortable, colourful shoes, only the fabrics of “Toiles du Soleil” are used.
“Création catalane” is one of the last handicraft companies in the eastern Pyrenees. They specialise in “espadrilles” and the traditional Catalan sandals “vigatanes”, which became world famous because they were once worn by the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí.
The small shoe shop in front of the workshop is full of people. We hardly have a chance to get to the shelves. Of course, we not only want to listen to the explanations during the factory tour, but we also want to shop shoes. The decision is not quite easy, with this amount of colour, but then at some point everyone has a shoe box in their hands. And for those who couldn’t decide on a model on the spot there is fortunately the online shop: www.espadrille-catalane.com
On the way back we look up, the clouds hang like candyfloss in the blue sky. The bumble bees buzz around the purple flowering thistles. Slowly the sun disappears behind the horizon. The late summer in the Costa Brava region and the Pyrenees near Girona is simply fantastic.