Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Glimpse Of Green Spain

Thought I would share some travel hedonism here. Spain is without a doubt a delightful country, from centuries old architecture, bustling cities, Mediterranean beaches to snow-capped mountains and picturesque rural landscapes. Here's a glimpse of the green side of Spain, or at least the tiny little bit I got to experience given the short time I had to do so.

I always enjoy exploring new places, especially new ecosystems, when I'm walking in unknown natural areas looking at different plants, landscapes and wildlife I really feel like a kid in a candy store. That happened to me when I started exploring --at least least from a naturalist perspective- the rainforests of my own country Costa Rica or when I moved north of the equator here to the DC area exploring the woods at the Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC those were truly breathtaking experiences.

Located 60 kilometers (37 miles) NW of Barcelona, Montserrat is a particularly charming place for its brew of medieval history and nature. The "jagged mountain," for its meaning in the local dialect Catalan, is an astonishing geological formation of more than 10 million years in the making. The spectacular rocky mountains you see today were part of a delta 50 million years ago. Geologically speaking it is considered a conglomerate, basically a sedimentary rock made up of rounded fragments. The steep base of the mountain is covered with conifers and oak trees. And even though I didn't see any major wildlife it was fascinating to learn that wild boar (which are native in this part of the world), and chamois roam the park.

Particularly fascinating was to see fig trees in the wild. Being from Central America this may sound ridiculous since we have hundreds of cool-looking tropical fig trees there that are closely associated with many fruit-eating bat species and a myriad of other critters. However, the only fig that I can relate to when it comes to food, and a good flavor, is Ficus carica, the species I saw at Montserrat.

A Fig tree (Ficus carica)
The historic charm of the mountain is well represented with the sanctuary of the Virgin Mary of Montserrat with its beautiful monastery at the foot of the mountain. Some of the buildings in the compound date back to the 1300s, and before! The church, the jagged arid peaks and the montane ambiance of the sanctuary makes it a very peaceful place to scape from the craziness of La Rambla and the streets of Barcelona. To add more to the charms, the mountain has a small farmer's market with many local cheese makers and other local farmers selling outstanding cheeses, confectionery and honey. The mató cheese with honey, a local specialty, is a must-try. Another cheese that I clearly remember was an extremely piquant blue goat cheese with a killer kick to it. Take a blue goat cheese from your local grocery store and multiply that flavor 100 times and you get a spicy flavor to remember the rest of your life... That was the only cheese I didn't like though the other rosemary scented and the many other cheeses and honey were out of this world. If you travel to Barcelona and appreciate rural areas and nature, which I assume you do if you are reading this blog, definitely escape to Montserrat and enjoy the Old World's countryside.

Check out this video from the DC-based celebrity chef José Andrés savoring the local wines and the delicious mató cheese with honey.