This was the first long holiday weekend of the Catalan school year, or as they call it here, a 'puente'. Since Dia de Todos los Santos (All Saint's Day) fell on a Tuesday, the schools and much of the country of Spain took Monday off too (Halloween) to create a four-day vacation.
Halloween is relatively new to Spain, and friends here tell us that it has only really been enjoyed with costumes and trick-or-treating for about ten years or so. What the locals DO celebrate though, and have always honored here in Catalunya, is "La Castanyada".
La Castanyada is a special day where the people of Catalunya celebrate by eating roasted chestnuts and pine nuts, along with special cookies, and drinking moscatell. This is a special tradition. Historically, bell ringers would stay up all night on the eve of All Saint's Day ringing the bells until morning to remember the souls of those who had passed away.
The family and friends of these bell ringers would stay up with them, and everyone would eat and drink throughout the night to stay awake and energized. That is how the tradition began and it continues even today! (We've been sampling pine nut cookies for a few weeks now... and on Friday, Señor Aventura brought home a bottle of moscatell. It looks like a very fancy wine bottle covered with embossed golden leaves, and while I haven't tasted it yet, he assures me it tastes like an almond dessert wine.)
Around the time of La Castanyada, street merchants pop up selling roasted chestnuts and roasted sweet potatoes on street corners... and mushroom hunting is an extremely popular Catalan pastime on weekends during this time of year!
Locals here definitely celebrate this fun gourmet holiday and at our kids' school there was a fun outdoor carnival on Friday afternoon complete with games made out of raw chestnuts that the students had painted silver and gold.
Most families we know left town for at least a few of the four days off, and we'd planned to head south ourselves... but last week, Señor Aventura and I managed to catch some kind of sneezing virus and didn't really feel up to a big road trip... so in the end, we decided to relax at home and take day-trips instead.
We drove to two of the loveliest places you could ever hope to see... both just a short jaunt from Barcelona. I'll let the photos do the talking here... they're far more worthy than words could be. On Sunday we drove to Montserrat, and later on Monday we hiked in the forest at Montseny.
Montserrat is home to an ancient Benedictine monastery. It is one of the most sacred, spiritual places in all of Catalunya - and the views are breathtaking! Here are photos of our hike (and lunch) in this incredible location.
On Monday, we drove in a different direction to see the colorful autumn leaves in the Natural Park of Montseny. None of us could remember seeing such a sea of red, yellow and orange leaves before. What a treat for Southern Californians!
We hiked for a few hours and then returned to enjoy the most exquisite lunch at a local Can Restaurante at the foot of the trail. The restaurants were packed and we needed a reservation, even though it was for the second seating! Worth every bit of the wait... best descriptors for lunch: savory, mouth-watering, juicy, tangy, delicious! Señor Aventura ordered bacalao with Judia beans in alioli sauce and I had a chicken with prunes, raisins and pine nuts that just about made me weep with its sauce. AH-mazing.
My favorite moment of the entire day occurred spontaneously on our way back down the mountain trail to the restaurant... when we randomly came upon a shepherd herding a huge flock of sheep and goats through a meadow! The forest was so quiet around us and all you could hear were the tinkling bells around their necks. It felt like we'd walked straight into the heart of "The Sound of Music" - I half expected Julie Andrews to pop out from behind a tree at any moment singing "The Hills Are Alive"!
All in all, despite the lingering head cold it was a pretty spectacular weekend.
Just when I thought I couldn't possibly love Spain more... I do!