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My name is Xavier Bosh and I am Catalan from the South.
Guardian of the Conques refuge
The sensations I had in this place? … It's very pleasant: a very natural, very wild forest.
I was born in 1961 and I have worked in shelters for 40 years. It has always been my profession. I started at the age of 27 at the Vall del Ter refuge, in Vall de Camprodon, on the Spanish side until 2008. I stopped after that for five or six years to do other professional activities. But I always stayed in a job that resonated with cooking and shelters. You know, 70% of the work in a shelter is cooking. Finally I took over the Refuge des Conques with a friend six years ago.
Are you here alone to work or are you with other people?
Normally I am alone but someone who comes to help me on weekends in August. During the week, it's quieter: I prepare meals all day, but it's possible to manage the refuge alone.
How many people pass here roughly every year?
For a normal year, about 600 people and the summer season represents almost 80% of overnight stays for the year.
We imagine that hiking is the main activity of the sector, is not it?
Yes, because there is the Canigó Tour, the Costabonne Tour, the other hikes up to the Pic des Roques and the Llosa, the Pic des Sept Hommes, up to Ulldeter, on the Spanish side, Mantet… There are many of possibilities.
And winter? What can we do at this time?
In winter it is a recommended place for snowshoeing throughout the Puig de la Collada Verda sector. Just in front of the refuge passes a small path through the forest. It was the old cross-country ski trail; for family snowshoeing, it's great!
So you often have families around here?
Yes, because access to the refuge by car makes it much easier for them to come. There are very different clienteles who come to the shelter.
So you can come by car and people can park nearby, but you are not open all year round.
No, we are open from the beginning of July until the end of September. But in spring and autumn we open every weekend. As well as the rest of the year by reservation only.
Are the people who come here attracted by the Canigó massif and travel it regularly or is this their first discovery with the place?
There is a bit of everything. There are those who plan their hike around the Canigó, around the Costabonne or up to Mantet. Or some simply go to Escarts de la Roja, for example. But people who are on vacation in the valley go up to discover this place which is really very pretty.
Do you remember the first time you came here?
What memory the first time? … I arrived here, the first time, in May. It's the beginning of spring here, all the colors are different and … the feeling I had in this place … It was very pleasant: a very natural, very wild forest. Never, never, had I seen a place like this. It's very, very, very natural: you can see the pieces of wood transforming with the earth and the natural process of the forest. It impressed me a lot. It was after, when I arrived to operate the refuge that I did all the exploring of the place, and I found it wonderful.
Do you prefer this refuge to the others then?
Hmm... no! (Smiles) Every shelter is a different place. Ulldeter, my old refuge, where I spent more than 20 years, I always say that it is a refuge at 2200 meters above sea level. Access is on foot or by ski touring but that's it. There is nothing else. I remember a winter when the temperatures were minus ten degrees. And when you live in a shelter with minus ten, running the shelter is very, very complicated, really. Opening a refuge all year round, which is the case with Ulldeter, is necessarily very complicated. But… It's fantastic anyway! (Laugh)
We imagine that there is a special atmosphere!
I really like. I've always said that if I had to do Ulldeter again, if I went back there at the age of twenty, I would do Ulldeter again with all the good and bad things that happened to me there. All together: this experience for me is fantastic. Here it is different.
This is the situation of the refuge and this situation calls for a very varied clientele. We are at the bottom, at 1600 meters, there are 500 meters of level …
For you, we are "down"?
Well, yes, it's very low, yes… For example, here the road comes to the refuge. If you stay isolated in the winter here and you call the town hall to ask if it is possible to clear the road, you can go down. No problem. I found myself in this situation and it is not something complicated. When you're used to the shelter at 2600, it's very easy here. Things are technically easier Here, if it's very cold at night, during the day the temperature rises easily and you recover from your fatigue quickly… Afterwards, what's different between Ulldeter and here is the clientele; for example here below, there are the terms of La Preste. All this brings in an elderly cure clientele. In general they do the cure in the morning and from noon, at the beginning of the afternoon, they are in the mountains here: they come to eat, they take a little walk, they have a pancake or a drink... They give me activity all day.
Can we come and eat here only for the day?
Yes, during the day it's like in a restaurant. I make only one menu, but the clientele is like that of a restaurant. After come the hikers and the rest of the visitors coming for the nature reserve for the animations of this one? There is a program at the start of the summer season which organizes most of the free entertainment. Every week there is something.
You talk about your customers; is it a clientele of Catalans who really know the massif? Do they come for the spiritual dimension of Canigó?
Do you see these people who only come for the Canigó? ...
For the symbol... Hmm, no. Here, basically no. I believe that the clientele that is looking for this rich aspect, goes to the other side and makes it to the top.
When customers come here to eat, and the Catalans are an example of this, they are people on vacation in the Vall de Camprodon. They are on vacation, five to seven days and from the fifth, sixth day they cross the border, go to Prats and climb up here when they begin to know the Vallespir. They come here and they eat there, just have a drink or go for a walk.
How is the Saint-Jean festival going at the refuge?
You, how do you live it? Is the presence of Canigó stronger on this occasion?
Normally I meet the Saint-Jean when I go up the road. Every year I collect a Canigó flame from the summit when it is distributed to all the villages of Catalonia to light the flame of Saint John.
It's something from our land that you won't find anywhere else. It's pretty and that feeling... (Smile)
Did you go up for Saint-Jean yourself?
Oh no! I am always here. That's my problem. (Laughs) I can ride on other occasions but not on Midsummer's Eve.
We see here that it is a land exploited for livestock and pastoralism. How is this cohabitation with visitors going?
Normally people who climb know the legislation quite well, how to do it, how to respect Nature, etc. Generally it is respectful. And as for the relationship with the animals… I always advise people not to approach the breeding. Simply let them. “Live and let live” (Laughter).
It goes well ?
Yes, there are no conflicts.
If you had to give advice to people or send them a message to encourage them to come? …
I encourage them to come and explore the nature reserve. When I was on the other side, I would never have thought there was a place as beautiful as here. So I invite them. That's wonderful. I saw the Costabonne, on the Camprodon side, and the other side is “simple” mountain: but when they look here from the Baix pass… The view up there is magnificent. downstream of the Tech, the Esquerdes de Roja, the Costabonne with all the forest. It's really beautiful. And I invite everyone to come here, to visit and know this place. They will take away a good memory, really.