Guardian of the Sant Guillem refuge. “When I learned that this refuge was freeing up, I flashed on it. »
My name is Nathalie Sola,
I am 52 years old and I come out of a restaurant course, classic hotel.
By chance, I had gone to help Thomas Dulac, one day, at the Cortalets refuge. He wanted me to do the season with him and I told him: “No. I have other things to do”. And yet, in one weekend I was won over by the clientele. It's such a different vibe! In addition, I am really Catalan and Catalanist and it was for the trobada1. I loved it...didn't even feel like I was working.
Was it that trobada weekend that brought you here?
There ! It was in 2012 I think, and I did three more seasons with him. It's really a coincidence that I stayed on the Canigó massif since then. In the meantime, with my companion, we created a transport company; we brought people from Prades to the Cortalets refuge and in 2018 when access began to be restricted, we knew that this refuge was freeing up. I fell in love with it because I found it super beautiful and, for Myriam and Stéphane2 it was not a suitable place for them so they left; I applied and in 2019 I started my first season here. In fact, basically I'm more from the Conflent valley and being here makes me discover the other side of the Canigó.
Was it an opportunity?
Yes. Me, what I like (I'm more of a walker than a hiker) is to receive people, to work with local products and the atmosphere that there is in the refuges: when people share everything, when they discuss with each other without knowing each other. What we do not find in the classic restoration, what.
Were you used to shelters even before working there?
Not at all.
When I was little my father took me on a lot of hikes so yes, I knew the massif; I had climbed the Canigó like many people. But the refuge atmosphere was something unknown to me until I worked at Cortalets. And really, it was so cool!
How many of you are working here today?
I started on my own with my companion, but it was a bit tight: the Canigó Tour is a product that is growing, more and more. Last year with COVID, you could say it was year zero. I hired one person, but people have completely changed the way they go on vacation. Before, people planned ahead; now they call you for the next day, for the day after and it can sometimes be groups. This year I feel that things are moving a lot and that people want to go out hiking. So I decided to hire three people, plus me.
Are the people who do the Canigó Tour specifically Catalan or is it a completely mixed audience?
From experience I would say that people come from all over France. I also work with Padisarc, which is a tour operator based in Ripoll and which sends me practically all the Catalans from the south. With last year, we can't give too many references; It was very, very strange, but this year, it's impressive: local people, from the villages opposite Bages, from Thuir, come to do the Tour du Canigó. They get to know their region and they are delighted because we know more about the Conflent side, where I call it Disney Land: it's more Mariailles, Cortalets... There are a lot of people there because there's the GR 10. People used to eat the “dry” Canigó, let's say, but today people take more time. And seeing this side which is very green, these magnificent forests… So that's the big surprise of the year: locals, lots of locals.
And here, what are they looking for?
More and more people who are going to make small loops: leave from Prats-de-Mollo, go down here in the evening, then go back down to the plain. In addition, in the region, thanks to the 1 euro buses, they do not need to take their vehicle; they make the loop and they take another bus. Others want to experience "refuge", which they don't really know. And at noon I have a lot of bed and breakfasts: spa guests or people who come to do green tourism in the hinterland and who come for the day. This is why I do a much more elaborate type of catering at lunchtime than in the evening.
You talk about green tourism. It's true that here you can feel the presence of trees, the natural environment and, at the same time, tourism much more centered on sport, surpassing oneself... How do you perceive these two trends: both a space protected and at the same time a space consumed for leisure?
I cannot say that it is a place consumed for leisure because there is no crowd. It is still preserved and wild. It's starting to come, but I still feel the clientele is very aware of this. For example, I put selective sorting and people find it great: “It's natural. And when we walk around, we don't see any paper on the ground; it is preserved. But it's less popular than on the other side. It's under development. Well… it's not good for my business, you could say, but people come in, they say, “Oh, that's great, we haven't seen anyone! They are delighted.
You spoke at the very beginning of the trobada. How is it here? How do you experience it and how do you participate in it?
So precisely … The Catalans of the south are really into this event, you know. There is a small village, Banyoles, which has always come here for this even though it is a complicated route: the strongest climb up the Tres Vents to make the peak. It's still technical and it's not the Cortalets! They go get the flame, they come back down here, and they go home on mountain bikes. There are cars that supply them and, but they still come on foot from Banyoles and their little journey takes them a week.
However, since my arrival I suggested that they use the unguarded part that they did not know. Last year, with the COVID it didn't happen, but this year yes. So they came on foot and stayed three nights here. On the business side, they don't take overnight stays from me and they remain independent for meals and breakfast, but I give them free showers and allow them to use the magnificent pizza oven made by Garlic, the former keeper of the refuge of Batère. This is my way of participating: I provide them with the facilities to perpetuate this tradition. Obviously, when they come back, I have the right to the flame and I have my little flame.
You keep your little flame here...
There. But now I don't have it anymore, it's gone (laughs).
Is your team made up of Catalans like you?
No, not at all… Line no; she was born in the region, Océane; she was born in the PACA region and Nathalie was born in Normandy. No, I'm the only Catalan. (laugh)
Has your profession led you to get to know the massif better or to get to know this culture better?
Oh yes, that yes. To get to know this culture better, I would say. When I was little, my grandparents took me to the mountains, but then it was to go to the mushrooms. It was to bring something back, in fact. Today I go there for a walk, to enjoy the landscapes. There are all types of public today: there are people who, for example, from Batera to here, go hiking during the day, in a spirit of competition. And then there are people who plan to bivouac in the middle, because they don't want to walk for more than four hours. They arrive here, they land… It has everyone.
Since you have been working in these refuges, has the view of visitors to this massif changed?
What I see is going in the right direction because, thanks to Canigó Grand site of France and in the practical hikes which are published in the Cortalets or Mariailles sector, the summit part is less busy. This allows people to see that there are other routes to take in the foothills and it gives them ideas for hikes. Here, I have all this documentation with me: at the shelter, we do more than help, give food to people, give them a hot meal, an overnight stay and a shower. We are here to teach. When people pass by, I give them the practical hikes because they are sometimes on the other side of the valley. "You have the Cortalets etc..." It gives them ideas and it's super interesting because with an IGN map they complete, and that's it...
In general, are they already experienced people or new audiences?
We have new audiences and we have spa guests too. The latter do not walk too much but are curious about what there is to do in the region. And then there are those who love hiking and who may be used to the Alps but who like it here because it's wilder. And that's what they come for.
How many people are there approximately per evening?
I have a capacity of thirty, forty beds as I am less crowded than the others. As all reservations are made online (that's great), this may vary. If the Cortalets are full one day, people try to find a low point, then it will jam and everything will happen the same day. And the next day I will have nothing. It works in waves. Afterwards, there are really a lot of people bivouacking this year: they don't want to sleep in collective accommodation and therefore a lot of people who don't plan. They arrive and they ask: “Can we come and eat? Can we come and sleep? These are things that weren't done too much before. And we have to adapt.
I see that inside you welcome them with a particular decoration. Can you tell us about it?
It's true. It is a refuge where the walls are all white; it was made to standard, whatever you want, but it had no soul until now. A friend told me that it looks like an EHPAD. "It's all white..."
It's a bit hard…
Yeah, it's still hard! (Laughs) So, I started putting in old furniture, things like that… And then I remembered that just opposite, in Saint-Laurent-de-Cerdans, there is a company that makes fabrics , the stars of the Sun. These are super quality fabrics with beautiful colors. So I was like, “That's the thing. How to make decoration? Well, with that! » I added the posters of the mountain drawing meetings which take place each year in September. It's a group of pro / semi-pro designers who go around the refuges and stay there for three or four days. I had their entire collection of posters except for last year's which was held here. I wanted to highlight them and I thought it went well with the canvases. On top of that, I also put on espadrilles, because that's still made in France, just opposite, next to the Stars of the Sun.
The advantage, as now we can sell everything on the internet and my customers who come from all over France, even from abroad, is that I can give them the commercial card of these products.
The other day there was a lady, when she saw that, I had just bought them; “Oh, honey here we go! And presto, they went.
Do you do the same for food?
Yes! I take the only person who delivers me, the star of the shepherdess. And it's not a detail because she delivers ice cream to me! (Laughter) It's sheep's milk ice cream that is excellent. Then, I work with the Boulou biocoop, I work with Bio Sud in Céret, I work with local producers for meat… There, there will be a pilgrimage on July 22, so I bought kid in the valley . I also buy meat in Saint-Laurent-de-Cerdans, cheese in Serralongue… And even there, I decided to eliminate all industrial sodas since in the region we have the Cap d'Ona brand which makes the equivalent in Coke, Sweeps, lemonade or Orangina. So, after there is Coke; there, it should not be removed from the map because there …
Is it an important element?
Oh yes. A trailer, if it doesn't have its Coke, it's not good. (Laugh)
So that's the only concession you're making?
I have to, because otherwise I'm going to be insulted. (Laughter) So the rest there won't be, but there will be Coke.
What is the most frequent request you have? What advice do you give?
The most frequently asked question: "What will the weather be like tomorrow?" »
The weather still...
There you go, the weather, always. The ritual is beer. So there too it is beer that is local. The good news also this year is that the refuge atmosphere that was lost last year is coming back. People didn't really know where to go, how to react, so they were each on their table, they weren't talking to each other. I was afraid it wouldn't come back. In 70% of cases, people leave Batera to arrive at my place and go to Les Conques or Mariailles. So they follow each other during the day, they surpass each other, this and that and the other… So they've seen each other all day and when they arrive they talk to each other, and that's what's great.
You yourself have a stamp and you stamp the Canigó passport.
Yes, there is the Canigó Tour passport and as one of the guardians, I offer them and they like it. Well, there are always people who say no because they are down to the gram and they don't want to load up! (Laugh)
But it's not the majority!?
No no. But they like it, it makes them a memory. And we all have our little green stamps with the drawing of the refuge, it's pretty, it's well done. There are emergency numbers; plus there is some interesting information!
You say that there are emergency numbers, but on the telephone network side, is that okay?
So … Next to the chapel there is 4G: Orange, Bouygues packages are fine, SFR a little less. When you're up high, you manage to communicate, but the thing to know is that you always have to put yourself in airplane mode so that the battery doesn't run out. Otherwise, as your phone is constantly searching, it lowers it.
But afterwards, I am happy that there is no network on the terrace; it allows people not to be like that (mime) and to talk to each other. (Laugh)
Is this a positive point all the same?
Oh yes ! But even if I had the option, I would not give wifi. Because I want people to talk to each other.
And does it work well?
Yes of course. They just have to go up a few steps and they have 4G, so they're not cut off from the world. The last time I have an employee who came to work for the first time: “How good is it to be cut off from everything! " There ; there are people who like it, there are people who don't like it.
This is what people are looking for, do you think?
With habits they say: “Do you have wifi? » and when I say no, they say : « Ah, it does not matter ». I still have internet access, a landline and a place where I manage to receive text messages, but frankly, they know they have it there (gesture pointing to the interior of the shelter), and that suits them . Nobody pissed me off. Afterwards, one day I had a gentleman, his lady was injured, so he, of course, I left him the wifi. But these are for emergencies.
1Trobada:Traditional ascent to the summit of Canigó, the weekend before the Feast of Saint John (June 23, day of the summer solstice). On this occasion, the villagers of Catalan villages assemble bundles of wood intended to be burned on the eve of Saint John. Dances, meals and songs accompany this tradition. To learn more about the Saint John's Day.
2 Previous guardians of the Sant Guillem refuge