Living in the least populated village in Catalonia

A family explains why they have settled in Gisclareny, which only has 26 inhabitants

4 min
L’Óscar i la Gemma amb el seu fill Kai a la porta de casa seva a Gisclareny

GisclarenyThe town core has five unique buildings: the church, the rectory, the Town Hall and two private houses. All with stone walls that give the town a postcard appearance. There is also a tiny cemetery and a fountain from which water does not stop flowing. It takes two minutes on foot to walk through it. There is no school, no medical dispensary, and of course no stores. Phone coverage fails in some areas and the garbage truck only passes once every two weeks. It is Gisclareny, in Berguedà, the least populated village in Catalonia. There are 26 people registered there, but during the year there are fewer who live there, around fifteen. However, that is where Óscar Pérez Gutiérrez and Gemma Baños Dieste moved to live in April with their one-year-old son Kai. They did not do it because of the coronavirus but out of conviction, they say.

The town is, without a doubt, an idyllic place. It is located in the Parc Natural Cadí-Moixeró, at the foot of Pedraforca, and the views are impressive. It has almost no inhabitants but its municipal area is immense: it extends over 37 square kilometers. This means in practice that you have to drive everywhere, or do some good walks. For example, from the City Hall to Óscar and Gemma's new house it takes about fifteen minutes by car, or better said by 4x4, because the dirt road - and now with ice - is impractical for conventional tourism.

Some scattered houses can be seen. If bumping into someone is difficult due to the few inhabitants there are, the distances make it almost impossible. Óscar and Gemma admit that they can go for days without seeing anyone, or only meeting members of their own family, because Gemma's parents and brother also live in Gisclareny. In fact, the house where the couple has settled is owned by Gemma's father: he bought it as a second residence 28 years ago and was fixing it little by little. It is an old flour mill next to a river. The soothing sound of running water is heard in the background.

"We didn't want our son to grow up in the city", Gemma argues as she cradles the sleeping child in her arms. For this reason, she explains, she, a 38-year-old music therapist who worked in two music schools, and he, a 47-year-old graphic designer who worked in a digital printing company, took the step and left Vacarisses, in the Vallès Occidental, where they lived up until then. Vacarisses is also a town, but comparatively it has nothing to do with Gisclareny. It has at least 6,800 inhabitants. But their lease was running out, so Gemma and Óscar couldn't continue living there even if they wanted to. They admit that they first looked for a house on the Costa Brava, but who can pay a rent with prices through the roof? So they finally settled in Gisclareny. Gemma's parents have a rural house where Óscar could work. What was not expected, however, is that a pandemic would change life in the town from head to toe.

"We eat what we plant"

"We are doing works in the rural house", Óscar explains. This is how he now occupies his hours, and also takes care of the horses, the chickens, the beehives and the garden. In fact, he claims, he doesn't stop all day. "We eat what we plant”, she adds, listing everything they have grown: beans, calçots, potatoes, lettuce, peppers ... "With what we spent in Vacarisses in a month, we can live here during four or five".

There is no doubt, however, that they have had to adapt to village life. Óscar says that he has become a handyman, because "you can't call an electrician to come here, and if a pipe breaks, you also have to fix it yourself". They have become used to having a large pantry and to relativizing time. "Here you have one day to go shopping", he declares. They go to the next town, Bagà, which is only about seven kilometers away, but the journey already takes half an hour by car on a curvy road. They usually go once a month or sometimes more often if they get overwhelmed from being in Gisclareny without socializing with anyone. Gemma also says that she has become fond of shopping online, but she also has to go to Bagà. The messenger does not reach Gisclareny.

“'What if something happens to the kid?' They ask me”, Oscar confesses. He answers: "What if it doesn't happen?" He assures that they prefer to live daily, without thinking too much ahead. The closest primary healthcare centre is in the town of Guardiola de Berguedà, half an hour away by car. And if they are cut off by the snow, Gemma's brother is in charge of driving the snowplow that Gisclareny shares with four other towns. Therefore, it doesn’t bother them too much. "When the child has to go to school, then we'll see what we do", they resolve.

Gisclareny Mayor Joan Tor explains that the town had a school decades ago. It was in what are now the premises of the City Council, but it closed at the end of the sixties. In fact, he clarifies, Gisclareny never had a large population: in 1800 it had 600 inhabitants, but in 1979, when he was elected mayor for the first time, there were already only thirty. Yet he affirms: "We are not the classic abandoned town”. Gisclareny's population multiplies by three or four in summer, and the past summer was no exception despite the coronavirus. However, since the Government decreed the municipal lockdown, the town has run out of visitors. Nevertheless, Óscar and Gemma confess that, with or without movement restrictions, in Gisclareny they feel as if they were "confined”, yes, but "voluntarily" and "in a natural space".