“This must have been how most Galician forests looked not so long ago”. It is inevitable to say this while walking the path that runs through the Fragas de Catasós. This is a forest that might seem tiny to those accustomed to hiking and large areas of trees in areas such as Courel or Ancares. It is, however, one of the best examples of Atlantic deciduous forest still preserved in all of Galicia, a summary of the Galician vegetative heritage compressed into a few hundred square meters.
Because the Fraga de Catasós, located in the municipality of Lalín, is very small in size (it covers just over four and a half hectares), but great in natural importance and scenic beauty. Visiting it is very easy thanks to a short hiking route, adapted to all ages and physical conditions, well equipped with wooden railings, which makes a loop inside the Fraga and partly following the Quintela river.
In Fraga de Catasós you can observe several plant species typical of the Galician forests, but the ones that will attract your attention,without a doubt, are the spectacular chestnut trees and oaks, which are among the tallest and oldest in Europe. The oaks show their age by bending their branches and trunk in whimsical shapes; the chestnut trees grow tall and, in the spring, cover the hill in the shadow of its impenetrable foliage.
These chestnuts are testimony of times in which this tree was one of the protagonists of Galician economy. Its fruit was until not so long ago one of the bases of the Galician diet: before being replaced by the American potato, the chestnut was part of the daily meal of hundreds of thousands of people. Chestnuts were also fundamental for the traditional architecture of the country: the beams, the doors, the furniture of patrician houses were usually made out of this wood, of great durability and very valued tone. In the first part of the route you can see the trunk of one of those chestnut trees felled in the early eighties by Hurricane Hortensia, which caused serious damage in Galicia. A close look at the rings and the bearing of the specimen clearly show what kind of giant trees we are talking about, capable of withstanding for years both the heavy storms and the stones of majestic country houses.
It is striking that a place like the Fraga de Catasós, located right next to the very busy national road 525, which links Lalín with Ourense, survived in its primitive state while in its surroundings it is difficult to enjoy a forest with these exceptional qualities. It is clear that chance had a lot to do with this situation, but also important was the commitment of an American phytopathologist, Filippo Gravatt, who fought to have its status as an exceptional place recognized. At present, Catasós holds the qualification of Natural Monument, which guarantees maximum protection and makes it easier for visitors to enjoy a unique haven in which to dream of Galicia’s mythical past.