Wednesday, August 15, 2007

From the seaside to the hillside - Part 3 (Vallvidrera)

In my opinion, Vallvidrera, which is perched on the crest of the Collserola hills above Barcelona, is one of the city's loveliest neighborhoods. To get there, I usually take the FGC from Plaza Cataluña. (FGC stands for Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya, which is the name of the Catalonian government railway system. Within the city, FGC trains run underground, but outside the city they climb out into the light. Barcelona's transportation system is completely integrated as far as fares and tickets go. So, a pass for the metro is also a pass for the FGC.)
.
Directly in front of Café Zurich are two entrances to the underground Metro and FGC stations. From either of these two entrances one can enter the FGC station. To get to Vallvidrera take any FGC train except the one to Av. Tibidabo. There are television screens throughout the station indicating when and from which track the next train leaves. Since there are trains leaving every few minutes, it's usually possible to hop on a train immediately. I've never had to wait more than about 5 minutes.
.
After a short ride, it is necessary to get off the train at the Peu del Funicular station and transfer to the modern little funicular that goes up to Vallvidrera. This funicular station is located in an area known as Lower Vallvidrera (Vallvidrera Inferior). The transfer is easy and fast at this little open-air station; and the ride up the hill, in metal and glass cable cars manufactured in Switzerland, offers some excellent views of the city and sea below. The best views are from the seats in the back of the car.
.
The funicular's hours are 4:30am to 12:15am weekdays and 5:30am to 12:45am weekends and public holidays. Cars run every 6 minutes on weekdays and every 10 to 15 minutes on weekends and public holidays.
.
Although one wouldn't know it from the sleekly contemporary appearance of the Peu de Funicular station and cable cars, this line has been in operation since 1906, when the rail line was extended from Sarrià to Lower Vallvidrera. It wasn't until 1998 that the funicular was converted into the totally automated system it is today.
.
There is only one stop between Lower and Upper Vallvidrera: the tiny Carretera de las Aguas (Water Road) station. At this stop it is common to see hikers and bicyclers getting out. However, I usually prefer to ride to the top and then walk down to the Carretera.
.
Next comes Upper Vallvidrera and a fantastic remnant of the 1906 line -- the modernist art nouveau Vallvidrera Superior station. Walking around this little jewel of a station, with its voluptuously curved windows and entrance, is like stepping back in time to the era of Gaudi. Constructed in 1905, the station was designed by the architect Bonaventura Conill i Montobbio, who who designed a good number of the buildings in Vallvidrera. Make sure to visit the viewing platform at the back of the station's lobby.
.
From here it is possible to take a city minibus (line 111) to the top of Mount Tibidabo, where a large church sits on top of an amusement park overlooking the city. Since Vallvidrera is actually surrounded by the protected Collserola Natural Park, it is also a great place to start off for a hike in the woody hills. Before doing anything else, however, get to know this quaint little neighborhood a bit.
.
The earliest known reference to Vallvidrera appeared in 987, in a document referring to the church of Santa Maria de Vallvidrera and a Gothic style church by that name was built between 1540 and 1587, and is located in what today is the park of Collserola. In the 14th century the "parish" became a "civil jurisdiction." In 1892, what was then the town of Vallvidrera was annexed by the town of Sarrià, which was then annexed by Barcelona in 1921.
.
Despite this long history, major urban development didn't begin in Vallvidrera until the second half of the 19th century, when the characteristics of the area a¡changed from that of a village to a location for summer homes of the increasingly prosperous citizens of Barcelona. A "modern" road was not built to link it with the city until 1888, when the Vallvidrera to Tibidabo roadway was constructed. In 1901 a tram was inaugurated to link Barcelona, Tibidabo and Vallvidrera. In 1906 the funicular connected the area with Sarria. At this time Vallvidrera became a popular summer residence for wealthy Barcelonans. Today it is a handsome residential neighborhood with the characteristics of a small, prosperous town.
.
Directly across from the funicular station is Plaza Pep Ventura. Walking around the little square and the streets surrounding it, one is surrounded by superb views. Walk to one side of the plaza and gaze over the tiled roofs of lovely little houses out onto the green valley below and the Montserrat massif looming in the west. Most of the houses date to the early 1900s, as can be observed by the years inscriptions on the gables. (One house even has a Catalan poem inscribed on it!)
.
Head to the the east along C/ de Queralt, which changes from a street to a series of pedestrian steps. Look between the houses to the left for some great vies of the city. At the foot of the steps you will find the main square of the neighborhood, Plaza de Vallvidrera. Stop in at for a coffee and a sandwich at Bar Josean, which has a back sitting room with an incredible view of Barcelona and the Mediterranean. Nearby, the Can Trampa restaurant doesn't offer much of a view but is a good little spot for lunch or dinner. The plaza also hosts a modernist style wine and cheese shop, as well as a bread shop and a convenience store. One block to the north is the Mercado del Vallvidrera at C/ dels Reis Catolics 2, which sadly is set to close.
.
Walk back to Pl. Pep Ventura along C/ de les Alberes for more fantastic views of the valley leading to Montserrat. Once back at the Plaza, walk up the "street" stairs of C/ dels Algarves. More lovely houses, this time a mix of old and new, will lead you to the Hotel Vallvidrera, dating from the 1900s. Today it is a well maintained senior citizens' residence. It is easy to imagine what the place must have looked lime in its heyday.
.
At this point C/ dels Algarves rejoins C/ de les Alberes. Continue east along Alberes a bit and on the right you will find a steep "stair street" called Escales del Font del Mont carved into the side of the hill. This is one of the ways to reach the Carretera de la Aguas (Water Road) below. At the bottom of the stairs take a right on Torrent de la font del Mont and walk down until it ends at the Carretera de las Aguas. Once you reach this gravel road, head to the left and walk for about 10 minutes to find yourself in a peaceful wooded area overlooking the panorama of the city and the sea. Breathe in the fresh air, have a seat on one of the benches built alongside the road, walk through the trees above the road -- in other words, relax.
.
When you are ready to return to the buzz of the city below, head back in the direction you came, and after about a 5 minute walk beyond the entrance to Torrent de la Font del Mont, where you entered the road, you will find the Carretera de las Aguas (Water Road) funicular station. On the ride down you can enjoy one more glimpse of Barcelona stretching from the hillside to the seaside.
.
Carloz

3 comments:

Bruno said...

I lived on the Ave. Vallvidrera in 1968-69 while I was a student and am curious about what has happened to the old neighborhood. My host family lived in a building that was on a small traffic circle about a five minute walk straight uphill from the Plaza de Sarria. I haven't been back to Barcelona since, and have lost touch with the family. Any info you can provide would be appreciated.

Carloz said...

I'll bet things have changed a bit in 40 years. :-) If you could give me more details, I'd be glad to see what I can find out. Email me at spaintheblog@ownmail.net if you'd like. Cheers, Carloz

Lester said...

thanks for an excellent set of instructions.
I would like to come up via the tram and the other funicular, do the scary roller cooaster, then get a 111 bus down to valvidrera then do your walk and perhaps eat somewhere.
we are doing a thing called the great circular european railway challenge, though I may rebrand to the disOrient express