Visiting Montjuïc is like stepping into a giant playground of discovery. Those who look beyond the major tourist attractions such as the Olympic Stadium and the Magic Fountains, can hear the distant hoofs of horses, the applause of open air theatres, duck flying tennis balls and discover secret gardens. And those who are curious enough to venture to the bottom of the castle's cliff rock will be met by a wild army of rare cactuses.
These prickly and silent protectors stand to attention in the Jardins de Mossen Costa i Llobera, named after a famous Catalan poet. This is just one of many specialist gardens situated in Montjuïc that provide a sanctuary for those wanting to get away from the bustle of life below them. Created in 1970 by Catalan botanist Joan Panella and architect J.M. Casamor, the cactuses have made their home in a former military base, a place with the perfect microclimate for all the immigrant species there.
Recently the cacti have undergone a €2 million make-over, as part of a major campaign by the Municipal Institute of Parks and Gardens, which is reforming 11 public gardens and 26 green areas throughout the city. The objective of the programme is to create gardens that are environmentally friendly, interactive learning spaces, and accessible to all. As a result they have installed wheelchair access, improved information points (also in braille), and in some cases constructed new recreational spaces for children.
In the Jardins de Mossen Costa i Llobera, set to reopen this month, improved walkways are in place so visitors can wind their way in and get up close (but not too personal) to these exotic residents. Workers have removed debris and harmful predators, installing a new irrigation system, and preparing the site for the arrival of new plant species such as the Xanthorroea, Chorisia and Adenium. Although the aim was to maintain the original spirit of the garden, a more artistic approach has been implemented, using lighting effects to show off the redistributed cacti.
The garden is home to over 800 species of cactus and succulent plants from the desert zones of Africa, North America, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Australia and is one of the most important collections in Europe. Thriving on little water and stretching out against the blue sky, the only shade these cactuses need is provided by the 12 different types of palm tree that are dotted amongst them. Ranging in all shapes and sizes, smoothness and spikiness, the prehistoric looking cacti wrap their roots around the rocks below them to support their forked frames, which bloom into spectacular white, pinks and yellow flowers once a year. In its more than 200 years of life, the oldest inhabitant, Oreocereus neocelsianus, will live through more changes in the city than any human being.
Looking out from the park, there are amazing views of the sea, and it’s a prime position for seeing the port. There is no shortage of benches to stop for a moment’s reflection, or for budding artists to sit and capture the essence of their spectacular surroundings. So for a change from small cactuses in pots, why not discover the real deal? The Jardins de Mossen Costa i Llobera are waiting with open spikes.
How to get there:
Carretera de Miramar 1; Open from 10am until evening. Bus 100 or 61, or follow main road up Montjuïc and turn left at the Miramar Hotel.
At press time in April 2007, the gardens had not reopened and in September 2009, it seems they are still closed. You can peer through the fence though.To call Parcs i Jardins before going to find out: 93 413 2300.