Photo by Juliette Tayar
The Collserola provides a nearby refuge from urban life
Parc Collserola, with over 8,000 hectares, is an isle of green in the middle of one of the most densely populated urban areas on the Mediterranean coastline. Fifty percent of the population of Catalunya lives less than 10 kilometres away from the park, making Collserola the largest metropolitan park in the world; it is 22 times larger than New York’s Central Park. This vast expanse of green geographically and visually marks the city’s boundaries. The park’s location between the city and peripheral towns avoids the extension of infinite urban sprawl.
Far more than being just a geographic buffer zone, the park represents a natural and ecological treasure. Two climatic worlds come together on the mountain range: the Euro-Siberian and the Mediterranean, producing a diverse mosaic of landscape where one can find forests of Aleppo pines and nut pines, evergreen oaklands, riverside copses, scrublands, brush and Savannah grasslands. In the park, over 1,000 major plants have been catalogued. This environmental diversity enables the existence of a rich, varied wildlife. Some 300 species of animals have been recorded in the park: wild boars, genets, stone martens, badgers, rabbits and squirrels. Bird life is extensively represented, and includes blue tits, whitethroats, tree creepers, woodpeckers, doves and also birds of prey, such as the goshawk and sparrow hawk.
In spite of Collserola’s rich and wide-ranging bio-habitat, the park remains largely unexplored by most city residents. The uphill relationship of Collserola to the city means more effort is needed to get to it than the beach. Nonetheless, the park has its own rewards with something for everyone from poetry buffs to mountain bikers, medievalists to star gazers. While seemingly appearing remote and inaccessible, most of the park’s recreation areas, landmark sites, and trail-heads are located relatively close to public transport. A few lines of the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC) traverse the park and the last stops of the L5 metro line leave you within a few hundred metres of the park’s perimetre.
The best way to get a glimpse of all the park has to offer is to simply walk across it from Barcelona to the Vallès valley. “The hiking trail from the Parc del Laberint (Mundet metro stop) to Sant Cugat showcases the diverse and varied features of the park,” explained Ana Preto of the Parc Collserola Information Centre. “This trail, like the entire park, can be enjoyed during any time of the year. Since the park is located in a Mediterranean zone, there are not any dramatic changes from season to season.”
The recommended trail makes up part of the GR 6, Gran Recorrido or Large Route, that goes from the Horta neighbourhood to Montserrat (the different GR trails and routes are designated and organised by the Spanish Federation of Excursionists). From the trail-head on the streets of Horta, the path abruptly rises through meadows with low lying shrubs with grassy areas. The sparse vegetation is a result of the long hours of sunshine.
As the trail begins to rise more steeply nearing the crests of the Collserola mountain chain, the vegetation starts to fill out into forest full of evergreen and deciduous trees. At the same time as the vegetation transforms, so does the hiking experience, the dissonant sounds of the traffic of the Ronda de Dalt begin to fade out and the soothing sounds of leaves rustling and birds chirping fill the silence. This section of the trail provides spectacular panoramic views of Barcelona. With the natural landscape in the foreground and the city in the background, these views bring into sharp focus the park’s role as the ‘green lung’ of the metropolitan area.
Upon reaching the crest, if you detour from the trail along GR 92 towards Torre Barro, after half a kilometre you will be able to look down on an abandoned brick Modernista building, Can Masso. Set in the middle of the woods, the decrepit mansion looks like it comes straight out of a haunted house horror flick. Returning back along GR 6 in the direction of Sant Cugat, the vegetation slightly changes into large oak trees and, eventually, mostly pine trees.
The different types of fauna found in the park also vary according to different types of vegetation. The large prey birds and mammals are predominantly found in the oak forest. “The park’s most plentiful large mammals are badgers, genet, and wild boar, but don’t expect to see them out on the trail,” said Preto. “They are by and large nocturnal animals and are very infrequently encountered by visitors.”
The trail also winds close by a couple of the park’s historical and architectural gems, Sant Adjutori and Sant Medir, both dating from the 12th century (to get to the Sant Medir shrine follow the signs to a detour path and the church is only a couple hundred metres away). This Romanesque shrine has a simple single nave with a rectangular floor plan, a square apse, barrel vault and bell gables. Every year on March 3rd, according to a tradition dating back to the 16th century, people congregate at the shrine, take out the Sant Medir carved sculpture, and bring it in a spectacular parade with decorated carriages, roses, horses, flags, candies and costumes to Gràcia.
Upon approaching the two shrines on the trail, the park’s vegetation begins to change once again. On this shaded side of the mountain range, the slope flattens out and the vegetation gradually transforms into a woodland environment with species of elm, water willow, and white poplar trees. The trip down to Sant Cugat offers unassuming yet equally beautiful panoramic views of the other side of the Collserrola with a patchwork of farm lands and mid-sized towns extending along the horizon. As the path nears Sant Cugat, the forest eventually disappears and is replaced by an agricultural landscape. After a few hours of hiking in the wilderness, the rural landscape and the suburban environs of Sant Cugat provide a pleasant stopping point before returning with the FGC to Barcelona.
The GR 6 route is only one of many walking routes across the park. Starting out from the park’s information centre (next to the Baixador de Vallvidrera FGC station), there are several shorter and circular routes that have been designed. There are different guided thematic visits organised by the information centre staff to go bird watching or visit Romanesque structures, among other possibilities. The centre also organises astronomy nights taking groups out at night and explaining different celestial phenomena with a high-powered professional telescope. With so much to offer so many the park’s variety of attractions offer an escape from the everyday routine of city life.
In addition to hiking paths, there are biking paths and horseback paths in the park.
For complete information about all activities see www.parcnaturalcollserola.cat