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Getaway to Vallès Occidental – in touch with nature

Walk part of the ‘Three Mountains route’, and visit an ecological sanctuary

A lot has changed in Vallès Occidental since Catalan poet Pere Quart wrote ‘there’s nothing like the Vallès’. It’s true that it's one of the most densely populated counties in Catalonia, but at the same time, getting out of the city to this area, even for a while, means finding unspoiled landscapes and small towns surrounded by mountains.

Day 1 – afternoon: Gallifa and a walk to Obac

Day 1 – afternoon: Gallifa and a walk to Obac

In the Natural Park of Sant Llorenç del Munt i l’Obac, you'll find a lot of different walking routes. The one we suggest following will introduce you to the country house (masia) of the family that gave its name to the mountain range of l’Obac. It's about 3 km and will take you around two hours to complete. On this simple walk you’ll find an ice well and a copper-coloured hill.

To get to the start of the itinerary, take the B-122 road between Terrassa and Rellinars, and take a turning close to the 10 km mark. There you’ll find Casanova de l’Obac, a large house that the Ubach family had built at the start of the 19th century and is the work of Domenico Bagutti, who also designed the Labyrinth Park in Barcelona's Horta neighbourhood. The house was used by the Ubachs to expand their wine and spirits business, and next to it there was a glass furnace and a dwelling for the workers. Today, the main building is owned by the Diputació of Barcelona and is used as an information point and cultural centre, while a restaurant occupies the space where the glass furnace once stood.

Follow the path, which is well signposted and adapted for anyone with reduced mobility, and in just over half a kilometre you’ll reach Casa Vella dels Ubach (Old House of the Ubachs). The house is in ruins, but you can still see the rooms of a large building with more than a thousand years of life. One of the businesses carried out there was the sale of ice, and the space that generated this commerce is also part of this itinerary: an ice well in an excellent state of conservation. This is one of four that have been found in the Natural Park, and it was used to maintain the ice produced throughout the winter until well into summer, when it was taken to be sold. In addition, some of the Ubachs had other sources of income, such as the production of coal; if you look closely at the ground around the ice well, you’ll see that it's a dark colour. It was here that the coal – much more valuable than wood – was produced.

The walk has other surprises in store, such as the unusual morphology of the Turó Roig. Although it’s not a particularly special geological element, the hill is of interest thanks to its reddish tone, how it appears to crumble like a sugar lump, and because its highest point is 681 metres. You’ll also get to see the Portella spring, where you can take a drink of fresh water.

As this is the time of long summer days, finish your afternoon by visiting Gallifa, a small village of some 200 inhabitants that's a magnet for cyclists, rock-climbers, and walkers and hikers. Gallifa is set among mountains in a deep valley, and it’s no surprise to learn that this area has inspired artists such as Josep Llorens Artigas, a ceramicist who worked with Joan Miró. Today the Artigas Foundation occupies a privileged position in the village, the country house of Can Ros, just below the parish church. The Foundation came about following the efforts of the artist's son, Joan Gardy Artigas, and it hosts exhibitions, conferences, concerts and gatherings of art critics. Perhaps its most important role is as a place where ceramicists can stay and work, taking advantage of its facilities.

In Gallifa it’s also worth visiting the Ecological Sanctuary of the Castle of Gallifa, especially for the magnificent panoramic views you get from its location. It’s about 3 km from the centre of the village and is located inside the old castle of Gallifa and its hermitage. The sanctuary is ideal for relaxing, leisure activities and meditation, and they organise activities such as reiki and remedies with Bach flowers. It’s also an ideal way to bring your first afternoon in Vallès Occidental to an end.

Day 2 – along the ‘Three Mountains Route’

Day 2 – along the ‘Three Mountains Route’

Arm yourself with refreshments and good footwear for the second day of your trip, when you’ll do a first-class walking route: one of the stages of the ‘Three Mountains Route’, an itinerary that takes in some incredible beauty and runs from Montseny to Montserrat, passing through Mola. Due to its length (106 km), it’s generally recommended to do the walk in six stages. You're likely short on time, and there’s so much more to do in Vallès during this trip, so today you’ll just get a taste of the route with the section that runs from Sant Llorenç Savall to Mura. You have to be a reasonably seasoned walker/hiker, as this route is about 24 km and has a total rise of 1,228 metres, so you’ll spend all day on this adventure.

Start in Sant Llorenç Savall, in the direction of the Creu del Racó and the old farming area. Go up the valley toward the foothills of the mountain range of Sant Llorenç del Munt, where you’ll see Marquet de les Roques, an old Catalan country house renovated in the 20th century in the modernista style. This is where one of the hardest parts of the walk starts, with the ascent to the Collet de Llor, and then to the Coll d’Eres, at 942 metres high. From there, you’ll head to the peak of La Mola, going slightly off the itinerary that leads straight to Mura. However, the detour to La Mola is well worth it, not least because on this stretch of the path, you’ll find thousand-year-old monoliths, which are the source of many a local legend. Once you’ve enjoyed the exceptional views from La Mola, return to the Coll d’Eres and head toward the Coll d’Estenalles, which will take you close to Montcau. Further on, you’ll pick up the GR5 walking route toward the Coll de Boix, from where you’ll walk back down the mountain to Mura, a beautiful medieval village that's part of Bages county and the end of your walk.

Day 3 – Sentmenat in-depth

Day 3 – Sentmenat in-depth

The third and final day of your trip will be entirely dedicated to Sentmenat, a town with just under 10,000 residents and many interesting architectural features. At the top of the list are the 11th-century church and castle, on either side of the main centre of the town. Of the original church only the Romanesque tower survives, and it’s been many years since the castle lost its defensive elements. Even so, both are worth seeing, and that’s where you should start.

The bell tower of the church has undergone a lot of renovation but manages to retain its Romanesque features. Even though it’s an isolated tower, it continues to mark time for all in the vicinity. It’s dedicated to Saint Menna, as is the church it was once a part of. Saint Menna was a fourth-century Egyptian martyr, and it’s with him that the name of Sentmenat originated. The current church of Saint Menna is about 20 metres from the bell tower and is baroque in style, from 1744. Unfortunately, there’s not much of the original church left to admire, as it suffered significant damage during the Spanish Civil War, and an overambitious restoration was carried out in 1955. Today, the church does house a few treasures – the most important of which is the altar stone of Saint Menna, behind the main altar, a piece from the Paleo-Christian era, quadrangular in shape and decorated with marble from Carrara (Italy), with graffiti (names and religious incantations) written 15 centuries ago.

As you leave the church, walk to the centre of Sentmenat. Plaça de la Vila, is the epicentre of a lot of local social life. On one of the walls, a plaque quotes Joaquima Mas i Serra, who taught at the town’s public school between 1930 and 1941: ‘What has to be respected in people is their liberty’. The town hall takes up one side of the square, and on the other is the building of the Societat Coral Obrera La Glòria Sentmenatenca, better known as The Choir, which was founded in 1895 and is much more than just a singing group. The building itself dates from 1908 (and is the work of Josep Renom), with a typically Catalan bar on the ground floor, and a modernista façade, which is a Cultural Asset of Local Interest, and crowned by a bust of Anselm Clavé, founder of the choral movement in Catalonia. Talking of modernisme, if you’re a fan of the movement, you'll also want to visit the Sentmenat cemetery, work of the architect Antoni de Falguera.

Finish your tour in Sentmenat at the castle, currently owned by the town. Its initial defensive appearance was transformed first into a more noble style, and later it became a simple agricultural warehouse. Despite this humble office, however, it’s worth seeing because of its grand dimensions and irregular structure.

If you have any extra time (and a car) or want to do more walking, around the town of Sentmenat but inside its municipal boundary, there are many other places of interest such as the huge oak tree in Can Ramoneda, next to the country house with the same name; Can Fruitós, one of the oldest country houses in Sentmenat; and the dolmen of Serra Cavallera, the oldest relic in the area which clearly demonstrates that Sentmenat has been a good place to live for many centuries.

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Where to stay

Hotel Don Cándido

A part of the CIRSA empire, which opened it in 1992, this quintessential Terrassa hotel can be seen from the C-58 motorway. It enjoys a strategic location: at the bottom of the Rambla, between the highway and the FGC railway station. Within its circular structure there are 110 soundproofed rooms with natural lighting, an interesting restaurant called Mun, where Santi Ortiz creates 'evocative cuisine' and the spa Oquo, 'a place to stop time, disconnect and let yourself be carried away'.

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Hotel Sant Cugat

This quality hotel was inaugurated in 2003 right in the heart of the city. All 97 of its exterior bedrooms have views, whether of the historic town, the monastery or the Collserola range. In a lens shape and with a rationalist design, it combines tailor-made wooden furniture with walls decorated in different colours and with artistic photographs. Be sure to visit the bar-restaurant, an open, light-filled space, upholstered in red and with direct access to the garden. The menu features innovative and tasty dishes.

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Hotel Campus Vila Universitària

If you want a taste of student life during your time in Vallès Occidental, while at the same time being surrounded by nature and close to all necessary amentities, you should try the Hotel Campus de la Vila Universitària of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). An establishment with lots of space and 109 bedrooms that are designed simply but have everything you need. While there, you can make use of various University services such as the shopping centre, and the sports facilities that include a swimming pool.

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DoubleTree by Hilton La Mola

This four-star superior hotel has a spa and wellness centre, gardens, outdoor and indoor pools, meeting rooms, and an excellent restaurant, the Obac. Its bedrooms are spacious, elegant and modern, as is the amazing lobby, which connects the two wings. During your, you’ll enjoy a warm welcome and find a chocolate biscuit (cookie, for their American guests) awaiting you.

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