Winter getaway to Vallès Occidental

Surprises in stone, greenery and smoke in Barcelona’s backyard

No, no way. This is no mere concrete buffer lying between the capital and Central Catalonia, albeit one with a magnificent industrial history. The second most populous county in the Principality, and the only one with two capital cities - Siamese twins that fight like cat and dog - hides away far more than just a couple of usable pine trees, but rather a whole forest of urban and countryside activities that save Barcelona residents from having to travel any further. So, come with us on a warm winter tour of a landscape that is home to 12 out of every 100 Catalan citizens.

Afternoon day 1: Down the Rambla to Sabadell

©Josep Renalias

Splash! The best way to immerse yourself in the plain crammed between Collserola and Sant Llorenç del Munt is by getting acquainted with its two main cities, the fourth and the fifth largest in the country, with more than 200,000 inhabitants each, and especially marked by their hectic activity and strong identities, infinitely more robust than that of the county itself. Hoping that people from Terrassa will forgive us, we'll start with Sabadell, a medium-sized city that, modesty apart, and only half-jokingly, believes Barcelona to be literally its picturesque maritime neighborhood.

The urban network of the city is both wide and long. Wander through the centre from north to south along the stately Rambla or avenue. Take time to linger. The avenue starts at the Plaça Major, the navel of the medieval city and the little that is still left standing from that time, but before setting off on it, wander the parallel streets Carrer de San Antoni and Carrer de la Rosa, to see the moderniste style buildings that once belonged to a now disappeared savings bank, behind which you can devise the noucentiste-style Central Market. While we are still very near our starting point, fix your gaze on three emblematic buildings: the Renaissance Casa Duran - the oldest house in the town -, the convulse town hall and the church of Sant Fèlix, coldly neo-Gothic, but with a Gothic apse and an unmistakably baroque bell tower. Once we are heading down the Rambla, pay attention to the Casal Pere Quart and to the two fountains by Josep Renom; at the end of the route, once you have passed a rosary of shops, taste the Belgian chocolates at Can Genescà or go inside the cinema, with its façade that is a reproduction of the oldest cinema on the Peninsula, which was demolished in the year 2000.

Morning day 2: Warp and weft

Yesterday we set foot in Sabadell and wandered around its centre. This morning we'll delve into its past as a centre for the textile industry. To do so, we would like to recommend the following route: Descobreix l'època industrial de Sabadell. This route is a simple three-kilometre-long zigzagging itinerary lasting two hours that covers the same area we walked around yesterday but which, in 12 stops, puts the spotlight on the most centrally located factories and other constructions related to the textile industry in Sabadell, which today are destined to a variety of functions. The itinerary takes in the Sampere, Codina, Badia, Pissit and Buxeda Vell factories, as well as the old train station - which is now Sabadell Centre - Hotel Suís and the Lluch offices - two jewels of Catalan modernisme - the Turull factory, the Teatre Principal and all the buildings on the Rambla. A good alternative to this intinerary is a gentle morning stroll along Torrent de Colobrers.

At mid-morning we can make the transition from the city of working men to the city of gentlemen. Let's take our first walk around Terrassa. Since Rambla d'Ègar forms a kind of ring around the eastern part of the historical and commercial centre, and since the centre is well worth exploring, the shape our route will take is not vertical but rather like an imperfect Y. And we won't be finding any car traffic! We'll begin by walking down Carrer de Sant Pere where, after passing by Cinema Catalunya, we'll turn right into Raval de Montserrat - the city's forum, so to speak -, where you should look for the neo-Gothic town hall and the moderniste Mercat de la Independència. Go back to Plaça de la Font Trobada and go up Carrer Gavatxons, which will take you to Plaça Vella, where you will find the late-Gothic Catedral del Sant Esperit. From Carrer Gavatxons you can access the Romanesque Plaça de la Torre del Palau, the only remaining sign of Fuedal government in the county. Those with a sweet tooth should check out the Turull cakeshop.

Afternoon day 2: Like a shuttle

If you feel like stretching your legs while surrounded by greenery and you're lucky with the weather, after lunch, consider calling in at two parks: one on the other side of the Rambla, called Sant Jordi, where you can find the moderniste-style masia Freixa, and, to the east of the centre, Vallparadís, the local Central Park, where you will be surprised by a castle monastery and the three Romanesque churches of Sant Pere, a unique ensemble promoted under the name La Seu d'Ègara.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for fresh air outside the town, you may be swayed by two alternative proposals: The route around the Torrent de la Betzuca and the woodland of  Can Bonvilar, seven kilometres on foot between  Terrassa and Sabadell around the golf course, and, for the bravest souls, another circular route: Volta de les fonts, 43 kilometres on mountain bike around 12 natural springs on the outskirts of  Terrassa and Matadepera, from Vallparadís to la Mola. Just remember that it's winter and it gets dark early

Morning day 3: No wool over your eyes

Today we are going to explore industrial Terrassa. Among the local range of guided cultural tours for small groups of friends, couples or families, we recommend that you choose the self-guided wool route, though you will have to call in first at the Leitat technology center if you want to get in. You will explore the Estació del Nord Train Station, the old Acondicionamiento Tarrasense -known today as Leitat-, Vapor Aymerich, Amat i Jover -which today is now the Science and Technology Museum of Catalonia (mNACTEC)-, the house-museum Alegre de Sagrera and the Textile Museum and Documentation Centre (CDMT), as well as many other sites.

Because this region is what it is thanks to modernizing vigor of industry; only a short time ago, in the 1980s, you could still hear the noise of looms in Catalonia's very own Manchester (Sabadell) and in the city of the chimneys (Terrace). If you like museums, delve deeper into the textile industry of Vallès Occidental, a world that is now gone forever, with a visit to mNACTEC, whose main building can be found in the Rambla d'Ègara, and which is closed on Mondays and in the afternoon in summer, as well as weekends and public holidays, and to the CDMT, for which you must prebook.

Afternoon day 3: A mountain called Mola

It's time say goodbye to the region. How time flies when you're having fun, right? The Sant Llorenç del Munt massif, together with the Collserola range, is the most endearing horizon to be seen from the Vallès Oriental. Spread out between three counties, the 14,000 hectares of Natural Park are impossible to explore in a single afternoon. If it's your first visit, or if it isn't, we would encourage you to do one of the 14 signposted routes. Since this is wintertime, we suggest that you take your lunch with you in order to be able to come back early, or that you even set off early in the morning.

Taking in the heart and the peaks of the park, the moderate level walk A la Mola des del coll d'Estenalles is a fairly intensive 12-kilometre trek (six there and six back) between the foot of Montcau to the popular mountain known as Mola. One past the Col of Eres, make your way south on the Crest of Pagès, which will take you to the Romanesque monastery on the top of the massif, passing by the Palau oak, Mas dels Òbits and Morral del Drac. Seeing the sun set from the top of Mola cannot be captured in words. Within the Natural Park, there are 13 other routes of different levels and lengths, one of which has an easy access section.

If you prefer urban tourism, or if the weather is bad, or if you have lingered too long over your post-lunch coffees, don't forget that the region has three other towns with more than 50,000 inhabitants: Sant Cugat, Rubí and Cerdanyola. In fact, all of its 23 towns deserve a visit, from Terrassa to Gallifa, which is 1,000 times smaller.

Cultural venues in Vallès Occidental

Museu del Gas

Opened in 2012, in full economic crisis, and in a square called, appropriately Plaça del Gas, the headquarters of the Fundació Gas Natural Fenosa is set in an old power station with gas engines called La Energía. On display, you’ll find the history of the company and the industry, the historical records of the company and temporary exhibitions and activities for everyone. The first year it attracted 22,000 visitors. Climb up to the lookout for the views.

  1. Plaça del Gas, 8, 08201
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The Catalan modernist-style Aymerich, Amat i Jover factory has been home to the Museum of Science and Technology of Catalonia for the last two decades. It features around a dozen permanent and various temporary exhibits that reflect the scientific advances that have changed our lives and document Catalonia’s industrial heritage. The museum collection is also spread out in 25 territorial museums and the Generalitat government is planning to integrate all of them in the new National History Museum.

  1. Rambla d’Ègara, 270, 08221
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Teatre-Auditori Sant Cugat

With an intense, diverse and top quality programme, this theatre in Sant Cugat has become a benchmark among Barcelona’s satellite towns over its two decades of existence. Designed by two Ramons - architects Artigues and Sanabria – it is a multipurpose space with capacity for 800 spectators. Every year 50,000 people enjoy theater, music, opera, dance, family shows, magic and operetta here, as well as films, lectures, workshops ...

  1. Plaça de Victòria dels Àngels, 1, 08172
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Museu del Monestir (Museu de Sant Cugat)

The building is hardly recent – it’s a Benedictine monastery dating from the 9th century – but the contents are new: the Monastery Museum is the emblematic central exhibiting space of the Museum of Sant Cugat, which was created in 2003, the other being the Contemporary Tapestry Museum in Casa Aymat. Apart from the cloister and the church, the museum harbours an installation on the abbey itself, on Romanesque monasteries and medieval monks, as well as temporary exhibitions on art and local issues, and workshops. Guided and dramatized tours are also offered.

  1. Jardins del Monestir, 1, 08173
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