BARCELONA — The panoramic view that unfolds each morning outside my Gran Hotel La Florida window is simply breathtaking. Below my wrought-iron balcony, Barcelona’s skyline spreads out like a colourful Spanish fan — a sea of terracotta rooftops drifts off into an azure harbour dotted with ocean-going ships.
The scene has inspired poets, painters and at least one legendary writer — Ernest Hemingway apparently penned some of his most colourful accounts of the Spanish Civil War while a guest at the Gran Hotel La Florida in the late1930s.
The reason I’m afforded such jaw dropping views is because La Florida sits atop puny Mount Tibidabo, which, at just 512m, is the tallest hill in the Serra de Collserola, the rolling mountain range that backdrops this glorious Catalan capital.
Mount Tibidabo offers visitors sweeping views of Barcelona’s low rise cityscape and some of its most iconic landmarks are easy to spot — the spiers of Gaudi’s unfinished Basílica de la Sagrada Família and beautiful Barcelona Cathedral stick up in the valley below like pins on a map.
La Florida is not the only famous occupier of Mount Tibidabo. The lush hill that’s carpeted with a forest of pine, oak, olive and pencil-straight Cypress trees is also home to a small amusement park, a Norman Foster-designed communications tower, Torre de Collserola, an observatory and lovely Cathedral del Sagrat Cor, an impressive church that crowns Tibidabo’s summit.
Above: Barcelona sprawls out below Gran Hotel La Florida, which sits atop Mount Tibidabo.
Sagrat Cor (Sacred Heart) is just a few minutes walk from the entrance of La Florida, and I share the path connecting the two with hikers and daredevil cyclists who test their skills on the steep, narrow cross-country trails that snake back into the valley.
The massive church, whose history dates back to 1806, is a Neo-Gothic masterpiece that’s topped with a bronze statue of the Sacred Heart. An elevator takes pilgrims to the very top (for 4 euros) where, from 575m above sea level, you get uninterrupted views of Spain’s most beautiful city.
Sagrat Cor’s interior features impressive murals, colourful mosaics, a neo-byzantine crypt and sculptures of famous Spanish saints.
The central interior mosaic depicts three scenes — the handing over of land to Saint John Bosco in the Basilica de la Merced, the Hermitage as the centre of the Romania del Ram (Roman language) and an allegoric group of angels offering the temple to the glory of God.
The interior of the upper temple is dominated by the Great Crucifix, which is illuminated with the natural light that streams through tinted windows. The temple’s gigantic organ bears the coat of arms of each of the Hispanic nations.
Outside the cathedral’s main entrance sits the whimsical amusement park, which was built in 1889 and still features some of the original rides. Don’t expect any bare-knuckle thrills here — the views are heart-stopping, though.
The observation deck in Foster’s neighbouring communications tower rises 10 storeys and on a clear day visitors can see Montserrat, 70km away. Unfortunately, modern-day cellphone towers now share space with Foster’s eye-pleasing obelisk and their addition does not enhance Mount Tibidabo.
Above: Mighty Sagrat Cor church and its spectacular interior sit atop the mountain like a crown.
Getting to the attractions on Mount Tibidabo is all part of the fun. Most rely on a tram/funicular combination and the views afforded passengers en route are truly remarkable. The Mount Tibidabo funicular has been operating since 1901, making it one of Spain’s oldest.
Back at the Gran Hotel La Florida, I enjoy a glass of wine on a terrace overlooking the surrounding brilliance and make plans to have a traditional Catalan dinner in the property’s famed Bistro 1925. That’s the same dining room where famous guests like Hemingway, Rock Hudson, James Stewart and European royalty have broken bread.
The hotel, which suffered major damage during Spain’s Civil War when it was converted into a hospital, was restored to its original glory (with lots of modern additions) during a major 2003 renovation that was accomplished without sacrificing the original splendour.
In the 1950s, La Florida served as the weekend retreat for Barcelona’s rich industrialists and bureaucratic elite and rumour has it lots of cash changed hands during some high-stakes poker and baccarat games. Now, those who visit Mount Tibidabo and stay at Gran Hotel La Florida are the big winners.
Above: An legendary amusement park and a Norman Foster-designed tower, right, also sit atop Mount Tibidabo.
JUST THE FACTS
• Gran Hotel La Florida is just 11km from Barcelona’s city centre. It’s 70 fabulous rooms all feature glorious scenic views as well as marble bathrooms, oak floors and charming terraces. All rooms come with free WiFi. Rates start around $200 (Cdn) a night in off season. For more information, go to https://www.hotelfloridabarcelona.com/en