It is not necessary to live for long in Barcelona to realize that the word “disconnect” forms a sacred part of the city’s vocabulary. Meal times are almost religious occasions, during which eating well in a relaxed atmosphere is the only golden rule. Evenings are enjoyed by many in gyms that boast, by norm, saunas and Jacuzzis fit for an emperor. Long summer holidays are typical, if not obligatory. In fact, the desire to disconnect has long established roots and stretches as far back as our Roman predecessors.
The importance of therapeutic and medicinal relaxation, in its historical and present day context, can be appreciated fully at Caldes de Montbui, a small town 33 km North West of Barcelona. Declared as a Cultural Heritage Site of National Interest, the roman spas in this town are one of the most extensive remaining sites in Europe. Situated at the foot of the Farrel Mountain (805M), Caldes de Montbui has benefited throughout history from its location on top of natural geological faults that provide springs of hot water, reaching temperatures of up to 74ºC.
In Roman times, a bath building in the town’s centre square, Plaça Font del Lleó, was the focal point of bathing activity, along with other underground pools. It was believed that the water Gods (els Deus de l’Aigua) had blessed the town by making water boil forth from underground. Today, only the ruins are visible to visitors but what remains is impressively preserved. Throughout the streets of Caldes de Montbui there are a number of hot water fountains, the biggest of which, the Lion’s Fountain (Font del Lleó), is also situated in the main square. Further into the town, there is a washing area featuring a number of troughs filled with gallons of hot water. The Tourist Office and Museum are jointly located in the Thermailia, a building that used to be a hospital, but which now houses an exhibition about the roman baths, in addition to art works by Pablo Picasso.
The number of establishments in Caldes de Montbui specializing in thermal baths has decreased since medieval times. In the second half of the 19th century Caldes de Montbui was the leading spa centre in Catalonia and the second in Spain, not only for the number of Spas but also for their quality. In 1844 the town had eight spas, in addition to a Military hospital that used the waters for curative purposes. In 1872 the number of establishments dropped and today’s figure sits at three. All of the current day spa buildings are also hotels and make excellent weekend break destinations. Hotel Balneari Termes Victòria (www.termesvictoria.com) and Hotel Balneari Broquetas (www.grupbroquetas.com), are both three star hotels while the Hotel Vila de Caldes (www.grupbroquetas.com) is a more upmarket four star hotel.
The town celebrates its Festa Major on the second weekend of October when devils, Giants and Bastoners (stick dancers) turn the town into a festive showcase. On the 8th July, Caldes de Montbui hosts the spectacular fire and water festival, Escaldarium, in which fire throwers from all over Catalonia take part in a flaming night of events. A market of local products is held on the second Sunday of every month from 10am until 2pm, in the main town square.
Five minutes away by car is the stunning park of St. Miquel del Fai that spans the valley basin complete with idyllic caves and waterfalls. Unfortunately, as the land is privately owned it is necessary to pay an entrance fee of €6. It is not recommended to eat at the makeshift outdoor restaurant inside the park where quite possibly you will sample the most horrendous frozen fried food you have ever tasted in a paying establishment in Catalonia.
No train service. By car A7 / N-II
By bus: www.sagales.com
Tickets: Barcelona Tel. 93 231 27 56
Caldes de Montbui: www.caldesdemontbui.org
Article by Genevieve Shaw