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Montju"c - Best View in Spain

By Jakob Jelling

The mountain of Montjuic juts over Barcelona's port on one face, and on the other side overhangs the Placa Espanya. With this location, it is ideal for playing. The mountain became the central mark of the World Fair of 1929 and the 1992 Olympic games. It's beautiful and green, still forested and covered in parks. Montjuic is popular with pedestrians and cyclists of all kinds because of its extensive and green paths. Barcelona has recently started working on installing walkways and escalators to connect visitors to the harder-to-navigate sections.

Among these sections is the Font del Gat, once a fashionable modernista cafe designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch. Today, it's an information and visitors center and restaurant, and a great starting place to explore Montjuic. Also in the tall mountain you'll find some of the best museums in Barcelona like the MNAC and the Miro Foundation.

The most popular attraction around Montjuic is the Magic Fountain, or Font Magica. In daytime, the grand fountain beneath the MNAC staircase seems ordinary, but after dark, you'll see the magic part. Music blasts from loudspeakers, and varicolored lighting illuminates the dancing waters of the fountain. Carles Buigas designed it for the 1929 World Fair, and it's perfect for watching from one of the cafes surrounding it. Shows run throughout the summer, from May to October on Thursday through Sunday after dark. (at other times of the year, they're held only on Friday and Saturday after dark).

If you want to visit the Castell de Montjuic on the sea side of the mountain, your best choice is via the cable car, the Transbordador Aeri, that runs across the port. It runs daily from 10:30 AM to 7 PM.

Once you're settled on Montjuic, there's plenty to see and do.

What to Do

At the CaixaForum, you can view rotating diverse art exhibitions on three floors of a building that used to be a textile factory designed by modernista architect Puig i Cadalfach. Later, Japanese architect Arata Isozaki added a walkway, courtyard, and entrance to set off the art stored within. At any given time, you're also likely to find performances related to the art being exhibited, especially world music and modern dance, and there's an excellent bookstore in the foyer. You can find more modern art at the Fundacio Joan Miro, devoted to the master of contemporary Catalan art. The Miro collection, donated by the artist, is so large that only part of it can be displayed at any given time. If you're not familiar with Miro, the audioguide you can pick up at the front desk will help you understand the depth and breadth of this master's works. In sports-mad Barcelona, you'll also find the Galeria Olimpica, a museum devoted to the games held in 1992. This museum is located in the cellar of the old Olympic Stadium.

But in a lovely setting like Montjuic, you don't want to be indoors all the time. The Jardi Botanic opened in 1999, but has already received international admiration for landscaping and concept. Most species are Mediterranean, or from a similar climate like Australia and California, and the park is divided into regions for each area. The telecommunications aerial, rather than detracting from the beauty, is designed to blend with the landscaping, and because of the way it leans, it acts as a giant sundial.

The Poble Espanyol will keep you outside. It's a recreated Spanish village built for the 1929 World Fair and has almost a Disneyish feel. You can find over a hundred styles of Spanish architecture in one tiny spot, from the Levante to Galicia and Castilian high gothic. The entrance, a facsimile of the gateway to Avila, leads you to the center of the village, where you can have drinks at the outdoor cafe, or visit the flamenco taberna and other nightspots. Provincial crafts and souvenirs are sold everywhere, and you can see artisans handprinting fabric, making pottery, or blowing glass. Though some see this as a tourist trap, if you won't be able to see much of Spain outside Barcelona this is a good choice for finding almost everything you're interested in.

And history, of course, is not neglected. The Museu Militar de Montjuic is found inside the Castell de Montjuic, a fortress dating back to the 1600s that overlooks the sea. The collection is a treasury of military artifacts from armor to weapons to accoutrements to military art, and the fortress itself provides breathtaking views of the Barcelona skyline and the sea. The Museu d'Arquelogia de Catalunya occupies the former Palace of Graphic Arts of the 1929 World Fair. It surveys the long history of Barcelona, from the Iberian prehistory to the Greek, Roman, and Carthaginian periods, including many artifacts that were unearthed very close by. On the floor, you'll find actual mosaics moved here from the places where they were unearthed; the curators invite visitors to walk over them, as they believe using them as they were intended provides better preservation for them.

There is much more to do on MOntjuic, including visiting the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalynya (MNAC) or the Pavello Mies van der Rohe. Your best bet: go early, and don't have a set agenda. Enjoy exploring MOntjuic.

Places to Stay

Montjuic, hampered by a lack of amenities like water, has few homes but many pleasant places to visit. One place to try is the Hotel Torre Catalunya, a skyscraper-style four-star hotel with excellent amenities. Its restaurant, the Ciudad Condal, offers gorgeous views of the city from the 23rd floor. You'll also find a Spa, health center, and many other amenities here.

At Montjuic's base you'll find the Hotel Fira Palace, which opened in time for the 1992 Olympics and has excellent access to the exhibition centers of Plaza Espanya. Family accomodations are unmatched in the area. Restaurants are expensive, so you may want to try outside the hotel, but the amenities, like a piano bar, massage, service, and patio garden, are unique.

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