Saturday 17 February 2024

Barcelona cycle ride: Part 3 - Tibidabo and Sagrada Familia

After a ride around Montjuic, I then attempted the other great vista in Barcelona, Tibidabo, followed by a stopover at Sagrada Familia. I ran out of time to reach the summit, but it was still a pleasant if tough uphill ride.

Check out the route I took on Strava

Unlike Montjuic, this area is not in the heart of Barcelona, but it is a popular venue visited by walkers, joggers, on- and off-road cyclists, plus joggers. Set in the suburbs of Barcelona a trip to Tibidabo makes for a pleasant day trips given the pleasant trails and also the amusement park. 

So on a Friday afternoon I set off by bicycle from my lodgings, feeling a mixture of apprehension and excitement. The excitement was around discovering a new place to cycle, but knowing how high above the city this place is I was slightly apprehensive about how steeply the road would rise. At 512m above sea level Mount Tibidabo is the highest peak in the range of hills outside the city known as the Serra de Collserola. Would I have the legs or low enough gears to get up the ramp? Would it be like the Mur de Sormano in Italy, or Hardknott Pass in the Lake District?

Tibidabo skyline

On my previous visits to Barcelona I had not managed to get the time to go to Tibidabo. On public transport it's a bit of a trek as you have to get to the Avinguda Tibidabo by metro or local train, or bus and then pick up a funicular. When standing in the city, particularly to the North, the iconic view of the Sacrat Cor cathedral next to the vintage-style fairground rides look distinct, and evoke a kind of other-wordliness in a far-off land. Indeed the Tibidabo amusement park dates back to the early 1900s and is one of the oldest in Europe.

From my flat I passed through the neighbourhood of Saint-Andreu before riding along the very long Passeig Maragall, a road heading up north with a gradual uphill drag. Interestingly this road didn't have any cycle path, and so it was a question of me freestyling it along the road and keeping my eyes peeled for the many buses that would stop at the frequent bus stops. Despite the Friday afternoon traffic, I didn't feel particularly unsafe and motorists generally gave me a wide berth.

At Horta market, a signboard indicated for me to go straight on up a quiet but the slightly steep Carrer de Lisboa, which meant that I was that bit closer to my destination, as the signature big wheel and cathedral appeared bigger than it had done half an hour earlier. However, there would still be more climbing to do. Hopefully I would have the legs.

Eventually I reached the women and children's hospital at Vall d'Hebron. At this point I became aware I was quite on the outskirts of the city given the suburban feel of the area, and the city centre looked quite small down below in the distance. Even the Sagrada Familia, a behemoth of a monument in Barcelona looked small. Furthermore, I was on a slightly busy ring road characteristic of the edge of any city.

This was probably the most unpleasant part of my cycle ride as there was no cycle lane and I had no choice but to join the fast road. Thankfully it only lasted a couple of miles before I took a right-hand turn to get into the meaty part of the ride - climbing up the hill the Tibidabo.

Climbing stats for ascending Tibidabo from Barcelona

Folks that live around this residential area, Vall d'Hebron, must be pretty fit as you can't go anywhere without going up a steep hill. It was like a hardcore version of Crystal Palace - after all my neighbourhood in South London also has a park at the top of a hill, and a fairground at various times of the year!

So my work began by tackling the Carrer de la Enginyeria which round around through various hilly residential streets, which were actually a hive of activity given the slightly remote location. In fact this wasn't just a Friday - it was also the last day of school before the half-term holidays, and more importantly for the excited kids, it was carnival weekend. So the street was full of groups of children walking around wearing elaborate costumes - and there was I thinking it was their normal school uniform! 

This road wound round and round a few switchbacks with distinctively short sharp steep sections where I had to get out of the saddle and push hard. Thank goodness for 30-tooth sprockets on bikes!

Eventually I reached a point where the road levelled off and reached a car park where many people were pulling in to take part in different outdoor activities. It was a crossroads for various activities as some cyclists and joggers were arriving from downhill while others emerged from trails that were coming downhill. A few motorbikers arrived too. If I wanted to proceed further uphill I would have needed a mountain bike or gravel bike. In fact I saw a few mountain bikers doing just that. But on my road bike it would not have been possible, so at that point I rolled downhill. 

A ride all the way to the summit would have required for me to have left the main road at Vall d'Hebron to head towards Sant Cugat, then taken the longer road to reach the Mont Tibidabo. Unfortunately, just as with the previous day when I went to Montjuic, time was marching on and sunset was approaching. It's a shame as the area where I had to head downhill, Passeig de les Aigues, looked very picturesque with trails as well as beautiful vistas across the city.
My Canyon Endurace bike outside Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Wanting to be prudent, I decided to take the long twisty road back down to the city centre. 

It was necessary to pay attention on the descent, not just to watch out for other vehicles, but also the tramlines that were part of the funicular going to the summit. 

I'm sure many a cyclist riding up would wish they could throw their bike in the carriage and get a lift up!

After the long downhill my route arrived back at the roundabout at Vall d'Hebron from where I followed Avinguda de la Republica Argentina to the city centre, and made my way to Sagrada Familia, the centre piece landmark in Barcelona. 

I must say I find this cathedral incredibly impressive as it dominates all the other buildings in the city. Antonio Gaudi, the architect, must have had an incredibly expansive mind to have dreamed up this creation.

By the this time it was early evening and Barcelona was full of  tourists enjoying an early evening drink. (The locals probably wouldn't start their night out before 10pm!) 

It had been a very pleasant ride, even if I didn't get right up to Mont Tibidabo, but I hope to return there in the near future. I can't imagine I will be very fast given the gradients, and I must say that the guys who race up it sometimes at the end of a stage of the Tour of Catalonia professional cycle race are blooming impressive!
And for those who are brave enough to race it, there is a hill climb race that takes place on Tibidabo in November.

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