137 – Barcelona Chapter 3 – Caldes de Montbui

For those of you who follow this blog regularly and are interested in the development of my mysterious neighbour’s well-being: (s)he is now risking her/his life should I ever discover her/his identity. The latest addition to the building’s soundtrack is someone (I suspect the same person) attempting to play a trumpet. So we have been subjected to listening someone practising musical scales for 5 hours every bloody day. Alternated with the Ride of the Valkyries later in the evening. My theory is, if it’s a woman, she evolved from being suicidal, to having completed her vengeance plan, and is now perfecting her rallying cry (hence the trumpet) and Wagner acts as motivator. Well, good on you, sister, but if you are this obsessive-compulsive in your choice of music, I cannot imagine what you must be in real life, so maybe a murder is not really the appropriate solution to your problems. If it’s a man, then I suspect he’s using the Valkyries as a soundtrack to a completely different activity, and I don’t even want to go there. However, it was Beethoven’s 5th  (also known as Fate Symphony) this morning, and only once, which is definitely an improvement (although it was accompanied by some vigorous whistling), so I am none the wiser regarding the sex of the culprit. Either the revenge was successfully carried out yesterday, or fantasising about 9 mounted female warriors has relieved some tension.

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Santa Maria de Caldes de Montbui

Anyway, the last (and slightly overdue) chapter from my pre-Covid trip to Catalunya with my Mum: We spent the last two days of our stay in the charming spa resort of Caldes de Montbui. Resort is a bit overstated. While the town is undoubtedly charming, it’s no shiny hub like St. Moritz. People actually come here on medical prescription, as the thermal water has positive effects on arthritis, rheumatism and other mobility related issues. Let’s just say the nightlife isn’t great, unless you are into ballroom dancing in the hotel common room. Even with my track record, this place is a bit beyond my usual hunting ground.

The hot springs (74 °C at the source) have been known since Roman times. In fact, one of the best preserved Roman baths in Europe can be admired in the town’s main square. That’s the only thing you can do with it, because the structure is fenced off and inaccessible, with no explanation provided. I imagine there’d be some information available in the local archaeological museum, but it was closed at the time of our visit. The monumental Fonts le Lleó stands just across the homonymous square from the Roman baths. The fountain exists since 1581, but was remodelled several times over the centuries, the current form dates to 1928. Apparently some people still remember what it used to look like before the restoration. My guess is most of the village does. Many less opulent fountains are spread all over the city, the locals use them for what it is: readily available hot water for cleaning or even hand-washing the clothes (there is a beautifully preserved public wash-house incorporated in the old city walls, photos below). Our hotel warned us against drinking the thermal water, they said it was not dangerous to drink, but doing so might result in sprinting to the nearest toilet. My Mum drank about 5 litres of it each day and was fine. As fine as a person that drinks 5 litres of hot water a day can possibly be.

Although, there is one thing to be pointed out. This mineral water is naturally rich in lithium: about 11 mg/l, which is less than 1% of the daily dose that a psychiatric patient receives as treatment for depression or bipolar disorder. There are studies that demonstrate that suicide rates in a community are inversely proportional to the content of (trace) lithium in the drinking water. Correlation of course does not mean causation, and the necessary exposure is yet unclear, but maybe a prolonged sojourn in the area may be beneficial to certain troubled individuals. Just saying. After all, living in a spanish village close to both mountains and sea, where food is delicious, wine cheap and men have loose manners, is likely to improve anybody’s mood. Also please note that I said trace lithium. If you try to ingest the content of your laptop battery, you’ll still poison yourself. Remember what happened when Trump said that chloroquine cured Covid-19 and some people started self-medicating by drinking swimming pool cleaning products. They’re not around to tell the story.

By far the best feature to the village is the wellness area of the hotel Termes Victoria, built from 17th century reservoir of thermal water fed directly from the spring. There are 7 pools with different water temperature, turkish bath (I mean a steam sauna, not a squat-down toilet), herbal teas available, and dark corners where you can relax. And we had it completely to ourselves for two hours.

Charming as it is, all sight-seeing can be accomplished in under one hour, including a walk on the fortifications along the river Caldes, there is no need to stay overnight, as the city is only 30 minutes drive from Barcelona. You can easily fit the points of interest, the spa and a lunch in one day, and be back in Barcelona for dinner. But if you have time to spare, hike to Torre Roja: ruins of a medieval settlement and watchtower from 10th century situated on a nearby hill about an hour walk from town. We almost made it to the top – some of us did not bring sensible shoes, so for the sake of world peace we turned back before the final ascend. This is what the place looks like. In any case, it is a very pleasant walk through fields and olive groves that offers some lovely views over the town and surrounding mountains.

Public wash-house, restored and still used by the locals.

Where to eat: we ate La Carbonera, a laid-back (but then most things are in Spain) bar/restaurant set in a remodelled barn, great food, pleasant service. I’d imagine a reservation may be necessary in normal times. Robert de Nola (named after the famous  Catalan-born personal chef to the King of Naples) is widely recommended, although we didn’t have a chance to dine there. Mirko Carturan has been featured in the 2020 edition of Michelin guide with bib gourmand (excellent value, skilful cooking). It would have been the first choice, but my lack of proper planning meant they were fully booked by the time I wanted to reserve. Finally, if you want to bring home some local culinary souvenirs, pay a visit to Xarcuteria Grau Vila, a beautiful delicatessen/butchery just off the main church. Make sure you are not in a hurry, because if there are more than 2 people in front of you in the queue, the shopping will take about an hour, as the shoppers and the staff have to update each other about what has happened in their lives since the previous visit, but the wait is worth it. All the products are local, genuine, of excellent quality and for a fraction of price you’d pay in Barcelona.

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Behind the lens:

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Look at the turnout

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