A much-maligned city of some 200,000 inhabitants to the north of Barcelona, in the heavily overbuilt-up area known as the Vallés Occidental, Terrassa's got more than enough industrial pedigree and architectural durge to give it UNESCO crap town status. However, explore further, and Terrassa throws off its shackles, announcing itself as a curious crossover; an interesting crap town, well worth the 40-minute FGC ride from Barcelona.
It's majestically located upon the lap of the mountain called La Mola ('The Big Rock'), and the city looks quite enticing from afar. The closer you get to it however, all the promise of a dramatic geographical location fades away.
Coming into the city along the Avinguda del Valles is a long dry riverbed leading into various arteries of one of the most depressingly insipid urban landscapes in Catalonia. Lego-like blocks cram grey, tree-less roads leading into confusing dead-ends and poligonos industriales, offering little possibility of escape; or residential areas with tasty post-70s architectural grizzle. Every building seems to have been painted in the wrong colour. Or with exhaust fumes.
The further you get in, beyond Terrassa's less than pleasing facade, there's a 2000-year old history to dig into. There's some good museums. The city centre has its share of attractive 19th century modernista oddities. And to the north, particularly in the foothills towards Matadapera, there's some enchanting suburbs, with prime walking country, which is about as good as you’ll get within half an hour of BCN. All of which raises an arched eyebrow at the suggestion, often voiced by Barcelonans, that Terrassa is rubbish.
Terrassa has had a long and prosperous history. It dates back to the foundation of a Roman colony called Egara in the year 69 BC. The first stones were set down under the rule of the emperor Vespasian, and Egara became a city of some significance over the next four centuries. Certainly more so than nearby Barcino (Barcelona), still a stinky garum-producing backwater in those days.
The original site of Egara is located around the Conjunto Monumental de Iglesias de San Pedro, in the archaeologically-rich Parc de Vallparadis. This is a good place to start, history-wise. There's a Roman villa, with inscriptions dating back to the 2nd Century. But the grand attraction here is really the Esglesia de Sant Miquel d’Egara. One of three superb early churches found on this site, Sant Miquel is a jewel of Catalan Romanesque architecture. The colourful murals, vaulted ceiling and arabesque arches are a must for anyone interested in the Visigothic era of Spanish history.
The Parc de Vallparadis itself is at the heart of a not-unattractive green belt running through the city centre. This is where the city's principal medieval monuments are found; the imposing Torre del Palau, and Terrassa's castle, El Cartujo-Castillo de Terrassa, which houses the city's history museum. The park is also the site of several festivals throughout the year, including the Terrassa Jazz Festival, now in its 35th edition (2016) and held over the first three weeks of March. With live bands and families picnicing on the grassy natural theatre of the hillside, it makes enjoyable day out.
In the industrial age, rich textile merchants peppered what is now the city centre, in particular the area around Rambla d'Egara and Plaça del Ajuntament, with modernista monuments such as the Casa Alegre de Sagrera, the Gaudi-inspired curving columns of Masia Freixa (pictured), or the 63-foot Bobila Almirall chimney tower, with its bewildering spiral staircase - said to be the world's tallest escalera de caracol. The Museo de la Ciencia I Tecnica de Catalunya, on the Rambla d’Egara, offers an overview of science and innovation from this period.
On Terrassa's southern and western edges, where the C-16 and C-58 rip through tearing everything up in their path, it’s all a bit naff. But to the north of Terrassa, just a few kilometres from the centre, is some of the Valles’s most enticing countryside, falling either side of the BV-1221 carretera.
On the other side of the pìjo village of Matadepera – Terrassa’s Sarrià - you’re in the chief hiking and biking terrain in these parts, the spectacular Sant Llorenc del Munt I Obac mountain range.
At the top of which is La Mola - an eagle’s nest mountain overlooking Terrassa - and a monastery, which has a surprisingly lively restaurant (also called La Mola) with a flaming parrilla serving one of the region’s finest butifarra selections. As good a reason to scale a mountain as the panoramic views of the Vallés and Montserrat.
If you’re feeling lazy after a butifarra and a couple of cañas, you can ask one of the restaurant's resident mules for a lift down. They transport all the supplies up and down La Mola.
To conclude; ugly around the edges, plenty of history, trekking appeal, dark-age ruins, quality bit of modernist architecture, monastic sausagio action. Mola, eh?