- Nestled below the Collserola hills, above Diagonal Avenue and due west of the city centre, is the sophisticated district of Pedralbes. Its name is derived from the old Catalan ‘petres albes’, or white stones - a reference to the distinctive pale stones of the area’s medieval monastery. Indeed, the cloistral atmosphere of the monastery seems to extend over the rest of the barrio, with its sleepy streets and smart gated communities.
Pedralbes is said to be the most sought-after area of Barcelona, which is most definitely reflected in its real estate prices. It’s part of the so called ‘upper zone’, Zona Alta, which takes in several suburbs above Diagonal Avenue and holds a certain aspirational appeal to many of the residents of Barcelona’s city centre. Properties here tend to be modern, innovative, and spacious, with landscaped gardens, well-tended balcony displays and private outdoor swimming pools.
Know your neighbours
Without exception, the residents of Pedralbes are an affluent bunch. It just isn’t possible to get a cheap square metre of accommodation here. The university district is located in the middle of the area, and you’ll see students milling about that zone throughout the day. They don’t hang about at night, though, as Barcelona’s nightlife happens somewhere else. There are also a number of foreign schools in this district, as well as royal tennis courts and various exclusive sports facilities, where the great and the good go to socialise.
There’s a distinct dearth of shops within Pedralbes itself, which helps to keep the area’s streets quiet for local pedestrians. However, you do have access to two large urban shopping centres on Diagonal Avenue – the arcade-like Pedralbes Centre and, a little further along, the enormous L’Illa complex. Both contain shops offering fashion, gifts, cosmetics, perfume – pretty much everything you would expect from large shopping centres. In terms of grocery shopping, there’s nothing approaching the same range of supermarkets or local stores as in most other parts of the city. If you’re staying in an apartment here, it might be an idea to buy your food in the supermarket of the large Corte Inglés store on Diagonal Avenue (or any other smaller supermarket in town) and take it home on the metro.
The green line 3 of the metro runs along the southern edge of Pedralbes, with the stations of Maria Cristina, Palau Reial (right outside the Royal Palace) and Zona Universitaria, where the line ends. The tram also runs along Diagonal Avenue. Within the district itself, there are several bus routes, which will take you in various directions including straight to the central Plaça de Catalunya. Most residents of Pedralbes own their own cars, as private gardens and parking spaces make drivers’ lives straightforward. If you’re exploring on foot you’ll find Pedralbes a calm and pleasant area to walk around, with the abundance of greenery making it particularly easy on the eye. Do bear in mind that some of the streets can be on the steep side though.
- The pace of life is slow in Pedralbes, and there’s a decent choice of sunny green spots to just sit and relax. A perfect example is the Parc de Cervantes, in the south-west corner of the district. Take your pick of statistics - over 10,000 rose bushes, of 245 varieties, from umpteen different countries…suffice it to say that smelling the roses isn’t difficult here. It’s not all hearts and flowers, though, with the rest of the park made up of grassy banks and benches ideal for picnicking or people watching.
The main draw in the district is the 14th-century monastery, the Museu-Monestir de Pedralbes, which is located up at the top of the Avinguda de Pedralbes. Throughout most of its existence it stood isolated in the middle of countryside, and it was only in the 20th century that the residential parts of Pedralbes began to be constructed around it. The complex contains an achingly beautiful single nave church, which you reach at the end of a quiet cobbled lane, and the convent itself, comprised of a 3-tier cloister and courtyard. Various nuns of the order of St Clare are still in residence today, and as you wander round exploring the quarters open to the public you’ll get a real insight into what life was like for inhabitants throughout the centuries. Nuns of this order tended to come from wealthy backgrounds, which is evident from the monastery’s impressive artistic legacy.
The Royal Palace of Pedralbes (Palau Reial) is a mansion-turned-royal-residence which houses several museums that are open to the public. These include the Ceramics Museum, where you can see some interesting pieces by Picasso and Joan Miró. The classical gardens surrounding it are a real haven, with a pergola designed by Gaudí and lampposts hidden among trees, where you would be forgiven for expecting Mr Tumnus to be waiting. Nearby you’ll find part of the former Güell estate, presided over by a memorable wrought iron dragon gate (the hand of Gaudí, once again), and two pavilions designed in the master’s trademark ‘trencadís’ style of chipped coloured tiles. In fact, this project was Gaudí’s first commission from his famous patron. The gaping mouth of the dragon on the gate provides the perfect photo opportunity.
There isn’t a huge choice of restaurants in this neighbourhood, but what there is tends to be top-notch. Just along from the monastery is the El Jardi de l’Abadessa, whose garden setting makes summer dining al fresco a joy. The cuisine is fresh Mediterranean, and the carefully considered wine list adds to the occasion. If seafood is more your thing, try Restaurante Tritón, with its starched white tablecloths and copious topiary. The fish dishes are superb, although there are always a few meat options on offer too. To really push the boat out, head up to picturesque La Venta, at the foot of the funicular train to Tibidabo. It’s actually two separate restaurants – the first a patio on the ground floor, and the second a dining room upstairs (El Mirador de La Venta), which offers superb views over the city below. The whole place has quite a mellow mood, ideal for enjoying a leisurely lunch. The upstairs room only has seven tables, so book in advance if you don’t want to miss out on the views.
In keeping with the exclusive theme of the rest of Pedralbes, the nightclubs to be found here are a select bunch. And there’s nowhere posher than Elephant Club, which is set within a 1920s colonial style mansion. The place starts to come alive after 11pm, when locals celebs and the like start to pitch up. In the summer months white Bedouin-style tents are erected outside, and you can fully enjoy the tropical atmosphere by relaxing on a lounger. Elephant is the place to be seen – at a price, obviously.
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