The little wooden train that trundles over the Tramuntana mountains between Palma and Soller in Mallorca is one tourist excursion that is worth its ticket price. Now electrified, this narrow gauge railway line opened in 1912, and is no mean feat of engineering. The one hour journey takes passengers up 199 metres with an incline of 23mm, through 13 tunnels and across a vertiginous 5-span viaduct – little wonder the enterprise was 6 years in the making.
There are no mod cons in the original wooden carriages, just simple bench seats (which can be flipped to face backwards or forwards as required) and if you want fresh air, just open a window.
The train pauses at Mirador Pujol d’en Banya for a few minutes to let passengers out to admire the view across the valley to the mountains beyond. This is orange grove country (the reason the railway was built in the first place), but is also rich in other Mediterranean staples such as olive and almond trees and the landscape, although rugged, is surprisingly verdant.
On arrival in Soller, a further pleasure awaits disembarking passengers. The station is home to an art gallery, celebrating the friendship of two giants of 20th-century Spanish art, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. Free to enter, the (blissfully air-conditioned) twin galleries showcase a fine collection of Picasso’s ceramics and Miro prints.
The Picasso ceramics are particularly high quality pieces and this collection of around 50 pieces was put together by Pere Serra – a Ferrocarill de Soller employee with a good eye clearly. Deceptively simple, the vases, jugs, plates and tiles reveal Picasso’s genius, his inventive appreciation of form, and skilful use of line.
Miro, who moved to Mallorca in 1956, has a special place in Soller’s heart – his grandmother came from the town and he was an adopted ‘son of Soller’. The colourful, mystical prints displayed in the ‘Sala Miró’ are colourful, playful and imbued with a Catalan sensibility. Usefully the display includes a key to the symbols that Miró used in his work – the abstract women, children, birds, stars, moons and constellations, that populate the ‘Miróverse’.
If only all railways stations came with their own ensuite art gallery.