So, there I was…eating breakfast and typing a message on the Unmapped Travels Facebook page when my new friend Jessica from British Columbia, Canada sat down to beside me. Staying in the same room at a Barcelona hostel, we had met the day before and along with our other new friends Troy, from Arkansas, and Kamil, also from B.C. went out for a few drinks the night before. Jessica looked as if she was planning her sightseeing day so I asked what was on the agenda. She mentioned Montserrat and since I wanted to visit there while in Barcelona I jumped at the chance to go with someone.
Online that morning I read it was difficult to find where the R5 train, which goes from Barcelona to Montserrat, departed from….and they were right. Come on Barcelona metro….how about some more signage!?! We had to ask a security guard at a nearby shopping mall who kindly pointed us in the right direction. After finding the R5 we bought combo tickets to take us the 45 minutes each way along with the cable car ride up to the top of Montserrat and back (19 euro, not bad). Montserrat tip #1 if you go there, the extra 1.25 euro for the cable car ride is worth it, very cool!!
So, there I was…unloading from the cable car and seeing what looked like a village perched on the slope of this mountain. There were a lot more buildings than I anticipated. It’s amazing what people can build in places other people wouldn’t even want to visit.
I didn’t learn this until after visiting Montserrat but its been a religious site since at least the late 9th century AD when there were a few chapels on the mountain. The original monastery, built-in 1026, got destroyed by Napoleon’s army in the 1800’s. It was quickly rebuilt since it is such an important religious site in Spain. Historically it’s been, and continues to be, a pilgrimage destination for people from all over Spain and beyond and it’s been a must see stop for travelers since before 1930 when the cable car was built. My guess is all monasteries built on mountain slopes come chalk full of breathtaking views but since this is my first mountainside monastery I will declare it the most picturesque in the world!
At this point I realized I knew nothing about Montserrat (Iike I said, I didn’t learn all that stuff in the last paragraph until after visiting). Before leaving I’d read it was a nice day trip from Barcelona and that is a monastery on a mountain. And anyone who personally knows me, knows I like hiking in the mountains. That’s all I knew. So when I got there I really didn’t know what there was to do, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. Some places you travel to need a little preexisting knowledge to understand. This does not:
My travel partner and I found a local map and saw there was a museum at the monastery, a lot of little touristy shops and cafeterias/restaurants, and several hiking trails. We started off walking toward the monastery/museum and a few minutes later, after realizing we had passed it, we were on a trail passing, on one side dozens of little monuments to the Black Madonna (the patron saint of Catalonia and the reason Montserrat became a religious site some 1200 years ago) and on the other, great landscape views. We made it back to the main tourist area and stopped at one of the cafeterias for lunch. Nineteen euro for transportation there and back wasn’t bad but they really stick it to you with the cost of lunch. Montserrat tip #2, take snacks and avoid the big lunch bill! Doing this allows for less guilt if you buy some of the artisan cheeses sold at one of many tents along the main street.
Jessica and I decided to hike to the top after lunch to see the other main attractions at Montserrat (the chapels and of course more views from the peaks above) we found another map to get our bearings, then set off. The wide trails, made of ancient pavers, looked like an old Barcelona alleyway…but in the woods! Jessica and I wondered aloud several times how old these trails must be. Some portions looked as old as the chapels. We hiked to all but one of the major stops I think, getting higher on the peaks than the funicular takes the less energetic visitors. Along the trail we came across two chapels, one Latin cross perched far out on a cliff and a centuries old hermitage built into a cliff face. It was really a nice hike and we were there on a perfect day. The wind was blowing clouds quickly so we moved from sun to shade, never getting to cool at the high elevation or to hot when struggling up hill.
So there I was…