Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Montserrat: the perfect day trip from Barcelona

With monuments such as Sagrada Familia, the beach in Barceloneta and its incredible night life, day trips are not as popular in Barcelona as they are in other cities in Europe. Still, if you want to escape city life and fancy some great scenery and amazing nature, I strongly suggest that you go to Montserrat.

The monastery of Montserrat, perched up a rock

The Virgin of Montserrat is probably the most famous icon of the virgin, perhaps surpassed only by that of Guadalupe in Mexico. Its significance in the area is so strong that it gave the name - Montserrat, that is - to an island in the Caribbean discovered by Christopher Columbus and to many baby girls in Catalonia. Involved in Arthurian legends concerning the holy graal, the monastery of Santa María de Montserrat is a place of pilgrimage, but also a location for excursionists, because of its incredible location. Montserrat in Catalan means "handsawed mountain", and as soon as you'll see the shape of the rocks you'll understand why. It looks a bit like Meteora in Greece, with its monastery so close to the rock and the amazing view overlooking all the surrounding hills and plains.

Being only one hour away from Barcelona and easily accessible by public transport, you can decide to visit Montserrat on a whim from the city. Just make sure that the sky is clear!  They say that on a good day you can see until Mallorca! When I got there, I simply started to walk around for a little bit, taking in the beauty and spirituality of the place. Even though I am not religious, the significance of the place and the beauty of the location left an impression on me.

A peaceful cloister in Montserrat

The cathedral is definitely worth visiting and it's free of charge. I love the details of the façade and the fact that it's a bit hidden inside a courtyard. You'll probably need to cue if you also want to pay homage to the "moreneta", the famous black Madonna, but you can see it anyway from the main nave.

Montserrat, Cathedral
The cathedral in Montserrat

Another reason to visit  Montserrat is that the hiking trails are amazing: they zigzag through the mountain, passing by tiny churches almost carved into the rocks, or leading to viewpoints with crosses and small sanctuaries. I hiked two trails without two much effort enjoying spectacular spots. During our second hike, we hiked to the tiny church of Santa Cova, also a site of pilgrimage. Even though the church was closed, I enjoyed the walk very much. The rocks look so unreal that you think you're in a cartoon or something. At certain times they almost have a pink colour! Along the way (camí in Catalan) there are stops of the rosary, in the forms of shrines, designed by famous artists.

Montserrat, church
The church of Santa Cova in Montserrat

You can reach Montserrat with a train from Plaça de Espanya in the centre of Barcelona. The train takes one hour and then you can either take the cable car (funicolar) or the rack railway (cremallera). I suggest that you take the former, so that you can enjoy the beautiful view going up towards the monastery. The price for a return ticket (train + cable car) is 20€. I had my own sandwiches, and it was a good choice, because restaurants in Montserrat, at least around the main square near the monastery, seemed to be a bit expensive and unremarkable.

Looking happy, Montserrat
Looking happy!

I really think that this place should be as famous as Meteora. It is amazing how close it is to Barcelona, and how virtually unknown  it is by many tourists who visit Spain. If you want to see a place in Catalonia that is not Barcelona - and you have time only for one - I highly suggest that you organize a day trip to Montserrat. Even if you only have half a day it's still worth going: the trains run fairly often, and you'll get to see how Catalonia is outside of Barcelona: quaint, alive and full of history.

funicolar y montaña, Montserrat
Great scenery

Had you ever heard of Montserrat? Would you like to visit it? Do you think it can compare with Meteora?

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