Pleasant visit Montserrat from Barcelona – the Holy mountain of Catalonia
After so many times in Barcelona, I have to admit I’d not visited Montserrat located just an hour away. So my last time in Barcelona in the middle of July 2017 I decided it was about time to visit the Holy mountain of Catalonia. And as I’m trying to support locals, I booked a local guide Antonio via Withlocals. It took me a minute to book the tour on their website and then we could discuss all the details with the tour guide directly via messages. Very convenient, right?
Withlocals is an online website and an app thanks to which locals mostly in Europe and Southeast Asia can connect with travelers to show them more of the local customs, food and stories. It’s an easy way to get a local guide to have a private tour which can be tailored to your needs. No need to travel with strangers nor do things you don’t want to do. You can chat about the whole tour with the Withlocals guide even before the tour and ask him to do the tour the way you wish. I picked a private tour to Montserrat which is just 1 of the recommended things to do in Barcelona.
Antonio picked me up at Retrome Barcelona where I was staying and then drove me to Montserrat mountains for a half-day trip. There’s a couple of ways to visit Montserrat from Barcelona but to hire a local guide who will take you there by car and also explain all the important information is the easiest and the most convenient way.
We drove for 1 hour as Montserrat is located approx. 50 km to 60 km Northwest from Barcelona depending on the route you take. A very curvy road took us from Monistrol village to the Montserrat parking. Antonio speaks both English and Spanish so we could lead a conversation in both languages, yay! You know how much I love Spanish language, right?
Montserrat is a unique multi-peaked rocky mountain composed of sedimentary rock called pink conglomerate. Its name means saw or serrated mountain in Catalan. Its highest peak Sant Jeroni reaches to 1,236 m above sea level. Montserrat is the only mountain with that many rocky peaks in this area which is why it was proclaimed a natural park in Spain.
6 things to do in Montserrat
Montserrat is considered to be one of the most religious places in Catalonia, if not in entire Spain. It’s because of important religious buildings built on top of the hill, e.g. the Benedictine Abbey Santa Maria de Montserrat and many smaller churches and chapels. There’s a local tradition among young people in Barcelona to hike to Montserrat overnight to watch sunrise there at least once in their life. But there’s more to Montserrat than to consider is jut the Catalonian spiritual centre…
1. Steps of understanding
We saw 8 steps of understanding, a statue of 8 stairs dating back to 1976. Well, actually there’s 9 steps but I guess the first one is just the beginning 😀 In the past people would climb the steps which was dangerous so for safety reasons now the statue is surrounded by a fence. And I have to say I completely understand it.
2. Abbey Santa Maria de Montserrat
This Abbey is located next to the Benedictine Monastery where over 150 monks and kids live and study. The original site dates back to year 1025 and was founded by Abat Oliba, Vic’s bishop. It has been visited by pilgrims already since the 11th century. The Abbey/Basilica was twice burned in the beginning of the 19th century by the Napoleon’s troops and then was closed for restoration for many years. The main altar and current facade date back only to 1950’s and 1960’s.
The Basilica is famous mostly for the Black Madonna statue and also the Boy’s Choir called Escolania de Montserrat which sings during religious ceremonies. Since the end of June until the end of August the choir is ”on holidays” which is why there’s usually less tourists in Montserrat at that time. Many religious people go there especially to touch the Madonna and listen to the Boy’s Choir. Unfortunately, I did not hear the Boy’s Choir as my visit was right in the middle of their vacation.
3. Black Madonna
Many Catholic people visit Montserrat because of the Black Madonna statue. The original Virgin of Montserrat statue was first found in the year 880. Its literal translation from Catalan La Moreneta means ”the little brrunette.” The statue representing the patron Saint of Catalonia is located inside the Abbey and it’s open to public just a few times per day. There’s no entrance fee but you need to stand in the line from a few minutes up to an hour as the doors leading up to the Black Madonna open every 10 minutes for a certain number of people only.
We were lucky enough to wait in the Q for less than half an hour. Well, first I was taking photos of the Abbey while Antonio was waiting in the line. Then I joined him and he told me some stories about the place. Once we were allowed to enter, we could notice statues of different Saints on our left hand, together with beautiful chandeliers from abroad, such as Chile, Philippines, Mexico etc. Unfortunately, there’s usually a guide by the Black Madonna who will not let you take photos of it. The Black Madonna we can see nowadays is from the 12th century. There’s a tradition to kiss or touch the Madonna’s hand so you might do the same while there.
4. Museum of Montserrat
When walking from the parking lot, cable car or train towards the Abbey, you will notice the Museum of Montserrat on your left. This Art museum holds many important sculptures and drawings, such as works of Picasso, Dali, Monet, El Greco, and also archaeological and lithurgical exhibits. There was entrance fee of 7 euros when I was there in July 2017. As we didn’t have much time, I preferred to go hiking instead.
There’s many hiking trails around Montserrat but you’d need more time. That’s why we only hiked from the Abbey to the Sant Miguel cross. That’s exactly the place where most of the Montserrat photos usually are taken from. If you search for Montserrat in Google, majority of the photos were taken from this place standing right next to the cross. From here you can also spot the 3 rocky peaks: the Pregnant woman, The Elephant and the Mummy. In my opinion, the Elephant rock is recognizable the easiest.
The view of Catalonia from the Montserrat is breath-taking! On a clear day you can see up to the Pyrenees on one side, and Tibidabo mountain on the other. Barcelona city and the Mediterranean sea are not well visible as they lie behind Tibidabo. The whole area is not only picturesque, peaceful and romantic, but also made me feel like in a fairy-tale.
It’s possible to do many other things in Montserrat, such as rock climbing, especially at Cavall Bernat 1,111 m a.s.l. (better with an instructor) or camping (there’s a small camping site half way from the Abbey to the cross). Even pilgrims visit Montserrat when walking along the Camino Catalan on the way to Santiago de Compostela.
2 million people visit Montserrat every year… be it for religious, historical or natural reasons.
As I am not religious, I visited it mostly because of the views and to admire the interesting architecture of the Abbey. I have to say that my guide Antonio was easy to talk to and had loads of knowledge about the area. And he also took some photos of me so I didn’t have just selfies as from many of my other trips 🙂
- hiking shoes are recommendable
- carry enough potable water with you
- during the day there’s toilets in the restaurants open to public for free
- the views are not the best in spring and autumn as it can get very foggy
- it’s easy to get food at the restaurant during the day but I still recommend you to bring your own snacks
- there’s little stalls along the road not far from the parking lot where you can buy local products, such as honey, fruit, cheese etc.
- the tour I took with Withlocals had “mató amb mel” included. It’s a snack of local cheese and honey. But as I am vegan, I could take fig bread instead (a sort of sweet gluten-free pastry made of figs with dried fruit and nuts on top)
- there’s also a train from Plaça Espanya Barcelona to get to picturesque Monistrol village situated just below Montserrat. Then in the village you can take Aeri de Montserrat cable car or Montserrat Rack Railway train to get up to the mountain. So you would need to change from the train to funicular or cable car, you would also miss the info about the place that a guide gives you, and the whole trip would take you longer. This is why because of limited time I opted for a local guide.
And here you can find more of my Montserrat photos.
TIP 1: If you are looking for a different thing to do in this amazing city, what about floating in Barcelona? Have you ever heard of its benefits?
TIP 2: Have a quick read about why I love Barcelona so much. I hope it will convince you to visit if you haven’t yet.
TIP 3: There’s many things you can do in Barcelona. For many of them, such as museums and other attractions, you would need to wait in line for quite some time just to buy the ticket in person. If you’d like to skip lines, you can book your passes here online to save time. It’s very easy to book and you can even book 10 minutes before you enter and thus skip the whole line. All you will need then is your mobile phone so no printing of documents needed. I recommend you to do the following while in Barcelona:
- Barcelona museum pass online
- Camp Nou experience
- Casa Batllo entrance
- Casa Milá – La Pedrera
- Chocolate Museum
- City tour Barcelona