Barcelona is a city of endless fun. The food, history, music, art and culture are a fiery fiesta for the senses, inadvertently sweeping you up into the city’s fast-paced and intense embrace. I’ve visited a few times now and on each and every trip, I fall in love with this enchanting city even more.

Although as much as I adore the all-consuming intensity of Barcelona, just like with any other metropolis, in order to preserve our relationship, I need to be able to escape from it – and fast.

When the city havoc (and not to mention my tapas and sangria-induced weight gain) have become too much, I have often found myself exploring beyond the cosmopolitan crowds to beaches, historic towns and the countryside. Of all the day trips I have managed to take from Barcelona, there is one that stands out in my mind by miles. It is one place I urge absolutely anyone staying in Barcelona to venture out to see – gorgeous Montserrat.

What Is Montserrat?

Montserrat is an unusual-looking peaked mountain range in Catalonia, just an hour north west of Barcelona. Shaped by thousands of years of wind, rain and frost, the gnarled limestone turrets extend up dramatically from the mountain base for as far as the eye can see. ‘Montserrat’ literally translates as ‘saw mountain’ in Catalan, owing to the mountain range’s serrated appearance.

Nestled within one of these mountains is a dramatic cliff-side monastery called Santa Maria, one of the most important religious sites in Spain.

 

Why Should You Visit Montserrat?

First and foremost you should visit Montserrat to get a good healthy dose of this unique Spanish countryside. You won’t find geological formations that look quite like this anywhere else in Spain, or indeed the world. Though there are many other reasons for a visit too:

The Hiking

The distinctive Montserrat peaks provide some of the most unique hiking and climbing opportunities in the whole of Spain. The bulbous sedimentary rock formations are even more fascinating close up than they look from afar; each corner you turn revealing a mesmerising new perspective on a surreal natural phenomenon.

Hiking here is really straightforward too thanks to the clearly signposted routes. The shortest track (from the Monastery to the Degotalls) takes 50 minutes and the longest (Sant Joan Funicular to Montserrat) about 2.5 hours. Be prepared for a lot of uphill though – the mountain peaks are pretty steep but the views along the way are stunning!

One of the most famous walks in Montserrat is to Santa Cova, an important and famous pilgrim site for the Catalan people. Here you will find the famous statue of the Virgin Mary whom religious visitors proclaim performs miracles. This being said, to miss the crowds at this popular site it is wise to avoid Sundays as well as religious and school holidays.

The Cable Car Experience

Once you arrive into Montserrat there are two ways to reach the monastery and starting point for hikes. The most fun way is via the awesome (but fairly rickety) bright yellow cable car. Being suspended within the stillness of the valley is the perfect way to take in the unique surroundings. You’ll just wish that the journey lasted a little bit longer!

The cable car is an exciting way to start off your day exploring the Montserrat peaks so it is highly recommended. However if the cable car doesn’t appeal, don’t worry – you can also go up via a more sturdy funicular cab (or sometimes called ‘rack rail’ or ‘cremallera’).

For the Religious Significance

For some people, a visit to Montserrat is a religious pilgrimage to seek spiritual connections or to strengthen their Catalonian identity. For others, it is to simply admire the famous Black Madonna statue, the Patron Saint of Catalonia.

Legend has it that the Benadictine monks could not physically move the statue to build their monastery. Instead they built a magnificent monastery to around the figurine to celebrate and protect it. Now behind glass, The Madonna has only one part uncovered – the sphere that she holds in her hand representing the world. It is tradition to kiss or touch the Virgin’s hand whilst raising your own out to Jesus.

Visiting the religious figure is free but if you’re interested to learn more about the Madonna and its various depictions, you can visit the Montserrat Museum which costs €8.

To Explore The Historic Monastery

The Monastery has been nestled within the Montserrat mountain range in one form or another since the 9th century (as parts have been burnt down and rebuilt a few times!). Stepping inside the Gothic building, you can uncover the lives of the monks who still live here, as well as the Basilica’s luxuriously ornate features. The Atrium, the open topped courtyard area, is particularly spectacular due to the black and white chequered floor designed in the style of Michelangelo’s Capotolium in Rome.

To admire it from the outside, the best way by far is buying an ice cream from one of the small shops and sitting on the courtyard steps just in front of it.

How Do You Get to Montserrat?

One of the most fantastic things about a day trip to Montserrat from Barcelona is how easy it is to get here by public transport.

The train is by far the most convenient option. As it is only 45km away, the journey takes just one hour and drops you off right in the valley of the Montserrat mountains. All you need to do is catch the Plaza Espanya line (R5) in the direction of Manresa from Placa d’Espana station in Barcelona.

When you are exiting Montserrat station, just make sure you check the departing train times back to Barcelona though as they do not run all that late.

If you do not want to go on the train, there are various pre-organised tours you can go on as well.

Religious or not, there is something utterly mystical and uplifting about the landscape of Montserrat. I hope this has convinced you to visit!

Have you been or will you plan to visit Montserrat now? Let me know!