If you are planning to visit the vibrant coastal city of Barcelona in 2019, you should consider heading up to the sacred Montserrat Mountain for a day hike. Under an hour away by car from Barcelona you will find a natural park that is fascinating by its geology, spirituality and history.
The Benedictine Monastery, situated on the southeast part of the mountain, attracts many visitors all year round. For many pilgrims from all around the world, the arrival to Montserrat is a lifetime experience. Monsterrat is a typical female Catalan name and referred to more commonly as ‘Montse’. You are sure to meet a couple during your stay in Barcelona.
People come to Montserrat for very different reasons. The majority of pilgrims pay a visit to the Saint Mary, called ‘La Moreneta’, in the Basilica. They participate in the mass and can even be invited to share diners with monks. Other visitors come to escape the hustle and bustle of Barcelona, taking in the breath taking 360° views whilst enjoying either a gentle or more challenging hike around the mountain. Montserrat is also a very popular spot amongst locals and visiting enthusiasts to practice rock climbing. You will be able to spot them hanging off some truly impressive spears and conglomerate towers during the sunny weekends. The Natural Park of Montserrat simply offers a great day.
When arriving at the monastery, you will see that it is made up of numerous buildings with the church as a central focal point. The entire complex consist of cafes, souvenir shops, a Catalan national museum, police office, post office, hotel and other buildings. You could say that the monastery is self-sufficient, as it was originally intended to be, and caters well for the demands of the many visiting tourists.
There are many different ways to arrive at the monastery, catering for the needs of all visitors. A popular choice is by foot, a 3 hour hike, from Monistrol de Montserrat. You can join a local cycling group and bike to the top. There is a windy road that will bring you to the top car park if you decide to go by car. Alternatively, there is a specially designed train, the Cremallera, that will bring you to the top station from the foot of the mountain or you could also hop on the gondola lift Aeri. Whichever way you choose, Montserrat is easily accessible.
The monastery is a buzzing place due to receiving large numbers of visitors every day. Thus, there is no better way to explore the magical mountain than by bringing along you walking shoes and heading outside to experience the beauty of the monastery from one of the more peaceful viewpoints. There are hiking paths all over the mountain, allowing you to find the most tranquil places, however, be sure to know your way as some paths can lead you to the other side of the mountain! Moreover, the steepness of the mountain could be challenging for some, thus there is an option to hop on the Sant Joan funicular to arrive at one view point called Pla de Tarantulas. From here you can make an easy decent around the northeast part of the mountain enjoying the spectacular views of Mediterranean, Pyrenees, Sant Llorenç del Munt and Montseny. There really is an option to suit everyone.
Along the hike we will encounter many species of local flora, consisting of Mediterranean aromatic herbs, rosemary, thyme and juniper. The vegetation is made of boxwood, holm oak trees and other typical bushes. There is special type of mountain goat that often explores this part of the mountain and we can usually spot them standing on the steep edges of the conglomerate rocks.
The hike will also lead us to the monastery where we will enter the church and observe the truly magnificent architecture. The Saint Mary carving is placed at the top end of the church and many visitors choose to wait in the long queue to walk past and see her in closer proximity.
At 13:00 on week days and Sundays, the local boys’ choir called Escolania performs in the church. The place is filled with lamps from all churches around Catalonia and a heart-warming experience.
Montserrat offers a lot to its visitors. It is truly your choice how you experience this place. For sure you will leave at the end of your trip with some fantastic memories.
Stepan Prindis, MSc.