Montserrat stands for “serrated mountain” because of the sharp, jagged, mountains in this area just about 20 km from Barcelona. Up high on this mountain lies a monastery that has been there since the 1500’s. It has clung onto that mountain top through the Spanish Civil War and both World Wars.
It is a popular tourist destination for many reasons. For Catholics, it is a pilgrimage visit various holy sites, such as the black Madonna inside the Basilica, San Joan or Santa Cova. For the nature hiker, it affords stunning views, many hiking trails, and even places to do rock climbing on the stunning cliffs. For the photographer, there are endless opportunities to take pictures of everything from the breathtaking mountain ranges to the intricate architecture of the buildings.
How to Get There
It is an easy trip by train. Trains leave from Placa Espanya about once an hour arriving at Manresa (last stop). When you buy your ticket at the train station, you should buy a combo ticket that includes the second part of the trip, a choice between taking a cable car or funicular (like a tram) up the mountain. If you choose the cable car, you will get off at the second to last stop. If you choose the funicular, you get off at the last stop.
I highly recommend the cable car. It’s fun to hang above the forests while seeing the mountain loom closer and closer. It’s exhilarating!
I took the 9:34AM train, which arrived at the station around 10:34M. It’s pretty straightforward because you basically get off the train and walk straight to the cable car area, which is in the same building.
The cable car ride takes about 4 minutes and drops you off at the foot of the monastery. Walk uphill and you’ll soon enter the monastery area, where you can visit the basilica (the main church), the museum, or the shops.
This place is typically filled with people. When I was there, several school groups has arrived and the lively chatter of kids playing was all over the square.
There are additional funiculars that take you to other parts of the mountain. These require purchase of additional tickets. (Note, you can buy an all-in-one ticket for Montserrat if you plan on taking all of the funiculars.) I decided to take the San Joan funicular, since I had read it takes you the highest part of the mountain, offering grand views of the entire area.
I ended up hiking up to San Joan and beyond, spending about an hour total hiking around.
The views were magnificent, and because I went there first (before visiting the basilica, the famous black Madonna, or other popular sites), I pretty much had the place to myself, which was really, really nice.
Visiting the Monastery
At around 12:30PM I took the funicular back down to the monastery area to hear the world famous Montserrat Boys Choir sing during their daily mass.
The church was crazy crowded – I could barely get inside the door. They sang for about 10 minutes, singing two pieces. Their voices were spectacular, and it was a treat to hear them. I was a bit distracted by all the tourists crammed into the back of the church. Perhaps I should have come earlier so I could get a seat. Oh well, it was still nice listening to them.
Afterwards I stood in line to see the famous Black Madonna. I waited for about 40 minutes in line, which is typical. The entire church was built to facilitate the worship of the black Madonna. She is situated high up right at the center of the stage so that all worshippers can see her.
Finally, I decided to hike down a bit to explore more of the area. There are some nice steps leading down behind the restaurant building, which has some other nice views.
I spent close to a whole day here, and I felt that it was a good amount of time. I took the 4:30PM cable car back to the train station, and got back to Barcelona in plenty of time for dinner. If I had extra time, I would have spent a bit more time hiking different trails. There are numerous trails in the area, and I only scratched the surface of it.
Visiting Montserrat was definitely one of the highlights of my trip and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves hiking, mountains, and history.