Oh Montserrat, how I’m so glad we made time for you.
When traveling to another city (in our case, Barcelona), a big question that often arises for many people is – do we plan any day trips or just stick to seeing the city? If we plan a day trip, will we miss out on seeing something important in the city, knowing we won’t be back for a while?
That’s always a tough decision to make, especially when you have limited time. My family and I had heard that Montserrat, a mountain range and monastery about an hour northwest of Barcelona, was a beautiful and worthwhile trip. However, with only 5 days to spend, we weren’t sure if we wanted to give up a full day in the city.
After the August 2017 terrorist attack on Las Ramblas, however, which happened the day we arrived, we said, “let’s go to Montserrat after all”. And so we did. And all four us –including our two girls – loved it. Montserrat was an experience not to be forgotten.
In Catalan, the word Montserrat means “serrated mountain”, referring to the unique rock formations which make up the mountain range. A beautiful, and peculiar arrangement of peaks, people come to Montserrat for its serenity outside of the big city.
Montserrat is equally known for its religious significance and history. In 1025 the Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery was built, and it is said that the Virgin of Montserrat performed miracles, attracting many pilgrims from far and wide. Visions of the Virgin were apparently seen in a cave in the mountains, and it’s been a place of worship ever since. In 1409 the monastery was turned into an independent abbey, and later it additionally became a cultural center, housing the Montserrat Music School.
Take the Cable Car
For us, the adventure of Montserrat began with a cable car ride. The Montserrat abbey is located half-way or so up the mountain, so people arrive either by car, train or cable car. We had purchased a combo train ticket out of Barcelona which included the cable car ride (a popular choice), as we thought it would be great fun for the girls. As we learned, the cable car is a ton of fun – with gorgeous views – but it’s also not for the faint of heart for those with vertigo! My younger daughter’s vertigo kicked in on this trip – but she survived!
Visit the Basilica
We took the cable car to the abbey and first explored around the building. Many people come here to visit the basilica and sanctuary, where the statue of the Virgin of Montserrat is, however you have to contend with long lines to go inside. We are not very religious and were perfectly content with walking around the outside courtyards and seeing the beautiful building from that vantage point. However, for those wanting to go inside, as with any popular site, go early, early, early.
Take a Furnicular Ride
There are two furniculars at Montserrat, one that goes up to the top of the mountain, and one that descends down to a sacred cave. The Sant Joan furnicular takes you to the top, where you can enjoy incredible views of the mountain range and countryside below, and explore the different hiking trails (see below). The Santa Cova furnicular takes you down the mountain to a cave and shrine – where it is said the Virgin was first seen back in medieval times. We took the Sant Joan furnacular, and enjoyed the hiking and views so much that we took it up again! But that meant we did not have time to take the Santa Cova furnicular.
This was the real highlight of our trip to Montserrat. The hiking is fabulous. The mountain range is so beautiful, and so unusual, that to take in its beauty by hiking is essential. There is a mix of easy, moderate and difficult trails, so don’t think you can’t take the kids. If you want to simply go for a nature walk, you can do that too.
For us, the best way to take the kids hiking was by taking the Sant Joan furnicular to the top and walking down to the abbey. We took a trail that winded in and around the mountain, giving us views of the peaks and land below. As I mentioned, we enjoyed it so much that we took the furnicular back up again, and this time took a different trail, going up. It was later in the day – after lunch – and a completely different setting and experience from the first hike. Fog had set in, lending the range a dramatic and moody atmosphere. The scenery was really quite stunning, and we didn’t want to leave.
At the base of the monastery, where the basilica is, there are a few restaurants and markets and gelato stands. There’s not many, so prepare in advance. Many people bring picnic lunches. We found luck at a small market, which is really a food and gift store, and purchased salami, cheese and bread and had a simple lunch, followed by gelato.
Make sure to wear sneakers or hiking shoes. I know that seems like an obvious, but I saw some women in heels taking the furnicular up and almost gasped!
Even if it’s hot, bring a sweater or sweatshirt as the temperature does drop at the top of the mountain.
Montserrat can be accessed by car, but there are limited spots, so if you drive, plan to go very early in the morning.
The FGC line departs from Barcelona’s Placa Espanya train station every hour after 8:36 a.m. and goes to Monistrol de Montserrat, where you can catch a train up the mountain every 20 minutes.
By Train and Cable Car
The cable car departs every 15 minutes and is the fastest route up to the monastery.
Coming from Barcelona, this is probably the most popular option (this is what we did). You can purchase a combo ticket at Placa Espanya for both the train and cable car on the R 5 line. To see a full break down of ticket options, see this Montserrat ticketing website.
You can also read more on Montserrat’s visitors site.
Finally, there is a bar by the Montserrat train station that is great! It’s called Bar Rincon, a very local spot just off the tracks and down a path. If you get to the station early, head there for a drink while you wait for the next train to Barcelona. They serve food as well, and it was a fun way to mingle with the locals.
Montserrat is beautiful. If you’re visiting Barcelona and have the time, I highly recommend a trip to this breathtaking part of Spain.
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