When I first moved to Barcelona I met a lovely girl called Montse. I’d never heard the name before and she explained to me that many Catalans in the area have this name, short for Montserrat, after the beautiful Monastery of Montserrat.
A few weeks ago I finally found some time to visit this amazing place, one of Barcelona’s most popular day trips, and it really is as stunning as people say!
For some people, a visit to Montserrat is a religious pilgrimage. For others, it’s a visit to a unique mountain range offering views over Catalonia. Whatever your motive, you will not be disappointed.
“Montserrat” literally means “saw/serrated mountain” in Catalan. It describes its unique rugged features, with a multitude of rock formations which are visible from a great distance. These mountains are known to be a special, mystical place for the local Catalan people. Many people make an overnight hike to watch the sunrise from the peak of Montserrat, which offers you some of the most spectacular mountain views of Catalunya.
Sitting atop the mountain range is Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery. There are always around 80 monks in residence who live according to the Rule of Saint Benedict. Located inside of the monastery is a statue of the of the Virgin of Montserrat – popularly known as La Moreneta, (the Dark One). This is a 12th century Romanesque polychrome carving, one of the few black madonnas of Europe.
The Benedictine Abbey and the Basilica
The black Virgin of Montserrat is located inside of the Basilica. A visit here is free and attracts millions of pilgrims from all over the world as it is said that the statue of the Virgin Mary and her infant son have healing powers. The Benedictine Abbey dates back to the 9th century and legend has it that this was once was home to the Holy Grail.
There are some great walks through the mountains in this area where you’ll see magnificent views of some of the most unusual rock formations in the whole of Catalonia. You can take a funicular (check to see if this is working on the day you visit) to the top of the mountain and from there you can choose a number of different walks. Montserrat is also great for adventure seeking rock climbers.
How to get there
It’s easy to get to the Montserrat Benedictine monastery by yourself. It is around an hour’s journey by FGC train from Barcelona’s Placa d’Espanya station. Take the R5 line in the direction of Manresa. The train departs about every hour. Click here for more information about the FGC train line.
- You don’t need to opt for a tour once there as maps are provided.
- Be prepared for quite a long wait to get into the Basilica area hosting the Virgin.
- There is a basic restaurant, a take away area and a ‘posher’ restaurant serving some traditional food (but this can get busy in the summer so best to book before your visit or to save your pennies take along a little picnic).
- Dress warmly even in summer. Montserrat is on top of a mountain and there is nearly always a strong wind.