The mountains of Montserrat caught my eye as we travelled from the Barcelona airport in to town last week, and I have been excited to visit ever since. These rugged ‘serrated’ mountains stick out of the landscape in an incredibly dramatic fashion, emphasising the inhospitality of the area. It came as no surprise to me when I learnt that the area was used by monks and nuns for a large monastery – because suffering shows you really care!
Getting there was quite straight forward (as we had a car), however it is also quite simple using several forms of public transport. As always, I just wished that I had a bike instead, and was so jealous of all the middle-aged men in Lycra slowly ascending in front of us on bikes worth more than our rental car. It’s certainly something that I want to do at some period.
We drove as far as we could drive, and made a short walk to where the monasteries (and now hotels/shops/restaurants) are. There were wide squares surrounded by beautiful buildings, and flanked by the giant stone walls of the mountains. It already felt like quite a special and beautiful place, and we’d barely started to explore.
It is possible to climb to the upper trails from here, however we opted to save some time/energy, and instead spending money and catch the funicular railway up. It runs every few minutes, and we missed one train by seconds, which was disappointing. As the cart slowly rose, the view of the monastery below continued to become more and more spectacular and out of place with the natural surroundings.
From the upper station we made our way towards Saint Joan following a gentle gravel path. The easy paths eventually ended, and turned to difficult and steep steps up narrow paths. There were some ruins of old monasteries and accommodation on the side of the mountain, tucked into the cracks of the cliffs. It might have been pleasant during the hot summer months, but I can only imagine the discomfort the cold of winter would have brought residents.
We were getting flash backs of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) in Australia, for the large eroded conglomerate rock that both are made of.
It is possible to do some rather extensive hikes in the area, and some even more extreme climbs up some of these rocks. It looked easier than some of the other rock climbing routes people often do, but still far beyond my ability/endurance. We were happy enough to just watch these groups of people making these long ascents, envious of their glory as they reached the summit.
We climbed as high as we were able, which required a bit of scrambling and the use of some ropes, and the reward was spectacular panoramas of the other mountains in the range, as well as of the plains below – if only it had been a clear and sunny day!
We were running low on time, as we had a deadline to return the car. We opted to walk down (we weren’t that short of time that we’d pay a second funicular fare), however the walk was much, much longer than we’d expected, as it slowly wound its way back to the main monastery area, taking a very indirect route, and our knees were in pain by the time we reached the end.
I very nearly left without actually visiting the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, which would have been an enormous mistake once we’d actually stepped foot into the truly beautiful building – best of all, it was free. I think they supported themselves by the sale of candles and donations – it was incredible the amount of heat that could be felt from this many small flames.
It was a really, truly beautiful location, and should be high on the list for any visits to Barcelona. Hopefully next time I can visit by bike.