After five days of exploring Barcelona’s incredible historic sights and famous landmarks, I decided to take a quick day trip out of the city and visit the monastery at Montserrat. Around an hour and 40-minutes away from the city by train, the working Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat is known for its beautiful mountain location and for the shrine of the Virgin of Montserrat – one of Europe’s famous Black Madonnas.
GETTING TO MONTSERRAT
I was staying at the ever-so-cool Jam Hostel in Barcelona’s Gràcia district, so after some (free!) yoga on the hostel terrace, I made my way to the Joanic Metro station, before jumping on the train at Espanya station and whizzing north towards Manresa. About an hour later, I arrived at Monistrol Montserrat, where you can board the rack-railway Cremallera Funicular at foot of mountain. For those brave enough, the stop before Monistrol (Aeri Montserrat) is where you can catch the scenic cable car up to the monastery instead.
I chose the first option, and despite my slight fear of heights, the journey up the mountain on the Cremallera Funicular was incredible. It’s a tough choice between watching the beautiful Catalonian landscape unfold below you or gazing up at the breathtaking mountain above. Once you reach the monastery, you also have the option of taking another (practically vertical) Cremallera to Sant Jeroni at the very top of the mountain. I didn’t manage to fit this in, but I heard that the views from the trails up there are breathtaking.
THINGS TO DO AT MONTSERRAT
The first thing you see when you leave the station is the spectacular Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery against the backdrop of the strangely formed mountains, with an incredible view of the Catalonian countryside to the right. I spent a little time soaking in the view (and taking a million photos) before heading inside the church to see the Virgin of Montserrat (more on this below!) The monastery might be the main attraction, but Montserrat has plenty of other sights to explore too.
There’s the Montserrat Museum, which houses some 1,300 artefacts from the Abbey’s 1000-year-old history, and the smaller (but still worth a visit) nearby monastery of Santa Cecilia. Montserrat also has a lot of scenic walks, with beautiful trails around the monastery which offer incredible views of the valley below. I decided to take the trail to the Cross of St. Miquel which, if you’re sensible and wear proper walking shoes (unlike me!) you can follow all the way up to the path of Sant Jeroni. There are walks for all ability levels and the information centre (directly opposite the station when you arrive) are really helpful if you’re unsure of which one to take.
VIEWING THE BLACK MADONNA
Montserrat draws more than 3 million visitors a year, with most journeying to see the famed Lady of Montserrat. The exact history of the Black Madonna remains a bit of a mystery, but it’s believed that the statue was carved sometime in the 12th century. The legend goes that the statue was discovered by Benedictine monks when they were building the monastery and, unable to move her, they instead choose to build the abbey up around her.
Located at the back of the chapel, the Madonna is a popular site for pilgrims from around the world, who come to kiss or touch the hand of the Virgin. If you want to get a close-up look at the statue, you might have to wait a while as the queue tends to be quite long, but it’s worth it to see her and the beautifully intricate “throne” which she sits on. Once you’ve visited the Black Madonna, you’ll find yourself in the Cami de l’Ave Maria, a passageway filled with prayer candles for the Virgin Mary and for those who want to take a moment to pray themselves, you can buy a candle for yourself for a small fee.
WHERE TO EAT AT MONTSERRAT
There are two restaurants at Montserrat, the Restaurant Montserrat and Restaurant Abat Cisneros. I choose the first because of the amazing views over the valley below. Part of the Mirador dels Apòstols buildings, the Restaurant Montserrat certainly isn’t cheap, but there is a canteen-style dining room with slightly more affordable options. I grabbed some snacks and a beer, found a seat outside and enjoyed the panoramic view from the terrace, before picking up some souvenirs at the gift shop and jumping on the train back to the city.
Have you visited Montserrat? Did you see the Black Madonna? Let me know what you thought about the monastery and, as always, free to leave comments, questions and recommendations below!
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