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A visit to MONTSERRAT, the Holy Mountain near Barcelona in Catalonia

Hi...

Since I've seen a lot of posts asking about details for a visit to Montserrat, I've decided to create a sort of 'article' which I'm posting as a separate thread, so those interested can have a full picture of what a visit to Montserrat can be. I've had to cut it into several chunks as per the limitation on the number of characters in each post. I know it can be a long read, but I hope it can be helpful to some.


About MONTSERRAT...

First see a short video to get an idea.

The Monastery of Montserrat is one of the most famous monasteries in the Catholic world here in Europe, as well as a centre for pilgrims. For many tourists, a trip to Montserrat is the highlight of their visit. Montserrat is a spectacularly beautiful Benedictine monk mountain retreat about one hour North West from Barcelona by train. Another highlight of the visit to the monastery is to listen to the famous choir boy performances of Gregorian chants and other genres of religious choral music. The performances can be heard free of charge in the Basilica at 13:00 (check schedules as they vary). Sample.

But Montserrat is much more, its name is in fact, the name of a very distinct multi-peaked mountain that literally means "saw (serrated, like the common handsaw) mountain" in Catalan, the local language. It describes its peculiar aspect with a multitude of rock formations which are visible from a great distance. The mountain is composed of strikingly pink conglomerate, a form of sedimentary rock. Montserrat is a National Park and one of the reasons to visit is indeed to hike in one of its many trails and experience nature at its best, some are short and easy for everyone old and young alike to participate while others are geared towards more avid hikers.

For a glimpse of what Montserrat is really all about --- I have to admit that the spectacular soundtrack makes it for a more dramatic video, lol!

Posted by
2554 posts

How long to allow for a visit to Montserrat?

Honestly, that's a very personal question and it all boils down to what are your tastes and expectations. I personally would plan for a full day for these reasons:

  • Travel time to the monastery from Barcelona (including ascending to it once in the mountain) is around 90' altogether. That makes for around 3h total travelling time (inc. return).
  • Montserrat is not only a monastery and a sanctuary; it is also a spectacular site from a geological point of view, as well as an important cultural centre.
  • As mentioned before, it's also a Natural Park, so hiking some of the trails is also an activity worth doing while visiting. Note that there are trails for all ages so to speak, some being very easy.
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The Open Air Museum: The Sanctuary boasts a wealth of artistic, historic and natural heritage, a true Open Air Museum. The visual material available for visiting the Open Air Museum comprises a map and a booklet containing descriptions of Montserrat’s artistic and natural heritage. Three of the routes offer an easy self-guided visit to the surroundings at your own pace: The Route of the Sanctuary that leads around the most important monuments and areas in the Sanctuary of Montserrat. No one wishing to discover the very heart of Montserrat should miss this tour, which takes visitors to the basilica and to worship Our Lady, as well as enabling them to discover architectural and sculptural heritage that illustrates Montserrat’s history. The Route of the Via Crucis–Sant Miquel–Miranda de Fra Garí that bring us into contact for the first time with the mountain of Montserrat. The paths along this route, which runs very close to the sanctuary, present no difficulty at all. There are a few uphill stretches, that are unavoidable if we are to enjoy the magnificent views over the monastery and the mountain. This is the old path that pilgrims used to take to Montserrat. Also, the Route to the Santa Cova (Holy Grotto), twisting and turning, with splendid panoramic views, flanked by monuments symbolising the Mystery of the Rosary. These monuments form the most important group of outdoor Modernist (Art Nouveau) sculptures in Catalonia, ending at the Santa Cova, a chapel where, according to legend, shepherds found the image of Our Lady, the Moreneta. There are no difficult sections along this walk apart from a steep ascent along one stretch, which can be avoided by taking the funicular railway.

Ride the funiculars: the Santa Cova funicular which connects the sanctuary with a cave -the Santa Cova (or Holy Grotto)- and the cave chapel where according to the legend shepherds found the image of La Moreneta; and the Sant Joan funicular which connects the sanctuary with a vantage point located at the top of the mountain. This funicular offers a spectacular panoramic view of Montserrat mountain, 1000m (3300ft) above sea level. The viewpoint offers unique experience with the best panoramic bird’s-eye views of the mountain and the monastery as well as spectacular views of the surrounding area and the Pyrenees, located over 100km (60mi) away.

The monument The Stairs to Heaven: in honour of the poet and mystic Ramon Llull, a key figure in Catalan literature from the 11th century. The eight stages of the monument, in the form of a spiral, represent the eight stages of awareness (stone, flame, plant, animal, man, heaven, angel, God). It is located at the end of the road, at about 300m (330 yards) of the monastery entrance, by the extensive parking lot, near which is a large outlook terrace. Look out for the monument sign on the right-hand edge of this map of the monastery.

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The Museu de Montserrat, an art museum that contains six collections with more than 1,300 pieces exhibited, embracing a vast chronological period. The oldest exhibit is an Egyptian sarcophagus from the 13th century BC, whilst the most recent is a painting by Sean Scully dating to 2010 and donated by the artist. The sarcophagus forms part of the Archaeology of the Biblical East collection, along with other objects from the cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, the Holy Land and Cyprus. There is also an exhibition devoted to the Iconography of Our Lady of Montserrat, which traces the changing way in which the Virgin has been represented in art over the centuries. Also a collection of about 160 Byzantine and Slavic icons that is titled Phos Hilaron (joyful light) presenting the environment of an oriental church, where the light has an important role. The other collections are: Goldsmithery, comprising liturgical objects from the 15th to the 20th century; Painting from the 13th to the 18th century, which includes works by Berruguete, El Greco, Caravaggio, Luca Giordano and Tiepolo; and 19th and 20th Century Painting, which boasts one of the finest collections of Catalan painting, including such outstanding names as Fortuny, Rusiñol, Casas, Nonell, Mir, Gimeno, Anglada Camarasa, Picasso or Dalí. French Impressionist art is also represented in this section, with works by Monet, Sisley, Degas, or Pissarro as well as graphic works by many of the greatest contemporary artists: Chagall, Braque, Le Corbusier, Rouault, Miró, Dalí, Picasso, Clavé, and Tàpies.

The Monastery of Santa Cecília, located in one of the loveliest settings of the mountain of Montserrat. A 1h40′ walk from the monument the Stairs to Heaven taking the spectacular Arrel path -which is not recommended for beginners or persons with mobility difficulties. Its recently restored church dates from the 11th century and is one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in the region. The whole site has undergone several interventions in the 20th century, including the restoration carried out by Puig i Cadafalch -author of many Modernist buildings in Barcelona, like Casa Amatller- between 1920 and 1930. It is currently hosting the work of one of the most internationally-celebrated contemporary artists: Sean Scully. The nave of this Romanesque church dedicated to Santa Cecília, the patron of music, is filled with paintings, coloured glass, altarpieces and frescos. The combination of art, history, spirituality and the splendour of the natural surroundings make this a place you will not want to miss.

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Hiking in Montserrat: What makes Montserrat a magical place is hard to describe with words, thus, I recommend a visit to this group in Flickr to understand all the beauty this Natural Park has to offer. Around the sanctuary, there is a wide variety of routes with different duration, to walk or to combine with Sant Joan and Santa Cova funiculars. Some are suitable for all sorts of hikers while other require some experience as they include steep steps.

Routes for hiking in Montserrat: A network of well-indicated trails facilitate hiking in Montserrat. For an excellent trilingual practical guide (Catalan/Spanish/English) on hiking in Montserrat, check out Mapa i guia excursionista: Montserrat (Map and trekking guide of Montserrat), published by the Diputació de Barcelona and Editorial Alpina, the famous local publisher for everything ‘guides and maps related to nature’ (ISBN 84-8090-247-7, Edition 2006, 11€). You can also drop by the Diputació’s library when in Barcelona at Avenue Diagonal, 393 (tel.+34 934 022 500, email: llibreria@diba.cat) and get it there. The Diputació de Barcelona is the public authority in charge of the Patronat de la Muntanya de Montserrat above mentioned, which in turn is the authority in charge of maintaining and promoting the Natural Park of Montserrat.

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Weather

You're visiting a mountain not the beach.... don't come in flip-flops and t-shirt please :).... early morning and late afternoon can be cold(ish) in summer. For details on current temperature and forecast check the weather station located in the monastery. Wear appropriate shoes!

Getting there…

The trip to Montserrat is an important part of the visit and an adventure in itself. While it’s possible to reach Montserrat by bus -on a boring ride I must say- it’s best experienced by ‘traditional’ means which include a modern train from Barcelona with the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (or ‘FGC’) to the mountain slope at Montserrat and then either a short cable car ride (“aeri” in Catalan) or a journey on a rack train (“cremallera” in Catalan) to the monastery. From there funiculars are available to other parts of the mountain, like the Santa Cova (the Wholy Groot).

A combined ticket named “TransMontserrat” (~30€ in 2016) is available to be purchased either at the departure station in Barcelona, FGC Espanya located in the west of the city, on the day of the departure or it can be purchased online in advance and at the same price at the Barcelona Tourism Board Shop . The TransMonserrat groups all the necessary transportation tickets: a return trip from/to Barcelona by train, ride up to the monastery either by cable car or on rack train plus the funiculars. Note that the decision to ride up the mountain to the monastery either by cable car or by rack train has to be made when purchasing the ticket as they are not interchangeable and also the transfer points are at different stops, the station at Olesa de Montserrat for the aeri and the station at Monistrol de Montserrat -the next station- for the cremallera train (green colour). The train from Barcelona is the R5 line (see timetable ) departing from Plaça Espanya.

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AND WHEN RETURNING TO BARCELONA…

If you decided to spend the day in Montserrat, you are likely to be returning to Barcelona in the evening… and you will be arriving at the same station you departed from: FGC Espanya. Well, if it is either a Friday, Saturday or Sunday (or Thursday as well if in summer) maybe you would like top up the day visiting the show at La Font Màgica de Montjuïc (The Magic Fountain), located merely 150m (120 yards) from the station. Barcelona’s biggest ornamental fountain, built in 1929 for the International Exhibition, offers a spectacular display of music, water acrobatics and lights which generate over 50 kinds of shades and hues. Check the schedules here . Did I mention is FREE?

Enjoy!

Posted by
3666 posts

Perfect, exactly what I was looking for. And thanks for the fountain info as well. Any particular tips for a January trip? The weather info seems to indicate that it rarely snows.

Posted by
2554 posts

It does rarely... but it does :)... so keep an eye for that. In any case, wear warm clothing, as it's rather cold. After all, you're ascending to a mountain range which is 4000ft tall -might not seem much, but the temperature is far colder than in Barcelona despite being "so" close. Their website will give you the day's forecast: http://www.montserratvisita.com/en/organize-the-visit/useful-information/the-climate The temperature now, in November, in the morning is barely 40F and in January can be 30F. Yet at noon it can climb to 60F, so wear layers!

Posted by
1604 posts

Thank you, Enric. I would just add that after visiting Montserrat on a day trip, our group agreed that an overnight stay would be something we'd like to do in the future - to be there in the quiet.

Posted by
10 posts

Can you recommend a small group tour company for a guided visit to Montserrat from Barcelona. Would also like same for Gaudi sites, Girona, and Dali museums.

Posted by
18379 posts

Susan, the tourist office offers an inexpensive Modernisme walking tour that takes in the exterior of some of the modernista buildings on/near the Passeig de Gracia and allows a brief stop at the Modernisme museum in that area. It does not go to La Sagrada Familia, and just about any tourist map will show you that there are far more modernist buildings than could be seen on a single tour. I wandered around for days, tracking down many (but not all) of them, just to see the exteriors of the ones I couldn't go inside. Gaudí was by no means the only fabulous architect working in Barcelona during the period in question. I particularly recommend the Sant Pau site, a former hospital. It hasn't been discovered by the tourist hordes yet. You will spend some time outdoors, so best to choose a day with nice weather.

If, as I assume, you want to go inside at least some of the buildings, I'm not sure that a pre-set tour will work for you. Visiting each site typically takes at least an hour, often more like 90 minutes, which doesn't fit too well with the idea of a tour going to a bunch of different places over the course of a morning or an afternoon. The residential buildings have a path set up that visitors follow, and I'm not sure they even allow outside tour groups. All that I visited had either their own (required) tours or an audio guide.

To avoid long waits in ticket lines, you need to pre-book tickets for some of the sights, La Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell, La Pedrera/Casa Milà, Casa Batlló and the Palau de la Música Catalana among them. To safely schedule more than one a day you need a buffer for moving from Sight A to Sight B as well as for the uncertainty as to how long you'll want to spend at Sight A. Handling that would be difficult for a company trying to conduct tours. I suspect a tour attempting to take you inside multiple modernist buildings (if such even exists) would really be rushing your through. And those site tickets are expensive (often 20 euros or more), so I wouldn't be too happy to be rushed.

I imagine a tour to the Dalí sites in/near Figueres and Cadaques could work well since taking public transportation--while easily possible--is not a matter of just one train or one bus. I can't provide a recommendation because I did not go to the Dalí sites, but I did see flyers for tours.

I would prefer to do my own thing in Girona since it has a number of sights that would be more or less interesting to individual travelers, which makes a one-size-fits-all tour problematic. In Girona you have the large and very walkable old town, two important churches (at least one with an audio guide available), a wall you can walk on, and a wonderful small museum that I highly recommend. It would be easy to hop on the fast train to Girona (about 40 minutes) and then take a cab the short distance to the edge of the historic district. Girona's easily worth a full day. If you don't have that much time, you can check to see whether someone combines Girona with the Dalí sites, but be sure the tour allows enough time for the latter.

If you happen also to be a Miró fan, you would enjoy the very nice Miró museum on Montjuïc in Barcelona. The collection is essentially all Miró, so skip it if he's not a favorite of yours.

Posted by
3666 posts

Would this be a good trip for New Year's Eve Day or New Year's Day when some of the attractions in Barcelona are closed or closed early?

Thanks
Juli

Posted by
4557 posts

Enric,
Thank you so much for taking the time to write such an informative article about Montserrat!

Posted by
2554 posts

My pleasure Priscilla

Juli, sorry I wouldn't know that to say. You'd have to check that the cable car (or rack train) don't have altered schedules on that day, same with the restaurants, museums and abbey at Montserrat. Trains to/from Montserrat are not a problem, as public transportation works 365 days. In any case, who said all attractions in Barcelona are closed on the 1st?... some are not. The 31st is like a normal day -at least until 8pm- albeit a few attractions might not be open. But again you'd have to check on their websites.

In any case, a trip to any major city -at least here in Europe- is different from visiting a theme park... attractions (as in sites, museums, etc) are "just" part of the trip, but then you have many other things to do, like visiting parks, strolling historic neighbourhoods, the beach, etc. or even participating in one of the many cultural or heritage events. In Barcelona there are "things" happening all the time, even on days in which everything seems to be closed. After all this is 2 million citizens used to live "outside"....

Posted by
3666 posts

Enric,

I hope I don't sound like a "theme park" kind of traveler. I'm not much of a theme park person. On my limited travels in Europe, I've enjoyed most talking to locals, walking and taking mass transit, eating local foods and visiting museums. I understand that the whole city doesn't close done for holidays and there will be things to do.

I am just feeling that our stay in Barcelona is a bit tricky in that we are there about 4 full days and 2 half days, and they just happen to include New Years Eve, New Years Day and a Monday. All three have closures and reduced hours for many of they places we'd like to see. In general when I travel, I have a list of things we'd like to do, but I don't make a schedule. I like to keep things flexible. However, given the days we are working with, I feel like we could end up missing something high on the list if we don't plan carefully. The Picasso Museum for example closes early on the 31st and is closed on the 1st and 2nd.

I really appreciate your help, Enric, and all the other help I've gotten from this forum!

Juli

Posted by
2554 posts

Glad to hear you're not a theme-park type of traveller :))).... you'll enjoy the experience much more then.

As I said, NY's Eve is a regular day until 8pm or so, therefore you'll be able to do the same than any other day... until 8pm!. Then, towards midnight, if you don't mind crowds, check out the New Year's Bell Ringing show near Plaça Espanya: http://lameva.barcelona.cat/en/christmas/new-years-bell-ringing.... this is a video of a previous year. Free to attend, of course.

NY's Day (Jan 1st)... among other things you can visit Casa Batlló, Park Güell, Parc de la Ciutadella, La Pedrera, Sagrada Família (in the morning only), Parc del Laberint d'Horta... or you can walk the Old City, the promenade by the seafront and sit in one of the terraces with a view like this, a day escapade to Sitges, or to Tossa de Mar, etc, etc.... as I said, check the websites of the sites in your bucket list to see which ones are open on Jan 1st!

The 2nd is a Monday, therefore a WORKING day, thus everything is open... except for a few (few!) sites for which Monday is their weekly day off.

Also, have a peek at the City Hall's Christmas web to see if there's any event you might enjoy: http://lameva.barcelona.cat/en/christmas/

Sorted then, right?