Montserrat is not meant to be a tourist hot spot but more of a place for quiet serenity and spirituality. For many people it is a place for pilgrimage and prayer. In that respect I think you can appreciate more of the beauty of the monastery and the area. For many others is a well an amazing place for hiking and enjoy the nature.
Montserrat as well is one of the symbols of Catalunya. Even for non-Catholics, as this place played a key role of the preservation of Catalan culture, language and traditions during the dark times of the Franco's dictatorship (1939-1975)
No need to get a tour to go there, it's easy to go there by public transport, and you can organize you trip on your own way. Tours tend to loose a lot of time having lunch or shopping. BTW, nothing especially interesting to buy there apart from religious items and the delicious local "mel i mató" (kind of cottage cheese, traditionally served with honey)
About Montserrat and how getting there:
Apart from visiting the monastery (and if you're into art, the museum, one of the best of the region), I highly recommend you to take the racktrain to Sant Joan's peak. The views are impressive. You can return with the racktrain again, or can walk down the monastery. It is a very nice, not difficult but long walk (about 3 hours). If you're fit enough, you can walk as well till the highest point of the Mountain: St Jeroni. This one is a more difficult walk, but really scenic. There are as well other nice mountain paths, but you'll need more than a daytrip to full explore the area.
To get to Monserrat from Barcelona, head to the Plaza Espanya train (metro) station. There, you can usually speak to a Monserrat Tourism employee, or just use the self-service machines to book your tickets. You save the most money by buying a combined ticket - Ferrocarils de Catalunya train to the base of the mountain, and then your choice of either the cable car or the tram up the mountain. We paid €12 each for combined return tickets for adults. Trains currently leave Plaza Espanya every hour from 9:36 am, but beware that the last train home leaves the bottom of Monserrat around 5:30 pm (at least in the fall and winter).
Once you are at Monserrat, there is an additional charge to take the funicular from the basilica / cafe / museum up to the top of the mountain (to see the old monastary, hermitages and excellent hiking trails). It is approximately € 6 return. You can pay half of that to take the funicular up and walk / hike down to the basilica (approxmiately 75 minutes).
Catalonia's most important religious retreat is Montserrat. Here athletes pledge barefoot pilgrimages if prayers are answered and vital competitions won. Groups of young people from Barcelona and all over Catalonia make overnight hikes at least once in their lives to watch the sunrise from the heights of Montserrat. "La Moreneta" (the black virgin), Catalonia's favorite saint, resides in the famous sanctuary of the Mare de Deu de Montserrat, next to the Benedictine monastery nestled among the towers and crags of the mountain.
Montserrat, whose name means serrated mountain, is 48 kilometers (roughly 30 miles) west of Barcelona, and can be reached easily and spectacularly by train and cable car. Just take the FGC train from Plaça d'Espanya station (R5) and go to either the cable car stop or the funicular stop. I suggest the first stop, the cable car for it's remarkable view! Make sure you buy the combination ticket before leaving (saves you some money!)
Looming 1236 meters (4055 ft) over the valley floor, Montserrat, the highest point of the Catalan lowlands, stands central to the most populated part of Catalonia. The massive conglomerate stone monolith is ideally located to play an important role in the cultural and spiritual life of Catalonia.
The Basilica houses a museum that is packed with works of art by a long list of prominent painters and sculptors including works by El Greco, Dalí, Picasso and many more.
Lastly, Montserrat's highest point, Sant Jeroni, can be reached by funicular (price included in combination ticket) from the Romanesque monastery of Santa Cecilia. From Sant Jeroni, almost all of Catalonia can be seen. You can see more about this monastery soon on my Monistrol de Montserrat page.
I would highly recommend taking the cable car (aerial) to Montserrat rather than the train. It is about a ten minute ride and the views are just spectacular. You really can see forever, especially on a clear day! It is also a VERY steep climb up the mountain, which can be quite exciting.
The cable car takes you to nearly to the top of the mountain, to a height of approximately 720 meters above sea level. You will still need to take the funicular to reach the top.
Montserrat - massif 50 km NW of Barcelona with dolomite-like rocks. Richard Wagner stayed there - his opera Parsifal uses the mountain as its backdrop. The Benedictine monestery is a popular shrine in Catalunya, with its Black Virgin (La Moreneta), a 12th century wooden sculpture. Splendid views and rambles - an ideal day out.
Monastery (f. 1025) sacked by Napoleon's troops in 1811. Dissolution of monestery in 1830s (anti-clerical laws). Choir sings the 'Virolai' at 13:00 and the 'Salve Regina' at 19:10 Mon. through Sun.
Hike along one of the paths behind the monestary to the far side of the massif (next to the radio masts). There is an impressive sheer drop of a 1000 feet of so if you fancy peering over the edge (warning, do not try this in fog!).
The monestery is ugly. The side streets offer trinkets and dear catering. Avoid weekends and holidays (coach parties galore!).
A local wag said of Catalonia that "a country with a black virgin and a white gorilla can't be all bad" - cruel but funny. Sadly, the gorilla ("Floc de neu", a.k.a. "Snowflake") died in 2003 and it turns out the Montserrat virgin only went black over the ages. She is a sickly cream colour beneath the grime.
Should you be one of the few VIPs asked to sign the visitors book, ask to see the entries for 1940/41. Lo and behold, there is Heinrich Himmler's name! The old bugger was convinced the Holy Grail had been taken there from Montsegur after the Pope and his cohorts wiped out the Cathars in 1244 (the Catholic Church at the time had its own version of "The Final Solution"). Wagner, Parsifal, Himmler, and the Nazis' obsession with the occult - you won't find this kind of information in the tourist brochures.
FGC (Catalan railways):
Dep: Placa Espanya stn. Barcelona
Arr: Monsterrat Aeri stn.
(Journey time approx. 1 hr.)
then cable car to monestery
Enter stations, travel date & departure time in the 2nd. web below for timetables. Round ticket includes cable car.
You have to make sure you have to go in through the right Metro entrance at Espanya station, you need the R5 line on FGC.
The train & cable car combined ticket is around 13 Euros. A train/funicular ticket is available also. Both can be purchased from the ticket machine in the station. Machines coins, notes and credit/debit cards.
The trains leave every hour to Montserrat at 36 minutes past the hour. The journey takes just under an hour. The destination and line number are displayed on the front of the train and the side of each carriage.
Trains leave Monsterrat at around 39 minutes past.
On reaching Montserrat Aeri (cable car stop) its a very short walk to the cable car. Keep hold of your ticket!!
The cable car itself can get very full so it is worth waiting a bit to get a later cable car up and leave earlier to get a cable car down 20 -30 minutes before the train is due then you are more likely to get a decent spot by the window without getting an elbow shoved down your ear.
We took a short peek round the monastery but didn’t bother joining the huge queue to see the black virgin statue. You can see it from the monastery and you can take a picture from there with a decent enough zoom!
There is a hotel, a couple of restaurants and several shops at the top. The main cafeteria almost opposite the cable car entrance sells everything from soup and sandwiches to three course hot meals with wine. There are also vending machines dotted around selling ice cream, pop (Coke etc), water and the rather nice alcohol free, low calorie Spanish beer Free Damm.
Montserrat was a lot more built up than I thought but there are a lot of walks up and around the mountain and its woods which get you away from the crowds. Paths are marked and paved making for easy walking albeit up some steep gradients.
The Sant Joan funicular rises 820 feet above the monastery (Just over 6 Euros return) from the funicular station its about a 20 minute walk to Sant Joan chapel another funicular heads towards Santa Cova - the holy cave.
The exterior of the basilica at Montserrat is absolutely beautiful. It truly is a mix of the old and new, with Gothic cloisters from the 1300s mixing with towers constructed as recently as the 1930s. You will surely be struck by the beautiful atrium floor, which bears an inscription reading
"Only those baptised and born in the water like fish can understand the meaning of the fish of Eucharist."
I have no idea what that means!
Outside the basilica you will also see the 14th century tombs of Joan of Aragon (not Joan of Ark!) and Bernat de Vilamari.
Monserrat produces a good bottle of anise flavored liquor, of which I am consuming a cool cocktail of right now, so please go to the other websites for more historical details of this great monastary. There's plenty of hiking in the rocks around the monastery, and inside there are plenty of religious relics to appreciate, but mostly this is about the funicular and views from above. Don't forget to buy the Aromas de Monserrat before heading for tram down the cliff.
There are plenty of things to do at Montserrat, and this tip will focus on the area at the top of the aerial / tram (you don't need to pay for the funicular to get here).
This area is home to most of the tourist attractions at Montserrat. For starters, there is a large gift shop connected to a cafe and restaurant. There is also a hotel and two restaurants. I would highly recommend staying overnight at Montserrat, especially if you really like hiking.
Other attractions include the basilica (see my other tips), short hiking trails and the museum. The museum at Montserrat is home to artists such as Dali and el Greco. I believe there is also a guided audio tour that covers the history of Montserrat for those interested.
Options exist for people wanting to buy the entire package, including transportation to and from Montserrat, lunch and admission to the major attractions. Check with tourist information in Barcelona, or with the ticket machines at Plaza Espanya train station.
There are two funiculars that connect the basilica and outlying buildings at Montserrat to the mountains high above. The funiculars are trains that run on steep tracks (about 65 degrees) along the side of the mountains. At Montserrat, the trains have glass roofs so you will get an amazing view! Don't worry if you are afraid of heights, it is a gentle trip and you will feel very secure. We took the funicular Saint Joan, which takes you up the mountain to beautiful walking trails and abandoned hermitages.
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