Today I would like to tell you a bit about a lovely excursion I had recently. Something for the soul and something for the body awaits you in this magical place called Montserrat.
The Montserrat Hills and Monastery are situated in the province of Barcelona, Catalonia. ‘Montserrat’ literally means ‘the serrated mountain’. Logical, isn’t it?! Especially when you look at it, you will understand, as it is a multi-peaked mountain range. Beautiful place with breathtaking views from the top.
We drove there on a cloudy February morning in a small van. Coming from the tourism industry I usually don’t book a tour or hire a guide but I rather organize everything myself. This time however I bought this guided excursion as a gift for someone. Our driver was a friendly and bubbly Catalan fellow. The day started chilly and when we arrived at the top, the fog was laughing in our faces saying ‘nah, I don’t feel like showing you the view behind my massive body’. Luckily it was not really stubborn and eventually gave way to the sun, revealing postcard-like panoramas!
On the top of the hill there is a well know Benedictine abbey – Santa Maria de Montserrat. A beautiful basilica with a lovely décor hosting the Virgin of Montserrat, a 12th-century religious icon, also called La Moreneta (the dark-skinned one). The Black Virgin is the patron saint of Catalonia. The sanctuary is accessible by the side entrance and you might have to line up. The Madonna sits at the top of the altar, on a very small space. If you want to pay her your respect you have to be quick and basically pray in ‘passing by’. It is still very recommendable to go up there and say ‘hello’. Especially is you are catholic.
During the week, you can listen to the angelic singing of La Escolania de Montserrat, one of the oldest boy’s choirs in Europe. La Escolania exists as a religious and musical institution since the 14th century. They have released numerous albums, and have toured in various countries. Families from Catalonia, Valencian community and the Balearic Islands are very proud if their son’s can get their education at this prestigious boarding school. However the boys can only study there during the ages nine to fourteen and have to make way to others once their voice has changed, as the choir only consists of ‘clear voices’. The midday singing of Salve Regina has become the most attended act of the Sanctuary. Beautiful.
For art lovers, there is the Museum of the Abbey of Montserrat with a great collection of paintings and sculptures from the 19th and 20th century. This artistic and archaeological heritage showcasts great artist such as Caravaggio, Renoir, Monet, Miro, Dali, Picasso etc. There are over 1300 treasures collected by the Monks over time. Most of the pieces have been donated to the monastery by wealthy families. The monks display those ‘jewels’ as an act of promoting the cultural heritage. Amazing!
After you have explored the site’s history I would recommend you to go for a walk and enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery. The paths of the Montserrat parkland lead you around a few different walks. Each of the trails offers a different perspective on the stunning views. You come across sculptures, small chapels and hermitages. Depends on your energy levels you can choose between strenuous treks and gentle strolls, all of which I am sure, you will love!
The most popular walks of the Montserrat parkland:
Monastery to Santa Cova – a short walk ‘for the soul’
Is one of the most popular walks at Montserrat. It takes you to Santa Cova – an important pilgrim site, where an image of the Virgin Mary is believed to have been seen. You walk ‘around the mountain’ with breathtaking views on ‘The Path of the Rosary’ until you reach the chapel and grotto of Santa Cova. A beautiful and mystical path. You walk filled with peace and can’t stop talking pictures. Starting point is at the Funicular ‘Santa Cova’ (you can either descend half-way by the funicular or walk all the way down). This is an approximately 3 km long walk with a slope of 120 m. You return the same way you went. Calculate ca. one hour in total (return). Should you get tired (or want to avoid the sharp ascension at the end) you can take the funicular back up (2,60 €).
Monastery to Degotalls – Cami dels Degotalls
This is a lovely and peaceful walk. Good for self meditation of reflection time. It is actually a starting point of the Camino de Santiago from the Montserrat Monastery. An easy, calming and relaxing walk on a lovely path with trees (nice cooling shade for summer walks), along the walls descending from the flats of the Trinity (200 metres above the walk). Underneath you, the Pyrenees and the Llobregat valley, on your way monuments of artists such as Jacint Verdaguer, Joan Maragall o Emili Vendrell. Lovely! The path starts in front of the Mirador dels Apostols (running parallel to the highway direction North West). In ca. 30 min you reach the Degotalls. The length of this walk in total is ca. one hour (3.20 km, slope 20 m).
Sant Joan Funicular (upper station) to Monastery – enjoy the unspoiled beauty and breathtaking views from the top of the Mountains. You can choose to do this walk via Santa Cova or via Sant Jeroni.
Via Santa Cova
This is an easy, gradual walk with nice views of the Llobregat Valley and the River. You take the Funicular ‘Sant Joan’ from the Monastery to Sant Joan. The path begins at the station, leading upwards and towards South East. You descent towards the Flat of Saint Miquel, then follow the path of Les Bateries. When the path turns North you can enjoy a panoramic view of the River Llobregat and the mountains of Sant Salvador, Puigventos, Sant Llorenç and Montseny. You continue towards a small mountain called La Fita. Here you will find the Path of Forat where you continue straight to arrive at Santa Cova. Until here it is ca. one hour walk. You return to the Monastery by the walk of Santa Cova (above). In total ca. 5 km (slope: 150 m). To avoid the steep part at the end, take the funicular back up to the Monastery.
via Sant Jeroni
This one is a bit longer and harder, literally breathtaking but with breathtaking views! This walk takes you to the highest point of the Montserrat Mountain. You will need ca. 3 hours (7,5 km, slope: 320 m). You take the Funicular ‘Sant Joan’ from the Monastery to Sant Joan. The path begins at the upper station facing North West. This divers trail takes you through the rocks, the forest, you cross the river, you pass by the Hermitage of Sant Jeroni to the top of Sant Jeroni. You then return through the valley, meeting eventually the narrow path of Del Frances which will lead you back at the Monastery.
No matter if you take a ride aboard of the rack railway or cable car or if you do one of the walks, you will be enchanted by the sublime mountain views!
After the walks you can relax on the grounds around the Monastery. There is bar/ restaurant, a supermarket, an AMT, a tourist info (for maps and more information about the trails). You can buy souvenirs and local products. Outside, along the street leading up to the Monastery you will find local farmers selling cheese, honey, nuts etc. This gives you the possibility to get some cheese and some wine and have a little picnic.
Should you want to stay longer (maybe to do all of the nice walks), there is a hotel up there, right near the Monastery.
How to get to Montserrat?
If you don’t have a car, you can get to Montserrat by train. It’s actually one of the most popular ways to get here from Barcelona. It’s affordable and quick.
You can take the R5 train from Plaza España (same building as the metro station). The train will leave you at the foot of the Montserrat Mountain and you can decide between traveling up by cable car or by the rack railway. You can buy a combined ticket train+cable car/rack railway upfront, at the train station leaving Barcelona. If you opt for the cable car, you should get off the train at the Aeri de Montserrat but if you take the rack railway your station is Monistrol de Montserrat.
Don’t forget to check the timetable (which can vary from summer to winter season) in order to not to be stranded at the Mountain at the end of the day!
If you don’t want to worry about money while up there you can buy the ‘ToT Montserrat’ (All Montserrat) ticket which besides of the train and the cable car/rack railway gives you also free rides on the two funiculars situated on the top of the mountain: Santa Cova funicular and Sant Joan funicular (the ones I mentioned above, which take you up to higher levels of the mountain trails). ToT you also includes entrance to the museum and buffet lunch at the Montserrat restaurant.
Do you know that the origins of Cava?
I love Cava! And…. I didn’t know that it comes from the region I now live in! A must-see for me! Therefore, for the second part of the day, our excursion took us to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, the capital of Cava.
Sant Sadurni is situated in the Penedes region. A wine-growing region with one of the widest varieties of grape. Penedes got his chance for glory in the late 19th-century when French vineyards succumbed to parasite.
We visited the Codorníu winery, a significant one in Catalonia’s wine industry and known as the origins of Cava. The Catalan family business, dating from 1551 is the world’s oldest and second-largest producer of bottle-fermented sparkling wine, made by the traditional champagne method (‘méthode traditionelle’). Spanish people like to refer to their Cava as to ‘the underestimated cousin of the Champagne’. Both wines are produced by the same method, the difference between Cava and Champagne is basically the region in which they are produced. Because only wine coming from the region of Champagne can be called ‘Champagne’, obvious, no?
The Codorníu cellars were built between 1895 and 1915. The heartbeat of their Cava-heaven is located in a Modernist complex which has been declared ‘a National Monument of Historical and Artistic Interest’ (by King Juan Carlos). The winery has the most modern installations and the very latest equipment but you can also admire a museum-like display of the old machines. During our visit the guide explained us about the history and the production process (now and then) of the famous sparkling wine and we took a train ride through the biggest underground wine cellars in Europe, a real labyrinth! Codorníu continues to control the whole production process of all its cavas from vineyard planting, pressing of the grapes, fermentation in the cellars etc. to the finished product. Of course we also got to taste some of the Cava! And bought some…:)
Besides of guided visits the winery also organises tastings, brunches, events, weddings etc. Definitely something to keep in mind if you love bubbles!
It was a lovely day and a very recommendable excursion. No matter if you decide to do it on your own or with an organised tour. If you need recommendations for a private guide, please contact me. I know a good one!
Have a look at the official websites of: Montserrat & Cororníu