Montserrat, Spain, Travel

Monistrol de Montserrat

We were on our way from South West France to my Dad’s house in Moraira on the Costa Blanca and this was the ideal place to break up the journey. Monserrat meaning serrated mountain in Catalan is situated in Catalonia and it is ideally placed for a day trip from Barcelona. There are so many websites that offer great information, two particular useful websites:

The Whole World or Nothing

Monserrat Tourist Guide

My husband, two children and my Dad decided to spend four nights in Monistrol de Montserrat, the town at the base of the mountain. We stayed at Apartments MO booked through Wotif.com for a total cost of US$480. The apartment was spotlessly clean and very tastefully decorated. It suited our needs perfectly with a functional kitchen, two good sized bedrooms and a cozy living area.

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The apartment was conveniently located close to the town and within walking distance of the Cremellera mountain train that takes you up to Montserrat.

It was an enjoyable walk through the shady narrow streets to the train station each morning.

We were able to purchase (through our accommodation) a four day train ticket for the Cremellera Rack Railway for the same price as one return journey. This meant that we could explore the mountain everyday at no extra cost.

Transport on Montserrat

Cremallera Rack Railway

Once we had settled into our accommodation and refuelled on some lunch it was time to venture up the mountain. The Cremallera Railway station (Monistrol-Vila) was very easy to find with google maps and the staff at the ticket counter were very helpful. The trains are fairly frequent (about every 20 minutes) with illuminated boards advising when the next train will arrive. The journey to Montserrat Monastery takes 15 minutes and the views on the way up are incredible.

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Enjoying the ride
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View from the station

There is an information centre next to the station where you can obtain a map of the mountain with details of the walking trails. They also provide timetables for the rack railway. If you are visiting on a day trip from Barcelona it is important to note which train will take you all the way back to the station Monistrol de Montserrat. At the time we were visiting the last train of the day terminated at Monistrol-Vila. If you find yourself stranded at Monistrol-Vila at the end of the day then it is a 23 minute walk through the town to Monistrol de Monserrat station.

Cable Car (Aeri de Montserrat)

You can also access the mountain by cable car (Aeri de Montserrat) from Monserrat Aeri train station. If you are coming from Barcelona you will need to decide which method of transport you would like to use as the price of either the rack railway or the cable car is included in the price.

Sant Joan Furnicular

Upon arriving at the Monastery the Sant Joan Funicular takes you on a very steep journey up the mountain for excellent views or the start of several amazing walks. With a maximum gradient of 65% it is the steepest funicular in Spain. The Sant Joan Funicular station is just above the Cremallera station. The trains run every 20 minutes from 10am until 4.30pm in the low season or 6.24pm in the high season. The entire journey takes 7 minutes, enough time to admire the beautiful scenery through the glass roof. At the time of writing an adult journey cost €8.75 single, €13.50 return and a child’s fare €4.80 single, €7.40 return.

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Very steep furnicular
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On the way up
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View from the furnicular

Attractions on Montserrat

It is surprising that there are so many attractions other than the natural beauty to experience on Montserrat.

The Benedictine Monastery Santa Maria de Monserrat

Whilst the exterior of the Monastery is not inspiring don’t let it stop you from exploring the interior where there are many treasures to be found. Firstly a brief history: The Monastery had been of religious significance since pre Christian time, in 1025 Olivia, Abbot of Ripoll founded the new Monastery at Montserrat and it soon received many pilgrims and visitors. It did not take long for word to spread of the miracles performed by the Virgin. Later in 1409 the Monastery became an independent Abbey and during the 17th and 18th century it became a cultural centre of the first order. Sadly during the French War (1808-1811) the Monastery suffered abandonment and this occurred again during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Fortunately the Government of Catalonia managed to save the Monastery from being destroyed and it continues to welcome pilgrims 1000 years since it was founded.

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Montserrat Monastery
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Interior of the Monastery

The Black Madonna

Within the Monastery high above the altar in the basilica sits the statue of the Black Madonna. Also referred to as ‘The Virgin of Montserrat’ and ‘La Moreneta’ meaning little black lady. The Black Madonna at Montserrat is of huge religious significance, possibly one of the most famous in the world. The statue was carved from wood in the 12th century and there are many theories as to why this Black Madonna and several other statues of the Virgin are black. Whether or not you are religious it is worth waiting in line to see the statue up close. We stood in line for about 35 minutes slowly making our way past interesting religious items.

 

The Black Madonna is behind glass however her right hand holding the orb to symbolise the earth is through the glass allowing you to touch it. Tradition is to touch or kiss the hand whilst opening and holding your other hand out.

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The Black Madonna

After seeing the Black Madonna you can enter the Chapel of the Image of the Mother of God. The Chapel was completed in 1885 by Paula del Villar Lozano who was aided by Antoni Gaudí. You will then walk along the Ave Maria Path (Cami de l’Ave Maria) where people pay homage to the statue by lighting a candle and saying a prayer. It is a very moving experience as the entire wall along the pathway is covered by lit candles.

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Inside the Chapel of the Image of the Mother of God

L’Escolania Choir Boys

Another fantastic experience not to be missed in the Monastery is to listen to the choir boys sing. Around 50 boys from the boarding school of the Monastery perform for the congregation Monday to Friday and on Sunday evenings. The choir dates back to 1223 and they are renowned around the world for their beautiful voices and music. They have recorded over 100 albums and they continue to perform around the world. They currently perform at 1pm and 6.45pm but it is worth checking at the time of your visit as they are not present during July or on the Christmas holidays. Even my two children were spell bound by the sound of the choir, certainly an experience not to miss.

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Choir Boys

Museum of Montserrat

The museum of Montserrat is located under St Mary’s Square and the entrance can be found next to the steps that lead to the square. The museum houses a vast collection of over 1300 pieces consisting of artwork, archaeological and liturgical exhibits. At the time of our visit the entrance fee was €8.00 for an adult and €6.50 for a child. The museum is open Monday to Friday 10am-5.45pm and Saturday to Sunday 10am-6.45pm.

My family love to visit art galleries so we didn’t want to miss this museum. Amongst the artwork there are paintings by Salvador Dali, El Greco, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Giardino. My children’s favourite exhibit happened to be the earliest one, an Egyptian sarcophagus from 13th century BC. The museum was very well laid out and it was not crowded so we could take our time and really appreciate the exhibits.

Painting 3
Salvador Dali
Painting 2
Pablo Picasso

Painting 1

Walks on Montserrat

During our time on Montserrat we managed to do several of the walks. The map that can be obtained at the information centre (behind the Cremellera Station) is helpful but we found it hard to follow some of the time. Apart from one walk where we got a little disorientated all the other walks were well signed along the tracks.

Strolling Along the Promenade

When you leave the Cremellera station you will notice a walkway along the main thoroughfare to your right. On the left hand side there were several markets stalls where we sampled several sweet treats. On the right hand side the views stretched as far as the eye could see towards the coast.

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Strolling along the main thoroughfare

Although it was only a short walk, it’s surprising what you stumble across. Unfortunately I don’t know what this statue is called or what it represents, however I thought it looked beautiful in the dappled sun.

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Santa Cova Walk

This is possibly one of the most popular walks to do whilst on Montserrat as it takes you to a pilgrimage site. This walk starts just below the Cremellera station next to the cable car and takes you on a fairly steep decent of 120 metres. The path is very wide and paved so anyone with a reasonable level of fitness will be able to achieve this walk. Along the walk are the ‘Path of Rosary’ monuments and sculptures, detailing the story of Christ’s crucifixion and his resurrection.

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It is 1.5km to reach The Santa Cova or ‘The Holy Grotto’ as it is often referred. It is believed that in 880 on a Saturday some shepherd children saw a ‘great light’ fall from the sky, an occurrence that continued for several weeks. The bishop of Manresa heard of the sitings and made the journey to Montserrat on a Saturday. During his visit he witnessed the image of the Virgin Mary in the cave and ever since the cave has become a revered site of worship.

The Chapel of the Holy Grotto was an addition built in 1696 – 1705. Within the Holy Grotto you will find a replica of the Holy Image. Whilst visiting the Chapel it is important to remain silent.

If you are stretched for time and can only fit in one walk then I would highly recommend the Santa Cova walk. It took us about two hours to complete with lots of stops to admire the monuments and sculptures along the way.

San Jeroni Summit

At 1236m San Jeroni is the highest summit in the Montserrat Park and can be reached by a relatively easy hike. To get to the start of the walk take the San Joan furnicular and follow the signs for San Jeroni. The walk to the summit should take around 2 hours return and is a fairly level path for most of the way. The final 10 minutes entails a combination of concrete steps and paths to reach the top.

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Stunning views on the San Jeroni walk

Unfortunately we started this walk late in the morning and we weren’t able to reach the summit due to hungry children! Looking at several articles on the internet it seems that we missed the best scenic views in Montserrat.

For a comprehensive explanation of this walk visit this website.

Restaurants and Bars

Within the vicinity of the Monastery there are a few restaurants, cafes and bars. The prices are somewhat inflated but I guess you are on top of a mountain!

Every morning we chose to have breakfast in our apartment to save money and we dined out at night in the town of Monistrol de Montserrat. During the day we ate at the following places on the mountain.

The Cafeteria

The Cafeteria is located on the main promenade opposite the train station. It is a great option for lunch as the service is quick and there is a varied selection of food and drinks. The opening hours are 9am to 6.45pm Monday to Friday and to 8pm on weekends.

Buffet de Montserrat

Located on the second floor of the Mirador de los Apóstoles building, the buffet offers great value for money at €15.50 per person. There was a large selection of hot and cold food with unlimited soft drink, beer and wine. It’s not exactly gourmet food although the quality was really good considering the variety.

Other options that we didn’t try include:

The Restaurant Montserrat

The Abat Cisneros Restaurant

Bar de la Plaça

For more information on these options visit this website.

Discover Montserrat for Yourself

Whether you visit Montserrat for one day or several days you won’t be disappointed. We had the luxury of spending three full days getting acquainted with the mountain and all it offered. The views have been forever captured in my thoughts and I will continue to affectionately reminisce about this magnificent place. It’s definitely a must see place so go and discover this gem for yourself.

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