Montserrat, Spain is host to a Benedictine abbey (Santa Maria de Montserrat) that sits grandly at around 4,000 ft of altitude. Its name literally translates to “serrated mountain” – which is appropriate as it is a jagged-topped mountain that rises up the Catalonian landscape. It is an amazing site for several reasons. For the faithful, it is home to the Virgin of Montserrat (the “black virgin”). For the hiker, it is a neat place to trek up – and not a hard hike. And for the traveler, it is a great destination offering great views, great architecture, cultural perspective, and a thrill just to get up to it!
Some History on Montserrat (but not too much!)
The monastery atop Montserrat has been around since the 10th century – it is still a functioning monastery. It is absolutely mind boggling to me to think it has been there over a thousand years! (I even read that it has been an important religious site since Roman times before Christ.). St. Ignatius of Loyola came to this site to pray/contemplate and, eventually, went on to found the Jesuit order in the Catholic Church. Most recently the monastery suffered closure during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and the killing of 22 of its monks (lots of religious were killed by the Communist side of the Civil War). The basilica itself is not that old and has suffered through wars and fires. The basilica has a museum with art work that includes the likes of Picasso, Dali, and El Greco. The statue of the black virgin that sits above and behind the main altar of the basilica is supposedly from Holy Land origins in the early days of Christianity though others believe it was carved many centuries later (Middle Ages).
Getting to Montserrat
Montserrat is easily accessible whether you have a car or you take a train from Barcelona.
If you are driving, you are basically headed to Monistrol de Montserrat. We came from Andorra via Lleida and it was easy to find though at the very end, exactly how to get to our destination took a little more guesswork… If you are coming from Barcelona, well, it is just about 45 minutes away.
Once there, your options for parking are parking up at the monastery (parking is limited and it is not free), or parking by one of the two railway stations. Where you park is really based on how you want to go up. As I mentioned, you can drive up. You can also hike up if you are so inclined; I did not hike up but hear the trail round trip is about 20km and the trail is relatively easy and fairly ‘stepped.’
Now if you don’t want to drive up or walk up, then you have two options: the cable car (or “Aeri”) or the inclined railway (“Cremallera“). They both are easy ways to go up but you need to decide before you get there as each is taken from a different point around the area. Both the cable car and railway have frequent departures which vary depending on the season you visit – schedules are posted online and at the stations.
If you take the train in from Barcelona, you will arrive at the lower station, Monistrol de Montserratu, where you can take the railway. If you drive, you can opt to drive a little further up and park at the railway station Monistrol-Vila; there was open parking for buses and a parking deck for the rest of us. We opted to start at Monistrol-Vila as there was ample free parking, and the station was clean and new. If you do use this station, remember that on the way down, you get off at the first stop of the railway!
We opted for the railway as we had heard that it allows more time to absorb the scenic views (the cable car only takes 5 mins whereas the railway takes between 15-20 mins) and it is pretty amazing to climb the slopes of the mountain via the train. The train is very comfortable and the views were indeed great. The cost was around 10 euros for the round trip. Note that there are packages you can get for entrance to the museum, audio guides, etc.
It is worth noting that one can go even higher up the mountain via a second funicular (Funicular de Sant Joan) located behind the railway station atop Montserrat! It does not take long but, again, we were pressed for time so I had to skip that, regretfully.
My research showed there were a couple of places to stay on the mountain but I did not look into it. I do imagine it is a spectacular place to stay and watch the sun set and rise…
Visiting the basilica and the Virgin of Montserrat
Once you get up, everything atop Montserrat is in close proximity. There is some slope to walk up towards the basilica and monastery complex but it is a nice short walk. When you leave the railway station, you can go straight up some steps into the walkway up, or you can make a left and avoid the steps and walk up an incline; this last approach passes a little market shop and a small cafe in case you need to eat or drink something.
Along the way up, you will pass the museum and one of the places of lodging. And then you enter the area they call the “atrium.” It is a large plaza with some arches that afford views down towards the railway station and way beyond. At that point, the basilica/monastery complex is in front of you but to see the facade of the basilica, you need to enter through some arches into a small inner courtyard.
When we entered that courtyard, we saw a bride and groom who were about to get married. Thankfully, the event did not close the visit to see the Virgin of Montserrat (also called the black virgin due to the color of the paint applied to it over centuries).
The interior of the basilica felt heavy and dark to me but not so much to be drab. If there were no tourists, I would definitely feel like I could calm my soul and pray in peace.
The statue of the virgin sits in a narrow passageway above the high altar. You can see it from anywhere in the church (you can see someone in a blue jacket above the altar in some of my pictures; how convenient for my photo-taking!) but to visit it face-to-face, you stand in line in the inner courtyard off to the right and you proceed along the side chapels of the basilica, up several stairs and, eventually a very narrow staircase to individually get to see, touch and pray to the Virgin. Photos are not allowed once by the statue (there is a guard) but I took a photo at the bottom of the steps so you can visualize the space at least.
As throughout the rest of the trip around Spain and France, I felt blessed to be able to come to this important Catholic site following our visit to Lourdes atop an amazing mountain in Spain with my wonderful mother and sister!! Thanks for coming with me!
Pin this to your travel board!