So you have visited Barcelona and, frankly, you have seen it all in the city. Are you bored of the sunshine, the moonlight, and the boogie? But what else is there to do? Well, if you can take day trips (either in your own or public transport), Montserrat is the place to go! But what is Montserrat?
The holy mountain
Montserrat is a jagged, multi-peak mountain (which is literally what Montserrat means in Catalan, or saw mountain) which has been very important in Catalan history and retains its importance in Catalan culture. Montserrat plays host to a Benedictine Abbey, which in turn holds the Virgin of Montserrat sanctuary. This sanctuary is one of the possible places that the holy grail lies and also is related to Arthurian legends. Because of its religious history and proximity to the city of Barcelona, it has had a large impact on Catalan culture. Each peak is also named after a different saint; many women even today are called Montserrat (including younger generations) in relation to the Virgin of Montserrat.
On the non-religious side, Montserrat was Spain’s first national park. An event which raised the Catalan coast also formed Montserrat 100-150 million years ago. Glaciers eroded its surroundings over time but Montserrat resisted due to its composition of limestone cemented by calcite. The result is a mountain towering over the surrounding, lower areas.
Today the main attractions are visitors to the Abbey and ecotourists exploring the routes and trails that run through mountains. There are also climbing and mountaineering routes; many photographers have come to Montserrat due to its elevation in relation to its surroundings, which make for stunning photography. Additionally, the Pyrenees can be seen in the distance to the north.
Wildlife is still very much part of the experience of Montserrat. Forests cover the slopes of the mountains except for well-maintained paths and the road going to the abbey. Additionally, coming across mountain goats, especially on the higher trails, is not an uncommon experience.
How to get there
There are 3 main ways to get to Montserrat:
1) Your own transport, or a friend’s vehicle
2) Private transport, such as some of the buses that run from Barcelona to Montserrat with holiday or tour packages along with day-trips
3) Public transport
Most likely, if you are a tourist to Barcelona (especially one on a budget), the best way to get to Montserrat is to take the local trains. They are the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (or FGC, which is short for trains of the government of Catalonia). They go from Plaça d’Espanya in Barcelona to the station at the bottom of the mountain.
From the bottom of the mountains on the end with the abbey, there are two ways to reach the top. The first is to walk on some of the trails (I guess you could also try to hitchhike up to the top using a passing car). The second method is to use the Funicular (a type of train made to climb mountains) de Sant Joan to reach the summit. Note: if you have gone in a private vehicle, you will need to pay for the parking at the Abbey at this point. You will also need to pay for the funicular or walk up to the summit as the Abbey is not located at the top.
On clear days from the summits, you can easily see to the Pyrenees mountains 100 kilometres (60 miles) to the north. That being said, it is often hazy, especially when looking to the east (towards Aragon). The Serra de Collserola hills block views of Barcelona but you can see the back side of Tibidabo.
Here are some more photos from my hike: