High on my list of places to visit while in Catalonia was Montserrat, the impressive mountain range to the northwest of Barcelona. The name itself means “serrated mountain” and describes its distinctive formations. The site is well known for the monastery built on the mountainside. There are cable cars that will take tourists up to the site directly from the train station in the village below but for others willing to make the journey by foot, there is a trail leading all the way up.
The train ride to Monistrol de Montserrat is just over an hour from the Plaça d’Espanya station in Barcelona. I caught the subway from near my place to the station and, with a little assistance from the staff, made sure I got the right ticket that would take me to the village where I could find the trailhead. The sign posts indicate the hike to the monastery takes roughly 1 hour 45 minutes. As the trail is only around 5 km long, that gives an indication of how steep some of the sections are. I had decided I would challenge myself and run up the trail. I’ve got a race coming up in June so need to be prepared—while travelling you have to fit the training in where you can! On the way up I chose to follow a couple of alternative trailheads which took me to dead-ends so added almost a kilometre to my journey with the backtracking. I also took a few moments for photo ops but made it up to the top in just over 50 minutes.
The mountain is such an impressive sight! It’s interesting to see the rock formations. It’s all conglomerate and up-close you can observe the sediment particles.
There were hordes of tourists bumbling about the monastery (The Benedictine Abbey of Santa Maria). I had been told there were routes further up the mountain so bypassed the crowds in search of the trail up. It was a lot cooler up at this elevation (around 670 m) and there’s a breeze so it’s nice to have a jacket if you’re walking around. I was pretty sweaty and didn’t want to catch a chill, so once I was on the next trail I set off chasing the summit! It had become overcast during the course of the afternoon so the visibility wasn’t as great as what it could have been but it was still well worth it. The highest summit of Montserrat is Sant Jeroni at 1,236 metres but access to it was blocked off today so I could only reach Sant Joan at 1,040 metres, 3.4 km past the monastery. There was a local guy that had biked up from his village located on the northern side of the mountain and I had a brief chat with him at the top. It was his first time riding up but he did pretty well! There were also some paragliders I saw who had snuck beyond the boundaries and were launching off the top of Sant Jeroni. Besides us there weren’t many tourists willing to go beyond the monastery.
I toured the monastery on my way back down. The abbey was quite impressive inside. It houses the Virgin of Montserrat—a 38-inch (95 cm) statue of the Virgin Mary. Apparently, it was stashed up on the mountain in the year 718 to hide it from thieving Saracens. The story continues that the Benedictine monks “could not move the statue” so decided to build their monastery around it. And yet they still managed to haul an awful lot of materials five kilometres up a perilous mountain…
When I reached the village I was hoping to finding something to eat from one of the bakeries or restaurants I had seen upon arrival but they were all closed for siesta! I had to settle for a bag of chips from the vending machine while I waited for the train. Needless to say it didn’t satisfy my hunger. Once I was back in Barcelona I picked up a bunch of different snacks at little shops on the walk to my place, made a meal of it, took a shower and had a much needed siesta of my own!