Montserrat is the one day trip that everyone seems to do from Barcelona. It’s easy, it’s close by and it’s super beautiful.
It was definitely something I wanted to do while in Barcelona and I managed to get myself there during my second last day in the city. It’s also a great option if you want to escape the craziness of the city in Barcelona and see some of the Catalan countryside
As mentioned before, getting to Montserrat from Barcelona is incredibly easy. First of all you need to catch the metro from wherever you are in Barcelona to the Espanya rail station. From there you can catch the R5 train towards Monresa. It’s a suburban train so you don’t need to prebook tickets and they run about once an hour.
The train only takes you as far as the bottom of the mountain. To get up Montserrat itself you have two options; you can take the cable car or the rack railway (basically a furnicular). If you choose the cable car option you need to get off at the Aire de Montserrat station, whereas if you are going by rack railway you need to get off one stop further at Monistrol.
The cable car obviously offers the more breathtaking views so that’s what I choose. But if you have any fear of heights this is not an option for you. You are very high up in a very small space.
You can purchase a combination ticket from Espanya Station that includes return tickets on the train and either the cable car or rack railway for 22 Euros.
The Cable Car Journey
The cable car to the top of the mountain is really the first glimpse you get of the spectacular scenery in this part of the region. As the river disappears below, the mountains become closer and more pronounced. The affect of the cable car is you almost feel like you are flying up to the mountain.
Although I didn’t visit on the sunniest of days, the mountains were still stunning. Visiting in February was also ideal as the mountains were covered in the lush green of glass, plants and trees.
I think this is what made them look so different to other mountain ranges I had visited. Especially in contrast to the red, dry and dessert landscape of Andalusia.
Whilst it might be hard to snap some photos from the cable car itself, I had my camera out and waiting for when we arrived at the top. The view from the top, looking down at the cable car station from where I had come was magical.
The reason Montserrat has become so popular with tourists isn’t just because of the mountain range, but rather what sits on top of it. Somehow, a thousand years ago, they managed to carve a monastery out of the mountain.
It’s simply incredible to think of generations past with all their primitive technology being able to build something so huge, so high up in the mountain. Not to mention then being able to decorate it in gold, jewels and other similarly heavy items.
I can’t imagine how hard getting all of that up the mountain with sheer manual labour was. The monastery itself is also really beautiful on the inside, although I had just visited the amazing Sagrada Familia a few days before, so I was feeling like a bit of a church snob when it came to comparing the two.
Where the Sagrada Familia is new, bright and colourful, the Monastery has a more sombre, reflective atmosphere. And the Monastery is also home to some serious gold and elaborate altar pieces.
Although I’m not a believer and therefore don’t light candles when visiting churches, I thought the array of different coloured candles that had all been lit was incredibly beautiful. I’m sure for many lighting those candles provide a great deal of comfort.
Hiking Through the Mountains
I made a bit of a logistical error with my trip to Montserrat. Even though I had looked at the weather forecast and knew that rain was going to arrive in the afternoon, I still visited the monastery first.
Thus by the time I had grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed up the mountains for some hiking, the weather was incredibly dreary. In hindsight I should have headed straight for the hiking and caught the monastery on the way back when the shitty weather had arrived.
Regardless I headed up a second furnicular, Furnicular de Sant Joan, that takes you up even further up the mountain.
The furnicular station at the top marks the startpoint of many hikes and walks throughout the mountain, of varying difficulty and length. I wish I had the time (and that the weather was good enough) to do the Sant Jeroni hike. It’s meant to be absolutely stunning.
Instead, despite the slow drizzle of rain, I headed up another track that supposedly was meant to take an hour or so and lead me back to the monastery. It only took me 20 minutes of walking to realise that the hike was going to be a miserable experience.
I hadn’t come prepared for the rain (again a logistical error on my part), so even though the rain wasn’t too heavy I was still feeling pretty wet. I was also missing out on the stunning views of the mountains because they were now blanketed in clouds and a sheet of rain.
Considering those views was really the whole reason to do the hike in the first place, I made the decision to head back and get the furnicular back down the mountain.
But with more time, and better weather I really would have enjoyed this hike. I think that the hiking can be better than visiting the monastery, especially if you are visiting in high season with hundreds of other tourists. So my advice would be to arrive from Barcelona early, pack a picnic and head down the track into the mountains.
Another furnicular ride?
I was looking forward to taking the third furnicular option which was a ride down to Santa Cova . This cove is an important religious shrine, with a visit from the Virgin Mary said to have happened there.
Unfortunately this particular furnicular was closed for renovations while I was visiting. I believe you can make the journey on foot but I didn’t have the time for this endeavour.
But if you are visiting Montserrat when the furnicular is working, it is something to add to your list.
Whilst I could have been more organised and planned my day better, I still loved getting out of Barcelona for the day and marvelling at Montserrat.