Thursday, August 7, 2014


Visited July 2014

Montserrat is a small but conspicuous mountain area about 30km north west of Barcelona (image Spain Info

The area gets thousands of visitors each day, not so much for the trekking which was my attraction, but because of the spectacular monastery built by Benedictine monks half way up the mountain. The first church was constructed in the 12th Century, but the present buildings reflect later construction and reconstruction starting 1854 after periods of unrest such as when Napoleon's army sacked the joint. 20th century additions include museums, transport termini, apartments and restaurants. This is the most important religious retreat in north-east Spain and the presence of the statue of the Virgin of Montserrat (the Black Madonna) attracts people from all over the country plus international pilgrims. (image David Crockett)

I realized 10 minutes after leaving my Barcelona hostel that I didn't have my camera. Not to worry, it was a cloudy drizzly day and I figured vision would be pretty misty up on the mountain, and knew that Google images would have a bunch of clear shots taken by more skillful photographers than me, often with better cameras than my elcheapo Olympus point and shoot. I have no problem in using others' pics as long as I acknowledge the shooter and link their site. If they subsequently object, there are plenty of substitutes. btw you wouldn't believe how much of my pics and text has been ripped off without acknowledgement - often by commercial sites.

How bad was the vision when I visited? Well right on top at distant Sant Jeroni the place was enclosed in cloud. Lower down vision was limited to a misty 15km across the surrounding lowlands. Closer areas were not too bad. For instance the above shot is taken from the Path of Les Bateries and I got a 75% slightly misted view of the monastery from there although the higher areas were not very clear.

When I returned from my initial trek to St Jeroni it was early afternoon and I noticed crowds had more than quadrupled. Judging by the number of big tourist coaches in the vehicle parking areas down the mountain it seemed many had come on commercial day trips. Most of these give a guided tour of the basilica and then allow a few hours free time. Many customers seemed to use some of this to fang up and down the 2 funiculars to get a some more distant views of the monastery and the mountain. A word of advice: the views immediately after getting off the funiculars are not bad but if you are prepared to walk a few minutes along the adjoining trails you will be rewarded with much better outlooks. A few slopes along these but no heartbreakers. Surfaces reasonably good.

This is a view of the monastery (Heather has used a little bit of telephoto) from the viewing platform adjacent the funicular terminus at Sant Joan - not bad, but if you take the track hard right out of the terminus and walk for 5 minutes it is so much better. 10 minutes is better again. (image

Rewarding viewpoints close to St Joan upper funicular station. For technical reasons I find it hard to construct a distance scale on Google images with big height variations - the straight line distance from the terminus to the camera image far left is 600m.
This upper left track continues to Montserrat's highest point, St Jeroni (1236m). You are looking at maybe 2 hours return. The lower left goes in a big circle with some fine valley and plain views. You can also join other tracks to get back down to the monastery, one by the Santa Cova  (the cave in which the Virgin of Montserrat was found). The track to the right also goes back to the monastery - a side route will take you via the Santa Cova. Free maps detailing these routes and more in various languages can be obtained at the information office in the main structure opposite the rack-railway and cable car arrival points.

On the top right path to St Jeroni it is easy to make a wrong left turn only 2 minutes from the terminal. Here you come to an acute corner - the majority of people, me included, took the narrow downhill track. This will get you to St Jeroni, but is longer, rougher and doesn't have those fabulous viewpoints a short distance up the other wider better surfaced track. Later close study of the direction sign at the corner showed it was technically correct but a bit misleading in the way its arrow pointed.
btw the start of the St Jeroni track is hard right from the exit at the rear of the terminus, not side as I've shown.

The Santa Cova funicula (image

Most day trippers will take this short, steep drop from the monastery. However you do not arrive at the cave where the image of the black virgin was first found. This is another 25 minutes walk. It is a nice walk with some fabulous views of both the monastery plus down into the valley and over the plain. It is also lined with about a dozen impressive works of religious art in stone including stuff by Antonio Gaudi and Josep Limona. But the path has some major slopes which gave this very fit dude a pretty good workout.

The chapel built around the cave where the statue was found is small and cute and has free entry (image rosesandjessamine)

 The black madonna statue there (mid right) is a replica - at 300mm max it is tiny. The original statue has been moved up to the basilica at the monastery where it is queue for view (image Sacred Destinations).

 Is it worth the walk? Well for all but unfit people, I'd say yes. For them, a stroll a short distance along the path to one of the viewpoints is time well spent.
btw if you are keen you can take the walking track back up to the monastery instead of waiting for the funicular. I found it steep but not a heartbreaker - takes about 15 minutes and has more wonderful outlook points.

Another point to daytrippers. Montserrat is pretty high and way cooler than the Barcelona you leave. It's a good idea to bring something warm to slip on. And if you plan to do much more than 5 minutes walk along each track, some suitable footwear is a way better idea than the sandals or smart street-wear many fashion conscious ladies were sporting.

As said, I didn't come for the monastery/religious stuff, or the views (although the latter are a bonus). I came for the trekking. I really enjoy an uphill slog thru the bush. With wrecked knees from too much jogging in poor shoes/no shoes when young, I'm not so keen on the downhill parts.
To repeat: grab a trekking map/instructions in your language from the information office in the main structure opposite the arrivals termini. This place is busy but the efficient ladies soon gave me what I needed.

I first shot up the funicular to St Joan and took off on the path to St Jeroni. This was about 2 hours return. I then had a look around the other tracks from St Joan to get the info for those nearby day tripper viewpoints mentioned above. After which I decided to head back to the monastery - down the La Serra Liaga/Les Bateries tracks - maybe 45 minutes. Some great views along here. And big time sore knees. I then shot down the Santa Cova funicular and walked across to look at the Holy Cave chapel, returning uphill to the monastery  - 50 minutes from the funicular.
Slopes mostly gentle to moderate but you get a good workout on the last 10 minutes up to Sant Jeroni and both ways on the Santa Cova track. But none of what I call heartbreakers - where really fit dudes say STREWTH!! or similarTrack surfaces not too bad - pretty stony in parts but no trip roots or wading in streams - joggers will cut it but not flip-flops or fancy day shoes. Signs reasonably good despite my boo-boo at the first hairpin going to St Jeroni.
I'm used to lots of wildlife from trekking the Australian bush (I keep a pretty keen eye open because some of it is lethal) but I saw virtually no animal or bird life on the Montserrat trails despite the vivid claims in the trek notes.

Stairs in the final section to Sant Jeroni give a good workout. Hey, a jogger passed me here. Strewth!!
(image David Crockett)

As already mentioned when I reached the very top at St Jeroni it was encased in cloud. Disappointing - I'd heard you can see Barclelona, the Pyrenees and even Mallorca on a clear day. But I figured Google images would have some good ones. Well there were none from dudes with the big lens picking out Mallorca or even Barcelona. Below are some of the better ones I found:

Some of these shots click-expand nicely (



(David Crockett)

On a clear day the panorama from lower down can be pretty good. Check this shot from the La Serra Liaga/Les Bateries route:
(Barcelona home)

You will have to queue in tourist season to get a close up of the transferred Black Madonna statue, and I hate queues. But I found access to the basilica itself hassle and cost free. The interior is pretty impressive:
(Barcelona home)

Dozens of tour operators offer day trips - if you are time-short you can do a half day visit.
I went independently. I found the R5 line at Pl Espanya metro station (enter on the north side of the big square and head north-west) where 2 dudes have a Montserrat counter. I bought a combined train, rack railway/cable car (your choice, but you have to commit to one and can't mix and match), funicular return ticket for 27euro - this is a discount to buying individual tickets along the way and also includes 2 free metro rides. They sell other deals including the full monty which gives you entry to all the museums etc. The trains leave hourly, take just over and hour and connect with either the cable car at the first Montserrat stop (Aeri Montserrat)  or the rack railway at the next stop (Monistrol Montserrat). The Sant Joan and Santa Cova funiculars up at the monastery run about every 20 minutes.

The dude at Espanya said the rack railway from Monistrol has the best views so I took it instead of the cable car. WARNING: coming back down don't blindly follow the bus daytrippers and get off at the intermediate stop - this is the bus/car park area and is some distance from the R5 Monistrol railway station. If you make this mistake you will have to sit around for another hour for a train which goes right down, although trains run down to the intermediate station every 20 minutes or so. Don't ask me how I know this.

Well I dunno - the cable car looks pretty spectacular to me. One disadvantage at least if you do your return run late in the day is that many people who got on at  Aeri Montserrat railway station for the return trip to Barcelona had to stand in the crowded train (Esoxlu).

Aint weather fickle? I shot this pic from the departure hall at Barcelona airport next day. Nothing wrong with visibility then.



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