With little over a month until I depart for Barcelona, Kiwi In Kernow looks back at our last visit to the Catalonian capital and our visit to the mountains and monasteries of magnificent Montserrat…
(…for those looking to skip some lamenting about a hangover and get straight to the useful stuff about how to get there – bypass this next section and head straight to ‘How to get to Montserrat’ below…)
Barcelona to Montserrat
We’d been pick pocketed. A brutal hangover and the loss of a wallet hadn’t been quite the start we’d been hoping for on our first visit to Barcelona. It was hard not to let this be a dampner on our trip and even though it was completely my fault and not the city’s, the Kiwi and I needed to get out. To put some space between us and the streets and to find a little peace from the bustling crowds.
While researching things to do on our visit to Barcelona, the Kiwi and I had come across mentions of Montserrat. There were some vague references to a monastery in a guidebook, a comment of some mountains to the north-west of Barcelona on a travel blog, but certainly nothing comprehensive and far from compelling. Trying to uncover more information from friends who had previously visited Barcelona was even more frustrating – “Why would you want to leave the beach and the city?!”. Barcelona – a colourful playground of art and food markets – and here we were trying to escape it, even if just for the day.
So that’s how we found ourselves standing on the R5 platform of the Espanya rail station, two tickets in our hands and a hangover in our heads.
Departing the train at Aeri de Montserrat was a bit of a shock after leaving the bustle of Espanya station behind us. We’d had the window seat on the train to help us acclimatise, but the change in view as we stepped out on to the platform still managed to catch us both off guard.
Stood to attention surrounding us, loomed columns of sand-coloured conglomerate, the rock that these incredible formations are made of. Montserrat quite literally means ‘saw mountain’ in Catalan and never could a name be more apt. Lines of serrated mountains stretched across the horizon and yet, as we got closer, their rounded, weather worn faces made them look less like a saw and more like fingers stretched up, grasping at the sky.
Following a 5 minute cable car ride, we arrived at Montserrat monastery to breathtaking views. Nestled among the rock face over a 1000 metres up, the monastery and the neighbouring shrine of Santa Cova stood at enchanting odds with their surroundings. Smooth, polished, calculated lines struck out from the natural curves of the rocks surrounding us. All around us milled the early-risers, the first people on the mountain for the day, all craning our necks upwards to take in the fortress-like formations surrounding us. We’d taken ourselves away from the neck-craning views of Sagrada Familia in the city, and thrown ourselves in to the neck-straining views of Montserrat mountain – the same geological formation that had inspired Gaudi’s most ambitious creation.
Funicular de Sant Joan
We’d left Barcelona to find some peace, yet with each arriving cable car we found ourselves being thrown back in among the throngs of shuffling tourists. In a location famed for its miracles, St Joan stepped in to relieve us and gave us one of the most special memories of our Barcelona trip.
Taking the funicular railway to the summit of the mountain behind us, we were greeted by a view quite extraordinary.
For miles around lay the flat plains of Catalonia, the view interrupted by columns of pink stone. Words cannot do justice to the scenes we saw stretched before us. I only hope that some of our photos might.
Armed only with completely inappropriate footwear (wear walking shoes!), we set off on one of the marked hiking trails that disappeared off from the funicular station. After an hour of walking, we’d walked a distance that would normally have taken us 15 minutes. At each curve in the track we were faced with another incredible view point and the opportunity to climb to the top of the finger-like columns we’d seen outstretched from the valley floor below. With scuffed knees and a SD card fit to burst, we scaled the last of the columns before accepting defeat to our disintegrating flip flops. With no railings, and no people, we sat on the top of a boulder, mere feet from a 1000 metre drop and just watched the world go by below. On top of a boulder on top of a mountain, we’d found our saught-after peace.
For printable PDF instructions on how to get to Montserrat Monastery, click here. Print them and take them with you! Tag us in your photos once you’ve arrived!
We got to Montserrat using the train, it’s fast and relatively inexpensive. It sounds a little confusing but trust us, we managed on a hangover from hell – you can too! Here’s how:
1. Head to Espanya Station in Barcelona and once in the station – look for the R5 Line headed towards Manresa. Finding the platform can be a little confusing so leave with plenty of time!
2.Find the ticket booths located in front of the R5 line to Manresa. Here you’ll also find English, Spanish and Catalan speaking attendants to assist you with your purchase.
3. Information: The R5 train from Espanya station takes you to the base of the Montserrat mountain, not to the monastery itself. To get to the monastery you must either take the Cable Car (like we did), or the Cremallera Funicular to go up the mountain side. The Cable Car is for those who aren’t scared of heights and are happy to stand, it offers the best views. The Cremallera is best for those who prefer to sit or are scared of big drops!
Depending on which option you choose, you’ll need to get off of the R5 train at different stops. When purchasing your ticket at Espanya Station, you’ll need to choose the correct type of ticket for your preference of the Cable Car or the Cremallera Funicular. You can’t change your mind once you’ve purchased your ticket and the tickets are confusingly similar so be sure of your selection before paying.
4. With this in mind, choose a ticket from the below:
– Adult / Child / Pensioner SINGLE or RETURN. This fare will get you to the base of Montserrat mountain, from here you must purchase a ticket for either the cable car (Get off R5 at stop Montserrat Aeri) or the Track Train ride (Get off R5 at stop Monistrol) up to the monastery.
– Trans Montserrat. A money saving ticket.
-Return train fare from Barcelona to Montserrat, either with the Cable car ride or Cremallera Train mountain train ride. Remember to specify when you buy the ticket because they are not interchangeable.
-2 return journeys on 2 different funicular rides from the monastery. Not to be confused with the funicular ride to the Monastery, the Cremallera funicular. These funicular rides give you access to different parts of the mountain.
-2 free metro rides.
– ToT Montserrat. A money saving ticket. This ticket includes everything in the Trans Montserrat ticket plus:
-Free entry into the Montserrat museum.
-A free lunch at the Montserrat restaurant buffet.
5.Catch the train from Espanya Station, Barcelona to either:
– Aeri de Montserrat for the cable car ride.
– Monistrol for the Cremallera funicular ride.
6. Take one of the above and arrive at the monastery.
If you’re heading to Barcelona this summer then be sure to consider Montserrat among your list of ‘must-see destinations’. The skyscrapers and Gaudi’s buildings may be left far behind, but in their stead you’ll be surrounded by skyscrapers of a different kind and the same rock formations which inspired Gaudi’s finest creations. Take some good walking shoes, find some peace and relish the bustle when you’re thrown back in to it again.
Live, laugh and always, take good walking shoes.
For more information on Montserrat, check out fellow travel blogger: The Crazy Tourist’s guide to the 15 Best Things to Do in Montserrat here. And, if you liked this, you might like our other walking holidays such as Wineglass Bay, Australia or Fairy Falls, New Zealand.