Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in Spain. It is part old-world Europe, part Miami-through-a-kaleidoscope, and all charm. There is no shortage of ways to spend your time and there are always new adventures to discover, new people to meet, and new places to eat. Once you have spent several days in the city however, you may be interested in visiting some of the places that are nearby. For relaxation, go to the quiet seaside town of Sitges. Or perhaps to Vilafranca del Penedès for a day of touring wineries.
For the adventurous travelers, Montserrat is the place to go. Montserrat is a breathtaking mountain about 50 kilometers from Barcelona. The name literally means “jagged (or serrated) mountain” in Catalan. With its unique rock formations and dramatic mountain monastery, it has been a site of pilgrimage for nearly a thousand years. The saw-tooth peaks shoot up seemingly out of nowhere reaching for the heavens.
Trains leave hourly from Barcelona’s Plaça d’Espanya and bring you to the base of the mountain. Once there, you board either a rack railway that winds up the side of the mountain or a cable car. These take you to the most popular part of Montserrat, Santa Maria de Montserrat. Here you will find the monastery, with its basilica, shops, museum, and restaurants. There are many things to see and do here, including going inside the basilica to view the statue known as La Moreneta (the Black Madonna), but the real adventure awaits.
Montserrat is my favorite place in the world, and the buildings and shops are not the reasons. Once you have seen everything there is to be seen at the monastery, you need to make your way to the Sant Joan funicular, which continues up another 250 meters. It runs every 20 minutes from the monastery. Once you get off of the funicular, your day really begins.
Set off on one of a handful of hiking trails, all clearly marked with details about where they go and how long the journey will take. One of the trails is to the highest summit of Montserrat, called Sant Jeroni. Sant Jeroni stands at 1,236 meters above sea-level. If you follow one piece of advice from this blog post, let it be this- Do. This. Hike.
The sign at the funicular says the hike to Sant Jeroni is 45 minutes, but it will likely take you two glorious hours to get there. It probably would take 45 minutes if you didn’t stop every 5 minutes to take pictures and stare at the amazing views and jagged peaks that greet you around every corner. At some points you can see Barcelona and the ocean in the far distance, at other points you see tiny little hermitages tucked perilously in the side of some ridiculous cliff side. Thoughts like, “What will they do if they need to run to the corner store for some milk?” will inevitably run through your head.
Most of the time, you feel like you are on another planet. I felt like I was on Mars for an afternoon. The landscape and peaks are unlike anywhere else and the views of the towns surrounding the mountain are breathtaking. At certain points, you can look down at the monastery (itself more than halfway up the mountain) and it looks as though it is level with the land at the base.
You may encounter a few other human beings on this hike, but you are more likely to encounter mountain goats and birds. The humans that you do see will likely be climbing the face of some towering peak and seemingly defying the laws of gravity.
Once you make your way to the summit, the panoramic views are unmatched anywhere I have ever been. I’m not exactly sure how many kilometers you can see in every direction, but it is a lot. While you stand at the summit, you feel like you are standing at the top of the world. The feelings of solitude and the realization of peace and quiet are worth the hike.
Allow yourself two hours to get back to the funicular and make sure you pack comfortable hiking shoes, a camera, and plenty of water for the hike. To this day, this is the best place I’ve ever traveled to.
Don Steele is a Territory Manager for EF Educational Tours. In his two years at EF, he has worked in both the Boston and Denver offices, and worked in the College Study Tours and Educational Tours divisions. This is a post about one of the best days of his life.
Readers, do you have a remarkable place where you can claim as the best place you’ve traveled to?