Climbing Montserrat: An Unintentional Pilgrimage

When I agreed to climb up Montserrat rather than take the Fernicular (or cable car), I thought I was trading views from a murky window for breathtaking expanses from craggy outcrops. And indeed I was. I was also trading hydration, comfort, regular breathing patterns, and stoicism. By the time I reached the top of that small mountain, I was sweaty and cranky as could be. But what an amazing journey it was! It was absolutely worth it.

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View from the river into town

We started off the trip by making the somewhat stressful journey to the base of Montserrat. This requires catching an hourly train which we almost missed and had to sprint for. The views from the train were lovely and scenic, with the Mediterranean intermittently peaking through the low green hills of Cataluña. When we arrived at the station, I had my first moment of doubt. Every single one of the two hundred or so passengers was making their way to the cable car station. Only Reid and I veered off the walkway, heading for the small town at the base of Montserrat. We crossed a bridge overlooking a brown, muddy river and looked for signs that indicated the beginning of the trail. We were going to hike all the way to the top, about 4,000 feet up.

A house in town - I loved the small garden in front
A house in town – I loved the small garden in front

We stopped off at a bar and ordered two cheese bocadillos for the journey (basically a baguette with cheese and crushed tomato inside). We shared a coke to fuel up (we obviously knew what we were doing) and asked for directions. The path led us through the rest of the small town, until we came across a poorly marked entryway right off what seemed to be a small highway.

Flowers on the trail
Flowers on the trail

The trip up was breathtaking. The higher we climbed, the more amazing the views became. We only saw a couple of other people on the trail and counted ourselves lucky for being the only ones who didn’t take the cable car. At one point, we reached a fork in the path and had to make a decision about which route we would take the rest of the way. We could try the more mellow path along a winding dirt road or a more direct footpath that was mostly vertical. We took the footpath (one I would later slightly regret).

Reid climbing up the footpath
Reid climbing up the footpath

By the time we were near enough to the top to see the abbey, I was so happy I could cry. The weather was much hotter than I had imagined and I was in terrible hiking shape. And yet, I forgot all discomfort when I saw the amazing views of other abandoned monasteries and abbeys peppering the crags of Montserrat. It was unlike anything I’d seen before, and Reid and I spent a lot of time taking it all in.

Abandoned abbey across the way
Abandoned abbey across the way

At this point a young girl with her family rounded the corner. They had taken the easier path up and were converging onto the main path at the same time as us. This 12-year-old girl was the whiniest person I had ever heard. She was moaning and crying loudly, chanting ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t’ over and over again. I was so mortified by the tone in her voice that I immediately stopped complaining for the rest of the journey! I can still hear her now…

Look how positive and non-whiney I am! No complaints here!
Look how positive and non-whiney I am! No complaints here! Also, note the abbey behind me – almost there!
Partner in crime - check out that view!
Partner in crime – check out that view!

When we reached the top, we were a little disappointed by how many people were there. However, the buildings were gorgeous and we enjoyed exploring and taking in the views. The light wind near the top helped as well. Only pictures can really describe what it was like, the softly colored walls carved right out of the rock. The shrine to the blackened virgin Mary was a dark and solemn affair inside the candle-lit basilica made utterly strange by the merry-go-round of visitors wanting to look at her up close (think Disney Land lines).

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The living quarters for the monks
Inside the basilica
Inside the basilica

After a few hours of wandering, we took the cable car back down and what an amazingly quick journey it was! The trip was easily my favorite part of our time in Barcelona and was completely unlike anything else I’d seen in Spain. I highly recommend making the hike up if you can, it’s quite satisfying and if I can do it, anyone can!

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6 thoughts on “Climbing Montserrat: An Unintentional Pilgrimage”

  1. How long did the hike up take you? And was the hourly train you took from Barcelona? I am traveling to Barcelona with my boyfriend in June and this sounds like a really awesome experience, one we might like to try! Stunning pictures!

    1. Kate, we were hiking quite slowly on the most difficult path (with a bocadillo break of course) and it took us a little over 3.5 hours to hike up. You take the train from Placa de Espanya in Barcelona and if I recall correctly, the train ride was a little under an hour. It’s a great activity that’s outside the norm and the views are seriously stunning. I highly recommend it!

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