Mountains + Monasteries = Montserrat

Another mini post with pretty pictures! ūüôā

So as mentioned at the end of my last post, I went with one of my good friends out to the “serrated mountain” of Montserrat located on the outskirts of Barcelona. After being right in the middle of a busy city for a week for the CoolStars conference, it was a good opportunity to stretch the legs and take in a bit of nature. Forming part of the Catalan pre-coastal range, it is home to some stunning (if peculiar!) geological, sedimentary formations, with the highest peak found at 1,236m above sea level.¬†There is the option of hiking up from the bottom if you have a few hours spare, but most people (including us) opt for the lazy-boy way to get up near there… The cable car! ūüôā

So tiny among the rocks…

Montserrat is home to ancient spiritual surroundings, with its origins first dating back to a hermitage built in 888. In 1025, a new monastery was founded that subsequently became an independent abbey in 1409. Various wars led by the French and Spanish led to it being ruined and abandoned on several occasions over the next 500 years (these timescales are ridiculous!), but the Catalan government thankfully intervened to prevent it from being permanently struck off. Cue some modernisation, and the monastery is still up and running, housing around 80 Benedictine monks some 1,000 years after it was founded. Incredible. This monastery is one of the first things you can see when you stand outside of the station for the cable-car at ground level and look up, albeit highly camouflaged amongst the rocks that surround it (see if you can spot it in the photo above!).

The monastery. The man-made looking insignificant next to the natural!

Getting out of the cable-car at the top, however, we were greeted by seemingly an entire village up there, which I was not expecting! There’s a couple of museums, a restaurant or two, a 3-star hotel(!), a few shops… I’ve still not quite figured out how people drive up there!

Main high street?

There are various hiking paths leading from this strange little village that take you up and around the mountain peaks, which is what we most wanted to do (even with the 35-degree heat… and yes, I had my factor 50 sun lotion with me ūüėõ ). So we set off at a leisurely pace with no particular plan in mind, just to see where we ended up. It was very hazy that day, but, my gosh, the views were spectacular, looking out over¬†Pla del Bages wine region below and the Pyrenees in the distance.

If only it were a little clearer…

Pretty!

There are many little amazing look-out points (or “miradors” in Spanish), small hermitages and interesting nooks to explore. One stairway in particular started to test my fear of heights! Even just these small walks were a little tough in the Spanish summer sun with no shade, but there was always the thought of ice cream back in the village to drive us forward. You could spend a full day walking around everywhere, and I think it actually joins up to a main hiking route if you fancy camping up there!

Funky little passage. Check out the stairway right at the back!

Looking in the other direction – wonder what they did here?

One of the many little hermitages. Room with a view!

Some of the peaks are popular spots for climbers and abseilers (i.e. people with a much better head for heights than me!), and it was funny spotting these tiny little figures on the tops. But I bet the view from up there must have been breathtaking.

On top the world…

Eventually, we head back down to the village via a little funicular ride for a much-needed drink. Next to the monastery is a huge basilica, housing ‘La Moreneta’, a statue of the Virgin and the Christ-chid roughly translated as “the little dark-skinned one”, due to varnish having darkened the wood over time – and apparently a popular site of pilgrimage, as dictated by the enormous queue we were confronted with upon arrival without having a clue what we were standing in line for! What a British thing to do.

The Basilica… Beware of queues of unknown origin!

Well, we gave up eventually and made our escape back outside and back to the cable-car for the trip back down the mountainside, and our last night in Barcelona.

Downwards in the evening light

I headed back to the UK the day after for 2 weeks at home, catching up with the friends and family I’d not seen (and barely spoken to, thanks to the time difference!) in almost 6 months – and it was wonderful! I’m already looking forward to going back at Christmas… But there’s another 6 months of random adventures to be had between now and then!

Hasta la proxima,

Amy
-x-

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