3 Ways to Montserrat: Hike, Pray, Bike

Montserrat is a short train ride (or long bike ride) from Barcelona. Catch the regional train (R5) at Plaza España Station, then take the narrow gauge or “rack train” up the side of the mountain. Buy combo tickets at Plaza España Station.  For details on how to get to this natural and spiritual wonder and assorted activities, here is a helpful online guide to Monsterrat.  Mary visits Montserrat three times (once with Lisa), in three very different ways.


Mary and Fran hike to Sant Jeroni, the highest peak on Montserrat. The Visitor Center, across the street from the rack train station, provides free trail maps.  Lazy hikers can take the funicular train part way up the mountain.  After fortifying coffees, we climb steep stairs at the start of the trail, and switchback our way through the the sedimentary rock formations and trees to the top. The rocks look smooth from a distance but up close, they are rough and look like aggregated gravel. From the air, Monsterrat apparently looks like a sleeping dragon, like the one slain by Sant Jordi (St. George), the patron saint of Catalunya.  So many legends associated with these rocks. Montserrat also hosts many action sports: we see rock climbers tackling one of the famous cliffs, and we dodge runners coming down the trail, too.


Montserrat trail stairs to Sant Jeroni



Rock formations of Montserrat

On top of Sant Jeroni Peak, someone left a manger scene:


Sant Jeroni Peak, Montserrat, manger

This cat and dog also enjoyed the peak, it was the dog’s second time up the mountain:


Sant Jeroni Peak view with hiking cat and dog

View from the 1,236 meter peak to the valley below:


Montserrat View

On our way down, we notice something on a distant rock that looks like a coyote. Then another hiker lets us see his zoomed-in photo–it was wild goat!  A little further down, we see other goats hanging out on the rocks and I take this photo, he’s in the middle, almost the same color as the rock:


Wild goat of Montserrat

We hike in mid-March, and although the day is warm, we see some patches of snow in shady spots.  Fantastic views throughout the hike in all directions. A bit of fog/haze blocked views of the Mediterranean which is visible on clearer days.


On another weekend in April, Lisa’s sister Jennifer and her husband Greg visit Barcelona; and we head to Montserrat to explore the religious sides of this mountain.  According to legend, in the year 880, shepherds went into La Santa Cova (holy cave) and discovered an image of the Virgin Mary.  In the next few centuries,  the faithful built a hermitage, shrine, monastery, Romanesque church, and basilica in honor of the Virgin. Now known as  Virgin of Montserrat, Mary and Baby Jesus sit inside the basilica.  She is one of the Black Madonnas of Europe, and  is the most famous statue of Mary in all of Spain.  Thousands of religious pilgrims come to Montserrat, making it one of the most visited places in Spain. In Catalan, she is called La Moreneta or “little dark one.”


Visitors walk this street toward the main plaza of Montserrat, with rock formation looming above.



Prayer candles glow in Cami de l’Ave Maria , next to the basilica.



Entrance to Montserrat basilica adorned by the twelve apostles.

We all wait in line to see the Virgin, and our route takes us alongside  the sanctuary where the priests are holding mass. Choirs sing, the faithful chant, and we slowly walk through passages with paintings, sculpted walls and golden ceilings.


Inside the basilica of Montserrat.


Angels bless us as we wait in line to see the Virgin of Montserrat


Mosaic ceiling of gold above the Virgin de Montserrat.

We are both overwhelmed by the spiritual power of this image. She is peaceful, she holds the sphere of the Earth in her right hand. Plexiglass protects the Byzantine style image, but we can touch the Earth and be connected to the Virgin’s power, if only for a moment. Other visitors ahead of us stand and pray and cross themselves.  The Virgin faces the sanctuary, looking out from her high perch at the people praying in the pews.


The Black Madonna holds Baby Jesus, and a sphere representing earth.

After visiting the Virgin and eating lunch, Lisa and Mary take a short walk uphill to take in views of the valley. Jennifer and Greg head back to Plaza España for last minute gift shopping.  When we return to the main area of Montserrat, we see a group of hikers stretching after their hike to the highest reaches of the mountain.


Stretching aids in recovery on the streets of Montserrat.


Mary takes an assignment from Experiencia Activa, a new Spanish action sports website and magazine in Catalunya. My mission: to ride 150 kilometers of the Barcelona 300 route, self-supported off-road mountain biking. Day 1 begins in Barcelona and ends in Montserrat after 90 kilometers and 2,100 meters of climbing.


Bike-packing on the way to Montserrat

Because Experiencia Activa is in Spanish, here’s a bit of my story in English:

I pass through Castellbell i el Vilar and take the paved road toward the back side of Monserrat. The GPS guides me onto dirt roads and I’m climbing again. The rocky road rolls up and down, but mostly up. Tight switchbacks take me to my limit. I pause often to drink, eat snacks, push my bike, recalculate my arrival time, and pray for asphalt. I’m in the shadow of the mountain as the sun sinks to the west.


The serrated top of Montserrat in early evening.

The dirt and rock road continues until about six kilometers to go. I ride on a luxurious narrow paved road for a few kilometers before I turn right on the main road toward Montserrat. The ever-present incline means I am in my granny gear, the easiest to pedal. I stop to drink at another sweet fountain surrounded by picnic tables. About ten minutes later, I stop again to watch the changing sunset colors of the sky over Llobregat River valley. I consume my last two dates hoping for a sugar boost. At last, I reach the bus parking lots of Montserrat and I know I am almost there. I can’t even think about the church, the Virgin Mary, or the towering cliffs above me. I am only interested in dinner and bed.


Hotel Abot Cisneros at Montserrat.


Mary consumes a large dinner and a bit of wine, Spanish style

I awake early and head outside to enjoy sunrise from the almost empty Montserrat Plaza, amazingly peaceful. I see the cliffs above and the fog below. I feel like I am floating between heaven and earth.



After breakfast, these final photos of the rocks capture the bright and beautiful day:




© 2015 by Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds. All rights reserved.

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