Montserrat, Spain - I had never heard of it, that was until I saw it as part of the tour package I booked for Barcelona. I had every intention of scrapping that tour and booking another one - but part of my travel philosophy is getting out of my comfort zone - including getting off the beaten tourist path to see and do something spontaneous - So off to Montserrat I went. We headed out of Barcelona shortly before 11 to make the hour drive up to Montserrat.
Montserrat is a multi-peak mountain which ranges from Miranda de Les Agulles which stands as the lowest peak 903m to Sant Jeroni which measures at 1,236 m. It is home to the Montserrat Monastery and the famous black Madonna. It can be reached by train , cable car or driving up to the lowest peak aka Monastery level and then hopping a funicular to the topmost peak. Apparently some local make the trip by foot for sport (and or spiritual reasons).
According to our incredible tour guide, the black Madonna who makes her home here is known as the saint for fertility and so over the years, many have journeyed up to Montserrat to make their case for her to bless them with a Child. In return for that blessing, some have made promises which including "walking" up several hundred steps to get to the Monastery level on their knees. According to her, most people fulfill this promise over a period of time and if you visit on a weekend, you might catch a glimpse of someone fulfilling their promise to the black Madonna. Such incredible history and even though I don't ascribe to the Catholic faith, I still get chills thinking about being on those grounds and getting to see the black Madonna.
We arrived about 11:50 and quickly made our way into the Benedictine abbey to hear the all-male choir sing (Montserrat is also home to an all-male choir) and they sing in the chapel at noon every day (hearing them sing - I think, this is what Angels must sound like). A recording was prohibited, but I found this clip on youtube from one of their performance (incredible). Following, the choir performance, we made our way to the back room to see the black Madonna (and touch the black Madonna, if you wanted), then circled out through a prayer room (optional) and then to the courtyard.
On our way up Montserrat, we saw isolated homes sprinkled in the mountains. According to our tour guide, those were homes of farmers who have lived in the mountains for generations and because of the terrains (and how far away from everything they were), they had to be self-sufficient generating their own electricity, water supply etc. These farmers run a small market on the Monastery level of Montserrat, so after our time in the chapel and walking the grounds of the Monastery, I went off to visit the farmers' market. I picked up some honey and nuts and If I did not have other stops in Europe - the sheep cheese and homemade jam would have come home with me (the combination of those two is one of the best things I have ever tasted).
Some members of my tour group chose to take the funicular ride to the footpaths above and below the Monastery level. I opted out of it, instead, I found a spot with a great view and spent the rest of our time there. In hindsight, the funicular ride might have been worth it. The footpath below lead to a mountainside shrine. I managed to capture a shot of it, from my viewing spot and I am told the footpath above the Monastery level guarantee spectacular views of the Mountains (and Barcelona).
Spending three weeks traveling Europe was an incredible experience - this trip to Montserrat was one of my favorite memories from my short time in Barcelona.