This is a special guest post from Ann Tran of ann-tran.com.
I have been to Barcelona several times previously and, with only one day in the city this time, I decided to do something a bit different. I saw a tweet and photo in the Montserrat monastery’s stream and thought it might be a really interesting place to wander and take photographs.
Getting to Montserrat looked confusing at first, but in actuality it was quite easy to navigate Barcelona's very robust public rail system. The large central Espanya rail station could be reached from anywhere in the city via Metro, then I simply followed the signage to the R5 line. For about €30, you can purchase a combination round-trip ticket, funicular or cable car transport up the mountain, and free all-day Barcelona Metro use from ticket machines in the Espanya station.
Arriving at the base of the mountain from the Barcelona train system simply took my breath away. You're sitting at the base of a 2,400-foot-high mountain topped with serrated rocks, and the monastery sitting on a sheer cliff wall. The Funicula ride up the side of the mountain takes about 20 minutes and looking down into the valley on the way is absolutely spectacular. Braver souls can take a cable car up the mountain—it only takes six minutes, but you will have to stand up during the entire trip.
Once at the monastery, I would suggest walking straight into the basilica. It’s one of the most beautiful churches I've ever seen, outside of the Vatican. It is very peaceful and I believe they play the church organ every hour, on the hour, which fills the interior with warm, soothing sounds. I missed the choir performance, as it finished before I arrived, so if you don’t want to miss it, be sure to check their schedule.
After enjoying the beautiful grounds and scenic valley views from the monastery, I took an additional Funicula ride (included in the price) up to Sant Joan point. This traverses another 1,000 feet further to the very top of the mountain. Here you can hike on gorgeous trails and see a 360-degree view of Spain. Plus, the view of the monastery from Sant Joan is the best vantage point for photographs.
Montserrat is a place of outstanding individuality and unrivaled beauty. The geology is quite amazing, and the shrine where the patron saint of Catalonia, la Moreneta, is worshipped is unparalleled in its ornate beauty. It is also hosts one of Europe's oldest and most famous schools of music.
Although one day to tour Montserrat was sufficient, I wish I had a little more time to explore and hike throughout the mountaintop and village. The monastery grounds have hotels and restaurants—and even a supermarket—so tourists can extend their stay and appreciate the zen-like quality of this beautiful and historical retreat. Montserrat has come to symbolize an entire nation, and it’s no wonder that it has become a center of pilgrimage that welcomes over 3 million visitors annually from around the world.