I only went to Montserrat, about 40km out of town, for the day but you could easily spend a few days there. Definitely a good idea to get the earliest possible train. From the regular train station I took the cremallera (rack railway) up to the village – I suppose it’s a village. Not long after, I took a funicular further up the mountain. Heading homewards, it was back to the regular train by aeri (cable car) – I don’t know if my fear of heights is decreasing or if I’ve become more fatalistic! When you love trains as I do, the travel was exciting in itself.
On arrival at the cremallera station I lingered only long enough to get my bearings, then it was off to the funicular. My Lonely Planet unrealistically describes a 20 minute stroll to the Sant Joan (St John) Chapel. That gentle description is why I chose that over several other walks. Well, it didn’t kill me but it was longer than 20 minutes, and uphill all the way is not a stroll. The steps were not a sensible option!
The chapel was closed but the cave, a little further up, was open to the elements. From there you can climb an even steeper path to another hermitage (Sant Jeroni) but I was happy with the views from where I was. The signboard said that on a good day you’re able to see Mallorca and Menorca – my visit was on a good day … but not that good.
Besides, I wanted to be back in time to hear the choir in the basilica.
In what is a very small area, I took what could be called the long walk to the Benedictine Monastery – ten minutes instead of two! Most of the monastery buildings are built around a plateau then along a ridge on the mountain. From the square you enter an inner plaza off which is the entry to the basilica and a side entrance, complete with queue, up to La Moreneta (the Black Madonna of Montserrat), which is situated above the main altar.
The basilica is replete with 16thC bling but I didn’t have a lot of time to look around. The place was filling up so I grabbed a seat before it became, as it did, standing room only. The boys from Escolania, the choir school, sang suitably beautifully. But it wasn’t all serious – we also got a rendition of the Meow Song!
When leaving I came across the chapel reserved for silent prayer. There was a representation of the risen Christ that took my breath away. None of my full length photos worked but I could get head and body separately. Very strange. I don’t know if that had something to do with the face and eyes following you as you moved, almost like a hologram. Or maybe punishment for taking photos. But I did pray first!
Afterwards I visited the museum – a must for anyone visiting Montserrat. The works range from ancient to modern. Stupidly I’d thought there was only one Black Madonna, that in the basilica. But in the museum there are quite a few representations. Alas, no photos allowed.
By then I was more than a little hungry so off to the cafeteria, included in the price of a day ticket to the mountain. Typical cafeteria food: not brilliant, not awful, eased the hunger pangs. But as it was now quite late, there was no queue, the staff unhurried and friendly, and maybe because what was left was going to become leftovers very soon, the serving ladies gave me more than I’m sure would have been served at midday. Plus more great views, so no complaints from me.
It was now late afternoon so I wandered back to the basilica. The forecourt was empty and as the long queue to La Moreneta had all but disappeared, I joined the tail end. I quickly discovered there was still quite a way to go! As I shuffled along, there was time to add more photos to my collection of monuments and artefacts, old and new.
As always, I loved the glass. I was disappointed that I couldn’t get a better photo of Sts Perpetua and Felicity in the stairwell. Back in the year 2000 I had visited the remains of the arena in Tunisia where they had been thrown to the lions.
And then I was there. Almost my turn to venerate the Black Madonna. I have a tiny statue of La Moreneta on one of my bookshelves, a souvenir gift from my friend Patrick many years ago.
Then it was the cable car and train back to Barcelona central. The end of a long but satisfying day.