Mountaintop Monastery

High in the mountains north of Barcelona is nestled a series of hermitages that date back to the 9th century.  Throughout history, Montserrat (Serrated Mountain) has been a sight of religious pilgrimage, and has had an important cultural and spiritual role in Catalonia.  Today there are many ways to reach the monastery that lies halfway up the mountain, but we took the easiest route of driving up the gorgeous winding road that leads to the Abbey of Montserrat.

We left early in the morning, arriving before many of the attractions on the mountain opened.  This put us well ahead of the crowds of tourists that would show up as the day went on, and we made sure to see the biggest attraction, the Abbey itself, first.

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The Abbey of Montserrat

By this point in the trip we had already visited six churches, but I was still fascinated by how unique each one was.  The inside of the Abbey of Montserrat was adorned with gilded decorations, and lined with intricate lamps that came from all over Spain.

After our visit to the Abbey, we took a ride on a funicular that goes up to the top of the mountain.  Caleb, David, and Courtney bought round trip tickets so they would have more time to visit Montserrat’s museum after the ride, but Vince and I bought one way tickets so we could hike down the mountain.  The ride to the top was short, and we soon found ourselves surrounded by the spires that make Montserrat so distinct.

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A view from the top of Montserrat

Various well-paved hiking trails led off in different directions, and after admiring a stunning view of the Monastery below us, we selected a trail to explore.

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Looking down at the Abbey of Montserrat

The trail we chose led up to the modest but lovely Saint Joan Chapel.  Along the path, we noted many bolts in the stone spires that are used for sport climbing.  I couldn’t help but wish that we had our climbing gear with us, but the itinerary of this trip didn’t leave any room for climbing.  We continued on the easy path, growing closer to the church, which sat on top of a perfect saddle in the mountain.  The vegetation in this area grew in interesting patterns on the rocks, adding to the already bizarre aesthetic of our craggy surroundings.

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The Saint Joan Chapel

About halfway to the church the others turned back to catch the funicular, but Vince and I pressed onward until we reached the chapel.  There, we turned around and began our descent down the mountain.  The hiking was easy, and the weather was beautiful, so all we had to do was enjoy the almost cartoonish landscape that sprawled before us as we walked.  It didn’t take too long for us to come upon an overlook with another great view of the monastery.

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A great view of the monastery

By then the hike was nearly over, and in no time we had met back up with David and Courtney who had just finished their visit to the Museum of Montserrat.  Caleb wasn’t with them, as he had apparently decided to go after us instead of taking the funicular.  We had just missed him, and he continued the hike on his own.

We grabbed a quick lunch while we waited for Caleb to reappear, and as we ate David and Courtney raved about the museum, which had turned out to be an art museum.  They talked it up so much that Vince and I decided to go through it too.  Caleb had returned by this point, and he and David joined us.

I was immediately glad that we’d decided to check out the museum.  It was full of incredible art by many painters including Dalí, Monet, Degas, and Picasso.  I don’t get to connect with my artistic interests as much as I did back in art school, so standing in front of works by some of the greatest painters of all time was a humbling and poignant reminder of that side of myself.  Since coming back from this trip, my interest in art has been rejuvenated, and I’ve been really happy creating things again.

Although we could have easily spent the entire day exploring the various hermitages of Montserrat, we decided to move on after touring the museum.  Since we had started so early, we still had a ton of time left to fill in our day, but luckily I knew of some other places we could visit.

We piled back into our car and drove all the way to another mountain that was closer to Barcelona, Mount Tibidabo.  At its summit stands the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a truly unique basilica that was constructed starting in 1902.

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The Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

We entered the church to view its crypt first and this ended up being my favorite of all the cathedrals we saw (except for the Sagrada Familia of course).  The arching walls were decorated with insanely intricate, colorful mosaics.  I welcomed the vibrant colors after the monochromatic interiors of many of the other churches we visited.

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Inside the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Next we purchased tickets to go up the cathedral’s towers, where we had a bird’s eye view of Barcelona, and the mountains to its north.  We could see many of the sights we’d already visited, including La Sagrada Familia, The Barcelona Cathedral, and Montserrat.

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The Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with Montserrat in the background

When we’d finished our tour of the cathedral, we briefly considered going into the Tibidabo amusement park, but were deterred by the 30€ entrance fee.  We decided instead to spend the rest of the afternoon back in Barcelona.

Since we had visited the Barcelona Cathedral during mass on our first day of the trip, we hadn’t had an opportunity to go inside of it, so we drove into the city and made our way back to the gothic quarter, where the whole trip began over a week ago.

The cathedral was open to visitors this time so we purchased tickets and went inside to explore one last church before our departure the next afternoon.  I have to admit, the inside of the Barcelona Cathedral was not my favorite, but it had some extremely tough competition.

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Inside the Barcelona Cathedral

I did really like its open air courtyard that was home to a gaggle of snow white geese.  We also had the opportunity to ride an elevator up to the cathedral’s towers, which made the entire visit worthwhile for me.  I loved seeing the intricate stonework of the towers up close, and the views of the surrounding city were amazing.  We could also see La Sagrada Familia and the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the churches bells chimed while we were at the tower, which added to the ambience of the experience.

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The Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus visible from the tower of the Barcelona Cathedral

As we ate dinner at a local restaurant, I couldn’t help but feel like we’d been on four trips instead of just one.  We’d had an island getaway on Mallorca, a cultural tour of Barcelona, an alpine escape in Andorra, and a road trip through French wine country.

Check out my compilation video of the trip for a brief look at some of the amazing experiences we had!

4 comments

  1. Breathtaking beauty! You are living the dream Kaiti and Vince.
    I love the amazing descriptions, you have a wonderful writing skill. Also the beautiful pictures, your camera skills are also amazing.
    I personally LOVED the pictures of The Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it’s almost a moving religious experience. Keep on keepin’ on!

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