There are three ways of getting from Barcelona to Montserrat, Catalonia’s most sacred mountain and Spain’s first national park. You can rent a car and drive northwest for about 60 km; you can take the R5 train (toward Manresa) from Placa d’Espanya station; or you can sign-up for one of several half-day or full-day bus tours. We decided on the bus tour that left Placa de Catalunya at 8:30 in the morning but didn’t arrive at the mountain until noon, giving us only four hours at the Benedictine monastery called Santa Maria de Montserrat.
CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO SEE A LARGER VERSION OF THAT PHOTO.
There are two popular routes for getting to Montserrat by car or bus. One is to take B-10 north from Barcelona and then west on C-58 to the mountain. Our bus went west on Avinguda Diagonal and then highway B-23 to La Colona Guell near the intersection with the A-2 autovia (The Spanish autovias are similar to our freeways). We spent the morning at La Colonia Guell and then drove north on the A-2 to B-40 and then C-55 all the way to the mountain. See the map here for both routes.
Once you reach the base of the mountain you will receive other choices for completing your journey. Most visitors take either the rack train (Cremallera de Montserrat) or the cable car (Aeri de Montserrat) for the rest of the way up the mountain. There’s also a road that goes all the way up to the monastery but you will have to pay for parking. You can park for free at the rack train station but then you will need to purchase a ticket for the rack train.
Tickets for the rack train and the cable car cost the same but there are pluses and minuses for each. The rack train is comfortable but offers views that are just so-so. You will have to stand all the way on the cable car and you may experience a rocky ride if it is windy. I hear the views are fantastic, however. It takes about 20 minutes for the rack train to reach the monastery but the cable car ride lasts only about five.
For those who take the train from Placa d’Espanya you have to decide on either the rack train or the cable car before you buy your ticket. Once your ticket is purchased you can’t change it even though both tickets cost the same price. The rack train station, by the way, is one stop after the cable car station.
We didn’t have a choice on our bus. It went straight to the rack train station and that’s how we got to the monastery. Four hours later our bus picked us up at the monastery’s parking lot. Yes, there seems to be a slight conspiracy here to get tourists to purchase extra tickets when it is possible for cars and buses to go all the way up to the monastery. But no one seemed to mind. We enjoyed our little ride on the rack train.
The Barcelona tourism people explain all of this to potential visitors on their special Montserrat website that includes timetables and ticket prices.They also caution you to watch out for pickpockets at the Placa d’Espanya train station. See http://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/tour/montserrat-spain.html
Once you reach the monastery you again are presented with some choices. You can stay in the monastery complex until it is time to leave. You can walk / climb along the many trails and paths from the monastery to different parts of the mountain. Or you can ride one of the funicular trains to go further up the mountain (Funicular de Sant Joan) or down to the cave where the Virgin Mary supposedly appeared way back in the ninth century (Funicular de Santa Cova). The popular thing to do is to ride the funicular to the top of the mountain and then walk back down to the monastery. Or you may want to walk down to the Holy Cave and then take the funicular back up to the monastery. You will find that there are many hiking trails near the top of the mountain, most of which start at the funicular station. One of the trails goes all the way to the highest peak (Sant Jeroni — 1,236 meters above sea level).
I found this website interesting when I looked for more information on the monastery: http://www.montserratvisita.com/
I’ll have more details and photos on our visit to Montserrat in my next few postings.