Just out of Barcelona, and our first real stop was Monistrol de Montserrat: a monastery half way up a mountain. It’s a striking and beautiful place, both in scenery and in the modest way the tourist aspects are handled. I actually blogged on 04 September about the next place we stayed, but here I can rewrite the sequence.
I relive last year’s fantastic holiday by bringing posts over from the trip blog. This doesn’t aim to be identical to the trip blog, but an improvement, with text edits and more / better photos. Find all these posts under the tag: Spain2015.
05 September 2015: We didn’t have nearly enough time in Montserrat, which is a magical place. We arrived around 0945 and took the Aeri gondola with about 20 Koreans up to the monastery. Stuck in the middle of the cabin, I didn’t get to see much, but it’s still an interesting experience. The cable car was built around 1930.
The Monastery is like a tiny village, with the Cathedral and various other tasteful buildings housing gift shops, various offices related to the site, a museum and so on. I was even able to buy and send a postcard to an elderly relative in the UK.
The monastery and village are overseen by the amazing rock formations and is decorated with lovely trees, some in autumn colours.
A huge amount of work goes into maintaining, cleaning and repairing it too.
We had a quick visit inside the Cathedral but not long enough for Deb as they closed it soon after we arrived for mass. Deb wanted to see the Black Madonna but didn’t have time before the Cathedral was closed. Although we stayed until after the mass, by then there was a 1-hour long queue to see the statue and Deb didn’t want to wait that long.
After wandering round for a bit, in the light rain, and having a hot drink and slightly odd pastry at the coffee shop we paid another €10 each and took the cable car further up the mountain to Sant Joan. By then we were almost 1,000 metres up.
While the lower area was lovely, this upper area had the most magic. There were trails we didn’t have time to follow, but we went up to the lookout, where they also have displays of the various flora and fauna of the area, and looked at the view.
There are all kinds of shrines, statues, chapels and possibly gravestones along tracks and trails all over the mountainside. There are the bare rocks, and shrubs and trees of all kinds. From the lookout I heard some birds, but couldn’t see them. The views, of course, were amazing and the rocks are so intriguing.
On the lower level, the rocks above the Monastery resemble human figures, if you look at them just right. My photos didn’t really capture it, but having ‘seen’ the forms they become a feature.
I felt slightly light-headed at the upper level and we didn’t stay very long as we had other places to be that day. Deb says we should come back sometime and take a room at the hotel up there so we can spend time roaming the trails and absorbing the atmosphere. I’d love to do that.
After going back down the Sant Joan cable car, which is like Wellington’s cable car but a whole lot steeper, we had the good fortune to ride down in the gondola with only 4 other people and we could really enjoy the views.
The whole visit was really magical.
While it’s an imposing location, the Monastery is tucked away and blends into its environment. it nestles into the cliffs, protected, sheltered and supported by the mountain. It’s huge yet modest, as probably befits a place where monks could worship.
By contrast, as we travel through the Spanish countryside we see so many Cathedrals looming over their surrounds, dominating the landscape and the people. The towns and villages are full of religious placenames, where it seems every street and square is named after a saint. Religion is inescapably embedded into the fabric of Spanish towns.
Montserrat, the mountain, rises suddenly from the land and dominates the surrounds. The Monastery uses the mountain as a shelter, not as foundation for dominance.
It was a peaceful place, a magical place, a spiritual place suitable for contemplation.
I hope we can visit again sometime.
Note: I wanted to add a dozen photos to this post but the wifi at the hotel I’m staying at has taken more than an hour and half my iPad battery to upload one single picture. I’ll add my photos to another post some other time.
In retrospect: When I did add photos I included this note:
I had to use mobile data to upload these and it chewed through my available data, so these aren’t all the photos I want to upload.
Luckily, on the way down in the cable car there were only a couple of other passengers. I got a great view.
Deb and I loved Montserrat and are quite serious that should we go back to Spain we’d arrange to stay there and spend time at the top of the mountain walking the trails and enjoying the ambiance.