“We need to meet the tour bus at WHAT TIME?!?!?!” That was my reaction when I found out my mom booked at tour to Montserrat, the famous mountain just outside Barcelona with a cathedral dedicated to the black Madonna, but left Plaza Catalunya at 6:45am…on our first day in the city. To get breakfast and get there on time, we needed to leave the apartment at 6:00 am. Not my idea of vacation. Who knew later on I’d be thanking my mother on the genius move.
Montserrat is a mountain with rock formations visible from a distance and about an hour outside Barcelona. Legend has it that in 718 AD children playing in a cave in the mountain found a statue of a black Madonna and child. Jesuit priests decided to build a church to honor the statue, and pilgrims come to the church to pray to the Madonna and start their pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela.
We somehow managed to get out of bed at 5:30, get dressed, out the door at 6:15, and get some pastries before getting lost on the way to Plaza Catalunya. We found our way and made it to the meeting point at 6:45am on the dot, and were the last to board the bus. As we drove, the tour guide gave us a brief history of Barcelona, and explained a few sites that we drove past. I quickly tuned it out, and slept on the bus, catching up on some much needed sleep after the journey from New York. As we neared, the tour guide came back on to talk about the mountain and the story of the cathedral. I woke up and looked out, to see a glorious site. The sun, rising over the mountain as we drove up and around. It was beautiful, and I was beginning to understand why we left so early in the morning.
As we entered the parking lot, we were the only tour bus that had yet arrived. We walked out to the platform and watched the sun stream into the valley below, and light up the beautiful cathedral that was up against the unique mountain. Here the tour guide gave us more history, and walked us through the schedule. We then walked over to the cathedral.
Once inside we needed to be quiet as the cathedral is a place of prayer and worship. We walked the path along small side chapels until we got to the stairs that take you up to the Madonna. One thing I had not realized was that you were allowed to go up and not only pray to the Madonna, but were encouraged to touch the globe she held while you prayed. While that experience in and of itself was spiritual, the small room that housed the Madonna was encompassed in beautiful music work and paintings to add to the room’s reverence feel.
Afterwards, we were taken down and given a little time to go into the main nave of the Cathedral and pray. The cathedral is dark, and a little more of a hodgepodge than other cathedrals in Europe. It was built over many centuries by many parties, so I found the actual nave a bit dark and distracting. But the altar was simple and beautiful, and the view of the Madonna and people going up to pray made up for the rest.
After the cathedral, we were given 2 hours by ourselves to wander the Montserrat area. The cathedral was actually only ½ way up the mountain, and my mom spotted the funicular that took you to the top. My mom can’t pass a funicular or hanging gondola without riding it. So we bought our tickets, and rode the steep, terror inducing funicular all the way to the top of the mountain. At the top, we walked a little and were treated to truly spectacular views of the valley. Along the way we saw people hiking, rock climbing, and praying. The tour guide said that the mountain had a soul, a spirit. From the top, overlooking the valley, I felt that spirit.
We had other things included in our ticket and my mom wanted to make the most of it, so we went back and rode the terror inducing funicular down the steep mountain back to the cathedral area. There we used our tickets to get a free liquor tasting in the gift shop. The liquors are made by the priests with locally sourced ingredients. Some were herbal, similar to Chartreuse, but my favorites were the creamy ones, similar to Bailey’s. But none were good enough to warrant me checking a bag, so I had to make do with buying some solid items from the gift shop.
Before we left, we walked through a market on the way to the bus parking. The market sold cheeses made locally in the area, and gave out several samples. Even though I warned mom she couldn’t bring cheese back, she couldn’t resist and bought some. So I got to enjoy fresh cheese all throughout our stay. Finally we had to rush back to the bus parking to make sure we didn’t miss our bus back to Barcelona. We came back to a completely full bus parking lot, and realized that we had made the right decision by picking such an early tour. We didn’t have to share the cathedral with anyone in the morning, got one of the first funiculars up the mountain, and found ourselves annoyed that there was a line at the liquor tasting. Our bus was able to quickly and easily get out of the lot since it parked close to the exit, and we were on our way back to Barcelona, having the rest of the day available to us.
As we drove back to Barcelona, I rested and looked out the window, watching the spectacular mountain with a soul disappear behind us. It was an auspicious start to our trip and an excellent way to reacquaint myself with this magnificent country.
*Tour taken with Amigo Tours. We purchased a combo Montserrat and Sagrada Famila tour for $80. The tour included
- Transportation to Montserrat and back
- Transportation to Sagrada Familia
- Guided tour at both location
- Entrance fees to both location
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