There are few things that get the blood of a Mile High resident churning more than a cool microbrew and a mountain hike. While the Northeastern region of Spain is not known for its abundance of craft beers, it is however, a renowned spot for hiking. From the Camino de Santiago, to any of the various trails that criss-cross the Pyrenees, Catalonia has treks perfect for both the casual day-tripper and the long-term backpacker.
A popular hiking destination and pilgrimage site is Montserrat. Montserrat is located in the Pre-Costal range of Catalonia and is about halfway between the village of Manresa and Barcelona in the Llobregat Valley.
From the city of Barcelona, it is easy to access by public transport, contributing to the high level of tourist activity. A simple metro ride from Plaça Espanya takes you to the base of the mountain, and a second funicular railway drops you right at the mountain's eponymous monastery.
The Monastery of Montserrat has existed since the early 1400s, built on the site of a hermitage that was popular with Christian devotees of the Virgin Mary. Now home to museums, a basilica, publishing company, and a vast library, the monastery attracts visitors of both secular and religious backgrounds. It is also home to one of Europe’s famous ‘Black Madonnas,’ a depiction of the Virgin Mary that was popular during the Middle Ages.
Montserrat has a variety of trails that encompass a wide range of distances and difficulty levels. The most difficult of these is the Sant Jeroni trail that leads to the highest peak of the Montserrat massif. At approximately 4,000 feet, many Rocky Mountain natives would be inclined to sneeze at this seemingly ‘puny’ peak. However, with a vertical gain of between 2,100 and 2,400 feet, the hike is an excellent workout for everyone.
Depending on which route you choose, a journey to the summit of Sant Jeroni could take about two hours or closer to six. The shortest route is also the most physically challenging, with 50 percent of the way being comprised of some form of stairs, you should prepare to be sore the next day. Regardless of the path you take, there are gorgeous vistas that will spark your wonder and ancient hermitages that connect you with the past.
When you have conquered the climb, caught your breath, and taken the obligatory ‘summit shots,’ take a brave peek at the drop offs to test your mettle. Due to the fact that it is such a famous tourist spot, the top of the mountain may not be as serene as you hoped.
Luckily, crowds are fairly predictable, and with a little research and determination you can maximize your solitude by being on either extreme of the daylight hours. Waking up early is a small price to pay for the opportunity to take your time to absorb the 360˚ panorama.
Once you have made it back down again, you can enjoy a refreshing cerveza or vino tinto at the monastery’s bar, or you can stay to listen to the world famous Montserrat Boy’s Choir in the ornate basilica that is still an active Catholic church.
Despite the general air of contempt that accompanies tourist attractions, Montserrat is most definitely a worthwhile adventure. Alone or in a group, nature enthusiasts or religious pilgrims, the prevailing popularity of the site is evidence to its timeless and widespread appeal.