One of the most famous tourist attractions in Catalunya in the northeast part of the Iberian peninsula is the Monastery on Montserrat. Set on top of a craggy mountain (Montserrat means, literally, “Saw Mountain” in the Catalan language) the Benedictine abbey is known for its famous Escolania Boy’s Choir and the Virgin of Montserrat, a statue of a black Madonna and child that has been attracting pilgrims to the mountain for many centuries.
The views of, and from the top of the mountain are stunning. The mountain juts up out of the earth in an other-worldly way, and it is easy to see why over the centuries this was considered a holy site. The problem now is the number of people visiting the mountain and monastery complex every day. Dozens of tour buses and literally thousands of people go there every day to walk around, stand in line to take a picture with the Virgin of Montserrat, see the Boy’s Choir perform at midday, and visit the gift shop before boarding the bus again. The mass of people, the hundreds of videos being taken of the choir, and the flashes going off in the shrine of the Virgin take away from the spirituality of it all, and makes the experience not only less than stellar but downright unpleasant.
But there is another way to experience Montserrat, a way to avoid the crowds and to get the true sense of the mountain and the monastery, a way to see the boy’s choir with just a few dozen people and to be alone with the Virgin of Montserrat. How is it done? By staying overnight. In this way, the traveler can arrive in the late afternoon when the crowds are departing and enjoy a comparatively empty monastery complex until the following morning when the tour buses start coming back up the hill.
There are two affordable places to sleep in the complex – a hotel, Abat Cisneros and a building with apartments. There is a restaurant in the hotel, but you can also buy picnic supplies from several stands just up from the parking area. These local vendors offer excellent cheeses, fresh fruit, honey and sweets.
Instead of sharing the grounds of the monastery with thousands of people at around 2 pm, you can be almost completely alone as the sun starts to set.
The Escolania Boy’s Choir sings Sunday – Thursday at 6:45 for Vespers, so if you want to see them sing be sure to book one of these days. You will share the church with a handful of people. You will also be able to visit the shrine of the Virgin with a lot less people in the evening, but even better is to go early in the morning. On the way to the shrine, there are other interesting things to look at.
Staying overnight also enables the traveler to do something truly glorious, and that is to see the sun come up over the plains below. Grab a coffee from a vending machine, and head out into pre-dawn dusk – you will probably be the only other person, besides workers, out there! Sometimes the sun will come up over a huge bank of clouds.
As it starts to rise, all you will hear is the wind.
Then the birds will start to chirp and sing. Walking around alone, you will enjoy the silence and see things you might not have seen, if there were a lot of people in the way.
After another cup of coffee and breakfast, head back down the hill passing, on your way, dozens of tour buses coming up.
Note that when you are checking in to the hotel or apartments in the complex, you will have to drive up, unload your luggage, then park in the parking area below. You can check in with a guard at the gate. For more information on Montserrat and the Monastery, visit http://www.montserratvisita.com.
There are four spots left on GrapeHops Food, Wine & Culture in Catalonia tour from September 3 – 12, 2015. It is going to be a wonderful trip, join us!
Shannon Essa leads small-group tours focusing on wine, food, and local culture in Croatia, Slovenia, Northern Italy and Northern Spain & Portugal.
Discover the backstreets of Venice or the wine, craft beer, and slow food of Piedmont, Italy. In Spain, experience the rustic foods and low-key lifestyle in beautiful Galicia, the wineries along the Camino de Santiago in the Bierzo region, or the justifiably famous wine regions and local food traditions of Catalonia. See many of Croatia’s most beautiful sights and learn about the rebirth of one of Europe’s oldest wine areas. And see all this with Shannon, who loves unique and out of the way wine and food experiences.
When not in Europe, Shannon does her eating and drinking in San Diego, California.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.