Sarah Pollok finds Montserrat a pleasant change of pace from Barcelona
Any traveller is spoilt for choice when it comes to exploring the cosmopolitan capital of Spain. But if a few days in the vibrant city of Barcelona has you longing for vast mountain ranges and hikes through the Spanish countryside, then a day trip to the quaint village of Montserrat is a must.
As with most overseas cities, the best way to traverse the 60km between Barcelona and Montserrat is the train. Quick and scenic, the R5 line from Placa d'Espanya to de Montserrat-Aeri takes around 90 minutes. From the Montserrat station, adventurous souls will go up on the glass-ceiling Aeri cable car for a 5-minute vertical trip, while others can take the gentle 15-minute railway track.
As one of the most popular climbing spots in the region, the steep tracks that weave through Montserrat may seem intimidating, but every huff (and consequential puff) upwards is rewarded with spectacular views of the endless countryside. The city boasts some 5000 tracks but the Sant Miquel trail is a scenic 20-minute ascent to the top of the city, taking you past the Chapel of Sant Miquel, St Joan Chapel and finally St Jeroni Chapel at the highest point.
It may not have the fame of Lady Liberty or Michelangelo's David but the statue of the Virgin of Montserrat is one not to be missed. Housed in an attraction of its own, the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat is one of the few surviving black Madonnas in Europe. Rumour has it that touching the 12th-century statue of "La Moreneta" bestows healing, but with a protective sheet of glass now between her and hundreds of visitors each day, we're left to guess.
If you were to visit the monastery of Montserrat a few centuries ago, your travel options were limited to the 1236m hike or miss out. Luckily for you, it's 2019 and the city now has not one but three different vehicles to carry you up and down the sheer cliffs. Hop on the Cremallera Funicular for a gentle ride from the train station to the monastery, where really adrenaline junkies can choose to board the dizzyingly steep Funicular de Sant Joan. Whatever you do, don't look down.
As is custom for rural European towns, the Monserrat market is a quaint affair selling several artisanal products from the makers themselves. Located opposite the Mirador dels Apostols building, stop by for a taste of some Catalonian specialities like fig cake or Mato cheese with fresh honey.
When the afternoon calls for a cold drink, find your way to the humble Bar de la Placa, pull up a barstool or snag a table outside. Despite the décor being modest and the menu unfussy, after a day of scorching heat and demanding hikes, anticipation may just make it the best drink of your trip.
For heaping plates of seafood and meat dishes typical to the Catalonian region, in a converted 16th-century monastery stables, look no further than the Restaurant Abat Cisneros. Part of the Abat Cisneros hotel, the intimate restaurant is the best spot for traditional cuisine and a glass of Spanish wine.