What to do in Barcelona with a day to spare? Get up Montserrat – if the weather’s fair.

If ever you have a two or three hours to spare in Barcelona, there’s always plenty to choose from to fill those hours with something wow-touristic in the city. Just the easiest and most obvious often will do the job, like a stroll down La Rambla and around the Gothic Quarter. But should you ever have a full day to spare and the weather’s neither rainy or too hot, then you really need to get out of the city. And one of the best local destinations has to be Montserrat (the mountain; not to be confused with the island that was named after it, which isn’t quite local;).

A truly wonderful construction – a multi-peaked ragged-jagged mountain range surrounded by lower and more undulating hills. Could it be the start of the Pyrenees? No – the edge of those is nearly a hundred kilometers away…

(I wanted to take a pic like the one above, but none of mine came out ok; therefore, thank-you Wikipedia)

In a rocky valley on the mountain there’s the thoroughly photogenic Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey ->

And the view from a different angle ->

At the top of Mount Montserrat (where tourists are whisked up to on funicular) you get these views in different directions. Somehow all reminds me of Danxia landforms in China, only on a smaller scale ->

The rock formations take on all sorts of different shapes – what they possibly resemble limited only by a lack of imagination! ->

From Barcelona to the monastery it’s around 60km by car. But be warned – there can be long lines of vehicles for the parking lot there ->

On the first day, we came here just after noon and the traffic was real bad. We did eventually find a parking spot, but then had to walk more than a kilometer by the side of the road up a steep hill to the first place of interest. Accordingly, I recommend parking down below near the narrow-gauge railroad station from which trains depart regularly up the steep hill:

As you can see, in late February the parking lot by the station is practically empty. Another thing – it might be a good idea coming here from Barcelona on the train ->

By the looks of things, they’ve been ferrying tourists up the mountain here by train for decades, if not centuries! ->

These days – all very shiny and modern, and it goes every 15-20 minutes. On we climb, and off we pop!…

Sitting on the left looking forward is best: the views are remarkable. The only downside to that before lunch is you’re facing the sun, so photos come out all flecky. The only good pic I got was taken straight ahead through the driver’s cabin ->

Just 15 minutes later we arrived…

Next we had to work out where we should head on foot…

There are countless routes/paths here, but out of all of them there are three main ones that tend to be offered to tourists on a short visit: (i) a circular path that lasts around nine kilometers to the monastery and back, with a rise in altitude of 500+ meters; (ii) taking the funicular up, and then walking back down in around 40 minutes; and (iii) the funicular first again, then a walk to the top, and then a path back down (also 9km, but just 200m up along the vertical, with the same descent of 500+m).

We opted for (i) – the full circular path…

Bicycles are forbidden. And it’s strictly enforced: there are even bike-proof squiggly gateways you have to walk through:

One route back down goes something like in the next pic. No thank you! You can hardly call that a path, plus there are no magical views to be had therefrom. Why would anyone choose it? Ah – maybe to save the funicular fare? ) ->

So, what’s the optimal routing? Here’s what I think…

To see as many of the amazing views as possible, while also not turning the whole endeavor into a herculean effort, here’s the plan: take the funicular up to near the very top; from there, walk the rest to the peak; walk back down on the same path you’ve just come up; and then carry on walking all the way back down to where you started out (i.e., without the funicular).

Another squiggly-gate. Maybe they’re installed to limit wild animals’ movements too? ->

The path is sturdy enough, and mostly straight all the way. In places the path is cut into the rockface; for example, here you can see it cross the cliff in the middle ->

Onward – toward that there mast ->

Occasionally the monastery comes back into view:

Those tiny specks on the peak there I do believe are Homo sapiens! I hope we’re not heading all the way up there ->

Ah, I see: they’re rock climbers! ->

Mind-blowing views. And they keep changing the further round you walk ->

The mast gets nearer…

And the cliffs take on yet further forms ->

Two Jabba-the-Hutts bottom right, something alien in the middle ->

Informative signage occasionally so you can check you’re going the right way ->

Nearly there!…

Up top there’s this here viewing platform, with this here installation with inscriptions in Spanish (or Catalonian) showing what lies in which direction and how far away ->

In the afternoon some ominous cloud cover appeared, but at least it only produced the slightest of occasional drizzle and didn’t spoil the views all around ->

Unexpected! ->

Another viewing platform for a different take on the surroundings ->

And there’s the parking lot by the railroad station I showed you earlier where we left the car ->

And what goes up, must come down…

We took the path all the way back down Montserrat; however, I don’t recommend your doing the same (should you ever come here, dear readers). A much better idea would be to walk down just to the upper station of the funicular, here:

And there’s another path we could have taken; there are indeed plenty ->

That one goes to this here little house; we’ll take that route next time…

And here’s a mini-museum all about the geological origins of magical Montserrat ->

…In a nutshell:

That reminded me of Table Mountain above Cape town, which was once (millions of years ago) a valley through mountains.

What else? Ah yes: from the top of Montserrat in good weather (and also not so good) you can see the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees – some hundred kilometers away ->

But it’s the views in the foreground that steal the show:

After a while the path down is made of concrete, and is nice and wide:

It’s not all that far to walk, but you can peel off the main path onto lesser ones toward various interesting objects. There are even “secret” turns, which seem to have been designed specially so as to be missed by tourists; not by me though – on my third attempt I found this one! ->

…Which should take us to that there cross over there ->

…And indeed it did! ->

The views all around continued to astonish ->

And that was that. Time to get down to the monastery (which you can go inside for the price of a ticket), a bite to eat, the train, then back to Barcelona…

According to our smartphones, our walk saw us cover some 15km, which took us around five hours at a very steady pace with lots of photography stops. In all – a great walk. Recommended! And for us – Montserrat: done.

PS: about the rock here…

Our fan-clubbers were asking what kind of rock Montserrat is made up of; is it granite, or something softer like shell limestone or sandstone?

My answer: it’s neither granite, shell limestone, nor sandstone…

Up close, you can clearly see that the rock’s made up of a mixture stones of various shapes and sizes, plus sand and clay. But it looks denser than sandstone…

Curiously, I’d seen something very similar late last year in China and was similarly astonished there too:

And I once saw something similar in Australia, only in red:

And that’s how it goes: the result of the destruction of ancient mountains, what’s left all scrunched up together, it becomes a solid mass, then turns into stone, then gets pushed upward tectonically – each stage taking millions of years. At least, so it seems to me – though I’m not geologist!

The rest of the photos from Barcelona and environs are here.

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