Words and photos: Max Blackmore
Mix the two halves of the word around and “Montserrat” reads a bit like “serrated mountain”. Which, not coincidentally, is also what the word means in Spanish.
A pilgrimage spot for many religious Catalonians, the mountain houses an abbey as well as many other significant religious monuments. It was also used as a refuge for artists, scholars and anti-Franco politicians for years during the Civil War. And it’s only a one-hour train ride or 40-minute drive from central Barcelona, so you’d be nuts not to put down your vermut con sifon and your tapas and hit the road.
Despite religion and politics, Montserrat has become a destination for the weekend walkers, exercise nuts and extreme, wall-scrambling mountain climbers. You might even see one of them flash their arse at you as you pass by on the funicular mountain train.
You can walk up to the top from the very base of the mountain, or, as we did, from the monastery. Choose your day wisely, because if you pick a foggy day expect to spend the first part (or the whole part) of your journey disappointed. Luckily for us, only the morning of our trek was disrupted by fog.
While the fog was a bummer for some, it made for some spectacular scenery as we climbed higher and higher. It’s kind of eerie hearing the bells ringing from the monastery through the fog.
When the fog cleared, we began to spot the climbers scaling vertical granite walls. We were alerted to their presence by their excited yelling in Catalonian, or shrieks warning hikers below of a possible avalanche of boulders. If you do hear loud shouts from above, you may want to duck for cover: it could be a warning that dislodged stones are headed for you.
There’s a multitude of trails that weave all around and up the foothills of Montserrat, not that you would know it (we found no maps anywhere explaining the walking trails). You pass derelict former dwellings that isolated monks and nuns lived in many hundreds of years ago, and chapels that look straight out of a spaghetti western. There is one particular part of the climb up to St Jerome where the former dwellings are actually carved into the edge of a giant boulder, with tiny doorways nestled into the rock.
This post originally appeared in a slightly different form over on Left Foot Right Foot, a repository of ultra-casual walking guides for Australia and the world. In addition to their nice-looking website, they're also on Facebook and Instagram.
They’re still looking for budding walkers and photographers from South Australia, so if you’re in the area and know of a place worth exploring on foot, send them an email at email@example.com.
Text and images © Left Foot Right Foot.