Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week, I’ve been chatting to Ashley Smith of the travel blog My Wanderlusty Life about a great day out from Barcelona. Ashley is a mountain climbing, beer loving, book reading world traveller with big dreams and not nearly enough vacation days. Though born in Tennessee, she is currently based out of Boston where she eats way too much lobster. Her travels are focused on seeing as much of this beautiful world as possible with what little time she has available off from her full-time job.
Hi Ashley! What made you want to visit Montserrat…
While on a short trip to Barcelona with a friend, we committed one day to visiting the monastery of Montserrat, technically known as “Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey.” This mountaintop monastery is located about an hour’s train ride from the center of Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain. Not being at all religious myself, I still find I’m drawn to religious sites when traveling. I don’t think anything tells a better history of a place and its people than a cathedral, monastery, or temple. I found this one to be particularly fascinating because of its location, atop and seemingly carved out of some very unique mountains. The monastery is a significant religious pilgrimage site with a very interesting history and home to the rare black Virgin Mary.
How was the weather?
Spain in June is my favourite kind of weather – hot. Having been raised in the American South I’m familiar with and quite fond of hot summer weather and intense sunshine so it was right up my alley. Of course, the breezy mountaintops make for a much more pleasant atmosphere for most travellers.
Sounds perfect for a day trip from Barcelona. What did you get up to in Montserrat?
Everyone travels to Montserrat to visit the monastery. Other than some hiking and via ferrata trails, there isn’t much else. Don’t get me wrong, the monastery is huge and you can still find small shops, an art museum, and restaurants all on the property. The main draw to the monastery is visiting the statue of the Black Madonna. People wait in line for hours to spend just a moment with her but lucky for us the wait wasn’t all that long (on a Monday afternoon). The statue is encased in glass with a portion of the orb she holds exposed. Touch the orb and say a prayer (or whatever else you prefer to do) for one of the most spiritual moments you can experience.
Outside the monastery, the scenery is like nothing you’ve ever seen. We spent some time exploring the property and the funky serrated mountains. Also, there are a couple of ways to get to the monastery from the train station and my recommendation is the funicular. It’s small, fast, and not for the acrophobic but you are awarded some fantastic views that you couldn’t get otherwise.
What was your highlight?
The highlight of the trip was definitely visiting the Black Madonna. As I mentioned, I’m not religious, but seeing the power this statue and its traditions have on visitors was incredible. Imagining just how many people over the centuries travelled from all over the world to spend just a few seconds with her blows your mind. And to experience it for yourself? That is truly something magical.
Spirituality, history and great views – sounds like a pretty amazing trip. Did you find anything else to do?
Outside the monastery is a line of local craftsmen (and craftswomen). Some of the best cheeses I’ve ever tasted were from these local merchants. Definitely take your time at these booths as they let you sample almost everything they’re selling. Cheese, honey, nuts, meats, and they pack it all for travelling. My biggest tip, start at the first table on the left and ask for the “Oh My God Goat Cheese.” You won’t regret it.
Great tip, thanks! Do you have any other advice for anyone headed to Montserrat from Barcelona?
Other than “eat the cheese,” always my number one travel tip, I’d say reserve an entire day for your trip here. There are many trails through the mountains around the monastery and you will want to take your time. Visit all the shops, have lunch, tour the art museum, relax on the terrace. Also, make sure to dress appropriately for entrance into the church. You know, shoulders and knees covered. And visit the Black Madonna. Don’t let the line scare you off; the entire monastery was built around this statue so it would be foolish to miss it.
Very good tips, thanks Ashley! So now for some questions about you: What’s your favourite travel read?
My favourite travel read is “Travel as a Political Act” by Rick Steves. He absolutely nails why we should all be travelling internationally, what we can learn from other countries, and how we can all be better global citizens. This dude just has it all figured out.
What do you love most about travelling?
Besides the cheese, obviously, I’d say experiencing the unique histories of different countries. My country, the United States, is relatively young and so to visit ruins thousands of years old, ancient castles, and other sites where some of history’s most notable events took place is so fascinating to me.
NB – all images are owned by Ashley Smith