After coming up with that title, this song and movie are now going through my head….
Although it was sort of difficult to find the motivation to leave Sitges for a day as we loved it so much, the Mr. and I decided we should take advantage of our location and try to see something else in the area while we were there. My Spain guidebook had a spread on Montserrat Monastery about an hour’s drive from Sitges.
Montserrat (or Santa Maria de Montserrat as it is officially named) is nestled in an incredibly impressive location, having been built right into the mountainside at the highest point in the Catalan lowlands. Originally founded in the 11th century, it grew in importance and became an abbacy in the 15th century. During the French War (1808-1818), all of the monks were slaughtered and the abbey was abandoned. In 1844 restoration began, and Montserrat was slowly transformed to the monastery-sanctuary of today. It is perhaps most famous for housing the Virgin of Montserrat, and for its publishing house which is one of the oldest in the world that is still in operation. Its first book was published in 1499.
What was perhaps most impressive to the Mr. and I, however, was the number of tourists who visit Montserrat on any given day. It’s a popular stop for tour buses, and we counted bus after bus descending from the mountain while we drove up in the early afternoon. We were almost expecting it to be empty by the time we arrived, but we found instead the coach parking lot practically full, and many, many private cars as well. It was a weekday in April, and it was a very busy place indeed. But the monastery is more than able to provide for so many visitors. The first building you encounter after you’ve parked your car and head towards the monastery is a large sort of welcome center, which features a smaller cafe and gift shop on the first floor, as well as a large cafeteria-style restaurant and a more formal restaurant on the lower floor. Although the cafeteria we ate lunch in wasn’t full to capacity, one could imagine just how busy this place could be on a weekend in the summertime.
After lunch, we wandered towards the center of the monastery, although it was difficult to tell where one should go as the monastery is laid out almost like a small village with winding streets in between various buildings. Although in many ways Montserrat provides visitors with all the facilities they might need in terms of food, restrooms and gift shops, I was really disappointed about the lack of information about the site itself. I had expected we would be able to learn more about the monastery’s history (especially considering its tragic past), perhaps in a museum or even just on sign posting. But nowhere could we find information about the actual monastery. It was almost as if (apart from the Virgin of Montserrat which has a long history of pilgrimage), there was little to really see apart from the impressive location and the gift shops. Many people do come to enjoy the natural landscape as apparently there are good walks you can do in the surrounding area, and you can reach the monastery by a funicular which I suppose is an attraction all unto itself; but I felt like there was little to experience there that’s actually connected to the monastery and its history.
Still, I’d recommend Montserrat if only for its stunning location. And the cafeteria lunch was pretty good, too.