Friday, October 31, 2014

Barcelona Day Trips: Montserrat and Sitges

Sleachmour Adventures: Sitges Photo Collage
From our base camp in Barcelona, we took two easy day trips: one to Sitges, a nearby beach resort town, and the other to Montserrat, a multi-peaked mountain with hiking trails and a Benedictine Abbey. Here's a bit about each trip and logistics of getting there from Barcelona.

Located southwest of Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast, Sitges is a pretty little tourist town located on truly gorgeous beaches. From the Passeig de Gracia station in Barcelona, we took the C2 train south and arrived in Sitges 40 minutes later. The train runs every 20 minutes and costs just €7.60 roundtrip. 

From the Sitges train station, a short stroll through the old town brings you to the beach! There are 17 beaches in Sitges. We chose one of the closest (and probably more crowded) central beaches, Platja de la Ribera. The beach was breathtaking with clear turquoise water butting right up against the adorable old town. It was also very small and very busy, so we forked over €20 to secure beachside lounge chairs for the day (and wristbands that allowed us to come and go as we wanted). For lunch, we wandered through the old town, eventually deciding on El Pescadito for reasonably priced tapas (patata bravas! gazpacho!) and sangria. 

While the Barcelona beaches were fantastic, Sitges was definitely worth the day trip. The relaxed beach-town atmosphere was a pleasant change from the hustle and bustle of a large city. Please excuse the lack of photos - we packed light, left my expensive camera in the hotel safe and brought only one cell phone (in a waterproof bag), beach towels, books and a little cash. Without valuables to watch, we were able enjoy the water and waves!

After a full day of sun, sand and a bit of a burn (ouch!), we made our way back with time to shower and change for dinner. All in all, the total cost of our day trip to Sitges, including train tickets, lunch and a splurge on beach chairs rang in around €70. 

Sleachmour Adventures: Monserrat Abbey
Montserrat Abbey
Montserrat (which translates to "serrated mountains" in Catalan) is an hour train ride north west of Barcelona. The mountain is home to a famous Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat, and the Virgin of Montserrat, a black Madonna. 

Getting to Montserrat was easy, but felt complicated by the number of different ways to get there and various costs. We began our trip at Plaza Espana and followed signs to the R5 train and a booth that conveniently sold ticket packages for Montserrat. We tried using an automated machine, but were quickly confused by options (do we want the rack railway? the funicular? which end stop?), so we ended up at a ticket window where an english speak staff person answered our questions and gave us the right tickets. In the end, we paid €27.50 each for round trip train tickets from Plaza Espana to Montserrat and our choice of either the rack train or cable car to the monastery and a funicular to the peak. 

The clear day gave us breathtaking views of Montserrat as our train rolled in. We decided to take the rack train to the top, which wound its way slowly up the mountain and showed off even more impressive photo ops. The mountains were beautiful and unlike any I've seen before, peaked by sandy brown, finger-like rocks. The abbey was crowded by bus tours when we arrived, so we made our way straight to the mountain peak and enjoyed an hour-long hike along ridges and in caves that once housed monks and hermits living quiet lives of prayer. There are several hikes of various lengths and difficulty at the top of Montserrat. Spoiled by Switzerland's abundance of yellow hiking signs, we were disappointed with the poorly marked paths, which left us constantly wondering if we had wandered the wrong way. At one point we had accidentally ended up on a rock climbing path, which we did NOT have proper gear for. Oops! The views were magnificent. If you enjoy hiking, I highly recommend being better prepared than we were by bringing proper foot gear, water and your own map and allocating a few hours to exploring. 
Sleachmour Adventures: Monserrat
Monserrat Hiking
Sleachmour Adventures: Monserrat Abbey
Montserrat Abbey

After a picnic lunch, we made our way back to the funicular and down to the abbey. The abbey itself is quite pretty and offers its own beautiful views of the mountains and valley. We waited in a deceptively long line to see the Virgin of Montserrat, which is located in the very back of the gothic basilica. After an hour wait in line, we each had a quick hello, obligatory Hail Mary and a rub of the ball, before realizing the prayer chapel in back gave an excellent view of the Black Virgin without the wait in line. If you're interested in skipping the line, follow the prayer candles along the left wall outside of the church to the chapel. You won't get to touch her, but you can see her fairly well. 

The wait in line passed through a series of small, dimly lit antechambers and rooms with interesting paintings, statues and mosaics. My favorites were the metallic mosaics of female saints that glittered in the dim light. 

While waiting in line, you may notice a regular stream of people standing barefoot on a black circle in the basilica entry way, arms raised to the sky. Some believe there is an Earth Chakra or natural energy vortex that can be felt moving through you when standing in that exact spot. It's an informal process that we didn't participate in, mostly out of ignorance (Just WHAT are those crazy people doing?!?!), but I kinda wish I had. A little positive energy never hurts.

Train tickets to Montserrat were pricy, but there were no other significant expenses for the day. We bought fruit at a grocery and picked up piccolino sandwiches at a small shop in Barcelona before boarding a train, saving us a few Euros on lunch (there was a cafe in the Abbey). We caught a train back in plenty of time for dinner in Barcelona. Package train tickets and lunch cost about €65.

Sleachmour Adventures: Monserrat

There you have it: our two inexpensive and very worthwhile day trips from Barcelona.

Want to read more about our time in Barcelona? Check out posts about the Gothic Quarter and an overview of our nine day itinerary for Barcelona. 

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