Last Friday, taking advantage of the Spanish National Holiday, we decided to go on a trip somewhere with Nix. The chosen destination was Montserrat. Actually, the name means “serrated mountain” in Catalan, due to the mountains’ form. There is a monastery at the top, famous for both its location and its choir boys. However, the mountain is also known for its walks / hiking opportunities and for rock climbing.
There are several ways to get to the monastery: by car (although parking is limited at the top, and tends to fill early in the morning), by train (a rack railway train, in fact) or by an aerial cable car. My favourite option is the rack railway; I hate the drive to the top with the winding road, and I love travelling by train. I have to admit, though, that I’ve never tried the aerial cable car.
Taking the Train
On Friday we decided to drive to the rack railway station and take the train there. The train station has a very big parking lot and I think it’s a far better option than driving all the way to the monastery. It’s also very well-connected. It’s close to a motorway and it also connects to another the railway that goes to and from Barcelona. Another advantage is that dogs are allowed in the trains, as long as they wear a muzzle.
The first problem we had was that we had forgotten Nix’s muzzle at home. Fortunately, apart from tickets, they also sell muzzles at the ticket offices. I was surprised by the variety of muzzles they had; I guess it happens often that people either forget to bring the muzzles or they just don’t know that they need one for their dog.
The second problem was how crowded it was. There was quite a long queue to buy the train tickets and once we got to the platform it was packed. Fortunately the train arrived soon enough and we were able to get in. Nix behaved pretty well on our way up, although you could she see was uncomfortable wearing the muzzle.
The Walk to Santa Cova
Our intention from the very beginning was to go on some of the walks. I was hoping that, at some point, we’d be able to unleash Nix and let her run free. Unfortunately, that was not to be.
The first walk we chose was the one to the Sacred Cave. This cave is where the Virgin of Montserrat (also called “La Moreneta”, which can be translated to something similar to “The Tanned One”) appeared, and for this reason they built a small chapel into the rock.
The path to get to the cave goes down the mountain and is paved all the way, which I didn’t know. It wasn’t the best choice: it was full of people, especially in the area closest to the monastery, and I was hoping to walk on dirt, not artificial pavement. Once we got the cave, we took turns going in while Nix waited outside.
The way back to the monastery wasn’t particularly easy. It was sunny and hot, and the slope was pretty steep. We were going uphill, this time! We had to stop at least two or three times on our way up, because I was tired and I’m still recovering from my broken ankle. Be aware, though, that you can always take a cable car to get to and from the Santa Cova. You’ll still have to walk a little, but you’ll skip the worst part of the walk.
Lunchtime and Walking to Els Degotalls
By the time we got back to the monastery area it was lunchtime, so we took a break while we ate the sandwiches that we had brought from home. We were lucky to find a very quiet spot to ourselves in the shadow. Nix also rested a little bit. I think bringing sandwiches was a great idea on Manel’s part, since the restaurants were very crowded (or so it seemed from the outside). If you decide to bring your own food, there are also many water drinking fountains around. We had brought our own water, but when we ran out it we refilled our bottles with fountain water. It tasted a bit funny, but it was fine.
After lunch, we went for our second and last walk. At this point I had already realised that perhaps our day trip hadn’t been such a great idea, because of the crowds and the fact that Nix had been leashed the whole time. She actually looked a bit restless the whole time.
For our second walk, we chose the route to “Els Degotalls” (something like “The Drippings”). The name comes from the fact that the rocks at the end of the walk used to have water dripping from them. I loved this walk. It was in the shadow, it wasn’t paved, and it was very flat. Nix also seemed to enjoy herself more, although she was still leashed. Although we met some people and dogs along the way, it wasn’t as crowded as the walk to Santa Cova (probably because it was lunchtime) and it was much more pleasant.
Leaving and When to Visit Next
Before leaving Montserrat, I did some souvenir shopping for our families and then went inside the monastery to light a couple of candles, one for my grandma. I was very lucky, as most people wanted to visit the church and there was quite a long queue, but I could get in the candle area without waiting.
Although it was still early afternoon, all of us were tired and my foot had started to make me uncomfortable. So we decided to leave. We found some seats on the rack railway train back and Nix immediately lied on the floor to rest. Back in the car, she slept for the whole trip back home. Actually, I also fell asleep.
What I’ve learnt from this last visit to Montserrat is that it’s better to avoid high season at all costs, especially longer weekends and if you’re taking your dog. If we ever visit again, I’ll try to organise it so that we can stay the night (things are very quiet in the evening / night, when daily visitors are gone) and on a day when it’s not so crowded.