The day that I hiked to the top of Montserrat was easily the most stunning, yet most terrifying day of my life.
I’m here to tell you what I did wrong (and share some stunning photos) so that when you hike Montserrat in Spain, (and you really should) you won’t make the same dumb mistakes that I did.
So here goes…
As an avid hiker, it was easy for me to put Montserrat on my list of must-do’s while in Spain. It’s only an hour away from Barcelona by train, looked absolutely stunning, and allowed me to do some hiking. Done deal.
While planning, I found that you can pay to take the funicular or the cable car to get to the monastery. Alternately, you can hike up from the train for free. Being both frugal, and not one to turn down a challenge, I idiotically decided that I would be hiking up.
So fast forward, and I’m leaving my Airbnb in Barcelona heading for Montserrat. I hit up La Boqueria and buy a fresh juice, a bunch of meat and cheese, a fruit cup, a sandwich, and what some would call too much chocolate. I highly recommend that you buy food and bring with you, as it’s much more expensive when you get up the mountain. Plus, everything from La Boqueria is absolutely delicious, so you can’t go wrong.
I took the subway to Placa Espanya and then from there, it was the R5 train to Monistrol de Montserrat. I followed the instructions in this blog post and began my hike through the town and up the mountain. The blog post was very helpful in helping me navigate through the town. However, I feel like they downplayed how difficult the hike up was going to be, especially since I took the “easier” route up.
I’m a pretty fit person and I had to stop SEVERAL times and sit down to take a break and refuel with chocolate and or meat sticks. Mind you, I was wearing Keds sneakers, so not the best shoes. But STILL. By the time I got to the Santa Cova Chapel, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to keep going for the rest of the day.
ALSO, I wanted to hike up the mountain for the views along the way. Turns out, the views are (obviously) marvellous from the top, so let me just tell you now that I really don’t think it’s worth the time or energy to hike up.
Anyways, I obviously mustered up the strength to go on and made my way up to the Monastery. It’s honestly such an awe-inspiring spot tucked up in the mountains and I love a lot of the shots that I got. You’ll find the stairway to heaven up here as well. Unfortunately, there is a fence around it now so you can’t climb to the top, but still cool to see.
After a brief lunch in the Monastery courtyard, I got back on my feet and made my way to the Creu de Sant Miguel. If you want that drool-worthy Instagram shot of the entire monastery from a distance – THIS is where you need to be. It was nothing short of absolutely breathtaking.
For the rest of the afternoon I hiked to various different chapels all through the mountains. About every 5 minutes I would stop to take photos because I was constantly in awe of the different mountain formations.
The ultimate goal for me was hiking to the highest point in the mountain range – Sant Jeroni. Sant Jeroni is 1,236m above sea level and has an insane panoramic view of the surrounding mountains from the top. To get there, it’s obviously a very steep hike and some very questionably safe staircases. It’s also VERY windy up there. I met some people from Chicago when I was at the top and even they said it was windy, so you know I’m not exaggerating.
After I got my fill of the view, I started making my way back down towards the monastery. I was in no real rush and was taking my time, snapping more photos along the way. I went a different route than the one I came up so I was subject to more amazing vantage points of the mountains and monastery below.
This is where I get REALLY annoyed with myself. I planned this entire trip months in advance and spent DAYS doing so, pouring over every blog post I could find to ensure I missed nothing that I wanted to see. But in all the planning, I somehow forgot to check the schedule for the last funicular and cable cars going back down the mountain to the train.
I went in late September, which is not peak season, so by the time I got back down to the monastery, the last cable car and funicular had left.
There weren’t any people around, so I figured my only way to get back down the mountain was to hike down. I would just use the instructions that I had and would re-trace my steps. Easy.
So, I start hiking back down and was in a fairly care-free mood to begin with, optimistically thinking that I could get back down before it got dark. I was taking videos on the way down for my Instagram stories, joking about how I should have checked the times and even stopped to take this lovely shot:
But then, the darkness started coming on rather quickly, replacing my blasé attitude with the first inklings of fear.
I went for as long as I could without a light, but eventually, had to use the flashlight on my phone to illuminate the tumultuous, yet barely distinguishable path before me. I could have easily twisted/broken my ankle, or could have tripped on a rock out of the perimeter of my light and have plunged to my death over the edge of the cliff. Seriously, guard rails do not exist in Europe.
At this point, I was starting to get pretty nervous given I was ALONE in a foreign country hiking down the side of what seemed to be a never-ending mountain in the pitch black. When it came to the fork in the path for the easy or the hard route, I didn’t even think and just headed in the direction I knew the town was.
Turns out, this was the harder route. I had taken the easy route up, so the hard route was unfamiliar to me, and of course, much steeper. For the most part, the path is marked with paint on the rocks, so it’s very difficult to actually see the markers when shrouded in darkness.
About half way down, I had a very hard time distinguishing where the path actually was. I thought the path was straight down, so I started to crab crawl down a steep incline of boulders with my phone clenched between my teeth trying to light my way. Balance was paramount at this point, because if I fell, something was definitely going to break and it would probably be my skull. Thorns were tearing at my legs and arms, leaving a bloody mess in their wake. After a few minutes, the panic started creeping in and I grew hesitant that I was going the right way. I stood up and tried to see in the darkness, but it was impossible to tell if this opened up to the path below or if I was completely off the trail.
As the panic threatened to overwhelm me, I tried desperately to keep it in check and not break down crying. I was completely and utterly alone with absolutely no one around to help me.
Was I going the right way? Do I retrace my steps back to the top to make sure? But what if this is the right way? This seems way too intense to be the path? But it is the hard way so who knows?! I didn’t want to waste more time going back up if I was already on the correct path.
After a minute of frantically searching my surroundings in vain, I took a deep breath and tried to calm down.
I decided that I had to be on the wrong path. At no other point in my hike was the path so overgrown that brambles were tearing at me. So, I carefully climbed back up the boulders and found my way to the top.
Thank God I did, because I was 100% going the wrong way.
Once I returned to the right path, I tried to pick up the pace and get back down to the town as fast as I could. Every sound that I heard or every scrape of my backpack against a branch sent a shiver of fear up my spine. What if there was someone out here? Could someone be following me? I’ll be honest, I scare pretty easily and have an overactive imagination, so trying to stay calm was proving to be an enormous challenge.
I just kept telling myself over and over that every step I took, I was getting closer to the train station and to safety.
After what felt like hours, The path finally started to level out and things began looking more familiar. Houses got closer, and eventually I found myself in the welcome glow of a streetlamp.
I basically ran through the town back to the train station and cried just a few tears of relief once I was safely seated on the bench waiting for a train.
Literally a minute after sitting down, it started pouring rain. Like torrential downpour. I can’t even imagine what I would have done had that rain caught me on the mountain.
I think I was in shock when I got to the train. I know it’s not like I was hanging on for dear life from the side of the cliff, but there were points on that hike back down that I had to use all of my strength and balance to keep from getting gravely injured. Not to mention keeping my mounting panic in check. I had absolutely no one else to rely on, but myself and that’s pretty damn terrifying.
SO, long story short, check the times that the funicular and the cable cars leave the mountain, don’t bother hiking up from the town, pack a lunch and you should be well on your way to having an amazing day at Montserrat!
If you’ve gone, I’d love to hear your stories and experiences!