THOUGH VISITORS TO MONTSERRAT are generally encouraged to look beyond the scenery, it seems almost impossible not to derive aesthetic pleasure from the site. Four thousand feet above the valley floor, Santa Maria de Montserrat perches atop pink conglomerate rock, distinctive by a sawtoothed or "serrated" appearance that lends the mountain its name. Montserrat houses the highest point in the Catalan lowlands from which, on a clear day, you can see forever; earth, cloud and sky, supposedly all of Spain, including Mallorca.
I visited Montserrat, at last, with the boyfriend, one pre-autumn Sunday afternoon. From Barcelona, the journey takes less than two hours by train, with a ticket inclusive of a connecting 15-minute rack-railway ride up the mountain, or a 5-minute ascent via cable car. We took the latter which, on that pleasant day, proved scenic.
Up at the monastery are two main blocks housing the basilica, the cloister, plazas, patios, the Museum of Montserrat, the Abat Cisneros hotel and the Publicacions de l'Abadia de Montserrat, one of the world's oldest publishing houses still in operation. Outside of the complex are various trails for trekking, as well as a scattering of chapels, former hermitages nestled amidst the mountain crags.
The highlight of most every trip up Montserrat is a visit paid to La Moreneta, the dark-skinned patroness of Catalunya. Enshrined in the basilica, the wooden Romanesque sculpture dates back to the 12th century, with origins shrouded in various legends. I caught a mere micro-glimpse of her, a blur of dark wood, glass and gold, before shuffling along to give way to the rest of a crawling queue. Time may not be a luxury when seeing the dusky lady, but elsewhere in the abbey are many areas for restful and reflective meandering.
However impressive the architecture and the vistas, the nearly thousand-year-old monastery offers more than meets the eye. Having endured and flourished through the centuries, Montserrat is an important symbol for Catalunya's religious, cultural and ecological values, prized and preserved by its people.
Nonetheless, I hardly think it a crime to revel in the monastery's aesthetic aspects. After all, beauty exists in nature, in culture and in symbols of the divine. Can one help feeling inspired?
Santa Maria de Montserrat, Catalunya. www.montserratvisita.com Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.