If you are in Barcelona and looking for an amazing day trip, travel 1.5 hours northwest by train to Monstserrat. You will not regret the experience of climbing up to Sant Joan and along the Way Of The Cross to Santa Cova, where a statue of the Virgin Mary was believed to have been discovered inside a cave. Catholic tradition says that the statue was created around 50 AD in Jerusalem and carried to Spain, where it was hidden to protect it. It was apparently rediscovered around 880 AD. As it was being carried off the mountain, it became too heavy to move, and a monastery was built around it. Many miracles were reported through prayer to the Virgin Mary at Montserrat. The Benedictine monk mountain is considered one of the best sites for religious pilgrimage in the world and many will stand in line for hours to see the Black Virgin inside the basilica. The monastery was founded in the 11th century although a chapel was first mentioned there in the 9th century.
The serrated mountain (mont serrat) is also ideal for the outdoorsy type as you can climb, hike and explore the national park. It’s highest peak is at 4,055 feet! The sites of hermits’ caves are pointed out along the walk, they are built inside a cavity that is formed in the rock face. If you don’t want to spend the entire day working up a sweat climbing up every path there are funicular railways that can take you up to starting points for both Sant Joan and Santa Cova. These trains were originally built in 1918 and 1929 and can take you up to 1,000 meters above sea level in only 7 minutes.
Antoni Gaudí, Puig i Cadaflach and Domènech i Montaner are some of the famous modernisme architects whose works sit in Eixample, Barcelona. This architecture style flourished in Barcelona when the medieval walls of the city were torn down for expansion (eixample) in 1854. Although it was built on a grid system there are two diagonal avenues and architect Domènech i Montaner, out of spite (he detested the grid system) angled the hospital looking down one of these streets towards Sagrada Familia to disrupt the pattern.
Starting from Passeig de Gràcia you are immediately confronted with the bold and convention-defying designs of Gaudí. Casa Batlló was completed in 1906 but still remains just as much of a statement today. The stunning dragon back roof top is a mosaic containing pieces of glass and ceramic discs. Casa Milà (also known as La Pedrera), a rippled apartment building further up the street was built around two circular courtyards. Like many of Gaudí’s designs, the rooftop is a highlight with sculpted chimneys. Some have been described as having a threatening appearance and are known as witch-scarers. The Casa Milà was Gaudí’s last completed work in the city before devoting himself to the Sagrada Família, Europe’s most unconventional church. Gaudí began work on the church in 1883 and devoted his life to it from 1914 – 1926, the year he died. At the time of his death only one tower had been completed however work resumed after the civil war and continues today to complete his original design. When it is finished 12 towers will stand, one for each apostle. The church can be seen from the city’s surrounding hills for a greater understanding on just how large this project is.
After, we walked up to Park Güell where you imagine yourself being in a fairytale as you walk through the entrance pavilions, they look like gingerbread houses. The mosaics and serpentine bench collage are some of the most captivating features of the park and the works of Josep Maria Jujol. The paths lead you up to the Hill of the Crosses where there are panoramic views over the city. As you walk towards the top, the path is to project spiritual elevation. The carved-out pathways with angled pillars made out of stone are incredible to walk through.
The bottom of La Rambla was our starting point for the day as we set out to explore the old town area of Barcelona. This tree lined street was actually once a river, with a 13th century city wall following it. At the bottom of La Rambla is a monument to Columbus overlooking the street and sea. Just off La Rambla, is one of the first works of the famous architect Antoni Gaudi, Palau Güell. The spire-like chimneys are the only hint of colour that can be seen from the street. For some fresh fruit, fish or meat be sure to stop at Boqueria food market. The market originated from the 13th century and today is one of the top markets in the world! If you have the time you can even sign up for a cooking class there.
After that, we began to wander through the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), the oldest part of the city chosen by the Romans. The Barcelona Cathedral stands on the old foundation of a Roman temple. The interior is beautiful and can be accessed anytime before noon for free, however make sure you’re covered up! We saw many women attempt to enter the church in shorts or thin straps on dresses but were required to wrap a scarf around their waist and shoulders before entering. Men wearing sleeveless shirts were also turned back. Don’t worry though, a man and woman were selling scarves out front from €0.50.
From the Gothic Quarter we worked our way to Parc de la Ciutadella and Arc del Triomf, the main gateway to the 1888 International Exhibition. In the gardens is an incredible ornamental cascade designed by Joseph Fontsere and a young Antoni Gaudi. There is also a boating lake and although we never saw any, parrots living in the palm trees.
Today my husband and I climbed up the 213 meter hill of Montjuïc to an 18th century fortress, Castell de Montjuïc. There is an option to take a cable car to the top however you will miss out on the great scenic stops along the way so if you are fit, or want to be, take the trails. As a bonus, on the way down there is a slide to take as an alternative route to one of the large set of stairs. The fortress was originally built for the defense of Barcelona.
On the north side of the hill, in 1929 the Palau Nacional (National Palace) was built for the International Exhibition. After visiting this building, it is unbelievable to imagine that it was intended to be demolished soon after the exhibition! Fortunately it was preserved and today is home to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Looking down from the Palau Nacional is Placa d’Espanya, where two 47 meter brick venetian towers mark the entry for the exhibition. The fountain in the middle of what is now a round about was once the site of the public gallows until they were moved in 1715.
The third must see area on Montjuïc Hill is the Anella Olímpica (Olympic Ring), where the 1992 Olympics took place. Estadi Lluis Company’s building, where the opening and closing ceremonies were held, was originally built for the 1929 exhibition, over 60 years before the Olympics. Of course the interior of the stadium was completely rebuilt and expanded, and now contains 65,000 seats.