There were elephants, apes, cats (both wild and tame), and there were giants. Lots of them. We were not a zoo or a carnival. Nor were we at the circus. We were on the top of a mountain in Spain. If you’ve been there, you will know Montserrat is nothing short of wondrous.
“Look,” my daughter pointed her finger to a grouping of stone figures peering down upon our arrival, “They’re elephants. Except that one. That’s a monkey.”
Wonder is even better when it is shared.
“That,” I added to her assessment, “Is most definitely a giant and it looks like he’s lost one of his four arms.” The figure stood directly over our rooms, as if in constant guard. A sentinel watching pilgrims come and go over thousands of years. To be in the presence of these giants in stone is nothing short of amazing. It is both humbling and mind-boggling. How did they get here? One wonders. How did we get here?
Life’s existential questions hover with you above the clouds and you are certain you must have ascended into another world. A world of stone gods.
They are not unkind. The atmosphere on Montserrat is both welcoming and peaceful. To all. Even though Christian hands have stamped their marks throughout its 4,000 plus feet of peaks and valleys.
Legends tell of a group of shepherds in the year 888 who encountered the presence of the divine while wandering near the top of Montserrat. Beams of holy light shone down upon them and the song of angels and bells filled the air. Each time they returned, they were met with the same holy welcome, which led them to a cave holding an icon of the black Madonna and child, “La Moreneta.”
Montserrat is not only revered by Christians, but by all types of seekers. It is said that the templars sought the Holy Grail here. Numerous UFO sightings have been reported, and there are legends of abductions and strange encounters with other dimensions. Caves channel through the mountain’s body and one gets the sense that its secrets will never been fully revealed.
If I could have stayed here longer, I would have. Maybe for a month, maybe years…
As it was, though, we had less than 24-hrs to explore a small part of the mountain’s mysteries.
We arrived by car to the parking area below the Benedictine monastery, and the small village that includes a hotel, hostal, apartments, shops, and transport stations.
If truth be told, we almost didn’t make it. Montserrat, we soon realized, welcomes you, but also tests your limits. For my husband, it was trusting the mountain would not careen us over its edge as he carefully drove us towards its top. His fear put us all on edge, testing us individually and as a family. I grew impatient as I calculated how much time we had already lost. Acceptance comes when one takes the gift as it can be welcomed only by you. For us, it was our brief, yet magical stay on the mountain.
We were greeted with a perfect day. The sun shining almost within reach through a nearly windless and cloudless expanse of endless sky. You really do feel as though you are on top of the world when you reach the summit of the mountain.
We took the funicular from the village to the summit, then walked back down to the village area. By the time we checked into our hotel and wandered a bit around the abbey (abandoning the chance to see La Moreneta due to the long, inching line), it was nearing the end of the day. We got one of the last runs up the mountain and had just enough time before the sunset to meander our way down, veering just slightly off-course now and then to explore and test limits.
Despite a few tugs of temptation, we stayed the course and followed the well-marked, mostly-paved path. The views are stunning no matter where you are on the mountain, the trail of serrated rock formations instill awe at each turn. We even found a dragon, in stone, meandering down one side. Perfect.
I felt like I had found heaven. Not a perfect heaven, but just the kind-of heaven I prefer. One that awes, but also tests in order to learn.
Even dinner was pretty close to being divine, and we very nearly didn’t get one. Well, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but when my husband called for reservations the night before, he was told they were all booked. Most likely a miscommunication, the information lost and muddled in translation, we found this was in fact not the case. Upon our check-in I had no trouble reserving us a table for 7:45pm.
Our three-course, very reasonably priced meals, came with a large soup or salad (I got the pumpkin soup, which was, yes, divine), a generous and tasty entree, and dessert. If you go, make sure to choose the local cheese and Montserrat honey as one of our dessert options.
Sleeping at Montserrat is deliberately short of luxurious. Even the hotel rooms are furnished in a spartan style that favors celibacy. We had two adjoining twins adorned in plaid earth tones. A bible was the centerpiece of each of our night tables.
The close of day releases all but the committed travels down the mountain, and the village of Montserrat turns into a place of solitude and peace. Except for the bells, which we discovered as we attempted to slumber, ring out the time every quarter-hour. As we struggled with sleep in our rooms without air-condition, windows ajar, letting in the mountain air and the holy bells, I no longer wondered why there were so few of us spending the night.
Yet, I was glad we did.
Night atop Montserrat opens another portal to the heavens. Stars break through the canvas of day to shine in all their rapture. The big dipper was clearly visible as it dove its ladle into the bodies of the giants. It is magical. Other-worldly. An experience one will never forget.
Dawn, in turn, brings with it a quiet splendor as the sun ascends above the clouds and the monks make their way to the abbey.
Breakfast, although more casual in-style, is also impressive at the hotel. It is included with your stay and arrives in buffet style in the informal dining room. Aside from various pastries and fruit, a selection of meats, cheeses, yogurts, cereals, and beverages are offered. We did not leave hungry.
But we also did not linger too long. We needed to return our car by 10:30am, which became another adventure in itself…
It was with more than a twinge of reluctance that I said goodbye to Montserrat as we made out way down from its spectacular heights. Someday, perhaps, I will get a chance to return.