Our first day trip began with a visit to Montserrat mountain, located fifty minutes west of Barcelona. Montserrat means “serrated” in Catalan and it’s easy to see why this distinctive rocky range was given this name. The highest peak of Sant Jeroni is 1,200 meters above sea level and can be seen from far away. The views into the landscape from the mountaintop are grand as well, and on a clear day – like the day we were there – you could practically touch the snow-capped Pyrenees that border Spain and France. The mountain is a designated natural park and there are a variety of trails visitors can explore. It is also home to the Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat, founded in 1025, although the mountain has been known for its religious significance going back to when the Romans built a temple to worship Venus in pre-Christian times.
The site is probably most famously known for housing the Virgin of Montserrat, a Black Madonna, which was reportedly found in a cave on Montserrat in the 9th century. After the monastery was established, news traveled about the Black Madonna and the miracles that were attributed to her, and pilgrims came from all over the world to see her. Legend has it that the statue refused to be moved from where it was found by becoming so heavy that it, literally, could not be relocated; so the chapel was built around it. Along with Sant Jordi, La Moreneta is the patron saint of Catalonia. Pilgrims still come today just to see the Black Madonna, and we had the opportunity to test her powers by touching the orb of the earth that she is holding in her right hand and making three wishes. We’ll see if they come true in 2017.
Alex showed us a few other highlights around the monastery, and then we took a leisurely walk to The Cross of St. Michael, which afforded a spectacular view of the valley below. Then we were left on our own with some free time to do as we pleased. We visited the market stalls where farmers sold local cheese and honey (we purchased both), and then we went to hear the famous Escolania de Montserrat, the boys choir whose music school dates back to the 14th century.
It was time to meet up with Alex again and we headed down the mountain to stop in Monistrol, a small village at its base, for lunch in a cozy restaurant with exposed stone walls and peeling plaster, just like you would picture in an old Spanish village. We had a delicious three-course meal with wine. Already, it was a great day.
Fully sated and a little sleepy, we got back into the van and headed towards the Penedes wine region, located a little south of Barcelona and famous for cava, a sparkling wine primarily produced in Catalonia and the Penedes region. The grapes typically used are macabeu, parallada, and xarel-lo. “Cava” is from the Catalan word “cave” or “cellar,” where bottled cava is preserved and aged. The area is also known for its ecological, or organic, wineries, and local winemakers are working towards becoming a fully organic wine region.
Here we ended our day at the family-run, boutique Descregut Winery, and were given a personal tour with the winemaker, Marc, who is very passionate about his work and the different techniques used in making both wine and cava. After the tour we proceeded to the tasting room for wine and snacks. The pours were generous and delicious. We were interested in buying some bottles and having it shipped home and we were surprised to see how reasonable they were. Maybe this shouldn’t have been surprising, because we found that good wine is very reasonably priced even in restaurants in Barcelona. At about half the price for a comparable glass in the US, I was consistently impressed and this time was no different. We ordered two cases – one of cava and one of mixed reds and whites. We’re still waiting for them to arrive, but it will make a great souvenir from our trip.