This is an easy day trip, although the 9:30am departure seemed painfully early once we had grown accustomed to 10 or 11pm dinners. Our guide was meant to give the tour in English, but repeated everything in a passable Italian to accommodate an Italian couple. I noticed that while her accent was quite good, her vocabulary slipped a few notches when she wasn't reading from the prepared script. Her English was more heavily accented than her Italian, however, leading to moments of utter confusion when she would say things like "There is a George where they found the banana". It took us a while to translate that into "There is a church where they found the Madonna".
The trip to Montserrat takes 45 minutes, culminating in a dramatic drive up the mountain and arrival at the monastery proper. It is nestled into a cradle inside a semi-circle of outlandishly shaped cones and spires, smoothed into seamless curves by what was once a vast sea, or so the guide informed us. She gave equal time to the theory that angels built the mountain overnight.
Prominent among the monastery's sand-colored buildings is the Royal Basilica, which houses Montserrat's main claim to fame, a sculpture of a black Madonna and Child. The line forms outside the Basilica at about 11am, snaking through every nook and cranny of the Basilica (making for a sort of unguided tour of its mosaic work, fine marble, and religious art). A series of small signs reading "Silenci", "Silencio", "Schweigen", and finally "Silence" topped the door to each consecutive chapel that we passed through. Finally you are whisked past the statue, protected by glass except for a protruding golden globe that the Virgin holds out for the faithful to touch (or in the case of the nun behind me in line, to kiss) before being herded back out and into the alley beside the basilica.
We barely had time to discuss the health hazards of kissing the globe after hundreds of people had touched it, when we noticed that the choir had begun their daily performance back in the basilica. These 50 gifted boys are hand-picked from all over the country. They live at the monastery and are schooled in both music and other subjects by the 80 Benedictine monks. Aged 10-14, their schooling is paid for in equal parts by their parents, the monks, and the government. In return, they travel the world singing and performing as goodwill ambassadors for their native Spain.
Don't miss the ride up the funicular of Sant Joan (adults 975 pta), which rewards with a breathtaking view of the Pyrenees, the mountain range separating Spain from France. There are a few trails at the top of the mountain, so if you've got time, bring some lunch from the cafeteria down at the monastery and make an afternoon of it.
We were back in Barcelona by 2:30pm, still pondering what our guide meant by "The mummy at the monks' reunion"...