This Montserrat tour was kindly gifted by Castlexperience Wine Tours, however, all opinions are my own.
A big thank you to Castlexperience Wine Tours for inviting me and my sister as guests on your Montserrat tapas and wine tour. If you would like more information about this company and their tours click here.
As many of you may know I am a little OCD when it comes to trip planning; from the minute I’ve booked a flight somewhere, I am scouring the web for ideas, hidden gems and handy tips to put together a kick-ass itinerary. I want to see, do and experience as much as physically possible in each place I visit, then report back to you guys – I do the leg work, so you don’t have to (check out some of my other travel posts here)! Barcelona was no exception, I spent the months coming up to my trip scouting the bloggersphere for recommendations and Montserrat kept coming up time and time again as a must-see. We only had the equivalent of a long weekend to play with on our trip but I was determined to fit in this must-visit attraction somehow! As it happened, on our last day and with the help of Castlexperience Wine Tours we made it to this fantastic place, and boy should it be on your Barcelona bucket list!!
What is Montserrat?
Montserrat is a beautiful, rugged mountain range roughly an hour’s drive outside of Barcelona. Nestled amongst the rocky mountain face is the Montserrat Abbey, a working monastery, home to the oldest boys choir in Europe and a prestigious music school. It is here that the Black Madonna has pride of place and attracts thousands of Christian pilgrims to look upon or even get to touch her. Whether you are religious or not, everyone is able to bask in the tranquillity of this beautiful place, soak in the angelic sounds of the boys choir, taste produce from the local farmers market and take in the unforgettable views (well, unless you’ve sampled too much of the monastery made liqueur that is!) that surround you.
How to See Monstserrat for Yourself?
To experience Montserrat you can get there independently by taking the train from the city centre to the base of the mountain. The train route takes a little figuring out but it’s reliable and is the cheapest way of experiencing Montserrat. From its base, you have to take another independent train service up to the monastery, or for those of you keen to try a bit of mountaineering, there is a trail up to Montserrat Abbey, though from my research it can be quite difficult to find and stick to the path, so it’s not something I would recommend unless you’re a confident hiker. Your other alternative is to take a tour. Now, as many of you know, I am all about that budget traveller lifestyle and captain cheapskate over here would definitely not be parting with her pennies unless she really thought it was worth it. However, I am all about getting the most out of my experience for what I pay and in my opinion taking a tour to visit Montserrat was definitely worth it!
So, Why Would I Choose a Tour Over Going it Solo?
Well for starters, the ease of getting there and back – no jostling with sweaty commuters or trying to figure out the tangle of train lines, you just get to recline on the air-conditioned bus and enjoy the scenery. Having an experienced guide also made the tour so much more worth it than going it alone. Although this place is open to the public, it isn’t like a museum with staff milling around available for questioning or plaques explaining what you were seeing. We would have had no idea who the Black Madonna was or anything about the Monastery, the mountain or the surrounding area had we not taken a tour. Another great thing about the tour was the extra information which made out trip so much more memorable; for instance, knowing about the farmers market which was nestled around the side of the Monastery, or the hike up to the most breathtaking views I’ve experienced in Europe to this date. We’d have probably completely missed these little gems had it not been pointed out to us by our guide. Finally, the most fabulous thing about taking a tour with Castlexperience was the perfect marriage between the cultural exploration of the Monastery in the morning and the exceptional wine tasting experience and tapas meal on the vineyard tour in the afternoon. As you guys know, I am all about seeing and doing as much as possible on my trips, and I felt like this was a fantastic way to enjoy two amazing experiences in one day.
Introducing Castlexperience Wine Tours…
These guys came highly recommended to me and I honestly couldn’t fault them either! Castlexperience Wine Tours is a fresh new company who uniquely combine cultural experiences exploring historical landmarks with wine tasting and vineyard tours – what more could anyone want?! They have caps on maximum group size of just 16 people, making the experience more personal and ensuring great interaction between the group which is definitely what we experienced on our trip. I have rarely had so much fun with a group of people I had only just met and Castlexperience Wine Tours encouraged this sort of interaction. The tours are run daily and there’s no minimum number of bookings required to run the tour so group sizes may even be more intimate still! The guides themselves were fun and informative, encouraging group participation with an easygoing attitude, we found they couldn’t do enough for us and really worked to give us the absolute best experience. Something I loved about this company is their drive to involve the local community and support the small local vineyards in the area. I am always behind a company that wants to give back to the community and these guys definitely have this ethos. What’s more, the vineyard we explored was organic and eco-friendly, now guilt-free wine is something I think we can all get behind!
What did a Tour with Castlexperience Entail?
So you know exactly what you’re getting into because if you’re like me, I like to know these things, here’s how our day with them panned out…. We were greeted by our guide at 9.45am, which allowed for a very welcome lie-in that morning. We were then invited to get settled onto our coach and sat back to enjoy the ride out to the beautiful mountains of Montserrat. During our journey, our guide introduced himself, chatted a little about the plan for the day and gave us some information about the monastery to provide some context for our visit. We were then left to relax the rest of the way, which suited us just fine!
We arrived at the base of Montserrat and boarded the little train which chugged up and down the mountain. The views on the way up to the monastery were utterly breathtaking, I could have whiled away hours just going up and down on the train! Once we disembarked at the monastery entrance we huddled around our guide who began explaining the history of the monastery, including the origins of the famed Black Madonna and lead us around various points of interest as he did so. None of this information was freely available to the public so having a guide definitely enhanced our experience. It was then time for us to have a few hours to ourselves, after a few quick recommendations from our tour guide we arranged a meeting time and place and were left to our own devices.
As part of the tour, we were given a free tasting token to sample the monastery made liqueurs from the gift shop on site. We were amazed at how beautifully blended they were and were handed a tasty sugared bread to soak up and complement the alcohol.
Next on the itinerary, I dragged my sister up to the recommended viewpoint which sat opposite the monastery, giving those picture-perfect views of it nestled into the mountainside. It was a beautiful fifteen minute, gentle uphill walk to the lookout and something I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Montserrat. We would have never known about this viewpoint had it not been for the tour as the trail would have easily been missed if we hadn’t been informed of it by our guide. We moseyed up the track, enjoying the sun on our skin as I leapt on and off rocks and walls happily snapping away with my camera as we made the ascent.
The view at the lookout point is seriously one of the best I’ve seen. We were sweaty and hot from the walk in the heat but that view had a way of making you forget that entirely. Photos just do not do this view justice!
We made it back down the hill just in time to meet our group to board the coach once more to take us for a greatly anticipated tapas lunch and wine tasting. I think a morning is ample time to explore the gifts of Montserrat and to be able to couple this with experiencing Spanish tapas and wine was a fantastic culture combination for those wanting to get the most out of your Barcelona experience. Castlexperience Wine Tours work with a number of local vineyards, the one we went to was called Oller Del Mas, an organic, eco-friendly, family run business who have been making wine for hundreds of years. We began with a tour where our guide explained all the special techniques used in order to reduce their carbon footprint and minimise their use of unnatural products during the production process.
We were met by the vineyard’s resident dog (aptly named Vino) and a cold glass of their white wine complimented by a plate of Spanish cheeses. For each glass we drank, our guide encouraged active discussion of what we tasted and if we liked it, while also explaining a little bit of the wine’s production background and history. Unfortunately, we were flying out the next day hand luggage only, or this first wine would have been straight in my suitcase to bring home as it was delicious. We were lead into an airy, Catalonian style, stone room set with long tables filled with food. It’ huge glass doors were thrown open to reveal a beautiful outside space, it was the perfect place to enjoy yet more wine and the tapas that was awaiting us. After more wine, food and much merriment between group members and guide alike, it was time to leisurely make out way back to the coach. There was an opportunity to buy any of the wines we had tried and more at the on-site shop, some of which were limited edition and sold only at the vineyard. It was the one time on the whole trip I had regretted our hand luggage only decision!
I couldn’t have planned a better end to our time in Barcelona and both my sister, Charlotte and I thoroughly enjoyed the partnership between culture, sightseeing and a little luxury thrown into the mix. I am looking forward to seeing this company go from strength to strength and hopefully in the not too distant future get to experience Spain with them once again!
So if you’re heading out to Barcelona in the near future and have been inspired to put Montserrat on your bucket list, check out the Castlexperience Wine Tours website here. Or if you’re not quite ready to plan your trip, click the image below to pin this post for later so the wisdom is at your fingertips whenever you’re ready!