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Getaway to Bages: the best of Montserrat and Manresa

The focus of this trip is two well-known places, including Catalonia’s sacred, serrated mountain, that are always worth re-discovering

A great county situated in the heart of Catalonia also deserves a great capital. And it has one in the city of Manresa, a place you’re going to explore from different perspectives on the third day of your trip. Before that, however, you’ll spend a day and a half on the iconic mountain of Montserrat, a place that perhaps you’ve already visited but always offers new possibilities and the pleasure of encountering unique places once again.

Day 1 – afternoon: an open-air museum

Day 1 – afternoon: an open-air museum

On your first afternoon, hire an audio guide and, at your own pace, seek out the sculptural works by internationally renowned artists that are in Montserrat. We’re not talking about what’s in the monastery’s museum but rather what’s outside because as much as anything else, Montserrat is really an open-air museum. It’s full of sculptures that perhaps during other visits you’ve not paid much heed to – this time, however, the audio guide will explain them and allow you (together with a map and information booklet that are both provided) to find the al fresco artworks, while walking close to the basilica, in the direction of the Holy Cave (Santa Cova) via the Path of the Slain (Camí dels Degollats), or following the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis). The activity can be pre-booked via the internet, and the audio guide is available in six languages, and the information booklet in eight.

Day 2 – morning: the nerve centre of the mountain

Day 2 – morning: the nerve centre of the mountain

There are sights worth seeing all over Montserrat. However, if a place can be said to be the emotional centre of the whole site, it is without doubt the Abbey and its immediate surroundings, a place of spirituality for a thousand years. Today a community of Benedictine monks still live there, where the statue of the Mare de Déu de Montserrat (La Moreneta) is venerated and where the Escolania boys’ choir give performances showing the marvellous standard of its members’ voices. It’s a place full of history and symbolism that you can visit on your own but we recommend that, if you want to get to know the area in-depth, you sign up for a guided tour. During your trip, you should try to watch the fascinating audio-visual presentation ‘Behind the doors of Montserrat’ (‘Montserrat portes endins’) to find out about the lives of the Montserrat monks, and go into the highly valued Montserrat Museum (Museu de Montserrat), with collections ranging from ancient paintings to modern art via archaeology and iconography of the Mother of God.

Day 2 – afternoon: from on high

Walking is always a pleasure, but if there’s one thing that characterises Montserrat it’s the number of unusual transportation methods it has for managing the mountain’s steep slopes, which have actually become an attraction in their own right. You might already have reached the abbey using the zip train or cable car. Now we recommend you go even higher, taking the Sant Joan funicular train, which will take you 1,000 metres above sea level and let you enjoy extraordinary views of the monastery as well as many features of the surrounding Catalan countryside. We suggest visiting the Nature Room (Aula de Natura) located in the upper station, which has information about the history of Montserrat with a particular focus on its relationship with nature, such as the flora and fauna found in the Natural Park, or the strange serrated morphology that has made Montserrat famous.

At the top, on the Pla de les Taràntules (The Tarantula Plain), you can choose between different signposted itineraries and enjoying the view until the sun starts to set and temperatures drop, reminding you about the great height at which you find yourself and that you have to head for the funicular to start your journey back down to ground level.

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Day 3 – morning: monumental capital

Day 3 – morning: monumental capital

On the morning of your last day, head to Manresa. And in so doing, we’re following in the footsteps of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, who travelled from Montserrat to the capital of Bages, where he spent 11 months. In a natural cave (the Holy Cave) in 1522, he wrote his Spiritual Exercises. Today this is undoubtedly the place in Manresa that is most well-known internationally, and you can visit it by following different guided tours. We suggest the one entitled ‘Monumental Manresa’, as it will let you visit the Cave of Sant Ignasi, where a baroque church and the House of Exercises were later built (while conserving the cave), as well as another significant monument in Manresa – the Basílica de la Seu, a notable building from the Gothic era whose outline can be seen on the top of Puigcardener and has altarpieces, windows, baptistery, crypt and cloister particularly worth admiring among other elements.

Day 3 – afternoon: the bourgeois Manrsea

Day 3 – afternoon: the bourgeois Manrsea

Now it’s time to change itinerary and style, but not city. Your last afternoon in Manresa and Bages will be spent enjoying the modernista part of Manresa, which was constructed at the end of the 19th century and start of the 20th, following the demolition of the city’s walls, and encouraged by the bourgeoisie who wanted to have a house to show off and social status, as well. Many of these buildings still stand today, commissioned from architects such as Ignasi Oms and Alexandre Soler. Again, we recommend you take advantage of a guided tour, as that is how you can learn all the details about what you’re seeing.

Start at the Arpa Kiosk (Quiosc de l’Arpa) in Plaça Major, which dates from 1917 and was a newspaper kiosk up until just a few years ago – today it is an information point during festivals and fairs. The itinerary will take you to the Plaça de l’Om, a crowded square that includes the modernista Esteve pharmacy, and a sculpture by Ramon Oms called ‘A l’ombra’ (‘In the shadow’) under the tree that gives its name to the square (and surname to the artist). The Casa Lluvià is magnificent and the current headquarters of the Architectural College of Bages-Berguedà-Solsonès and the Casino, which today houses a public library and a cultural centre and is perhaps the most iconic modernista building of Manresa, are just a few of the buildings that you’ll enjoy seeing.

If you have the time, another highly recommended itinerary is called ‘Medieval splendour’ (‘L’esplendor medieval’). Take a walk around the old town, get to know the wall and walk along C/ del Balç, narrow, winding and a symbol of Middle Ages Manresa. Here you’ll find a Study Centre (Centre d’Interpretació) that will let you know more about Manresa from seven centuries ago. Afterwards, however, it’s time to come back to the present…

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