Montserrat (Serrated Mountain) is the spiritual heart of Catalonia and your best opportunity to enjoy awesome scenery on a day trip from Barcelona. Comprising a massif of limestone pinnacles rising precipitously over gorges, this wondrous place has drawn hermits (er, independent travellers) since the 5th century.
Montserrat, 50km (31mi) northwest of Barcelona, has weird rocky crags, ruined hermitage caves, a monastery and hordes of tourists from the Costa Brava. The Monestir de Montserrat was founded in 1025 to commemorate numerous visions of the Virgin Mary. Today it houses a community of about 80 monks, and pilgrims come to venerate La Moreneta (the Black Virgin), a 12th-century Romanesque wooden sculpture of Mary with the baby Jesus; La Moreneta has been Catalunya's official patron since 1881. The most dramatic approach to Montserrat is by cable car, which arrives just below the monastery after a thrilling whoop up the sheer mountainside.