Montserrat, 50km northwest of Barcelona, is at the heart of Catalan identity for its mountain, monastery and natural park weaving among distinctive rock formations. Montserrat mountain is instantly recognisable, sculpted over millennia by wind and frost. Its turrets of rock, a coarse conglomerate of limestone and eroded fragments, extend like gnarled fingers from its 1236m-high bulk. More than halfway up the mountain lies the Benedictine Monestir de Montserrat, home to La Moreneta ('Little Brown One', or 'Black Virgin'), one of Spain’s most revered icons. Extending from this sacred spot is the Parc Natural de la Muntanya de Montserrat, superlative hiking terrain where brooks tumble into ravines and lookout points deliver panoramas of rocky pillars.
Montserrat (often used interchangeably for the monastery and mountain) is a hugely popular day trip from Barcelona. The monastery throngs with visitors, but serenity can still be found on the walking trails or by staying overnight.