Lluc Sanctuary on Majorca

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Monestir de Lluc

Top choice in Serra de Tramuntana

Entered via a cloistered garden, the monastery is a huge complex, dating mostly from the 17th to 18th centuries. Off the imposing central courtyard rises up the grand façade of the late-Renaissance basilica, behind which is a rather gloomy interior and a fine altarpiece by Jaume Blanquer; the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus statuette is contained in a room behind the altar. The church received an ornate, baroque-style revamp in the early 20th century, based on plans drawn up by Gaudí.

The dark effigy of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus (holding a book open with the letters alpha and omega inscribed upon the pages) attracts formidable piety from the frequent line of pilgrims who file up the steps to face the statuette in prayer and who often then make a donation in the tray. The statue is known as La Moreneta (the Black Madonna) because of the statuette’s age-darkened complexion.

If you're lucky, you might hear the Els Escolanets (also known as Els Blauets, the Little Blues, because of the soutane they wear), the monastery’s boarding-school boys choir. This institution dates to the early 16th century.

The museum is well-worth visiting, showcasing prehistoric finds including Talayotic artefacts, folk art and crafts, religious icons and a stash of vibrant paintings by Catalan Impressionist Josep Coll Bardolet. An English-language card detailing the contents of each gallery is available at the museum front desk. The Lluc ticket gives entry to the museum, the extensive Jardí Botànic (botanical garden) and the swimming pool (at the conclusion to the botanical garden, no lifeguard) in the monastery's serene grounds.

The monastery also offers, fittingly austere, accommodation (guests are required to make their own bed).

The Magnolia Garden, just before the central courtyard, contains four specimens of magnolia grandiflora, which flowers with huge velvety petals in summer.

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