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Day Trips from Barcelona – Part VI of the Barcelona as a Port Stop Series

Section One: Ruins of Empúries and Santa Maria de Montserrat

If you have been to Barcelona and want to see places in the surrounding area, I have a few suggestions for you. Although I have taken day trips with organized tour groups, I prefer private tours that I have organized myself. There are benefits to both so take the trip that best suits your comfort level. An organized trip with a tour group is usually all inclusive and generally has less stress while a self organized tour means you are free of group travel and able to determine your route and how long you want to spend at any given place. I enjoy the freedom to self determine where and when I visit a site of interest and to simply stop along the way if something interests me. In Spain, I have taken local transportation (with mixed results), and rented a car and driven myself (with great success), but once again, your choice of transportation will depend on your comfort level. So, without further delay, here are my suggestions.

I will start with the Ruins of Empúries which are located 141km (1 ½ hour drive), north of Barcelona. I had not really heard of the ruins and so my interest in the area had more to do with wine and the beaches at L’Escala than Greco/Roman ruins. This ancient town was originally founded by the Greeks in the 6th century BC and was an important trading center. The Romans, who subsequently occupied the area, built up the town and are responsible for the majority of the buildings that have been uncovered but there are still some Greek structures to be seen. Some of the information I read on my way to the ruins, indicated that it is actually two towns (one Greek and one Roman), but upon arrival at Empúries, it appeared to me to be one large town. Now a designated UNESCO site, Empúries was abandoned in the 3rd century and eventually covered by sand until excavation efforts resulted in sections being uncovered and opened to the public. Empúries is located directly along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and occupies a scenic position that is fronted by a sandy beach.

The ruins are quite interesting, and the site is the oldest cultural monument in Catalonia. I visited on a sunny, hot day and the lack of shade made a hat and sunblock a must. It also made the beach and water within sight, an attractive post ruin option. It took me a little over an hour to walk through the site although most people I spoke with spent 30 - 40 minutes there while one fellow told me he spent four hours just walking around. To be fair, he also told me his ambition was to tour all archaeological digs in the Mediterranean so I suspect he has a background in archaeology and that four hours might be a stretch for the average tourist. There is a museum on site, the MAC-Empúries which is a branch of the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia. I spent some time touring and looking at the exhibits and I found the staff to be friendly and interested in sharing information about the origins of the site and explaining differences between Greek and Roman architecture.

The cost of general admission is € 6 with a reduced admission of € 4 for seniors and students. There are also discounts for other groups so I suggest you visit the official website for further information.

Next up is a suggested visit to the sanctuary of Santa Maria de Montserrat. This is an abbey located about 60km north west of Barcelona. I travelled there by rental car but one can easily take an organized tour, taxi, bus or a train. I encountered some road works and heavy traffic, so it took me almost two hours to get from Barcelona to Santa Maria de Montserrat. I was told that this amount of time is not uncommon, and I suggest if you are arriving in port on a one day stop, and you are planning to rent a car and visit this site, that you ensure you plan on 2.5 hours for the return portion of your journey just to be on the safe side.

I had planned to combine my tour of the abbey with a stop at a winery (Premium Cava winery established in 1385), but traffic delays and a lot of time spent exploring my first stop, ate up my time and my plans of an active day trip seeing more than one site fell to the wayside, a victim to poor planning and traffic jams.

Santa Maria de Montserrat is actually an abbey dedicated to the Order of Saint Benedict. Saint Benedict lived in Italy in the late 400s and early 500s. Known as the father of Western monasticism he is the patron saint of all Europe. He lived in a cave for three years in Italy until his fame spread and he was invited to be the head of one of the local monasteries. Unfortunately, members of the monastery did not like the strict rules he imposed so some of the monks decided to poison him. He returned to his cave until various disciples convinced him to form his own monasteries. He built and headed 12 monasteries where he imposed strict rules regarding behaviour and prayer.

Built in the 11th century, Santa Maria de Montserrat is located on the mountain of Montserrat in Monistrol de Montserrat in Catalonia. Over the years it was expanded and destroyed with the current structure built between the 19th and 20th centuries. There are currently around 70 monks in residence. Be sure to check out the museum which has items from the earliest structures.

One must see is the Lady of Montserrat which is a statue of the Virgin Mary believed to have been carved by St. Luke around 50 AD. Referred to as the “Moreneta”, or “the Black Virgin of Montserrat” it is noted for the dark colouring of the statue’s face and hands. This colouring is as a result of the varnish used on the wood which darkened over time. The statue was brought to Spain to hide if from invading Moors and legend has it that it was hidden in a cave. It was rediscovered in 880 and is now located in the Holy Grotto which ends at the cave where the statue was found. It is a ten-minute walk from the main square. The statue of the Virgin Mary has a spherical orb in her right hand which is symbolic of the cosmos and creation while the infant on her lap, which is representative of the baby Jesus, holds a pineapple which is a sign of fertility and perennial life.

Before visiting this location, I suggest you visit the website for current entrance fees and hours of operation.

This ends the first section of Part VI – Day Trips from Barcelona. If you have any questions, comments or photos that you would like to add, please feel free to post on this page or contact me at:


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