We had planned to visit Montserrat from Barcelona, but it hadn’t happened because we ran out of time. However, as we headed west from Barcelona towards the Guera National Park, we saw on the map how close to our route Montserrat was. Our deviation was so worthwhile.
Clinging to a cliff high up on a mountain is the ancient monastery village of Montserrat. There are several ways to get up there — the road looked too hairy and the walking too arduous, so we clambered into a cable car and ascended the dizzying heights up to the monastery.
We have visited many cathedrals over our time in Europe, but found this to be one of the most spiritual places yet — we missed the midday choir, but just sat in silence in this holy space and soaked up the environment.
Montserrat is somewhere we would like to return to with a whole lot of time, just to be silent and still and absorb the environment. We would also like to take the walk down the mountain, with its many pilgrim sites and beautiful vistas.
Travelling on through picturesque countryside, it was a relief to be out of the big city and into the natural world once again. Our next stay was at a tiny village, Bierge, in the Guera National Park, about three hours west of Barcelona.
Our accommodation was at a small private hotel, and for the two nights we were the only guests. The accommodation cost just €75 per night, which included breakfast. Sumptuous four-course dinners were provided each night for €18.20. Marisol, our hostess, used only quality local ingredients, and was proud of the craftsmanship of the products she used.
The jams were some of the best we have tasted. One food experience, not necessary for me to repeat, was goats cheese ice cream. Like many people we have encountered, Marisol’s English was far from perfect, but by sitting with her and using a mixture of French, English, Spanish, and German, plus i-Translate, it proved really worthwhile, particularly in terms of what we learned, and how it helped in developing our friendship over the two days.
A highlight of our time was visiting a small nearby town, Alquazar, in the Guera national park, and walking deep down a series of steps and pathways to the bottom of the gorge there.
We walked on a steel walkway out over an aqua coloured river that, fed by the melted snow of surrounding mountains, sped through its narrow course, spilling over rocks in thundering waterfalls.
The walk took us about two hours. With spring really taking hold now, the trees are starting to bud, poppies, hyacinths and other wild flowers are a mass of colour, and the surrounding fielder a bright emerald green. A sensual delight.
After two days though, it was time to push on. Marisol shed some tears as we left, but we had plenty to look forward to. We drove through snow-capped mountains and past an enormous green-blue lake on our way to Pamplona. We became frustrated over the difficulty of negotiating the narrow streets of Pamplona to find our accommodation and car park. Trevor and Darrel were at heights of stress overload as they joined us at our hostel. To be able to self drive is a liberating experience, giving so much choice to get off the beaten tourist track, but there are moments where it can be very difficult. They are at the stage now where driving on the right hand side of the road is second nature, but when we arrive in an old city with windy twisting roads and the navigation system providing clear instructions in French, anxiety builds.
This is the cheapest accommodation yet, in an old hostel in the middle of town. We eyed it with suspicion and sniffed its chemical smelling corridors — certainly not too inviting. However this is one of the best accommodation we have had so far, with a spacious clean room, a safe, wifi, and even a makeup mirror, right in the centre of town, at just €55 per night — breakfast an extra €3. We even get our beds made.
Our first trip out was to head straight up the Pyrenees to France, to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and to see the beginning of the famous pilgrim walk, the Caminya, to Santiago de Compostela. To our delight, not far up the twisty sixty kilometre drive we encountered snow, and signs indicating the pilgrim walk, with its clamshell symbol.
We could see hardy pilgrims trudging through snow and ice on their journey. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a very picturesque town, but was bursting with busloads of tourists, and dozens of Basque-oriented tourist shops, and we were not sad to move on.
Today we spent a day in Pamplona, and it was a wet bleak cold day. However, walking the city walls was a delight. The parks are a riot of colour. We followed the Caminya scallop shell symbol trail through town, and then turned around and walked the route of the famous running of the bulls. Scores of touristy shops selling products depicting bulls, and bullfighting, and blood and gore etc, were not inviting. We were not able to visit the centrally located bull ring, as it is only open during bullfighting season that commences in July every year.
Dinner tonight will be at a Michelin-rated restaurant, with a good menu and reasonable prices, and tomorrow we head for San Sebastián.
Check back next week for Trevor and Paulene’s next blog
Missed out on the earlier parts of Paulene and Trevor’s Travel Tales? Start from the beginning here. Or see what happened previously.