I headed north from Barcelona to the monastery at Montserrat, some 60km northwest of Barcelona (no, I haven’t discovered god – the monastery is accessed by a rack railway (also known as the “Cremallera”) and an alternative cable car and has two separate funicular railways on site. I consider such a gathering of railways to be my own personal form of heaven 😉 )
I took the train from Barcelona to Monistrol de Montserrat station from where the railway to the monastery starts. The initial section of the line is a conventional railway to the first stop at Monistral Vila. Adjacent to this latter station are two historic displays, one of a steam engine for the rack railway and the other a funicular carriage from the Sant Joan funicular. Beyond this point, it becomes a rack railway with a centre rack. The trains are powered by overhead electric wires.
Climbing steeply up the mountain, the horizontal remnants of bore holes, where the rock was blasted out of the mountain to clear the path for the railway, can be seen alongside the line. There is a passing point midway along the line to allow ascending and descending trains to pass. The journey up to this point was largely encased in mist. However, shortly after leaving the passing loop, the train rose above the clouds, leaving a view down onto the cloud covered valley below.
The monastery site is impressive and large (the cynic could argue that these religious knew how to bag the best sites for themselves). After a quick snack and a coffee in the cafeteria on site, I made for the first of two funicular railways on site. The ‘Sant Joan’ is particularly steep (maximum gradient of 65.2%) and rises further up the mountain with a length of 503m.
The views from the summit of the railway get even better. It includes a rock formation that would well serve as a future Mount Rushmore for an independent Catalonia (I would fear its use as such for a federal Europe).
The second of the funicular railways on site (Funicular de Santa Cova) goes back down the hill slightly. It is 262m long with a gradient of 55%.
Adjacent to the lower terminal of this line is a small museum dedicated to the funicular railways which include information boards in English. One panel records that there were historically 11 passenger funicular railways in Catalonia, 7 of which remain in use today. I took issue with the claim that the first funicular railway in the world was in Lyon in 1862 – whilst this may well be the first passenger carrying funicular, there would be earlier examples on mineral tramways.
For anyone thinking of making a similar trip, the train from Barcelona to Monistrol de Montserrat can be taken from the Plaza Espanya Metro station – line R5. It is possible to buy a combined ticket (cost €31.80 as of today) which covers the return train to/from Monistrol de Montserrat from Plaza Espanya, the Cremallera mountain railway up and down and unlimited trips on the Funicular de Santa Cova and the Sant Joan funicular.