Montserrat - A Day Trip from Antigua

  • This is a 10 day singles holiday in Antigua.  
  • I hop on a helicopter to Montserrat  for the day.

Montserrat, the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean - in a Nutshell

  • Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory.
  • The island measures approximately 10 miles in length and seven miles in width.
  • Ironically, (when you look at it now) Montserrat is nicknamed "The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean", both for its resemblance to coastal Ireland and for the Irish ancestry of many of its inhabitants.
  • Christopher Columbus named the island Santa María de Montserrate, after the Virgin of Montserrat in the Monastery, near Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain. Montserrat means serrated mountain, in Catalan. But Columbus was told that the island was uninhabited and didn't land here.

The first settlers were Irish, from nearby St Kitts, in 1632. The British took control, after attempts by the French to claim ownership and sovereignty was affirmed by the Treaty of Breda in 1667.

The previously dormant Soufrière Hills volcano erupted here, in 1995, destroying Montserrat's capital city of Plymouth. Between 1995 and 2000, two-thirds of the island's population was forced to flee. The volcanic activity continues, mostly affecting Plymouth and the east, but there is a large exclusion zone (half the island remains a no go area) and the volcano is under constant scrutiny.

The north of the island is still attempting a renaissance and there is hiking and some beautiful beaches.

From the Helicopter

  • There are great panoramas of Antigua, of the Caribbean  and of the Soufrière Hills Volcano itself.
  • We marvel at the volcanic ash and the buried villages and other buildings.  A strong smell of sulphur-it is still belching steamy wisps  from the yellow fumaroles on one, cloudier side. 
  • And we land for a stroll. It is windy and desolate and very grey.
  • A salutary reminder of the power of nature.

Barcelona

If you type Barcelona into Google you'll get the football club rather than the city. I'm not sure anyone had really thought of Barcelona as a tourist destination before it was revamped and celebrated as the host of the 1992 Olympics. They used the Estadi Olímpic de Montjuïc, 1936 Olympic stadium, (accessibly by cable car). Before I finish with sport, I also need to say that Barcelona Football Club has the biggest stadium in Europe - the Camp Nous.

I'm here, with Neil, to wander the city. now the most visited in Spain. The Barri Gòtic ( Gothic Quarter) is the centre of Barcelona. Here, medieval buildings sit alongside others that even date back to Roman times. The quarter melds with the nineteenth and twentieth century city, where Catalan modernista architecture an offshoot of Art Nouveau proliferates. The Illa de la Discòrdia – or ‘Block of Discord’ is the place to go to see the work of four important Catalan modernista architects close to each other: Antoní Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Enric Sagnier and Lluís Domènech i Montaner. The houses in question are Casa Batlló, Casa Amatller, Casa Mulleras and Casa Lleó Morera respectively. I'll get to Gaudi later. There's also a Triumph Arch at the north end of the Promenade (built for a world fair) and churches aplenty.

The main street of Barcelona, La Rambla, pedestrianised wide and flanked with plane trees, divides the centre of Barcelona, for over a kilometre. It links the Plaça de Catalunya at the centre to the Christopher Columbus Monument at the port. It is crowded and over touristy, with its gold painted posing mannequins and acrobats, cafes and kiosks, but there’s always something intriguing to watch. I discover you need to watch out for your belongings too.

Off La Rambla, the Mercat de la Boqueria, where the locals shop is vibrant, and very camera - rewarding. Close to the square, especially. the shops are good - El Cortes Ingles and the many shoe shops, for some affordable Spanish chic.

And a first time for squid ink risotto (not bad at all once you get past how it looks). It's a specialty in the local restaurants - particularly down by the, much quieter, harbour area, where there’s also a great deal of disappointing, overcooked paella.

Montserrat

Montserrat is a small mountain range with some fat fingered peaks 37 miles from Barcelona. There's a monastery nestled up the main slope, dedicated to Santa Maria de Montserrat. It dates back to the eleventh century, but is heavily restored and about 80 Benedictine monks still live here. You can pop inside, but most folk go for the walking. You can get to the trails via a cable car.

Sitges

Sitges is a slightly easier train ride away - 35 kilometres - to join the throngs on the sands. This is Barcelona's go to beach, chic restaurants, boutiques and an old town. We can just about find space to put the towel down.

Picasso, Dali and |Miro

Above all, the amazing art - the Miro Foundation (up the Monjuc Mountain), the authenticity of the stone roomed Picasso Museum, the sheer bonkers-ness of Dali’s work. He was born in Catalonia and his output is displayed at the three locations on “The Dalinian Triangle”:

  • the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, ( a two hour train ride away),
  • his house at Portlligat (a one hour bus ride from Figueres),
  • and the Gala Dalí Castle (train and long walk or taxi).

Gaudi

And of course, Antoni Gaudi. All this Catalan architect's beyond exotic palaces, like La Pedrera and  Casa Batlló, with their extraordinary sculptures and the madcap mosaics of Park Güell are must - sees, involving much map reading, wandering and more bus rides. But so rewarding. The most sublime of them all is La Sagrada Familia, the begun in 1882, still unfinished, straight out of Mervyn Peake, 'minor basilica', incongruously surrounded by cranes. (Completion is now scheduled for 2025). In my opinion, this is possibly the most interesting/beautiful building in the world.

Construction actually began under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, but he resigned, in 1883, and Gaudí took over as chief architect, 'transforming the project with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms'. Gaudí devoted the remainder of his life to this project, but, at the time of his death, in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete. He is buried in the church's crypt.

After Gaudí's death, the work was continued by his main disciple, Domènec Sugrañes i Gras. It was badly interrupted by the Spanish Civil War , in 1936. Parts of the unfinished building and Gaudí's models and workshop were destroyed by fire. The present design is based on reconstructed (and adapted) versions of those plans.

(In the interests of equality I have to report that other churches are also available in Barcelona). It is best observed illuminated at night. There are plenty of bars in the square opposite.

Read more about Spain here.

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