The Montserrat abbey is thirty miles from Barcelona and high enough up a mountain that on a clear day you can see all the way back to the city, which is a good second reason to pay it a visit.
Nestled up against the Roca de San Jaume, a huge outcrop, at first glance it looks wildly unlike a 16th-century basilica attached to a monastery that's been there for just under a thousand years. That's because the church itself is hidden behind 19th-century buildings erected after destruction during the Napoleonic Wars and then given new facades in the mid 20th century.
The basiliica itself, pictured also in the title image, is approached through a passageway through the newer buildings that leads into a colonnaded open atrium. The basilica is home to the statue of the Virgin of Montserrat, patron saint of Catalonia. The abbey itself is still active, with over 70 monks.
Getting to Montserrat from Barcelona can be fun, too. A regional train from the city runs through countryside to the base of the mountain, where you can switch to the funicular to the basilica. From there, there's also a cable car to the top of the mountain, where there is even more view, and the remains of cells used by hermit monks centuries ago.