Day Trip from Barcelona
March 30, 2010 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Should we take a day trip to Montserrat or Carcassonne while visiting Barcelona?

Continuing on my Spain theme, I'd like to know if any of you have been to Carcassonne, France or Montserrat, Spain (or both!) If so, which one should we visit? While we are visiting Barcelona next month, we'd like to spend one day away from the city. I've always wanted to visit Carcassonne, so I thought we could make the 3 hour drive there. However, I've heard that Montserrat monestary is an amazing sight to behold (and it's closer). So, MeFi friends, what should we do? FYI - we plan on renting a car to drive to Carcassonne or taking the train to Montserrat. Thanks!
posted by emilyv to Travel & Transportation around Barcelona, Spain (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't visited Montserrat (my brain would really like me to type "Monsterrat"), so I can only comment on Carcassonne: Wow. Really, really wow.

But from what I've read about Montserrat, you can't lose no matter which one you pick. Flip a coin, and see how you feel about which way it lands.
posted by rtha at 9:22 AM on March 30, 2010

It's win-win either way. But... you said I've always wanted to visit Carcassonne,, so you know, unless you have another trip planned, I'd go with that just to fulfill something on your long standing wish list. (plus you get to see the place that inspired the game/s)
posted by edgeways at 9:28 AM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Carcassonne is stunning and the drive would be spectacular.
posted by oh pollo! at 9:37 AM on March 30, 2010

I took the train from Barcelona for a day trip to Montserrat to do some hiking a couple of years ago [photos]. It was absolutely beautiful, and very convenient to reach from the city. But honestly, if you've always wanted to visit Carcassonne, you should probably go there (I've never been).
posted by booknerd at 9:58 AM on March 30, 2010

Both are worth it, but do Montserrat. Renting a car in BCN then driving up to Carcassonne vs a quick train is a huge difference in logistical hassle. To add - I've driven up the autoroute to the French border before and I've been all around Carcassonne many times and I have to tell you its not an especially pretty drive. With the exception of a small patch by the border you are in the coastal plain the whole way up to Narbonne and then you just hang a left into lots and lots of farms. Not to mention its an expressway the whole way.

To do the non-autoroute path (which would be spectacular) would take more than 3 hours both ways. If you were willing to spend the night somewhere in France though by all means do that. Carcassonne>Montserrat. Plus then you can also stop off in Girona which is also pretty amazing.
posted by JPD at 9:58 AM on March 30, 2010

Carcassonne is indeed great. It's also intensely touristy, I had much more fun in the quiet evening (staying the night in the old town) than the busy daytime. I've never been to Montserrat, but if I were you I'd choose that simply because it's closer. Carcassonne will still be there the next time you're travelling in Europe, and it's a good stop on a tour of southwest France.
posted by Nelson at 10:04 AM on March 30, 2010

If you're in a rental car and willing to use the whole day, you could combine a trip to Carcassonne with a trip to nearby Quéribus, which impressed me a great deal.

The whole area is dotted with castles, because it used to be the boundary zone where France ended and Aragon/Spain began, before Louis XIV took Rousillon and moved the boundary further south.

Note, however, that back roads are winding and narrow, and although the pavement is fairly well-kept the French seem to have a rather nonchalant attitude towards, say, providing railings in some areas. If driving is part of the experience for you, you may love it. If not...maybe look in another direction.

On the other hand, Carcassonne itself is super easy to get to from the autoroute--in fact, you can get excellent photos from the rest stop on the A61.
posted by gimonca at 10:46 AM on March 30, 2010

A few years ago I spent three weeks in Barcelona and the surrounding countryside, and Montserrat is probably the thing I least remember. It was pretty, but crowded and toursity, and there are much more fascinating and authentic things to see.

We spent most of our time in Alt Urgell, which was fantastic. For awhile, I dreamed of moving to La Seu d'Urgell.

We also enjoyed traveling to Huesca in Aragon, and got to see the Aljafería palace in Zaragoza, which seemed like a fairly vile city, but the palace is amazing.

Also enjoyed a overnight stay in Sitges, which was deserted at the time of year we were there. The culture mix was interesting, and I love beach towns out of season.

If I ever get to visit the area again, top of my list are Tarragona for the Roman ruins, and Figueres for the Dali museum.

I haven't been to Carcassonne, so I can't speak to that, but I really do think there are more interesting things to see around Barcelona than Montserrat.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:19 AM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

I love both cities and in a vacuum, I'd say that Carcassonne is more appealing because it conveys a jaw-dropping feeling of landing the middle ages. This is particularly true in the evening when the crowds vanish and you really feel something of the original charm. Make every effort to stay in the old town and to take a moonlight stroll around the walls. I may be biased because my first trip to France included a trip to Carcassonne on Bastille Day. I did not realize that it is BIG DEAL on Bastille Day and was reduced to a bedraggled room over a noisy bar, but we saw the fireworks spilling over the wall and got adopted by a local woman who took us on a private tour of the city, pointing out her family's history as well as the town history. So I have an irrational fondness for the place.

Despite that, I think the transportation issues might tip the scales towards Montserrat. This is especially true if you are going to do a true day trip and leave Carcassonne by dinner. If you can't stroll about in the moonlight and really soak it all in, stick to Montserrat. Don't miss the funicular to the top of the mountain! The views are really quite spectacular and you are really choosing between cake and pie -- there are no bad choices.
posted by Lame_username at 11:24 AM on March 30, 2010

I've never been to Carcassone, but I went to Montserrat when I was studying abroad in Barcelona and I thought it was fantastic. The cable-car ride to the top, the little funicular, the views, the peaceful atmosphere - it was all great. I seem to recall a bunch of tourists near the main building/ticket office/gift shop place, but it was very easy to escape them if you're willing to walk a little ways.
posted by xbonesgt at 1:38 PM on March 30, 2010

Montserrat was a wonderful and easy day trip from Barcelona. I was there last summer. It was great to walk along the footpaths and stare off into the sky and feel the warm wind and watch the birds high overhead.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:56 PM on March 30, 2010

I really don't like when someone here answers some other question than the one I asked, but I'm going to risk this: If you'd like someplace with (admittedly roughly) the feel of Carcassone but much closer, a la Montserrat, consider Girona. Click on the links on that page to get a look at some of the sights to see.
posted by troywestfield at 10:32 AM on March 31, 2010

Thanks to all of you for your responses - you've been very helpful. I think we're going to forego Carcassonne and stay in Catalunya. While I really, really want to see Carcassonne, I think we need more than a day to experience it (and Lame makes me want to see it at night!) I guess we'll just have to plan for that another time...

I'm leaning more towards spending a day driving through Girona, Empúries, Besalu, Tossa de Mar and along the coast (but maybe not all of them). For some reason, Montserrat just doesn't appeal to me. Who knows, though? We may get there and decide we want to go!

Thanks again.
posted by emilyv at 7:09 PM on March 31, 2010

I don't know when your trip is and it looks like you've made up your mind, but for anyone reading this thread in the future, I fell madly madly in love with Montserrat - in fact it may have been my favorite thing that I did during a week in Barcelona. It's not far from the city but it feels like a whole other world. Gorgeous views, funky cathedral, and in general it's a very peaceful place to retreat to after a few days in a busy city. I am sure all the other places you mentioned are lovely as well, though.
posted by naoko at 2:10 PM on April 10, 2010

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