Barcelona - Off the beaten track
Monestir de Montserrat
Montserrat, 50km (31mi) northwest of Barcelona, has weird rocky crags, ruined hermitage caves, a monastery and hordes of tourists from the Costa Brava. The Monestir de Montserrat was founded in 1025 to commemorate visions of the Virgin Mary. Today it houses a community of about 80 monks, and pilgrims come to venerate La Moreneta (the Black Virgin), a 12th-century Romanesque wooden sculpture of Mary with the baby Jesus; La Moreneta has been Catalunya's official patron since 1881. The most dramatic approach to Montserrat is by cable car, which arrives just below the monastery after a thrilling whoop up the sheer mountainside.
Parc Güell is where Gaudí turned his hand to landscaping, with spectacular results. The park is laid out on a hill with fantastic views of the city. Huge ceramic benches, giant decorative lizards, ceramic mosaics and pavilions of contorted stone all combine into a brilliant swirl of the imagination. In the park grounds, the Sala Hipóstila is a forest of 84 stone columns, originally intended as a market. Above it is a broad open space whose centrepiece is the Banc de Trenadis, a tiled bench curving sinuously around its perimeter. The spired house to its right is the Casa Museu Gaudí, where Gaudí lived for most of his last 20 years.
At 542m (1778ft), Tibidabo is the highest hill in the wooded range that forms the backdrop to Barcelona. If the air's clear, it's a great place for views over the city. The locals come up here for some thrills at the amusement park Parc d'Atraccions, which has rides and a house of horrors. As hair-raising as anything at the Parc, however, is the glass lift that goes 115m (377ft) up to a visitors' observation area at Torre de Collserola telecommunications tower. The more sedate can find solace in Temple del Sagrat Cor, Barcelona's answer to Paris' Sacré Coeur; it's even more vilified by aesthetes than its Paris equivalent. Looming above Tibidabo's funicular station, it is actually two churches, one on top of the other. The top one is surmounted by a giant Christ and has a lift to the roof.