The Marian Route
Shrine of Montserrat
We propose a trip along the itinerary of the Marian Route. You'll see three of the most important and best-known Marian shrines in the whole of Europe and the Americas: the shrines of El Pilar, Torreciudad and Montserrat. You'll also find a wealth of cultural, natural and gastronomic attractions well worth taking the time to discover.
The three shrines along this itinerary welcome a total of 6 million people every year, which is ample evidence of the importance of this route. This is not an itinerary with an exclusively religious content, as anyone taking it will also be able to discover tourist destinations offering numerous cultural attractions and beautiful natural landscapes.
There are various types of routes which all take in the three shrines, and you make your own choice as to which one to visit first. Here is just one idea:
Basilica of Nuestra Señora del Pilar
You can begin your route in the city of Zaragoza (the capital of Aragon). In the very heart of the town and on the banks of the Ebro river, you'll find what is known as the foremost Marian shrine in the world, that of El Pilar. You'll marvel at the beauty of this treasure of the Aragonese Baroque style, which contains on its interior works of great value including paintings by Goya, a Plateresque altarpiece and the spectacular Holy Chapel, home to the venerated image of the Virgin of El Pilar. You'll also find other attractions in Zaragoza such as the Cathedral of La Seo and the Palace of La Aljafería.
Before heading for Torreciudad, and although it involves a slight detour from your itinerary, we recommend a trip to two of the most beautiful and important monastic buildings in Aragon. The first is the convent of Sigena in Villanueva de Sigena, which for over four centuries served as a spiritual refuge for ladies of the nobility. The second is the monastery of Rueda in Sástago, one of the most important Cistercian monastic compounds to be built in Europe between the 12th and 13th centuries. Make the most of your visit to this area to discover the curious Monegros desert, with an ecosystem which is unique in Europe.
From El Pilar to Torreciudad
Not far from Zaragoza (about 70 kilometres) stands the city of Huesca. You'll enjoy strolling around its historic quarter and taking photos of the church of San Pedro el Viejo and the Cathedral. It also makes a good place from which to visit the Sierra y Cañones de Guara nature reserve.
Then you can continue on to Barbastro, and a little further ahead to Torreciudad, where the shrine is an important centre of worship. Its location on the top of a mountain gives it a unique natural setting which offers broad panoramic views over the reservoir of El Grado. It is also worth remembering that you're in the region producing the wines with the Somontano Designation of Origin, so now's a good time to stop and sample a few of these delicious wines.
Before setting out for the third shrine we recommend a visit to the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, one of the great natural wonders to be found in Aragon and which has been declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
From Torreciudad to Montserrat
On your return to Barbastro, this is a good time to explore the Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace (home to the Diocesan Museum) in this town. It contains valuable works such as the mitre of San Vitorián, a capital from the ancient mosque of Barbastro, and the figure known as the Christ of San Juan de Toledo de La Nata.
A distance of 220 kilometres lies between Barbastro and the next destination: Montserrat. On your way there we highly recommend you make a stop in Monzón, where the most important monuments are its cathedral and the 9th-century castle. Continuing through Binéfar, you'll enter the province of Lleida (Catalonia), a perfect area for indulging in adventure sports and rural tourism. Before reaching Montserrat, it's also a good idea to visit the city of Lleida.
Then, once in the province of Barcelona, all that's left is to go up a mountain road amid spectacular rock formations until the shrine of Montserrat. Its location at the top of Catalonia's most emblematic mountain will make you feel you are in a genuine open-air museum. This is the end of our proposed itinerary. Now it's up to you to choose in which order to visit all these monuments and natural spaces. You can do it at your own pace in your car, or by taking any of the numerous group visits organised around this route.
For accommodation you'll find a wide range of modern hotels, establishments with character such as castles, palaces and monasteries, country house lodges, hostels… It's also worth catching some of the popular festivities held in the cities along the route, such as the celebrations in honour of the Virgin of El Pilar in Zaragoza (October), Easter week in Huesca (March-April) and the carnival in Bielsa (February-March).
More information: www.rutamariana.com