Montse and her Bar at Sant Pau Monastery

Montse used to work in radio and you can hear why. Her throaty smoke-scented voice captivates. It is a perfect radio voice; resonant, a rasping rusty bell that urges you to listen.

Like so many people, Montse came to radio unintentionally through the back door. She was born in León, Castile and developed a passion for singing from an early age. A singer she thought she wanted to be. However later at university she began to dabble in theatre where her compelling cadences came to the attention of Antena 3 Radio.

Thus started her career as a radio presenter. Three years later a morning slot became available on Castellon radio and that was it. Montse sailed forth to the Spanish coast and for 22 years she happily spoke away, entertaining people with her raspy wit.

But then the recession came. People were laid off and those that remained were asked to dumb down, focus on advertising and at times even work for nothing. Montse felt marginalised. It was not what she had worked all these years for. Also the tragic death of her younger sister from a brain tumour caused her to take stock. She quit the media world and turned towards the Castellian mountains to run a small bar.

Situated in the side wing of the 16th century monastery of Sant Pau , her narrow locale was once the kitchen of a long-gone restaurant where people hereabouts remember dining under the cupola of the monastery’s entrance. When she took it on, it was a not particularly plush affair, but she did not have to pay rent. The council was keen to have someone in residence, and she could add her magic.

The cloisters of Sant Pau seen from Montse's bar
The cloisters of Sant Pau seen from Montse’s bar

Here she now contentedly potters around, making cortados and serving beers to the motley of regulars that grace the cobbled cloisters in front of its doors. Many artists and old friends from her radio days pass by; in fact they helped keep her afloat in the first year. Even old boyfriends drop in. She is close to all her exes. BUT. Montse pauses, then states emphatically – BUT NOT the son of a whore on whom I wasted 8 years!

She cannot be drawn on this further except to confirm he really WAS the son of a whore.

When asked and given enough time, Montse can produce local dishes of rich Castellian food; down-to-earth country cooking that shows where her second true passion lies. Just do not turn up unannounced and ask for them. She will look intensely annoyed and maybe offer a sandwich.

One Saturday Nacho from Valencia invited me and others to breakfast there. It was a lovely day and we sat under the cloisters. Pitchers of fresh straw coloured local wine were placed upon the table. Though of no great vintage, it married perfectly with Montse’s plates of fish, stewed pigs trotters and marinated braised sausages. There were other dishes that I had no name for and neither did I enquire. They were truly scrummy and that was good enough for me.

Ever since then I pass by from time to time. Under her gentle exterior you come to realize that Montse is a sharp woman and does not suffer fools gladly, but once she accepts you, you get to know her soft under belly. So, she is a woman of many layers. Sometimes she will burst into song, that husky radio voice echoing through the monastery with the pathos of old Andalucian folk songs. You will wonder out loud whether she missed her real vocation and she will fish out an old cassette of the famous Spanish singer Crispin d’Olot , and yes, Montse!

Montse at her table in Sant Pau
Montse at her table in Sant Pau

3 years have flown since Montse first took up residence and she clearly intends to stay. Her favourite paintings have added some much needed character to the walls, as has a lick of paint. Montse’s is gently gaining polish and reputation, and her geraniums are blooming, as is she. It is apparent she has found an inner calm. She certainly puts an entirely different spin on “bar owner”.

You could do worse than to call her and ask her to prepare you a meal under the cloisters. You can look out across the inner dusty courtyard to the monastery and wonder about its old days. A walk around its ancient rooms after the hearty fare is a good way to round off the morning and add to the intrigue. Take a good look at the ancient drawings on the walls and with any luck you might even get to see one of the exhibitions they have from time to time.

This is the kind of place that I really like. A tourist attraction that is not one at all.

Montse’s bar – (0034) 964 428 127 – just make sure you order at least 24 hours in advance.

Tap Spanish flag at top for spanish translation by Anna Belles


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