This magic of this bewitching city took The Trundler by surprise. She loved its gentle charms from the minute she arrived and enjoyed every moment of her six day stay.
In the heat of summer, Montevideo felt cool and shady and it was a pleasure to wander the quiet streets admiring the lovely art deco and art nouveau buildings.There’s nothing daunting here, just a pleasant easy pace as you meander around the Ciudad Vieja or down to the 20km long Ramblas, a seaside promenade.
The Trundler was lucky enough to have a splendid view of both sea and city from her room in the enchanting Hotel Palacio on Bartholome Mitre.
This old school hotel is a rare treat, a world away from modern day chains. It has the grace and charm of a 1930’s pension. The original, slightly nerve-wracking lift whisks you up to the reception desk to be warmly welcomed by kind staff who seem part of the antique furniture. If you’re lucky they will allocate you one of the sixth floor rooms whose large balconies overlook the Plaza Independencia and the roof tops of Montevideo reaching out to the waterfront.
A double room with bathroom is a bargain £30 a night. There’s no breakfast, but free coffee is on offer from 7am and the Panaderia Inglesia bakery coffee shop a few doors down the street does a nice line in toasted cheese sandwiches. (www.hotelpalacio.com.uy)
The Mercado del Puerto is billed as a highlight, once a basic meat market but now the home of many Parillas – grills – which cater for passengers from the cruise ships. It’s worth a look but The Trundler is actually not a fan of meat and in the end resorted to buying slices of Pascualina – a delicious spinach and egg pie – for lunch and dinner.
She also enjoyed a freshly baked medialuna(croissant) and strong coffee in the Café Les Misiones, 449 25 de Mayo, but mostly because of the gorgeous art deco tiles which covered its façade.
Montevideo is culturally rich and has many free galleries and museums. One of the best of these is the Museo de Artes Decorativo found within the elegant Palacio Taranco on 25 Mayo 376. This delightful house is laden with paintings and decorative furniture and has a pretty garden where you can have a little rest after looking around.
Uruguayans are rightly proud of Montevideo’s extravaganza of a carnival, which lasts for 40 days and is one of the longest in the world. The Trundler was lucky enough to catch the opening parade, a lavish, exhuberant spectacle of floats and dancers, many in teeny weeny costumes. It was exciting, fun, friendly and strangely calm considering the volume of crowds and performers, but perhaps this is indicative of the city itself. If you’re not in town for the carnival visit the Museo de Carnival on Rambla 25 de Agosto, which shows some of its amazing costumes, drums and masks as well as recordings and photographs.
For a spectacular view of the city, visit the Intendencia Montevideo, an impressive building on 18 Julio, whose lift propels you up to the 22nd floor and an excellent outdoor viewing platform. Dazzling views of the city are given relevance by slightly hazy information boards, which do their best to explain key buildings on the skyline.
The best beach in Monte is Pocintos. Take the 116 bus from 18th Julio (pay on the bus, about 30 pence) and spend the day on this crisp yellow sand sweep, dipping in and out of the bouncing waves.
For a real seaside day out head for Piriapolis, one of Uruguay’s legendary beach resorts.
It’s an easy trip. Take the bus from Tres Cruces bus station. Bus companies Cot and Copsa both run a regular service and the one and a half hour journey costs £6 a ticket.
It’s a ten minute walk to the promenade and the clean, sandy beach where The Trundler found the Atlantic swimming a delight. Piriapolis has a nice, old-fashioned feel to it, rather reminiscent of Bournemouth, except much hotter.
It would be a mistake to leave without trying a sumptuous ice-cream from the Heladario del Faro, on the seafront. Mango and Papaya flavours had a creamy intensity and were laden with fresh fruit. Two huge scoops cost a bargain £1.50 and were so delicious that The Trundler’s enthusiastic companion had a second ice, later in the day.
Other Monte highlights included a visit to the glorious Art Deco bookshop, Mas Pura Versa (more pure verse) on Peatonal Sarandi. Even if you don’t speak a word of Spanish it’s still uplifting to peruse all the wonderful art and photography books on display in this former opticians, which was built in 1917 and is part of Uruguay’s national heritage.
After a little intellectual and aesthetic stimulation, climb the stairs to the upper floor for coffee and cakes in the tranquil café, where they also serve a tempting menu del dia with views of the street below.
Or just take a breather in the grand Plaza de Independencia, after a tour of the stately Teotro Solis, a key cultural centre for the city. This airy square is a good place to observe Uruguayans enjoying Mate – an intriguing ritual and key activity in both Uruguay and Argentina.
Yerba mates is the dried leaf of llex paraguayensis, a relative of the holly tree. The mate is prepared in a gourd onto which the Cebador – who is in charge of the flask – pours hot water until it’s full. This is then passed to each drinker who sips the liquid through a silver straw with a filter on the end, known as a Bombilla. An invitation to join in is quite an honour and if you can buy your own mate kit – available in specialist shops – could be a great way of making friends in this most amiable of cities.
Travelling to Montevideo is a cinch from Buenos Aires. Take the boat to Colonia then a bus. The journey takes around four hours and costs £30. (www.seascatcolonia.com)