10 March 2012

CAELUM - temptation from the monastery.....?

Another little something I have written about one of my favourite hidden spots in Barcelona.

CAELUM, translated from Latin as heaven, is a place well within reach for visitors to this calorific café in the echelons of Barcelona's gothic quarter. Devoted nuns send their sponge-cakes, biscuits and meringues from across the length and breadth of Spain to grace the window displays - celestial altars of frothy icing sugar and bijou, lace doilies.

The ground floor café, a sanctuary of calming music, fragrant tea and candles, is shared by a shop selling their famous Temptations from the Monastery. Those nuns know a thing or two about marketing ungodly calories. Delectable caramels, marzipan, pillowy biscuits, turrón, truffles and traditionally packaged, “medicinal” liqcuors (translated as "highly alcoholic" - but if the nuns approve....) all make superb gifts....especially with playful names such as pets de monja, or nuns’ farts.

But it would seem that these nuns also know a thing or two about sorting the wheat from the chaff. It was my third visit before I even made it to the stairs past the shop, which I later discovered serves as a sort of limbo. Only those strong enough to ignore the sirens of sugar make it beyond, to the real CAELUM.

Walking down a narrow, winding staircase, the space opens into a vaulted cavern of medieval brick and stone. Spectacular Roman arches hang high above wooden tables, and the candelight casts a soft, flickering glow. It is impossible to feel guilty whilst indulging in such graceful, almost monastic surroundings.

This hidden subterranean world was once home to women's Jewish thermal baths in the fourteenth century. To me, CAELUM is another testament to Barcelona's ability to continually refresh its image whilst respecting its complex heritage. It really is another world down there.

C/ Palla, 8