Although May is mild in Barcelona, a hike up Montjuïc [monju-eek] will certainly raise core body temperature. Literally translated “Jew mountain” in medieval Catalan, the name refers to a Jewish cemetery, and a fabled Jewish settlement which may have once occupied a portion of the mountain. Characteristically Montjuïc is more broad hill than mountain, and the upward journey is better described as a walk than trek. Regardless, liquid refreshment tends to be a rare find atop just about any earthen mound. So as sweat began to trickle from hairline to brow, it was a welcome surprise to happen upon an outdoor bar at the end of the trail.
From the Mirador del Migdia viewpoint on the south side of Montjuïc, the cactus lined cliffs drop sharply to showcase Barcelona’s bustling harbor and the vast blue emptiness of the Mediterranean Sea. Adjacent to the viewpoint, a sign for Restaurante La Caseta del Migdia directs visitors toward a small stone building with a slightly protruding tower and terra cotta roof. Offering no kitchen, restrooms, or indoor seating, the structure houses nothing more than the bar. Scattered across the grounds beyond are groupings of tables with matching wood and canvas chairs; Moritz branded and faded by the sunshine, they wobble on the uneven ground. From just about any seat the panoramic views high above Barcelona are astonishing.
The campsite-like atmosphere gives pause to newcomers. Is this a private party? Can we even walk through? Our indecision caught the eye of the owner, Marc, who nodded toward the tables. Minutes later he approached to recite La Caseta’s limited menu. He ran through the list of various crepes, beverages, and a special of grilled meats and side salad as the alluring scent of aforementioned BBQ hung thick in the air.
For something like €3 we ordered Moritz, a proudly Catalan beer and Barcelona staple. Moritz began in 1856 when founder Louis Moritz Truatmann combined mineral water and Saaz hops to create a pale pilsner in the typical European lager style. Production was brought to a halt by the 1978 energy crisis but Louis’ descendants rallied to revive the brand in 2005. Since then, business has been good. Moritz is a source of local pride, as it is the only beer in the world to have a label written entirely in Catalan. As we waited on Marc’s return, more newcomers, mostly tourists, found their way to the top of the trail; their faces initially just as confused as ours to have stumbled on this tranquil summit refuge.
But there is more to Montjuïc than parklands, tables, and beer. It is a mountain with a storied past. The large castle, Castell de Montjuïc, originally built in 1640, is the last remaining fortification to occupy the hillsides. Used mostly as a prison and torture center, it is also the partial birthplace of the modern meter. It was here in 1792 that French astronomers took a meridian arc measurement between the latitudes of Barcelona and Dunkirk, France. Using classical French units of measure they were able to determine the distance between the North Pole and Equator which led to the creation of the first prototype meter – defined as one ten millionth of that distance.
Back at the table, Marc bounded up with two beers and Moritz branded plastic cups in hand, as if the thought of drinking from the can was incomprehensible. Moments later he was gone again, off to tend to the other patrons on his outdoor cantina where for over ten years they’ve served anyone who found their way to the top of Montjuïc. Time slows down considerably when crisp refreshing beer is introduced into an afternoon without firm plans, and with two familiar cracks of aluminum we settled in, happy to comply.