Cate Bonan’s Montevideo Favorites
Our interview series “The Master’s Voice” brings you the insider secrets from Latin American capitals. Cate Bonan, a member of the family owning Alma Histórica Boutique Hotel, welcomes guests in a magnificent historical building in Ciudad Vieja and talks about her Montevideo favorites including the hidden talents, unusual habits and flavors of the city…
“There is still a lot to be discovered and valued in Uruguay. Be careful though: nothing is obvious! You need to be tolerant, patient and curious to dig them out. This small country has great genuine stories to share with the rest of the world!”
How did you end up in Uruguay? What do you think is special about this country?
I was born and grown up in the north of Italy, and started my career in London, where I moved for a 6-month experience, then ended up living there for 10 years! Currently, I am living in Uruguay, where I was meant to stay for a period to start up the family business. Now, Uruguay has been home for 5 years. Thinking in decades, I am now curious to know where we will be in the near future! As the director of Alma Histórica Boutique Hotel, I love the vibe of Montevideo and the way it has developed since I moved here. I have a background in retail and image consulting, so I am passionate about creativity and local talents. There is still a lot to be discovered and valued here. Be careful though: nothing is obvious! You need to be tolerant, patient and curious to dig them out. Perhaps this is what makes them more precious to me. This small country has great genuine stories to share with the rest of the world!
Who is your favorite Uruguayan talent?
There are many of them, but I adore Ana Livni. She is a high-level designer, but also an artist. From what I know from the fashion panorama of Uruguay, she is the only fashion designer with an international impact. She does not prepare collections according to the seasonal standards of the fashion industry. Her motto is “slow fashion”. She produces everything herself. In Uruguay, fabrics are a bit dull in terms of coloring. So, she buys the fabrics and paints them or makes prints on them. Her 10th-year celebration event was held in Teatro Solis! You can visit her boutique just opposite MAPI museum in Ciudad Vieja, see her collections (as well as some pieces of art), and backstage of her atelier, which he shares with his designer partner Fernando. It is pure creativity! Most of her production goes abroad to international fairs and clients. She also has a shop in Etsy.
UNIQUE TRADITIONS AND PLACES
What are some unique things, places and experiences you would suggest people discover, while they are in Montevideo?
One of the best experiences to have is to see people rehearsing “candombe” music and dance in neighborhoods like Cordon or Ciudad Vieja. I am not talking about the official “Desfile de Llamadas” where candombe groups make their show as part of the Carnaval celebrations. Every Sunday after sunset, the drummers and dancers come together on the streets without their costumes for a very intimate performance. Their families and people from the neighborhood also join them during their march along the streets. It is like the closure of the week, but something so authentic that as a tourist would never know.
“One more thing I love about Uruguay: wherever you go in Montevideo, you will likely to be served Agua Salus. This is the best water in the world for me, even better than Evian!”
Montevideo is also a very special place to hunt antiques. Bavastro and Castells are among the oldest and biggest with regular auctions, while there are several smaller shops as well. Mercado de las Flores is a very unusual experience as well. No one is ever on time for a meeting in Uruguay, but interestingly, this flower market is very punctual! It is open only for half an hour on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7 pm to 7:30 pm. In an old warehouse, a line drawn on the floor with chalk and people waits behind the line sipping their mate. At 7 pm someone rings a bell and people rush in to buy flowers, as they only have half an hour to find what they are looking for. Usually, people selling flowers on kiosks go there, and in half an hour all is finished. A good place to take pictures or videos.
Another place I find interesting is Cripta del Cristo de la Paciencia in Ciudad Vieja. Crypts are not common here like in Europe. There are only a handful of Christ of Patience statues all around the world, and one is here. The statue represents the moment that Christ was sitting and waiting for the moment of his crucifixion. The Christ looks tired, but still communicates peace. The place is in poor condition and everything is crumbling. Where the statue stands is the only place that is clean, illuminated and perfect. Such a great contrast with its surroundings! The second special thing is the writings on the walls. Some of them are wishes, and some are things going like: “Thank you God for saving my mom, or giving me a job, etc…” When you go there and start reading, you get a sense of humanity. This is not only related to religion. Every time I go there, I am touched.
WINE AND DINE IN THE CITY
What are your favorite pitstops in Montevideo to have a nice time out?
Sometimes Sunday is the best place for brunch, from Wednesday to Sunday. You don’t have many options on Sundays in Montevideo, when the city almost closes up! The Colombian owners Julian and Anna are perhaps the most experimental people in the city’s gastronomy scene, as they use spices and ingredients like turmeric, sumac or kefir that are not common here. You would find high-quality coffee, creative and simple food with excellent customer service here. Candy Bar is another favorite spot. It is a typical “bar de barrio” (neighborhood bar) in Palermo. When a couple got this old candy bar and turned it into an actual bar, they did not change the name of the place. Even the sign of the place is authentic. They also serve Sunday brunch. The menu is very short, and I love everything they do. I think they are the first ones in the city to use Aperol and Campari in cocktails. The place is tiny, and has this artistic, gay vibe.
Sin Pretensiones is a nice restaurant along the main pedestrian street Sarandi. Its owner Silvana is very much into gastronomy, and her partner is interested in antiques and furniture. They combined two passions in one place. It has original decor and you could buy the plates you are eating on. This is also one of the few places where you are served mate, with cultural explanations and all. Last but not the least, La Farmacia is an old pharmacy converted into a cafe. Original features like antique wooden cabinets were kept as they are, while some modern elements were also introduced. They do great coffee and they are looking after the place with love. One more thing: wherever you go in Montevideo, you will likely to be served Agua Salus. This is the best water in the world for me, even better than Evian!
IN A NUTSHELL: ALMA HISTORICA BOUTIQUE HOTEL >> The family-owned boutique hotel offers one of the most authentic and intimate accommodation options in the city. Each of the hotel’s 15 rooms has been dedicated to a person who contributed to Uruguay culture, from footballers and tango players to writers. The elegant hotel building has been rescued by Bonan family after a meticulous restoration process and each room was decorated by pieces collected from the famous antiquaries of the city according to the character of its name bearer. Guests are welcomed with a shortlist of best eateries of Montevideo and get a personalized concierge service during their stay.
WE LIKED The well-curated breakfast buffet with house-made “alfajores” and cakes, and sunset from the rooftop terrace with a jacuzzi.
To contact Alma Historica Boutique Hotel: www.almahistoricahotel.com