“The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star”). This famous sentence by Brillat-Savarin (one of 20 Commandments from his book “The physiology of taste”) confirms the well-known truth: Everybody has to eat and when it comes to eating – most of us prefer fine cuisine. However, not everybody can be chef! Because cooking and serving the food is an Art not only requiring a lot of ingredients, but also a lot of love, intuition, “out-of-the-box” ideas as well as vision to present the “fruit of the effort” in capturing all senses composition of colors, forms, aromas…. (to make it short).
Not surprisingly, some restaurants tend to operate next to (if not within) museum of arts in an attempt to extend our artistic experiences from the exposition halls into the world of culinary events. One of them is the restaurant “El Menjar amb Viracre” located inside the building of the Valencian Museo de Belles Artes. If you noticed the weirdness of the name, you are probably not alone. Even Spanish (Castilian) tourists may have problems to recognize its meaning. So, let’s first solve this mystery: “Menjar Amb” in Valencian means “Food with…” and even more mysterious “Viracre” is a crossword formed from the first few letters of owner’s first and last name.
After this clarification let’s visit the café-restaurant to have a “Food with (Mr) Viracre”! The local has an entrance from the museum (do not worry, the access to the museum is free) and also, an independent one from the street. Both have some merits. Coming from the expositions of Fine Arts, you may be more inclined for the gourmet cuisine. Coming from the street, you will walk through the restaurant’s terrace-garden. The massive wall of “greenery” to some extent isolates this “oasis” from the noisy street. Numerous flowers, decorative fountain and as the museal ambiance obliges – few larger sculptures, set the relaxing atmosphere for outdoor meals or just a coffee or drinks.
So, as the warning shot – you may actually not reach the indoor restaurant, choosing instead a place on the terrace. In sunny days, dining on the terrace in the shadow of an imposing blue-tiled dome helps to feel the vibes from centuries old history of the site (see below the history of Museum’s earlier incarnation as the San Pio V College). Evenings, candles scattered over the tables and soothing sound of the fountain, add more charm and intimacy into the “culinary experience” (especially these “tête-à-tête” with the loved one).
Music (hopefully matching this ambiance) is accompanying guests on weekends. The terrace includes “slightly” lower section (mostly for dining) and an upper one (at the street level) for meetings with friends and drinks. The interior part of the restaurant is nicely decorated with paintings representing more modern art (no competition to the Museum), but frankly (weather permitting), it is no match for the outdoor ambiance. During weekdays, the restaurant offers few daily menus, on weekends also the “Tasting Menus”. However, also available are dishes “a-la-carte” with selection of meats, fish and rice (it is predominantly Mediterranean and Spanish cuisine). The generously equipped wine bar offers selection of white, red and rose wines, traditional Valencian cavas as well as stronger alcoholic drinks…
History of the Museum of Belles Artes
This remarkable building was founded in 1683 by the Archbishop of Valencia Fray Juan Tomás de Rocabertí for the Theological College. Designed in Baroque style by Juan Bautista Pérez Castiel (leading architect of the Valencian Cathedral), the whole complex was finished in 1744. The college section was a square-shaped structure with large cloister and an imposing façade with two towers on each side (typical Valencian architectural form in that time). However, the adjacent church’s design was quite unique and certainly not typical. It had an octagonal floor plan and an impressively large dome covered by glazed blue tiles.
Church’s frontal two-levels façade with raised pilasters was designed by José Minguez in the style representing transition between baroque and neoclassicism. For almost 200 years the Seminary of San Pio V had been dutifully teaching future clergy. However, at the dawn of the 20th century its fortunes drastically changed. Due to extensive damage (time and wars), the church discontinued its main functions, was desacralized and in 1925 re-constructed (including its spectacular dome), to serve more “earthly” purposes.
The whole complex was consecutively serving as Military Academy of Cadets, Charity Quarters, and during the Civil War as the Military Hospital. The year 1946 marked the new era in the history of the College San Pio V – it was designated as the headquarters of the Valencian Museo de Belles Artes. During the next decades the complex went through several renovations, expansions and modernizations becoming the center of Valencian Fine Arts. While you will find there some ancient Roman relics (fragments of mosaics, engravings etc…) the main exposition covers the period from 14th to 18th century. It includes outstanding masterpieces of Gothic art (very large collections of altarpieces and icons from local Monasteries), as well as Renaissance and Baroque (Valencian, Flemish, Castilian and Italian painters). You will find there works of such masters as Andrea del Sarto, Maella, Van Dyck, Murillo, Velázquez, El Greco and Goya but also works of Joanes, Ribalta, Espinosa, Vicente López, Sorolla, Pinazo representing Valencian school.
The museum also houses one of the best examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture: Courtyard from the palace of Valencian noble, Don Jerónimo Vich y Vallterra (1459-1534), ambassador of King Ferdinand the Catholic to the Holy See and later to Charles I. Although his palace was demolished in the 19th century, its inner courtyard had been recently reconstructed based on surviving components, existing engravings and descriptions. Assembled piece by piece, it now makes an important part of the museum.
Monastery of Holy Trinity
It may be worth to mention that the located next to the former College San Pius V, the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (used during the civil war as the barracks for the Republican Army and International Brigades) is the oldest monastery in Valencia. Founded by queen Maria de Castilla at the beginning of the 15th century it still serves as the home for the Convent of Franciscan Clarist nuns. Its noticeable architectural form, characterizes new trends and construction methods of 1400’s. The 2nd half of the 15th century was the Golden Age of the Monastery marked by convent’s abbess, sister Isabel de Villena. Related to Houses of Aragon and Castile, sister Isabel was an extraordinary woman, an intellectual widely recognized as one of the best Spanish Medieval writers. She was appreciated for her ability to express ideas and thoughts the way to be heard in that still predominantly masculine world. Well-ahead of her epoque, she was an ardent defender of dignity of women against so characteristic of those times prejudices. As we will say today – sister Isabel de Villena was a precursor of feminist ideas. She died in 1490 as the result of the outbreak of plague.
Address: Carrer de Sant Pius V, 9, 46010 València
Opening Hours: Sunday – Thursday 8AM–7PM Friday – Saturday 8AM–12AM
Phone: 616 68 34 72