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Fin de saison (end of summer) is a perfect time to visit Perpignan in southwest France, even if that notorious tramontane puffs sand in your face on the beach or blows you off your bike. This northwesterly wind is in fact a milder version of the infamous mistral which I well remember interrupting langorous summers in Provence. Luckily the tramontane only visits occasionally, blasting the sky a clear blue to leave a toasty autumnal sun and golden light.

Perpignan_trees_facades


Living in multi-cultural London I sometimes forget that the north of England has such a different vibe. So an outing to the UK’s City of Culture 2017, Hull, re-opened my eyes to an almost quintessential ‘olde England’, one of beguiling pubs, quirky history, Morris dancers and, yes, white phone-boxes. All very East Riding, the Yorkshire county of which Hull is the hub.

England_Hull__Morris_dancers


You may have spotted a bottle or two over the years, as Lanjarón’s mineral water goes back to 1830, though savvy Andalucians were already lapping up its medicinal springs in the late 18th century. Centuries before that it was a Moorish stronghold, leaving the iconic ruins of a castle teetering on a lone crag in the valley (below). Today, although it’s rare to find a bottle labeled ‘Lanjarón’ (in 2008, new owners Danone fused the brand with Font Vella), the spa town staggers on regardless, lushly green, packed with welcoming shops and cafés – and cheery geriatrics.

Andalucia_Lanjaron_Moorish_castle


Far too long no blog… but there’s always an excuse. However Andaluz, my new food & travel book, is now finished & in the capable (I hope) hands of my publisher. There’s a long wait before it actually appears, so in the meantime here’s a snippet about my last stop on the trail, the southwest corner of Spain.

CostaDeLaLuz+aloe+cactus

I’ve travelled through this area in the past but it really won my heart this time. There’s something special about the sharp contrast between the verdant interior of cork-oak forests and rolling pastures, much loved by the fighting bull population, and the endless, seductively white sand that lines the coast virtually non-stop from Cadiz to Tarifa.


Morocco has been a headline destination for at least a decade now, but if you believe the travel press, life there stops in the riads of Marrakesh or, at a pinch, in those of Fez and Essaouira. But in the last year or so, after the tragic massacres of tourists in Tunisia, even those headline places are slowing. So what about the rest of it?

Morocco_Anti-Atlas


Rattling around Morocco’s mountains has been an on/off habit of mine for some 40 years (read other posts here and here) so my latest trip hardly tossed up any revelations. It was more a case of confirming and revisiting what I knew: the grandeur and beauty of the landscapes, the kindness and hospitality of its people (when uncorrupted by tourism), and the ongoing deliciousness of its slowcooked tagines.

Morocco_tagine_restaurant


Ask anyone in Granada where the best place to buy ceramics is, and they’ll invariably say Fajalauza, a large factory high up on the main road behind the Albaycin. This is the source of those ubiquitous green and blue bowls, plates and platters that you’ll find all round the region, including dozens of designs featuring that bulbous granada, aka pomegranate, symbol of the city.

Granada_ceramics_shop


It has been a while since I wrote a blog post but there’s always an excuse, this time researching and writing a new food and travel book. It will be at least another year before it hits the shelves, so meanwhile here’s a taste of the first chapter: Almeria

Almeria_old_town

I knew this corner of Spain decades ago, but there has been a hiatus. When I returned this November I found a buoyant city, fast-moving on the gastro front, within easy reach of the stunning natural park of Cabo de Gata, visible on the horizon below. The previously run-down city is blooming, and barely touched by tourism – for the moment.


Everyone knows about San Sebastian, its gourmet pintxos and its galaxy of Michelin starred restaurants. It’s been written about umpteen times, including on this blog here and here. Between gastro-indulgences, visitors might also spot the Kursaal (1999) – below, a masterpiece designed by Rafael Moneo, and the stylistic opposite to its famed contemporary, Bilbao’s fabulous Guggenheim,  an hour or so away.

Spain_SanSebastian_Kursaal

Spain_Bilbao_Guggenheim

Equally, any foodie worth his or her salt knows all about the crustacean and mollusc temptations of Galicia and, not least, Santiago de Compostela‘s spectacular Romanesque cathedral, the target of the so-called Way of St James.


Some cities never change, others seem to be on a roll. It certainly feels like both Lisbon and Porto are gunning hard at the moment, making Portugal the hippest European destination. In 2015 it received nearly 11 million foreigners, the highest number ever; this year, 2016, is bound to top that.

Portugal_Porto_Sao_bento_station_azulejos

I’ve posted about Lisbon before (here and here), and in 2014 even did a piece for CNN about it being Europe’s coolest city. The reaction? A huge hit in Portugal leading to a string of interviews with Portuguese radio and newspapers. They loved the praise – sign of their underlying modesty. And last year I investigated Lisbon’s seafood scene for the Independent.