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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
I can’t believe that until last week I’d missed out on the World Heritage Site of Foz Coa, deep in the wilds of northeastern Portugal. Well maybe I can, as it’s far from anywhere so not easily accessible. Yet ever since rock art was first discovered there in the early 1990s, more and more examples have been found and it’s now regarded as one of the world’s major paleolithic rock art sites. And, equally tempting, the same idyllic region is an increasingly diversified source of Douro wine…
It’s easy to forget, or simply not to know, that Denmark is made up of over 400 islands. ‘Only’ 70 of them are inhabited, but it means the sea is omnipresent. In the last year or so I’ve written about the gastro-wonders of Jutland, also here, but my latest Nordic exploration took me to north Zealand, i.e. the same island as Copenhagen.
The capital is now umbilically linked to Sweden by The Bridge, of addictive TV thriller fame. But the closest point to Sweden is in fact Helsingor or, as we monolingual Brits call it, Elsinore. And that’s where we went.
Last weekend I found myself doing a bit of time-travel at the Louisiana museum. My last visit was over 50 years ago, soon after it opened and…miraculously I remembered it! That takes some doing, considering the hundreds of museums I’ve visited since, but in this case it’s hardly surprising, as the museum is absolutely stunning. In fact… unforgettable.
The location is hard to beat, wedged between sea and forest, perched high above a strait that connects the Baltic with the North Sea. Across the Oresund lies the silhouette of Sweden (above, seen from the ‘Panorama Room’, where you can sit and lap up the view).
It felt like a blissful interlude of limbo, a week on the island of Paxos that I timed for the final run-up to Britain’s EU referendum. Luckily the clear Ionian waters, welcoming tavernas and a gathering of art-oriented people raised my spirits – until I returned to London and Brexit, but that’s another story.
Tiny Paxos (only 30 square km), an hour or so by fast-boat from Corfu, is eminently European in flavour thanks to a nucleus of well-heeled French, Italian, British and Greeks who wisely choose to spend long lotus-eating summers there. Their villas dot the hilly, thickly wooded interior, where cypress trees spike the blue sky between overgrown olive groves, the limbs of their trees stretching gracefully but not exactly productively. Beneath is a carpet of grass and wildflowers.