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Nicaragua has suddenly hit the travel hit-lists after lurking in the shadows for decades due to civil war and uber-corrupt regimes. Today the president is still Daniel Ortega (since 2007, and before that leader 1979 – 1990). He certainly scores for longevity though one citizen who chucked a can of red paint over a Presidential poster I saw obviously didn’t rate him. Perhaps the fact that Nicaragua is Latin America’s second poorest country has something to do with it.


For 15 years Madrid Fusion has been an established highlight of the Spanish culinary calendar. This is where budding chefs rub shoulders with  gastro stars, top wines are sipped and spat, truffles auctioned, jamon iberico sliced, estate olive oils swallowed, and new products are launched. I’ve just returned – replete – from the 2018 edition where it felt distinctly like the food world is on a cusp, saying goodbye to the exotic fusions, imported ingredients and elaborate techniques of yesterday, and instead returning to local produce and traditional techniques of preserving and fermenting. Finally – back to earth.

Tapa-glass


It’s too easy to miss out on Andalucia’s mountainous interior, which in some ways is good, as it leaves hidden jewels for the happy few in the know. Ubeda, in the province of Jaen, is a case in point. Because this serene, elegant town packed with mansions and Renaissance churches has a fantastic, centuries-old tradition of pottery and ceramics well worth investigating; the food offerings are excellent too. Altogether you won’t regret a night or two spent here.

Ubeda_Plaza_Vazquez_de_molina


Bethlehem‘s identity was set in stone some 2000 years ago when a certain baby was born in a manger. Since then, the cradle of Christianity has magnetised hordes of pilgrims (about one million yearly) who traipse through the Church of the Nativity (below). Yet in the last couple of years another more unexpected aspect has emerged, namely gourmet food.

A recent surge in enticing restaurants and even hip cocktail bars comes as a big surprise considering Bethlehem lies in the nominally Muslim Occupied Territories of Palestine. And, yes, some Westerners actually think it is in Israel. In fact that hideous separation wall (read my 2008 post about it here) divides the two states, in the process making Bethlehem virtually an island.


The Old City of Jerusalem feels like such a secret city, an ancient labyrinth of twisting alleyways and vaulted stairways, convents, mosques, soaring limestone walls including of course the largest of them all, the Western Wall. Then, emerging from a deserted, silent passage, you suddenly find yourself pushing through a crowded souq packed with rugs, jewellery, trinkets – mini Aladdins’ Caves of anything and everything to do with the world’s three monotheisms: Christianity, Judaism and Islam and their cultural heartland.

Jerusalem_Old City_steps

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Jump in a taxi in downtown Ramallah, agree on a fare of about 40 shekels, and in 15  minutes you will be blinded by a striking white building, poised on a hilltop like a bird about to take flight. Although completed in May 2016, it took 15 months to fill the spectacularly designed and landscaped Palestinian Museum in Ramallah, a long saga of inefficiency and corruption.

West_Bank_Ramallah_Palestinian_Museum_Heneghan_Peng


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.