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 not forgetting that the same idyllic region is an increasingly tasty 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.
May is the big kick-off month in Cordoba when the city comes alive between its post-Easter slumber and the furnace-like temperatures of the summer. So, once again, I steered a car towards this beguiling urban labyrinth from my rustic hideaway in the Subbética. Patios were on the agenda, but what I didn’t expect was to stumble across the famous Rocio.
I love Cordoba, never tire of its sublime 8th-10th century Mezquita (mosque), its Roman walls (above), nooks and crannies, palm-studded squares, silent churches and noisy tapas bars. Luckily the latter constantly reinvent themselves; even changing the ingredients and/or presentation of homegrown salmorejo…Here’s one of the best versions, at Garum 2.1, with a glass of chilled, local Montilla. Read my post about the city’s tapas bars here – all tips are still valid.
Status titles such as European Capital of Cultural always give a boost to a city, bringing loads of inward investment, extra jobs and a hoped-for explosion of visitors. They also inspire a bit of creative thinking at the town hall. For visitors, though, it can be equally rewarding to go in advance – catch a rising star, or certainly catch lower hotel prices.