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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

Old_city_East_Jerusalem_souq_rugs_embroidery


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.


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