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One approach to Latin America is to track down places with names inherited from Spain, the great Hispanic coloniser. Granada is a case in point. Everyone knows of the Andalucian city and its iconic Alhambra, but until a few weeks ago I had no idea that it had a clone in Nicaragua, and a very beautiful one at that.


Granada (NIC) was founded in 1524, just 32 years after the last Moorish ruler of Granada (SP), Boabdil, rode over the Sierra Nevada into the sunset, surrendering all power to the ambitious Castilians. The founder of Granada (NIC) was the conquistador, Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, whose surname Cordoba (from the Spanish city barely 100 miles from Granada), ended up as Nicaragua’s currency. Like Costa Rica’s colon which is named after Cristobal Colon (AKA Columbus).

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.


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.


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 overflowing with rugs, jewellery, trinkets – mini Aladdins’ Caves of anything and everything to do with the world’s three monotheisms: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Jerusalem_Old City_steps


This cutural heartland is where these religions have intermingled and clashed for centuries – as described in an earlier post I wrote here  Their so-called ‘co-habitation’ creaks on, though for how much longer?

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.


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.


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.


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.