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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


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

Almeria_old_town

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.


Despite being flung out in the plains of Extremadura in far western Spain, Caceres is clearly on the up, boosted this year by its status as Spain’s gastronomic capital. On various stays over the last 15 years I always found the old quarter a bit of a museum, completely dead at night and full of tourists by day. Yet times have changed and this stay, holed up in a palatial hotel on the lovely Plaza San Juan, I was sucked into a buzzing nightlife – spearheaded by the city’s burgeoning taperias (the local word for tapas bars).

Spain_Caceres_Moorish_walls


Decidedly Spanish jamon is on a roll,  putting the nose of Italy’s Parma ham seriously out of joint. Only a few years ago,  most foreigners’ idea of Spain’s ham was tough and ropey, derived from the product churned out by huge ham factories on the east of the peninsula. These specialise in industrially produced ham from the white pig, an iniquitous import.

It’s not always bad, in fact some jamon serrano can be delicious, notably those from Teruel and Trévelez, but it doesn’t quite manage that sweet, velvety, melt-in-the-mouth factor.

Spain_Jabugo_ham_toast


It’s pretty hard to separate Danish food from Danish design, although the latter is very much the country’s mid-20th century high, and the former has become the star of the early 21st. Yet somehow they are umbilically linked, whether at a low-key lunch place, a high end restaurant or even a beach hotel festooned with designer lamps. As far as sources are concerned, Jutland, which I’ve just visited, was the home of the designer daddy of them all, Hans Wegner, whose inspiring museum is in a converted water-tower at Toender (panoramic top floor below).

Denmark_Jutland_Tonder_Wegner_museum


Surprise surprise, it’s not only Copenhagen that carries Denmark’s foodie flag. In fact most of the produce landing in the kitchens of some of the world’s top restaurants (yes I know, Noma’s just been relegated to no. 3 in the World’s Best list, but watch out for Geranium, hot behind) comes from Jutland, that fist of land thrusting towards Norway and lapped by the waves of the North Sea.

Denmark_Jutland_Fano_Island_beach_cyclist


No other capital in Europe can rival Lisbon‘s obsession with and abundance of fresh seafood.  As the Atlantic washes its shores via the River Tagus (or Tejo), you can get to a beachside fishing village in half an hour, or simply cross the river by ferry. More to the point, every street corner of this bewitching capital seems to offer lip-smacking piscine fare at ultra-affordable prices.

Lisbon_Nunes_clams


After an intensive bout of Andalucian sun and lake-swimming, and an even more intensive bout of Andalucian produce, I’m feeling pretty fit and healthy. Even better, it cost little – in some cases entirely gratis thanks to my generous village neighbours. This is typical of rural Andalucia, where so many people have vegetables gardens which at this time of year are ripe with abundance.

Andalucian+village+roofs

As Andalucian villages are built following the old Moorish pattern of narrow streets to fend off the heat, the tight clusters of whitewashed houses mean no gardens, only huertas – a form of allotment or veggie garden on the edge of the village.


Last week I experienced a red tuna-feast. Or call it a fest, as it entailed a tasting menu of six little dishes, each one a metamorphosis of that old piscine stalwart – tuna. The degustacion took place at Hispania, a firm favourite of mine on the London tapas-bar scene (see my earlier blog), and in this case was courtesy of guest chef Mauro Barreiro backed up by Cadiz Tourism.

Mauro+Barreiro+chef


Little Water – how refreshing! Here at last is an independent restaurant in the heart of Covent Garden theatreland – and it’s about as chilled as they come. Even better, it’s welcoming and serves affordable, tasty small plates. But surrounded by big gun chain restaurants like Strada, Jamie’s and Loch Fyne, or well-established oldies like Orso and Joe Allen, it feels like a minnow. You just hope it won’t sink or get gobbled up.

Little Water Covent Garden