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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.

Greece_Paxos_Corfu_ferry

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.

Cordoba_Moorish_walls

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.

Aarhus Latin Quarter café


Our world of travel is shrinking fast – much thanks to the onward march of IS/ Daesh through the Middle East & across North Africa. When I scroll back through my photo archives to look at the archaeological and cultural wonders of these regions (recorded during the digital age at least, as many earlier pics slumber in fat files of 35mm slides), I realise what we’ve lost. Worse still is the human loss in bomb / suicide / gun attacks on European cities, in Tunisia, Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan – the list just gets longer and longer. (Read too my earlier post on Krak des Chevaliers, Syria’s great crusader castle – before and after the ongoing civil war.)


It’s taken a decade for Ethiopian tourism to lift off, from only 227,000 visitors in 2005 to 750,000 in 2015. These numbers should soar exponentially as so many MENA (Middle East & North African) countries are now off the tourist radar due to fears of terrorism or actual war – think Tunisia and Turkey for the first, and Syria and Libya for the second. Egypt and Morocco are not looking healthy from a security point of view either, so those in search of the exotic are having to go that much further.

Ethiopia_Lalibela_Bet_Giyorgis


Khat overwhelmingly rules life in eastern Ethiopia, where all roads (in fact one only) lead to Somaliland and its port of Berbera. No, not Somalia itself, but a breakaway autonomous region that has existed, unrecognised internationally, since 1991. Thundering along the road past rolling savannah and escarpment are dozens of Isuzu trucks, their open backs piled high with sacks of khat, the favoured drug of the region.

Road_to_Somaliland_Ethiopia

Yemen is a huge consumer, also Somaliland and Djibouti, while exports go as far as Holland, China and, until recent changes in drug classification, the UK and Australia. And sometimes road transport is not a truck but a camel… as above.


Having just emerged from a mega gastro-binge courtesy of Madrid Fusion, Spain’s annual convention of all things foodie and drinkie, I decided a few thoughts about chefs and their chosen paths were called for. The get-together is a rare opportunity to see multiple Michelin stars all a-glitter in one place, packed into a three day program, talking about discoveries, passions, science – plus a bit about cooking. The majority of them took the convention theme “post avant-garde” and ran with it – in all directions. And that is what made me question the role of super-chefs today.

red_bream


As usual the new year has brought a slew of opinions across the travel press about where to head in 2016. In extreme-remote terms the Financial Times suggests Greenland and Kyrgyzstan (implying that its supremely well-heeled readers are hell bent on wilderness and cool temps) here while the New York Times seems only just to have discovered Morocco’s Atlantic Coast, albeit NOT Agadir.

Morocco_Coastal_town

Ahem, a confession – I first explored this coast soon after Jimi Hendrix’ sojourn in Essaouira (above) back in the 1970s— but I’ll give the feature its due, it does cover lesser known seaside towns like El Jadida and Oualidia (surfing and oysters) – both up and coming.


The taxi-ride from the central West Bank to Jericho is a memorable experience, not least thanks to our effervescent Palestinian taxi-driver, Dudu, who sings between jokes and communicating the nuts and bolts of the Palestinian situation. In little more than an hour his aging car twists down down down to 270m below sea-level, leaving behind rolling limestone hills peppered with olive trees to enter stark pink and yellow desert.

West_Bank_Jericho_Dudu_taxidriver

We pass the turn-off to the Palestinian village of Duma, tragically known for the settler attack last July, when an entire Palestinian family was firebombed as they slept. Soon, only the odd palm tree alleviates the desolate, rocky contours, though settlement after illegal Israeli settlement crowns the hilltops.


The crack of a gunshot rang out, then another. Both came from across the valley where I was picking olives with Palestinian farmers, one of 30 British volunteers working in small groups as protective presence. The reason? The West Bank (with Gaza) is an occupied country, and its farmers suffer constant aggression. I’ve volunteered before and written blogs about aspects of the experience here and here (for others, just enter Palestine in the search box on my home page). But this year proved to be very different.