If the Provençal cuisine alone weren’t enough to entice you to this region of France, then perhaps the soft, buttery light, the scent of jasmine carried through towns on delicate breezes, the glistening blue sea, and fairy dust pinks of the local Rosé wines, might just tempt you.
Provence is a place to relax, surround yourself with serene, timeless beauty and experience clear, clean light unencumbered. The light that has inspired and captivated artists both past and present.
Food as art plays no small part in Provence. Thick bundles of pungent herbs; rosemary, basil, marjoram and thyme all synonymous with the voluptuous Provençal plate, grow wildly all over the region, releasing their aromatic perfume which only this kind of climate can allow. Dishes such as Daube – a beef stew slowly cooked with oranges, herbs and juniper berries; Bouillabaisse – a famed seafood stew from Marseille made with fish from the Mediterranean sea, simmered in a broth of onions, tomatoes, garlic, saffron and herbs. Even the most simple dishes taste more sumptuous here. An omelette with chèvre or black truffles dance on your palate sending your taste buds on an exotic odyssey of their own, washed down, of course, with a refreshing glass of Absinthe-like Provençal Pastis.
Sun kissed, salty sea breezes, and aromatic fragrances from herbs and flowers wafting through the air, the local terroir seems almost too spoilt for inspiration. Lesser known than other wine producing regions of France, Provence produces some very respectable wines. Rosé, of course, is more widely associated to this region. A glass or two of peaches and cream Rosé is a must for sipping on balmy afternoons whilst partaking in some serious scenery gazing.
Because of its close proximity to the Mediterranean sea, the crips white wines of the Cassis area contain a smooth, subtle saltiness making it a beautiful pairing with local seafood. The reds too. Try a glass of Provence Rouge from one of dozens of producers in the small wine region of Bandol. Bold, fruity and intense and definitely worth exploring.
Our five day driving tour takes us from our starting point Aix to the Alps through countryside and along coasts soaking in the sun drenched scenery seemingly unchanged by time.
Aix – Grand and gracious tree lined boulevards and plazas are dotted with multiple fountains and home to many elegant cafés for a spot of sophisticated people watching. One of the finest Provençal markets is held in Aix on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. And among Aix’s many attractions is the Atelier de Cézanne, the last studio of the great artist.
Cassis – The quaint little fishing port of Cassis was once a hidden gem, but no longer. Tourists now flock here to escape the larger cities looking for unspoilt charm and a bit nostalgia. Take a boat cruise through the blue waters of the Mediterranean and absorb the stunning scenery, pausing to view the creeks and hidden bays along the jagged white coastline. Once ashore, the pastel coloured buildings surrounding the port will give ample photo opportunities. When you’re ready for a little replenishment, head to Le Patio bistro a few steps away from the busy port area tucked away in a narrow street for some fine local cuisine.
Gorde – Ambling through the hillside town of Gorde is like stepping back in time. Sandstone buildings flank the small but elegant town square (remember the movie A Good Year with Russel Crow, some scenes were filmed here) and narrow streets casting warm, luminous light. Head to the edge of town to where the tiered buildings give way to the most amazing vistas of the surrounding countryside.
Abbaye de Sénanque – A short drive from Gorde is the instantly recognisable Abbaye de Sénanque. Monks are said to still produce local liqueurs here, and, of course, its home to some of the best lavender fields and products in the region. After touring the beautiful grounds, enter the large shop where you can buy every Provençal lavender product you’ve ever dreamed of.
Roussillon – The town of Roussillon, unlike most others in Provence, has its own unique colour palette. The beautiful warm orange town glows vibrantly during sunset, alongside the ocres canyon from which the clay for the buildings comes from. The quarrying of the clay in the Sentier des Ocres took place for two centuries. Walk through the stunning canyon and you’ll see how the vibrant clay changes from shades of yellow and orange into red. The greens of the trees also seem to take on more dazzling shades.
Gorge du Verdon – Lac de Sainte-Croix is more stunning than you could ever imagine. The water of the lake changes from fresh aqua to turquoise blue depending on the time of day, the surrounding shoreline a cluster of the quaintest little sandstone towns. Les Salles sur Verdon is where we stayed, a small town with an abundance of hotels and high quality restaurants. Activities on the lake are abundant; paddle up the gorge, swim, fish or take a siesta on the lakeside banks in the glorious sunshine.
Puinoisson – This is where you will find miles of the most famous and painterly lavender, sunflower, poppy and clary sage fields immortalised in the works of the worlds most esteemed artists. There is nothing more to say. Just gaze and take it all in.
And all of this is only the beginning of Provence’s gentle intoxication. There is so much more to see, experience, taste and smell in this ancient, dreamingly beautiful region of France. Provence is chic, serene, relaxed and timeless. Our drive from Aix to the Alps through countryside dotted with pastel coloured farm houses with shuttered windows the colour of the surrounding flora and fauna; olive green, poppy red and lavender. Whether you go for an extended weekend, a week or a month Provence leaves you yearning for more.
Where to Eat
Cassis – Le Patio
Marseille – Bistrot L’Horloge
Mezel – Le Pressoir Gourmand
What to See
Café culture has a long and prestigious history in Hungary’s capital, Budapest. Cafés and coffee houses have been an intrinsic part of the city’s social and cultural scene since as far back as the Turkish occupation of the 1600’s. But it was during the Austro-Hungarian Empire that Budapest saw vigorous growth in its café culture, with almost 500 in the capital alone. It was at this time that the ‘Grand Cafés’ of Budapest became prominent cultural hubs. Notable poets, politicians, artists and writers of the day gathered in the exquisitely decorated Grand cafés not only for the sophisticated menus, but also for vibrant intellectual and creative exchange, with some cafés bearing witness to Hungry’s many artistic and literary gems as well as eminent political ideas.
Centrál Café, one of Budapest’s oldest, is one such place. Situated close to Elizabeth bridge, the café was established in the 1800’s. Centrál was a meeting point for writers, journalists and poets at this time. Unfortunately though, as with many cafés in Budapest, Centrál was closed during the communist regime for fear of free thinking individuals. Reopened and renovated back to its former glory in the late 1900’s, Centrál’s mission is to reestablish its illustrious tradition as a place for studious contemplation and provocative conversation, along with some very tasty food.
Sit in Centrál’s elegant surroundings and, whilst perusing the menu, if the urge should take you, follow in the footsteps of the poetic ghosts of the past. Write a poem, or perhaps two, on a sheet at your table containing a poem of the day, a pencil and a prompt to scribe something magical to a loved one or a gracious friend.
I don’t normally write two recipe posts together but, the unusually hot weather has brought with it an abundance of flowers and foliage already this year, so a bit of foraging seemed like a very pleasurable thing to do to make use of this bounty. Elderflowers are one of my favourite foods for ‘wild’ cooking, and as the season seems to be drawing to an end, this week may be the last chance to make use of the delicious blooms. This is another simple and tasting recipe, that’s quick to prepare and makes a lovely snack or dessert.
You will need
20 Elderflower Blossoms
1 Cup Rice Flour plus extra
2 Cup Sunflower Oil
1 Cup Ice water
1 tsp Baking Powder
Pinch of Salt
Icing/Confectioner’s Sugar for dusting (Optional)
Trim away the leaves, leaving a short stem on each flower head, then bathe the flowers in cold water to remover any bugs. Make sure to dry them thoroughly before frying.
Pop the extra of the flour in bowl, you’ll need this to coat the flowers before dipping them in the batter. In a large bowl add the cup of flour, egg, baking powder and salt and combing with a balloon whisk. Then slowly add in the ice water making sure the batter has no lumps.
Heat the oil until it’s nice and hot (about 190 degrees). Take a flower head coat in flour, then dip into the batter gently shaking off the excess. Drop into the hot oil and fry for a minute or two until lightly golden. Drain onto kitchen paper, and repeat with the rest of the flowers.
Serve with a light dusting of icing sugar and cream.
I still remember the feeling of absolute awe when I first arrived in Morocco. And in spite of its flourishing tourist trade, Morocco still holds a sense of mystic and seductive allure. Hearing the early morning call to prayer, watching the celebrations as pilgrims return from Mecca. The fields of mint and coriander, emerald coloured oases and stunning casbahs conjure images of Arabian tales and epic movies.
We stayed at a nomadic camp in the Sahara. Our host an older gentleman, who wore his life on his weathered yet pleasant face, welcomed us like old friends, his voice deep brown and gravely. At dinner we were served the most delicious tagines and salads, all vibrantly coloured like platefuls of jewels.
The colourful food of the Arabian lands are among my favourite world cuisines. This Moroccan inspired recipe is fresh and light and so simple to make. It’s equally delicious as a sweet dessert or as a side to savoury dishes – a slow cooked lamb tagine perhaps!
Serve with the syrup for a dessert, or a dusting of ground cinnamon as a side dish.
You will need
For the salad
3 Medium Size Oranges
3 Medium Size Blood Oranges
1 Extra Orange for the Juice
Seeds from 1/2 Pomegranate
6 Fresh Mint Leaves
Ground Cinnamon (Optional)
For the Syrup
2 Tbsp of Orange Blossom Water
200g Light Cane Sugar
3 Tbsp Freshly squeezed Orange Juice
250 ml Water
To make the syrup, pop the water and sugar in to a medium pan. Simmer over a med-high heat, continually stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved and it begins to thicken in to a syrup. This will take about 5 minutes or so. Stir in the orange blossom water and orange juice, continue to simmer until you get a thick, viscose syrup. Remove from the heat, place a lid on the pan and set aside to allow it to cool and the flavours to infuse.
Peel the 3 oranges and 3 blood oranges for the salad, also removing the white pith. With a sharp knife cut the oranges into thin slices but not too thin. Arrange slices on a serving plate alternating orange and red slices. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and mint leaves and spoon over the syrup. Alternatively, put about a 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon in a fine mesh sieve, and lightly dust over the fruit.
Serve with cream or natural greek-style yoghurt.
There were many inspirations for the syrup in this recipe, but most notably – Colour of Morocco by Rob & Sophia Palmer
Treat yourself well also when you are in distress.
When you are dead there is nothing left of life.
Just do what you want, the people are talking nevertheless.
A little luck and a little wine with a little maiden.
O Lord, the life is fine!
Much of what is interesting about Hamburg seems to lay indoors rather than out, largely due to the weather perhaps. There are palatable selections of cafes, bars and restaurants in various styles and themes, but every now and then you happen upon somewhere that’s totally alluring.
The charming inscription above is carved in to the ceiling beams of the Zur Traube Weinstube und Restaurant, located here in Hamburg and translated for me by their ever-lovely sommelier, Sandra.
From the very first moment I entered this wine bar I was captivated, and knew I would be visiting often. Stepping into Zur Traube you are hit with a potent dose of Germanesque nostalgia and uncommon old world charm. Established in the late 1800’s as a wine room, the intriguing interior is a little nook of curiosities. As you sit in the cozy, creaky seating booths, your eyes are drawn along dark panelled walls to the carved figures depicting labourers in various occupations, from coopers to blacksmiths. The central ceiling light has carvings of various figures one of which is Bacchus the God of wine. Characterful and candle lit, the snug, other worldly ambience and endless supply of wines helps stave off Hamburg’s cold winter evenings.
When you eventually shift your gaze from the decor to the wine list, Zur Traube offers over 250 carefully curated German and global wines, and with around 50 bottles opened at any one time for tasting by the glass, every visit is a new tasting adventure.
Humorous scenes of drunken iniquity are intricately carved into the stairwell panels, which leads up to restaurant. Added in the early 1900’s, it has a more modern feel to its decor and offers a sumptuous, seasonal, bistro-style menu to tantilize your tastebuds further.
Gōnn dir was auch wenn du in Not bist
Was hast du vom Leben wenn du tot bist
Do wat du willt, de Lud snadit doch.
Ein bissen Schwein und ein bissen Wein, dazu ein kleines Māgdelein.
Herrgott, wie ist das Leben fein!
Open Mon-Sat from 19:00 – Sundays from 18:00
One of the many pleasure about travelling to a country or city is experiencing new flavours and new aromas, and every place seems to have something that’s uniquely theirs. Although I often buy souvenirs when visiting somewhere for the first time, nothing reminds me of a favourite destination more than the taste of a dish I first tried there. So, when I recreate those favourite dishes at home, I’m immediately transported back to those places, those tastes and those memories.
During my recent visit to Porto, I come across this very simple but very delicious sweet squash dessert, Doce de Abobora, a compote like dessert native to Portugal. The original recipe is quite sweet and jammy, consisting of pumpkin and sugar, with the occasional addition of spices and coconut. My version of this recipe uses less sugar, but more of the flavours that remind me of this beautiful city and country.
Porto was built on Port wine, not literally of course, but the city did thrive because of the success of the industry. So I think it would be criminal not to add a splash of port to this dessert. I’ve also added toasted almonds for crunch and texture, and the hint of orange zest which gives each mouthful little bursts of sunshine. Served with a dollop of mascarpone cheese, the sweet and slightly savoury flavours create a magical combination. Although the deep orange, sweet squash compote feels a little autumny, it is just as enjoyable during the spring.
You will need
1 small pumpkin or squash – about 800g or so
light brown cane sugar 1 cup – 200g
1/2 cinnamon stick or cassia bark
finely grated zest 1/2 small orange
50ml white port wine
flaked almonds about 40g
Remove the skin and seeds from the squash, and cut in to pieces about 2 cm in size but no smaller. Add the squash to a heavy based pan along with the port and sugar and stir to coat the squash pieces thoroughly. Add the cinnamon stick or cassia bark and orange zest, and bring to a simmer without a lid over a med-high heat for about 2-3 mins. Next, turn down the heat to med-low and simmer for about 50-60 mins, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon. It’s cooked when the compote is slightly jammy looking and all of the moisture has evaporated.
Set aside to cool slightly while you toast the almonds. Place the flaked almonds in a large heavy based frying pan or shallow pan in a single layer and, over a medium heat toast until they are lightly browned.
Serve the compote with a sprinkling of toasted almonds, a generous helping of mascarpone cream and a dusting of ground cinnamon.
On a dried bed of the once Turia river, stands the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, a spectacular example of futuristic architecture in the heart of Valencia, Spain.
Designed by esteemed Valencia architect, sculptor and painter Santiago Calatrava Valls–whose award winning work can be found from Dallas to Dubia–the impressive city comprises of six uniquely styled buildings designed to educate and entertain: L’Hemisfèric, contains the IMAX cinema and planetarium complex; El Museu de les Ciències Principe Felipe, is a skeletal structured, interactive science museum; L’Umbracle, an open structured landscape containing indigenous plants native to Valencia; L’Oceanogràfic, the largest aquarium in Europe and home to over 500 different species of marine life; El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, opera house and performing arts centre, and L’Àgora, which houses the sports and events centres.
The city is simultaneously simple and complex with smooth lines, cone shaped stairwells and suspended structures flowing seamlessly in a blend of water, glass, concrete and steel. Much like the designs of Barcelona’s Gaudi, Calatrava’s work is said to be reminiscent of living organisms with an emphasis on visual intrigue, balance and symmetry.
What I first noticed when I arrived in Porto, is how everything seems to lead up, then cascades down in colourful tiers to the banks of the Rio Douro in which it is intimately connected. Charming and highly photogenic, Porto is awash with colourful tiled buildings, swaying laundry, Azulejo adorned landmarks and famous bridges designed by Gustave Eiffel. Best known for its name-sake beverage, Porto is a city with a profusion of visual icons and edible treasures.
Arrive in Porto hungry, and you’ll be staggered by the range and quality of cafes and restaurants, sweet treats and tasting venues, both traditional and on-trend.
C. N. Kopke
From Porto make your way to Vila Nova de Gaia along the top deck of the Dom Luís bridge where you can enjoy stunning views up and down the Douro river. You’ll find all of the well known port producers from Sandeman to Crofts along the Gaia river bank offering tours and tastings. I opted solely for the tasting at one the oldest producers in the Douro valley, the German owned House of Kopke established in 1692. Tastings start at around 20 Euros per flight accompanied by a selection of chocolates and an in-depth history of each wine given by your host.
A fairly new addition to Porto’s tasting venues, specialising in the Duoro valley’s small and boutique wine producers. There’s an abundant selection of wines ready for tasting, the knowledgable sommeliers will help guide your preferences to create a very personalised and exceptional tasting flight. The short food menu, from tapas boards to pizzas, is designed to soak up the alcohol and not interfer with the business of tasting. An absolute must for anyone remotely interested in Portugese wines.
I have been looking forward to visiting this iconic book store for the longest time. Established in 1881 by brothers José and António Lello, the Hogworts-esque interior–a fusion of Neo-Gothic, Art Nouveau and Art-Decor styles– will leave book and art lovers gasping with delight. If you are hoping for a little whimsical photographic inspiration you will need to arrive early to beat the crowds. Purchase your ticket in the office next door, the value of which can be redeemed against any purchases.
Who knew a can of fish could be jazzed up this much! Sardines, of course, are synonymous with Portugal, and a few Portuguese concept stores in Porto have an enticing selection of merchandise geared towards the tourist. This stores’ decor– think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Cirque du Soleil–is probably not what you’d expect from a canned fish shop. But it’s a lot of fun and well worth a visit.
Another of Porto’s jaw-dropping icons is the Palacio da Bolsa. Designed in the Neo-classic and Neo-palladian architectural styles, the former stock exchange consists of a Tribunal Room, Assembly Room and Golden Room, each of which is impressively furnished, but it’s the Arab Room that impresses the most. Designed in the stunning Moorish revival style which was highly fasionable in the 1800’s, the beautiful reception room sparkles like a jewel.
If for whatever reason I were short on time in Porto, then this restaurant would be the only one on my list. It may look a little unloved from the outside, but don’t be deterred. Entering the lobby, you are met with 1970’s Las Vegas vibe decor: carpeted wall coverings and turquoise faux leather lift doors are just the beginning. Up in the dizzying heights of the 14th floor, you’ll find an equally retro bar and restaurant with dazzling views across Porto and the Rio Douro. The menu might begin with a mix of Petiscos (Portuguese style tapas), then either iberian pork in red wine, or traditionally baked Bachalau drizzled with thyme oil, followed by a traditional sweet pumpkin dessert, doce de abóbora. Each dish is served up old-style from the waiters trolley, which only adds to this restaurants charm and sophistication.
After enjoying the views of Porto from the banks of Vila Nova de Gaia, a meal at this restaurant would be a perfect addition to any travel itinerary. Set in the House of Taylor port wine cellars, the restaurant’s offerings are as tasteful as the views across the Rio Douro. The menu might include, pork cheek with crumbled Serra cheese, asparagus and chervil purée or, sea bass and mussels with scallop aioli and seaweed, followed by a stunning fresh raspberry mouse infused with port wine.
This bistro style restaurant uses traditional Portuguese slow cooking methods, and farm to table concepts, fused together with contemporary flare. The á la carte menu might include Black Angus beef in Port wine reduction with black pudding and sweet potato fritas, or traditional oven baked octopus followed by a dessert of sweet potato pudding with Mandarine ice cream, or a plater of Portuguese cheese covered in walnuts and chocolate.
When dinning in Porto you can expect stellar portion sizes, and going where the locals graze guarantees you’ll be full to the brim after your appetite inducing sightseeing. This very traditional, down to earth restaurant serves up excellent Portuguese dishes highly recommended by locals. You might like to try their bacalhau à Braga or polvo à dagareiro washed down with bottle of Douro valley wine. Great food, great wine all at really, really good prices.
Pure unadulterated indulgence in every sense of the word. The aroma alone as you walk into this store is sure to make any chocoholic weak at the knees. In the centre of the store are large bins containing everything chocolate from bonbons and brittles, while at the parameter oversized bars of exquisite high quality chocolate in handprinted wrapping can be found. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, port wine and chocolate tastings are regularly held to help you pair up your favourite flavours.
Yet another iconic Porto landmark which needs very little introduction. Established in 1921 the intensely charming decor and delicate coffee-house menu is an indulgence for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Open from breakfast time through to 11:00 pm Monday to Saturday, this is a must see for Art Nouveau and traditional coffee-house enthusiasts.
Set in the historic Papelaria Araújo e Sobrinho, this traditional stationery shop and printers is now home to A. S. 1829 Hotel. Spacious, comfortable rooms, excellent breakfast buffet and a short walk to most of Porto’s main attractions, this hotel is a perfectly positioned starting point for your sensory odyssey through Porto.
During my stay on Zanzibar Island, I would often sit on the beach quietly taking photos of the village women of Jambiani as they dug for clams on the shoreline. This took place mainly in the early evenings, just as the sun began to set. The vibrantly dressed women against the pale blue of the sea, and the golden hue of evening light was a vision to behold.
I asked a local man – the women did not speak to mzungu much – how the women prepared the clams they were gathering. “The clams are cooked in coconut with lime and salt” he told me.
Eating on the island was an absolute pleasure for the scenes. There are very few fridges in local cafes and restaurants, so everything is freshly prepared–fresh fish, fresh coconut, mango, passion fruit, limes, Thai basil and spices grown on the island were frequently used giving dishes the most delightful flavours and scented aromas.
This simple dish is an adaptation of the recipe given to me, but with a few additional ingredients which were abundantly used in the dishes of local restaurants.
You will need
clams 500 g
coconut milk 400 ml
zest & juice 1/2 lime
2 dried lime leaves
2 inches finely grated ginger
1 clove garlic crushed
1 level tbsp of tamarind
handful (20 g) of fresh Thai basil leaves roughly chopped*
salt & black pepper for seasoning
To begin, soak the clams in a large bowl of cold salted water for about an hour to remove any sand. Pour clams into a colander and rinse thoroughly under the cold water tap. Then swoosh around in the colander to remove excess water. Discard any clams that are fully open.
Place the coconut milk, dried lime leaves, ginger, garlic, tamarind, lime juice and zest and a generous pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper in a large pan and simmer over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes. With a slatted spoon remove the lime leaves and any large bits of tamarind that hasn’t dissolved. Pop the chopped Thai basil into the sauce reserving a little for garnishing. Turn up the heat slightly, pour in the clams, place a lid on the pan and let the clams steam for 5 minutes or so. Check to see if they are all open, if not give them a few minutes more. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. Discard any clams that have not opened. Spoon the clams and sauce into dishes and garnish with the reserved Thai basil leaves. Serve with dense white bread or white rice.
Serves two as a main dish or four as an appetiser.
*It has to be Thai basil as regular basil doesn’t work as well
Carnevale di Venezia is one of the most well known and extravagant festivals in the world. As enchanting and charming as Venice itself, the festival dates as far back as the 1200’s. The wearing of masks and elaborate costumes meant that festival goers could hide their identity, class and social status. Head to St. Mark’s square during the month of February, where decorous partakers can be seen parading around in search of photo opportunities.