Join me for a short trip from Granada to the Tropical Coast. More to come!!
Just a bit less than half way to North America when leaving Lisbon you will find one of the most beautiful archipelagoes in the Atlantic. The Azores or Os Açores in Portuguese consist of 9 volcanic islands and is one of two autonomous regions of Portugal. The other being Madeira. Most people choose to visit the islands between April and November when the weather is at its best and you can enjoy the numerous beaches and hiking on the islands. Our favorite time to travel is the off season when the crowds are less and you can easily distinguish the locals from travelers so we went to the Azores for New Years and the first week of January a couple of years ago.
It tends to rain in January but the sun came out quite a bit and allowed us to hike and have some beautiful views as we discovered the island of São Miguel. This is one of the first three islands that were initially sighted and discovered in the 14th and 15th centuries. The first inhabitants to the islands were actually sheep who were placed there to eventually feed the first settlers who included the Portuguese mostly from the Algarve and the Minho, the Flemish, the French, and Sephardic Jews amongst others. When the Spaniards temporarily took over Portugal in 1580 they also wanted the Azores. It is said that cattle were released by the Azoreans to confuse and scatter the invaders. Still today we found more cows than humans on the Ilha Sao Miguel which for me is just perfect! They filled our photos at every scenic outlook and blocked the roads.
One of my favorite places on the island was Sete Cidades , which is the name of a town and also a spectacular nature area. It is probably one of the most beautiful panoramas I have ever seen. There is a viewpoint where you can look down on the two lakes that fill in the center of a volcanic crater. Lagoa Azul reflects the blue color of the sky and Lagoa Verde reflects the rich green color of the earth. Hiking in this area is greatly rewarded by a local lunch in the town.
Everything we ate during our stay was excellent. All diary products were superb from the milk to every cheese that we tasted, especially the fresh cheese served at the hotel breakfast and the Queijo São MIguel which is easily found throughout the mainland as well. Beef was aplenty and we had a few amazing dishes from simple to fancy. They also produce great wines to accompany the local food. Wine production has nearly doubled here in the past years, most of it being produced on the Island of Pico.
I had never tasted a “limpet” before the Azores. It is like an aquatic snail with a cone shape. We tried the limpets at a restaurant right on the beach. They were grilled and served with lemon. Simple and plentiful. Maybe not my favorite dish but it was fun to taste them. I definitely need a second try on our next visit.
After lunch we walked through the small and obviously poor town of Rabo de Peixe. We stumbled upon a solemn funeral procession of a young man from the town. The air was heavy with humidity and grief. Everyone was dressed in what must have been their best clothes, paying their regrets to the loss of a young life. I remember the feeling in this town more than I remember the taste of the limpets. The obvious poverty and solemness was very different from what we had experienced up until this moment on the island. Real life and death. To be continued……
So, a very dear friend is going to be in Lisbon and Porto very soon. For me it would be heaven to take him out to a great dinner and enjoy his company in one of these great cities. I think the last time we saw each other we went to a Gypsy Kings concert in Phoenix Arizona. A very, very long time ago. Nonetheless he still feels like family to me and I am seriously bummed that when he is in Portugal, where I spend half my time, I will be off working somewhere in Andalucia. So, this is for you Andy. I hope you have an awesome time and I wish I could be with you! I know you are staying at a hotel in Sintra so why not enjoy an afternoon taking the tram to from Sintra to Praia das Maçãs. The tramline opened in 1904 and runs for 7 miles from Sintra down to the beach.
There is an awesome restaurant called Búzio where we had a seafood rice and a perfect salad to go with it. I like rice dishes in Portugal more than anywhere else. My favorite is Arroz de Tamboril which is a soupy rice dish made with monkfish and shrimp. It is almost always flavored with cilantro which is what makes it perfect.
You can take the tram down to the beach and have a nice walk, enjoy a great lunch and then take the tram back to Sintra for a coffee and a great Portuguese pastry like a pastel de fejião, a queijada or a pastel de laranja. You can eat 4 different pastries a day while you are there because there are so many to try.
You can be a nerd like I am and pose with the tram. Enjoy!!!!
The sound of the waves, the salt on my skin, and the smell of grilled sardines in the tropical air. This describes summer for me. Before moving to Southern Spain my only beach memories were blue lip freezing Lake Michigan and 3 for a dollar burritos in Mexico every once in a while. Since living here the beach has become a great part of my life and necessary relaxation. With our van we have traveled along many beautiful coast lines, but the closest to home is the Costa Tropical. Pebbly or rocky beaches with a deep shore that feels like a swimming pool at times. There is no gradual wading into the water here. One second your foot is on the bottom and the next you are swimming in the deep sea. Of course, most people come here for the beach, local fish, tropical fruits and sun but the Costa Tropical is also filled with history.
History here dates long before this but the Phoenicians named the largest town Sexi (now Almuñecar) in about 800 BC. In the city of Almuñecar you can visit the area where certain foods were conserved with salt and they produced garum, the fermented fish sauce that was mainly used by the Romans and Greeks. The coast line is also dotted with watchtowers (atalayas) from different times in history as well as a Roman aqueduct over the Jete Valley. In both Almuñecar and the town of Salobreña you can visit the castles that were rebuilt and used by the Nasrid Dynasty of Granada. From the 10th century the production of sugar was the most important industry along the coast and you can still visit the old sugar factories in some towns. You can trace the gastronomy in this area by following the lines of history. The fertile soil here now allows for the production of many different tropical fruits and fresh fish is the most obvious protein. However you can still find sweets dating back to Arabic and Jewish origins made with sugar, sesame, almonds and honey.
Visiting the castles and old ruins along the coast reminds of the rich history that is recorded here but the sea always calls our name so we sit down at a local “chiringuito” with our feet in the sand to enjoy a glass of local white wine and fresh fish accompanied by a tropical salad. This is the best of Spanish summer for me!
Just south of one of my favorite cities, PORTO, there is an active fishing town called Espinho. We have spent quite a bit of time there during the summer months sleeping in our van, swimming and enjoying the fantastic seafood that the restaurants offer there. I was even coaxed into taking a surf class one morning. The morning we had our class the waves were huge and the beach had a red flag. My biggest nightmare became reality. Miraculously I made it through alive but I stick to body boarding from then on.
In the mornings we would wake up early to watch the fishing nets being pulled in from the sea. We loved watching this whole process. Early in the morning the boats take the nets out and leave them in the sea. Hours later tractors pull the nets back onto the beaach. Traditionally this was done using the Portuguese fishing boats and steer to pull the nets back on to shore. The catch of the day is pulled up to shore and then the people in charge begin to sort, separate and sell to local restaurants or families. It is so much fun to watch. Usually it is the men and boys who are separating the fish and the women take care of the business side of things. The atmosphere here is so pure and and the people are living the same way they have for years and years. If there is one thing that can keep my attention before coffeee, it is the fishing industry in Espinho. It is a mixture of calm, chaos, confusion, organization and the hardcore daily life of locals.
There is a small fish market right next to the local bar in this neighborhood but every Monday in Espinho they celebrate one of the best open air markets I have ever experienced. For 12 hours each Monday you can find pretty much everything imaginable. The market expands over a mile long and is filled with local farmers, artisans and the gypsy market as well. The fish market here is absolutely gorgeous. We met a wonderful woman named Carlota. We watched as she purchased the fish and then followed her to the stall where she sold the goods. Some were already prepared for “Caldeirada”: a traditional Portuguese fish stew prepared with an assortment of skate (or any other fish), potatoes, onions and cilantro.
At one point in the morning you could purchase a huge crate of fish for two euros. Sardines are the best in the summertime. We would have purchased the two euro crate if we had a fridge in our van but it was probably not a good idea to do that!! We enjoyed them in a restaurant almost everyday without the lasting smell.
The rest of the market is an array of colors and smells and local people selling their items. You can find the freshest vegetables, bread, cheese, pots and pans, clay cookware, live hens and roosters. I could go on for hours talking about the products that you can purchase in this amazing market. Instead I will leave some nice photos below to give you an idea.
One of my favorite parts of the open air markets in Portugal is the food that you can eat while you are shopping about. My partner loves having the grilled chicken with salad and wine. He could eat this everyday of his life. But, in Espinho we found a great little stand that sold a variety of dishes. The 50 cent jars of wine went great with a “bifana”, a traditional pork sandwich served with mustard and hot sauce. We also noticed people showing up with their empty tupperware containers to fill them up with the soup of the day. Of course we had to try the soup! One Monday it was “Papas de Sarrabulho”. At first this may not sound so enticing to you. It is mashed blood with potatoes and meat from a variety of animals. It is a soup that is prepared in the Northern part of Portugal and wonderful in the winter months. Like most dishes prepared with blood, it was surpsingly tasty!
We enjoyed the Monday market days thoroughly but they could also be exhausting due to the hot weather. Usually we followed a morning at the market with an extremely refreshing swim in the Atlantic and a long walk along the beautiful coastline. On the other days of the week we would swim and eat and swim. We would eat grilled sardines almost everyday. In Portugal they serve them on top of great bread so the flavor of the sardine soaks into the bread. You eat the sardine and then put olive oil on the bread and enjoy the wonderfully flavored bread! We usually followed the sardines with a fish caldeirada. We even prepared it a couple of times on our own over an open fire. Along with a lovely salad and local wine you really can’t go wrong.
RESTAURANTE OS MELINHOS – CREDIT FOR AWESOME FOOD!
One afternoon we ran into Carlota along the boardwalk selling fresh fish. This a town of hardworking people. On Mondays she would be at the regular market and then during the week she would go from restaurant to restaurant and house to house selling her daily catch.
Sometimes in the winter off season from tours I find myself “holing up” and reading books, doing yoga, and being a bit of a recluse in general. Yesterday was quite different being that I met with a friend for coffee, then went to my class and in the evening met up with another friend for tapas. Both of my friends that I met with yesterday are the type of people who spread positive energy, and time with them leaves me feeling much better about myself and life in general. With my morning friend we talked about how negative comments from others are so unnecessary and can really get one down. We definitely need to choose to surround ourselves with positive influences on our lives. This made me think about how much I have been through since I moved to Spain and how difficult it has been at times to filter through the falseness to find true friendships.
Not long ago we were served this tapa of potato chips and pickled anchovies which also took me on a time travel back through my experiences since I’ve lived here. I had been a vegetarian and then vegan for many years before moving here but when I arrived I decided to expand my food horizons for cultural reasons. This was the very first tapa I was ever served in Granada. Having been tortured as a young child by canned anchovies (the extra salty ones) hiding under the cheese on homemade pizzas, I basically loathed the smell and taste of them. One can imagine how I felt when this was set in front of me. However, like many other things I learned to love them. I remember everything about this moment and the bar where I was having tapas with friends. At Seis Peniques they would serve 3 free tapas instead of 1 with every drink, and it was where we took Sevillana dance lessons in the basement. It was also where a close friend of mine ended up working as a cook in the kitchen and he was taught the “secret” to the amazing Salsa Rosa. Ketchup and Mayonnaise. We laughed for hours about that one. Since that first tapa I’ve had many positive and negative experiences, both with people and with tapas. These two subjects can give you the same general feelings. They can be dissapointing and make you feel really awful or they can lift you up and make you want for more and more.
One of my favorite discoveries in Granada was taking the bus down to the beach and being able to enjoy a tapa at one of the chiringuitos in the sand. I felt like I was in heaven the first time I was served a cold beer with a tapa of fried fish and was able to jump into the sea between drinks. This is still one of my favorite ways to enjoy a day off. The best part is that if you are served a tapa that you don’t like you just might have a friend stop by to enjoy it for you as was the case for me one day. A small friend but very helpful.
Cheers to my uplifting encounters with dear friends yesterday and to my friend Melissa who lifts me up and encourages me from far away!!
During and after the holidays is a time for me to regroup a bit and enjoy some down time before the tourist season begins. The weather has been unusually beautiful even for Andalucia. We always take advantage of the warm sun to explore some of the small towns and nature that we have a stone´s throw from Granada. We can hike or bike to Pinos Genil which is a beautiful small town on the river known for its outdoor terraces where you can enjoy lunch or just a small tapa. The “huevos rotos” are especially good at La Taberna de Guillermo. Sauteed potatoes with excellent Serrano ham and fresh eggs. The eggs are served fried and whole on top and you cut everything up with a knife and fork hence the name, Broken Eggs. Here they let us use their homemade hot peppers to put on top which makes us extremely happy.
Since my daughter Luna “adopted” my bike a couple of years ago I have not had my own until this Christmas. Thank you Santa. To celebrate we biked to Fuente Vaqueros, the birth town of Federico García Lorca, a prominent poet and playwright who was assassinated by the Nationalist troops in the Spanish Civil War. From the path along the Genil River you have a perfect view of the snow covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada. In the afternoon we stopped to talk with a shepherd who was out walking with his 180 goats. He was a happy man who mentioned that the day would be perfect if he could spend it sitting on an outdoor cafe drinking beers with his wife.
One of the most pintoresque drives in Andalucia takes you from the city of Granada down to the Mediterranean Coast passing through the mountains and the Tropical Valley. It is called the Carretera de la Cabra, or the “Goat Road” in English. There is a beautiful hike down to the Rio Verde and a few small white towns that are yet to be discovered by the masses. We usually stop in a couple of those along the way to the coast. In the town of Otívar we have a glass of one of my favorite wines which is quite strong. It is called vino de la tierra, wine of the land. Here it is pink and harsh. A dear friend from another town close by laughingly commented, “be careful or you will end up asleep in the valley.” That same friend directed us to a bar in Otivar to taste their award winning tapa, grilled eggplant with goat cheese.
“UNDERSTAND ONE SINGLE DAY FULLY , SO YOU CAN LOVE EVERY NIGHT”
– Federico García Lorca
We have been hitting record temperatures here in Granada the past few weeks. Having lived many years of my life in the desert of Arizona I can usually handle the heat but every year it gets more difficult. The last couple weeks have been brutal around here and the only way to deal with this is to flee the city and head to the coast. Lucky for us it is only 40 minutes to the nearest beaches with clear and cool water perfect for soothing the burn of the summer.
Our very old yet reliable hippy van makes beach life a lot easier since we can now spend days on the beach without having to spend too much money or “pasta” as we would say here in Spain. One of life’s greatest joys is opening your eyes in the morning with a view of the sea, hearing the sound of the waves and going for the first morning swim with the fish. I love the pebbly beaches of the Tropical Coast near Granada. The water is usually like a deep swimming pool and clear enough to see your feet and the bottom of the sea. The best beaches are found by hiking down a steep path or a curvy road.
Of course beach life would not be the same without some fresh and local food. Although we do enjoy preparing our own food next to the van, a good lunch at a “chiringuito” is always a treat. At my favorite beach they have the best avocado, caper and anchovy salad. The coast of Granada is painted with avocado trees, one of the best fruits on earth.
I probably eat less rice than anyone else in this country. Personal tastes and a minor seafood allergy don’t help much with this. Lucky for me, here at my favorite chiringuito they will prepare the paella without a seafood broth so that I can actually enjoy a decent rice. The best part of an excellent paella is the “socarrat”, the rice that gets crunchy and forms a crust at the bottom of the pan. This word comes from the Spanish word “socarrar” which means to singe. No matter what type of paella you are eating, this is the part that should be most enjoyed!
On my very first flight from New York to Madrid I looked through a very well known travel book about Spain and Portugal. In the food section I remember reading that it was almost impossible to find vegetarian food or a decent salad. Being a vegetarian at the time I figured I was going to live on bread and apples for the following year. The truth is that during my first few months here I did find it difficult to find a lot of vegetarian options. But that was mostly due to my lack of knowledge about the food in Spain in general. I think many vegetarians decide to survive on Tortilla Española (spanish potato omelet) and green salad, without the tuna of course. But actually, the options are endless.
One of my very favorite dishes, a specialty in Sevilla, is Espinacas con Garbanzos. A hot stew with fresh spinach, chickpeas, cumin, paprika, garlic, bread and olive oil. Served with mini breadsticks and a glass of dry sherry, it does not get much better for a veggie lover. In the South you can also find fried eggplant everywhere. Sometimes salty and sometimes with sugar cane honey. My daughter loves the vegetable tajine at our favorite seafood restaurant on the coast of Granada. It is an out of place item amongst the fresh fish and seafood but she is always happy to order it!
Salads are plentiful and diverse. One of our favorites is an Avocado Salad, either with fresh greens or tomatoes. Another that we enjoy and order frequently at the beach restaurants here in Granada is a fresh fruit salad which varies seasonally. In the fall it is filled with oranges, chirimoyas (custard apples), perssimons, avocado and star fruit.
There are so many vegetable dishes available if you know what to look for on the menu or at a bar. I have not yet looked to see if that travel book has changed it’s idea about food in Spain and Portugal. The days of “jamon” being part of a vegetarian dish have long dissapeared in most places.