Portuguese wine has been a revelation to me over the last few years. I’d always poo pooed it with memories of overly sweet, slightly fizzy vinho verde produced from stubby Mateus bottles – albeit the bottles did come in handy to make artful candlestick holders!
Luckily for me our local wine shop (Reserve in Didsbury) always ensures that I “try something different” and never seems to get it wrong. So, when I was offered a Portuguese white from the Duoro valley I was amazed to find it was rather good and I haven’t looked back since! Wanting to discover more about the wines of Portugal, on our recent trip to Portugal (after discovering an alternative Algarve – read about how you do that here) Julian and I headed north to the central Alentejo region. But to our delight we discovered more than just wonderful wineries.
The Algarve stretches from the Spanish border nearly 100 miles to the Atlantic Coast, but most people visiting the area congregate in the central stretch west of Faro, staying in the rather large resorts that come with their perfectly manicured golf courses, dazzling array of facilities and swathes of villa complexes. In fact, the only thing these resorts don’t seem to have is anything particularly Portuguese. As well catered as you will be, let’s face it you really could be anywhere in southern European and you know what, you’re really missing out.
There’s an alternative Algarve waiting to be discovered. An Algarve less trodden where you will resolutely know you’re in Portugal. The key is knowing where to look. My tip is to do as Julian and I did on a recent trip and, on exiting Faro airport, turn your back on the crowds and instead head east towards Spain. Read more
Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is chaotic, mesmerising, fascinating and exhausting all at the same time. This slightly bonkers city is an absolute assault on the senses but it’s also utterly captivating and I first fell under its spell when I arrived on the overnight bus from India – a journey that has haunted me for over 20 years!
Now don’t get me wrong, compared to an Indian city, Kathmandu was still a mad old place with the same persistent stall holders and imploring beggars. But it was different. With the legions of trekkers visiting the area over the years, the city had come to cater very nicely for the needs of the independent western traveller – the pizzerias with wood fired pizza, cafés offering salads washed in filtered water and German bakeries with the best tasting cakes, were like nirvana to me after spending months in India living on Dahl!
But then I got seduced by the vibrancy of the city and discovered the pure joy of wandering the maze of narrow streets uncovering hidden temples overflowing with bright coloured flowers, stumbling across little courtyards with medieval-looking workshops where artisans plied their trade by hand, mooching around bazaars selling produce of every colour, shape and smell imaginable and succumbing to religion as it’s everywhere.
Visiting many years later, the city had certainly grown beyond recognition and indeed sprawled to the edges of the valley, almost butting up against the Himalaya that circle it. But, although now very much a busy and hectic developing city, I was relieved to find that Kathmandu still had the charm I fell in love with many years ago, and with much of its architectural heritage subject to preservation programmes, the oldest areas are still a delight to behold. Read more
There’s a local phrase in Costa Rica which is on everyone’s lips, “pura vida”. Roughly translated it means pure life but in reality it means all’s well and life is great and it really is the answer to everything! I reckon that’s why the local Ticos are so warm and friendly and the whole place seems to have a relaxed vibe.
At just two thirds the size of Scotland, Costa Rica is a small country that manages to pack a lot in. It’s a nature lover’s paradise with active volcanoes, adventurous activities, alluring cloud forests and verdant rain forests teeming with exotic birds and other wildlife. There are plenty of beaches too, if you want to throw in some rest and relaxation. There’s enough to see and do to keep everyone interested which is why it makes a great destination for both couples and families.
Here are some of the highlights that I experienced on a recent trip to Costa Rica: Read more
I’d read about the wild and stunning Northumberland scenery and its rugged coastline, but always wondered whether it was worth a trip, especially as there didn’t seem anywhere decent to stay and I was never into Harry Potter, which was filmed up there.
So, when I heard about a medieval pub in a quaint village which was undergoing a smart makeover, I got the long weekend booked. And, I have to say, I’m so glad I did. Julian and I left asking why, as lovers of Great Britain’s big country (not the 80’s band incidentally), we hadn’t been before.