Author Archives: C.C.
Author Archives: C.C.
The medieval city of Cordoba stands out for its peaceful co-existence of three religions—Islamic, Jewish, and Christian. While the spectacular architecture and cultural blend is a major draw for travellers, I’m here on a mission to uncover the amazing food of this Andalusian city. My initiation into the cuisine starts with two local favourites: Salmorejo, a cold and creamy soup made with tomato, bread, olive oil, vinegar, and garlic, served at almost every tavern and bar (it comes with small pieces of hard-boiled eggs and Iberico ham). The other is frituras that comes in three kinds: croquettes fried in extra virgin olive oil; eggplant slices fried in honey; Iberico pork fillet rolled in Iberico ham, coated with flour and eggs, and then fried in olive oil.
In just two dishes, and these ones at that, any gourmand can feel pinned to Cordoba. The following day at breakfast, I dig into toston, a toast generously sprinkled with fresh orange juice and olive oil, and topped with sugar and cinnamon. No butter or jam. To this, the cheerful waitress has a simple explanation: “The Romans brought the olives and the Moors introduced sugar, citrus fruit, and spices from the East.”
My guide Lourdes furthers my knowledge on local food by taking me to Salon de Te, a Moorish-style hookah bar, for a Bedouin mint tea. Beautifully decorated with patterned tiles, the bar has a spectacular courtyard surrounded by rooms, and offers a relaxed ambiance for evening rendevouz. If you’re in Cordoba for two nights, there is hardly any time to take a break from the gastronomic delights—there is so much to be experienced. Just after tea though, we feel the need to settle for some evening walk. A stroll on the banks of the Guadalquivir River brings us to a delightful stretch of open-air restaurants, most of which come highly recommended.
CROATIA’S VIBRANT CAPITAL is constantly reinventing itself. Restaurant menus change seasonally, parking lots play host to trending bike sports, and cobblestone streets alternate between pedestrian thoroughfares and late-night party strips. Gallivanting gourmands flock to Park Bundek for the annual Oktoberfest, while eager shoppers sniff out its remarkable design stores. And there is nary a vacant lot or blank wall that a pop-up bar or street artist hasn’t already discovered.
It’s all-change in the Croatian capital. While the urban fabric of the city might look the same as it was ten, 20 or maybe even 50 years ago, life on the streets is beginning to dance to a new set of tunes. To start with the most obvious sign of change; a new breed of cafes, bars and bistros are threading their way along the central thoroughfares, heralding a new going-out culture that is slowly stretching further and further into the suburbs. Elsewhere, the evidence is more subtle; a new fashion boutique here, a Croatian design store there, and an organic delicatessen shop opening up just around the corner.
When Croatia joined the European Union in 2013 people expected the country’s high streets to adopt a more globalised look. In fact, almost the opposite has happened, with Zagreb not so much preserving its unique identity as adding to it, with a well chosen selection of image-enhancing tweaks. The quality of the eating, drinking and shopping experience in Zagreb has gone up, not because the city is becoming more internationalised, but because there is more focus on what’s local – local wines, local ingredients, local products and a typically local emphasis on the good things in life.
By far the biggest change to overtake the city is the year-on-year increase in tourist numbers, turning Zagreb from Central Europe’s best-kept secret to a veritable regional tourism tiger. The booming popularity of Croatia’s Adriatic coast has certainly helped. Zagreb, despite being a couple of hours away from the sea, is an obvious entry point for beach-bound vacationers. But that is far from being the whole story. Global travellers increasingly want to visit cities with an authentic pulse – and Zagreb, with its relatively tourist trap-free landscape of street markets, pavement cafe terraces, quaint courtyards and gritty-but-not-too-grungey alternative nightlife, fits the bill admirably.
As the 4×4 bounced along a rutted dirt track, I gazed through swirling dust at an untamed landscape: cork trees, parched chaparral bushes, outcrops of golden rock. Fernando Romao, our guide and driver, pointed out short-toed eagles wheeling overhead as the vehicle lurched up a dry trough, engine roaring. In the front passenger seat, Simon Collier, a former safari guide from South Africa, wore a broad grin. “This is what Land Rovers are made for!”
We were in eastern Portugal’s Coa Valley, a four-hour drive from Lisbon. It had taken only an hour to get from the medieval fortress town of Castelo Rodrigo, where I’d spent the morning, to the heart of the 2,200-acre Faia Brava Nature Reserve. Having reached higher ground, we parked and strode across a patch of earth strewn with bones: a feeding spot for vultures. On the periphery stood a small, camouflaged observation shelter. I spent a sweltering hour inside watching dozens of the scavengers circle, their six-foot wingspans silhouetted against the powder-blue sky.
I was still under the spell of their slow, corkscrew loops when, a little later, we came upon a group of wild Maronesa cattle. A massive bull, black as night, paused to glower at us before thrashing away into thorny underbrush. These undomesticated bovines couldn’t have been more different from the tranquil animals I grew up around in New England. Later, on our way back to the safari-style tented camp where I was sleeping that night, we stopped to observe a herd of wild horses—unfenced, unfriendly, evidently belonging to no one—grazing in the late afternoon sun. I didn’t see another visitor in the park all day.
When we think about the world’s wild places, our minds typically turn to the South American rainforest or the savannas of Africa; we don’t usually picture Europe. Faia Brava, which was established as a nature reserve in 2000, was a working farmland for centuries, but a consortium of environmental activists believes it can become truly wild again. It is a laboratory for ‘rewilding,’ an environmental philosophy that has gained traction in Europe over the past decade.
Lull the mind, body and spirit with a host of holistic health services at this wellness wonderland a member of Healing Hotels of the World. Designed in the form of a mandala to reflect the relation between life and the infinite, the country’s first all-suite destination retreat epitomises high living and fine dining with sumptuous traditional Indian therapies at Kaya Kelp-The Royal Spa and personalised gourmet menus centred on the philosophy of wellbeing at its several restaurants. Guests can better understand their dietary requirements during consultations with the in-house Ayurvedic doctor and rediscover the magic of getting lost in time via leisure activities in nature, some of which are hiking, bird watching, mountain biking and rock climbing around the tranquil Aravalli Range.
The 100 suites featuring bold Indian colours and exceptional local craftsmanship come with either a semi-private pool and deck or a private terrace ideal for intimate gatherings, but for first-rate indulgence four regal villas are available, each of which is replete with a well-stocked pantry, temperature-controlled lap pool and Jacuzzi, dining room that can seat up to 10 guests and even an elevator for easier access across the two stories. A picture of majesty, ITC Grand Bharat allows the emperors of today to experience the luxury of eras gone by.
Die-hard urbanites who thrive on megalopolitan mania will relish their stay at this stately property just 15 kilometres from the airport and half a kilometre away from the city centre. A reflection of the regal spirit of Rajasthan and its royalty, the estate bears a handsome red brick exterior and is outfitted with long corridors, secluded courtyards and beautiful lattice work. After a day out and about in enthralling Jaipur, revive the tingle down the spine with an exotic therapy at the spa a stunning sanctuary before retreating back to one of the 218 rooms designed for space and splendour, each of which has been carefully designed to meet the needs of both business and leisure travellers. Celebrate the resplendent life and soul of ITC Rajputana by kicking off a flaming fiesta of flavours on the taste buds at Jal Mahal or Peshwari, where the specialty cuisine is as old as fire itself, and indulging in a decadent 1975 vintage within the glimmering walls of the trendy Sheesh Mahal Bar.
TOP DRAW: The location of choice for the city’s glitterati, the hotel’s versatile function options and proficient level of service makes it the perfect place for meetings, conferences and weddings. Impress up to 500 guests with a lavish themed reception at the Suryavanshi Mahal hall and hold intimate negotiations at the wood-panelled, hi-tech meeting rooms fit for VIPs.
NEARBY: Otherwise affectionately known as the Pink City, Jaipur is the gateway to India’s most flamboyant state and is crisscrossed by colourful, chaotic streets a heady brew of the classic and the contemporary. Prominent corporate offices including the World Trade Park and Shreeji Towers are less than five kilometres away while tourist favourites such asthejaigarh Fort, Nahargarh Fort and Amber Fort, all of which possess fascinating evidence of Rajasthan’s primeval dignity, are not far off. The City Palace still houses the former royal family and the adjoining five-storied, pyramid-shaped Hawa Mahal is today one of the major landmarks of the area. Be sure to check out the royalobservatoryJantarMantarfora breathtaking peek at the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Mughal period.
At its peak one of the most formidable kingdoms across continents, the Mughal Empire was a picture of prodigious power and prosperity and the grandeur is what this palatial 233-room hotel was inspired by. Set in the erstwhile capital of the dynasty, the only Indian hotel a winner of the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture not only retains romantic medieval allure but sits in close proximity to belts of renowned forts, museums and monuments, heart-stirring attractions of which include the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.
Ornate fountains, large outdoor rain showers and rolling expanses of lush greenery at the spa – the largest in the country at that-along with paradisiacal landscape features such as snaking water channels and blooming trees cleverly mirror the elemental luxuriousness of Mughal magnificence. In-house restaurants Pehwari and Taj Bano honour the region’s epicurean heritage and manner of fine dining by way of delectable cuisines and sophisticated interiors, promising not just a gastronomic affair unrivalled by any other in the city but also an experience reminiscent of the magic of feasting in the warmth of tents amid a cold desert terrain.
Tony professionals will find remarkable repose amid the hustle and bustle of New Delhi at this elegant property of superlative space, service and security. Situated in the exclusive diplomatic enclave, the hotel a tribute to the Golden Age of the Mauryan Dynasty is the preferred residence of global icons and has hosted many royalty, business leaders and heads of state for over 30 years. The 438 rooms boasting superior comfort and style include the popular ITC One Rooms- each of which features a digital valet and entitles complimentary lounge access – and various classes of sprawling suites.
Relieve the spirit with a refreshing dip at the pool or revivifying treatments at the spa and pick up chic writing instruments or style accessories before the next meeting at the thoughtfully-curated shopping arcade. Nine modish conference rooms are equipped with state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment and wireless high-speed Internet access, and at the grand Kamal Mahal banquet hall up to 750 guests can be accommodated with the highest standards in cuisine and hospitality, illuminating ITC Maurya’s position as a leading event venue.
Shopping fanatic, festival-goer or just a lover of delicious locally produced food? Whoever you are and whatever you want from a city, Edmonton’s got something for you.
History – DISCOVER EDMONTON’S PAST
Those craving history on their holiday will be kept busy in Edmonton. Check out Fort Edmonton Park – a living museum that divides the city’s history into four fascinating, defining eras, including the Fur Trading Era of the 1840s, and Metropolitan Era of the 1920s. Elsewhere, you can journey the highest streetcar crossing in the world with a ride on the 100-year-old High Level Bridge Streetcar, or visit the grand Alberta Legislature grounds and building.
Festival City – THERE’S A FESTIVAL FOR YOU
Forget wellies, mud and damp tents – Edmonton’s festival scene is far more diverse than a weekend in the rain. It’s here that you’ll find entire festivals dedicated to celebrating food like July’s Taste of Edmonton, a gathering of over 60 locally-owned restaurants, and the Servus Heritage Festival celebrating (and sampling!) over 80 cultures from around the world. August brings the world-renowned Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, an 11 – day event with local and international artists performing in unique venues such as pubs and bookshops. Music lovers won’t want to miss the Blues Festival 19-21 August, Sonic Boom on 3-4 September for indie rock and pop, and the Folk Music Festival 4-7 August.
Head Outdoors – CITY STREETS WITH BONUS PARKS
Those looking to combine a cool city vibe with adventurous outdoor activities will find themselves in the right place. In Edmonton you’ll discover the largest expanse of urban parkland in North America. So get ready for mountain biking, hiking and running. For something less strenuous, try renting a canoe and paddling along the North Saskatchewan River. Visiting in winter? Try snowshoeing or skiing right there in the city’s river valley. Find out more on page 78.
At first glance, Naoshima, a teeny five-square-mile island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, doesn’t look like much. Just a quietly unassuming, albeit perfectly pretty rural outpost – a sparing landscape of green mottled cliffs and empty, biscuit-coloured beaches. Then you notice the giant pumpkins. There’s the big yellow one covered in black polka dots at the pier.
Then the even larger, red-spotted pumpkin greeting visitors at Miyanoura Port. Later, strolling between villages along hushed island roads, I’ll spot more bizarre objects -some stuck in the sand, others peeping out from bushes – a huge tea cup, a geometric fishing net I can’t resist climbing inside for a picture, a multicoloured camel with trees growing out of its humps.
What do you think of when you hear ‘Japan’? Blade Runner-style cityscapes, strewn with video megascreens and neon? Robot waiters and cat cafes? Or maybe tranquil temples, and sacred misty mountain tops. Certainly Japan’s ‘Golden Triangle’ – your typical tour that takes in Tokyo, Kyoto and the Japan Alps – can deliver. But, keen to see another side to this famously reserved, futuristic island nation, I’ve scooted further south along the country’s main island of Honshu, where there’s a whole other Japan waiting in the wings to be discovered; an ‘alternative Golden Triangle’, which topples as many stereotypes as it confirms.
Which is how I come to be on Naoshima. Once a sleepy fishing island, idle in its anonymity 700km below Tokyo, Naoshima is today completely overrun by contemporary art. Part-theme park, part-playground, and all brilliant, wherever you turn here, you’ll bump into an installation, a sculpture, or ultramodern, avant-garde museum. And those psychedelic pumpkins? They’re works by Japan’s greatest living artist: the eccentric, red-wigged octogenarian Yayoi Kusama, who has lived in a psychiatric hospital since 1975, and was an early influence on Andy Warhol. True story.
It’s a concept with just the right balance of crazy and genius to be distinctly Japanese, while offering a very different experience to your noisy megalopolis or reflective Zen garden. Even that most staid of institutions, the museum, is made thoughtfully radical: at Chichu Art Museum, I descend into an ethereal, all-white underground chamber, sparsely decorated with Monets. (Chichu literally translates as ‘in the earth’.) The white-out brings out the becalming effect of the Water Lilies; the silent museum staff are also dressed in head-to-toe white, and as they glide around, I’m left with the distinct impression that I’ve dropped through a portal into a museum from the year 2135.
Why do we do it to ourselves? Our lives are short and the world is so interesting. So why do we spend so money of our weekends away in well behaved cities that are so meek and mild, so boring and band? Macedonia’s capital in anything but. Skopje has swagger. It swears and pokes, it jolts and jostles, it preens and poses. Walking around it is like a night out with Alex Higgins. Snowy peaks punch above it, a muddy river slices through it, drivers speed around in mud-caked cars narrowly avoiding fatal smashes, stray dogs bark and pout, beautiful women look dismissive, fat men smoke and squabble, the air is thick with all kinds of opportunities, many of them sinful.
It’s a city that’s alive. Most of all it is exotic, and that exoticism seeps from every pore. North of the River Vardar, minarets puncture a smoggy sky, and the bazaar throbs with a million sensations. The call to prayer echoes from tinny loudspeakers, the smell of Turkish tea wafts along, switchback alleys offer that most delicious possibility: the chance to get completely lost in a place where you see virtually no Western European tourists, hear virtually no English or French or Italian apart from the names of famous football players shouted at TVs. Creaky wooden buildings lean over each other, shoddy souvenirs are flogged by shysters who wink and waggle fingers.
An Ottoman spice grinder? Yeah, I think, why not? I make a mental note to check nothing’s been stashed inside it before I go through customs. A slice of burek? Yep – the spinach and feta one, always the spinach and feta one. I try to remember the name of the stall where I buy the flaky pastry pie – the Balkans’ second most popular export after Drina fags – but even if I were a better journalist I’d never find it. Just go looking, you won’t regret it.
Serendipity, rather than good research and keen mapping skills, bring me to the Water Inn and then the old hammam that signal how important the Ottomans were during their five centuries of colonisation of these lands. Their dominance ended at the river, where the famous old Stone Bridge sails out from the Muslim world and lands in the Christian one. On a wall, on the Muslim side, graffiti in English (for maximum effect) reads “fuck nationalism”. Someone has tried to scribble it out – probably the police and probably because the current right-wing government is very much for nationalism.
And that’s why the centre of Skopje now looks like nothing less than a Las Vegas mega-resort, an unholy marriage of The Bellagio and Caesars Palace with hundreds of yard sale statues thrown in for free. These new buildings are an absolute architectural abomination with their pediments and whitewash. But they’re gripping and they’re absolutely a part of what this city is all about. This is what happens when former communist countries try to jettison the 20th century. There’s a new theatre that looks like a belle epoque theatre and a new archaeological museum that looks like a casino. The whole point of this Skopje 2014 ruse was to project a civilised, cultured, mitteleuropa feel.