Valencia is well known for its paella, which contrary to our usual idea, does not contain fish or seafood, but only chicken, rabbit and sometimes snails. There is, however, one vital ingredient, not always mentioned, which is the local "Garrafon" bean, a type of very large runner bean, which has large lima-style beans inside. We have often found that it is these little additions to a dish that make all the difference to the final result when it comes to flavour and autenticity. We very much enjoyed the real thing for Sunday lunch by the beach.

One other little idea we came across in Valencia was a mixture of salt cod, potatoes, and (lots of!!!) garlic served on toast with olive oil. We even watched one elegant Valencian stir a small amount of the mix into their paella. We'll be trying this at home.

29 January 2014

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South of Valencia

Just south of Valencia by only about 7km lies the Albufera National Park. Here the estuaries and rivers have created a patchwork of paddy fields, interspersed with lagoons. This is a delicate ecosystem, a co-operation between nature and man that has even given rise to its own architecture. The "barracas" are the traditional buildings constructed from mud and wattle, often still without electricity, but with beautiful rush roofs, the raw material plucked from next to the dwelling. The rights to the fishing on the lagoons are strictly controlled and passed down from father to son or daughter; the legacy probably includes the boats, all of which are painted with the same azure blue. This being such a large area of sweet water yet next to the sea, there is a vast variety of water- and wading- birds coexisting with the human exploitation. This exploitation includes the many visitors from Valencia, taking a stroll, cycling, and having a paella for lunch from a beach restaurant.
29 January 2014

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Cap Ferret

Cap Ferret on the Atlantic coast, not to be mixed up with Cap Ferrat on the glitzier Côte d'Azur, attracts a crowd that prefers understated glamour to bling, even though the odd French movie star may be seen joining in the relaxed lifestyle during the summer. Here you can enjoy riding a bike through the fragrant pine forests, take a stroll past all the beautiful wooden houses, swim, surf or fish.

Everyone meets for coffee and croissant or a canelé cake, at "Frédélian", an institution on boulevard Plage Cap Ferret. In the evening there are many oyster shacks that also serve apéritifs in the garden. For dinner "Chez Hortense" is not to be missed. It's an unpretentious wooden building right on the waterfront, unchanged for decades, which serves good food, especially sea food. A place to enjoy easy living and meeting up with old friends.

14 June 2013

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The Round House

Tucked away at the end of a lane we found this delightful structure known as The Round House. The owner lives in a modern house next door; the juxtaposition between the two is totally harmonious, showing how the modern designed, planned, thought-through ethic can work with the more random, instinctive type of build.

Being built into the hillside, it blends into nature, giving it a feel of belonging, rather than being an imposition on its surroundings.

The owner lets it during the summer (it comes with shower and WC) through Canopy & Stars,

15 March 2013

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Un Bon Petit Petit Pois

Petit Pois à la Française.

Here's a classic French way of preparing freshly podded peas. 1.2kg of peas should give you roughly 500 g of peas. Put them in a pan with 30g butter, a tied bouquet of fresh herbs, such as flat parsley, chervil and tarragon or summer savoury if you can find it, and 12 new baby onions, 1 tablespoon of sugar, a pinch of salt and the heart of a small round lettuce quartered (you can also use little gem). Mix well, cover with 200ml water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat, cook for 20-30minutes, depending on the size of the peas. At the end of the cooking time stir in a further 30g of butter. (Don't even think about calories; this is gorgeous.)

This dish is particularly good with a roast pigeon placed on top with its juices going into the mix (or use a poussin).

25 April 2012

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