Retreat to Budva in Montenegro… Your brain is still woozy from absorbing the red-gold autumn flamboyance of the Lovcen National Park and the raw wilderness of the rocky Dinara Alps, as you drive down towards… More
A traditional Portuguese meal to remember…
From the rocky edge of Sítio, 300 meters above the endless, crescent-shaped sandy sea-front of the fishing village of Nazare, 120 kilometres from lively Lisbon, I held my breath at the scene. Scalloped waves curled against silky aquamarine waters and a riot of rust-roofed white houses pushed along a snaking Calcada promenade. An ordinary home in an extraordinary setting right here. Now that’s a life to aspire for!
Minutes later, we were down there with our guide, Sonia, weaving through narrow one-way streets, while I tried to disentangle my over-imaginative brain from a futile, albeit engaging web of mental pictures. She had no idea that I was predicting the floor plans of the cramped, but cute, whitewashed houses with blue and yellow borders, while she located a parking spot. As we headed to a small restaurant for an authentic meal experience, I was completely clueless that in addition to my appetite, my curiosity was about to be satiated too!
Down one of stone-paved lanes that offered a distant, but enticing peek of the seafront, Sonia led us to Rosa do Ventos. A cobalt blue awning and a removable porch with a couple of tables were the only two features distinguishing the tiny restaurant from the row of neighbouring houses. I felt my eyebrows rise a micro-millimeter and my lips curve with undisguised delight. Layout, layout! Oh, and food.
Inside the small space (originally a living room, maybe), lay 5-6 small tables dressed with pink-and-white checkered tablecloths. Modest crockery and cutlery were placed upside down. Protection from flies? Fishing nets hung casually from the ceiling. On the walls, several ropes were knotted in different nautical styles. Black & white framed photographs of village and fishing scenes, and a family in traditional Portuguese costumes, added a touch of vintage character. Definitely ancestral, no flea market finds here. Blue and white tiles decorated the bottom half of the walls and a faded sky-blue fan added to the seaside effect. We settled down onto the simple blue-painted wooden benches and gazed around. Rustic and adorable!
It was just us…apart from a Japanese couple engaged in animated conversation with their guide. When the restaurant owner (we assumed) emerged from behind the open kitchen counter and Sonia hugged him with a warmth for an old friend, we knew this was a regular stopover for all her tour clients. She introduced us to him, recommended the fish soup and rushed off for a quick errand. Fish soup…hmmm. Or go with our gut feeling and order grilled fish instead? Gut feel, then.
Raimundo brought us three varieties of raw fish to choose from and we picked the sole. Relishing the fresh bread slices dipped in flavoursome olive oil, we talked about the pretty villages we had seen along Portugal’s countryside all the way from Lisbon. But we weren’t alone for long. With the fish on the grill, he was back soon and the chit-chat began. We asked him about the proud portrayals of his family legacy on the walls (even his own childhood picture was up there). He flash-backed unabashed and we shadowed him down memory lane.
In 10-15 minutes, the fish arrived on a steel plate, with raw juliennes of onions, sliced cucumber, chunks of tomatoes, shredded carrot and beetroot on a bed of lettuce and wedges of boiled potato with skin. Eyeballs locked hypnotically, as Raimundo expertly cleaned the fish, sliced off the head and tail, removed the bones and served neat portions onto our plates. The crunch of the crisp meat was sheer music and the fresh aroma was pure fragrance. Instinct boldly spelt it out…this would be a meal to remember. Instinct never lies. One bite and we were floored…it was divinely, crisply cooked to perfection! Two heads nodded enthusiastic in sync…and he smiled in glee. Great quality fish, lots of rock salt and grilling, he revealed. “And love”, we added. The simplest recipes are the best. We couldn’t agree more. Who needs Michelin stars, when you can savour this?
Raimundo continued to season the meal with tales about Nazare’s famous winter waves. For evidence and effect, he replayed a video of the 100 feet tsunami-like wave surfing record. We listened intently as he opened his heart to us…his love affair with the sea, his passion for fishing in winters, his spiritual connect with Nazare and his lifelong commitment to his food business. We smiled in amusement at his innocent imitation of stressed-out Lisbon visitors from the ‘big village’. And we knew then, that this little corner of the world was his entire life, and he craved nothing else, not even an expansion of his precious family business. Raimundo was living his dream and he was content. We were taking back unforgettable memories of an afternoon spent with a friendly, simple, unaffected family man, who had served us one of the best meals of our lives!
For dessert, we strolled the generous beachfront, watched laundry dangle from windows, counted colors of houses, took sneak pictures of local women selling chestnuts and wondered how many of their generations had lived here. Were they wearing seven skirts too? (Read my post on the seven skirts tradition of Portugal here.) No hustle-bustle of a touristy beach retreat, just the languorous calm of incessant waves, the gentle warmth of the coastal sun and the infectious pace of people-watching. Raimundo was right. Stay long enough and you’ll never want to leave!
Pin this post for later!!
Insta-worthy Dubrovnik beyond the wall walk…
Entering the walled city of Dubrovnik through the impressive 13th century Pile Gate, four doors, two walkway bridges and a wooden drawbridge, remind yourself that Napoleon’s French army once stomped through this path with destructive, harmful intent. Shivers up your spine?
Melt into scintillating Seville…
Seville is home to two of the most magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Sites, two outstanding pieces of other-worldly architecture. Both will leave you reeling in disbelief with their grandeur and intricacy. Both are monumental tributes…one to the Lord, the other to royalty. If you were forced to explore just one, which would it be?
Melt into scintillating Seville…
A 2.5 hours journey by high speed train from Madrid Atocha station will transport you to Seville, Spain’s fourth largest city located along the coast of the Guadalquivir River in the South. The dull sandy colour of the scorched countryside, though not refreshingly green, has an allure of its own. The sunbaked red earth is dotted by miles of olive trees, sunflowers, maize and corn.
On the Van Gogh trail in Southern France…
Your search for France’s finest scenic beauty will lead you to rural Provence. Here, charming villages dot the fresh countryside. Undulating oceans of vineyards melt into sweeping, fragrant lavender fields. Summer sunflowers blend into lush olive groves. And canopies of plane trees border the long, winding roads…this magnificent legacy of Napoleon has been providing shade and shelter since centuries. These breathtaking vistas once fuelled the creative genius of legendary writers like Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and art masters like Cézanne, Picasso, including one of my personal favourites, Van Gogh. Follow the dreamy drive to the town of Arles, where the famed artist lived for a year and developed his inimitable style characterised by bold colours and dynamic brushstrokes.
And why Cologne city should be on your list…
As the train crosses the Rhine, strain for a view of the iconic twin spires of the mammoth Cathedral towering over the narrow gables and high slated roofs of Germany’s 2000 year-old city, Cologne or Koln. You fight the urge to walk into its hallowed interiors directly from the station that’s just 20 meters away. But the moment your wheeled baggage is out of the way, you’re back. This is ground zero…all roads start and end here.
Unearth an abandoned neighbourhood in Gujarat
I shouldn’t have gone googling when the guide asked me, “Would you like to see the wooden mansions of Sidhpur?” It killed the surprise. Or maybe I should have. Because it would have been a huge mistake to skip it. Pick from various good hotels in Ahmedabad to stay, and drive 112 km away to this ancient city of north Gujarat, believed to be located at the junction of the rivers Ganga and Saraswati.