Monthly Archives: August 2017

The foodie trail in Fez

Moroccan cuisine is a cultural melting pot, and Fassi flavours originated in the funduqs (ancient inns used by travelling merchants), where numerous nationalities crossed paths. The Berber influence is found in staples like couscous, Arabs brought dried fruit and spices, and the French left a cafe culture. Recipes vary by region, but some of Morocco’s most unique dishes hail from Fez.

Best for light bites: Café Clock
Set in the heart of the medina, Fez institution Café Clock is spread over two dars (traditional townhouses with internal courtyards). It’s the perfect place to take a sightseeing break with nus nus – half coffee, half milk – and a bite from the eclectic all-day menu, perhaps shakshuka (a Berber-style omelette), a hearty harira soup or the justly famous camel burger. It’s vegetarian friendly, too. Wash it down with a luisa (lemon verbena) tea or a date milkshake.

Best for Moroccan tapas and Fassi classics: The Ruined Garden
Set in the romantic remains of a ruined riad, The Ruined Garden serves Moroccan ‘tapas’ for lunch, such as sardines in chermoula (garlic, paprika, cumin, olive oil and lemon juice) with a polenta batter, and makouda, spiced battered potato cakes. Dinner is a la carte, but you can also order special-occasion dishes a day in advance, such as slow-roasted mechoui lamb, Sephardic chicken and the quintessential Fassi dish, pigeon b’stilla. It’s usually made with chicken nowadays, but here it’s the real deal: boneless braised pigeon cooked in spices, topped with a layer of toasted and ground almonds, saffron and cinnamon, all wrapped in paper-thin warka pastry, baked and dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon.

Traditional crafts of northern Japan

Japan’s ‘deep north’, the largely rural Tōhoku region is home to craft traditions that have been handed down over generations. A trip to this little-visited swathe of the country offers a chance to see skilled artisans at work – and find a unique souvenir – just a train ride or two from Tokyo.

Papier-mâché tigers, talismanic hawks, cast-iron kettles and the always-popular kokeshi dolls are just a few of the handmade items travellers will encounter on an arty tour of northern Japan. Many artisans have workshops and studios that welcome drop-in visitors, making it easy to ‘atelier hop’ around the region. It’s best to call ahead (or ask your hotel to call) to confirm opening hours before dropping by.

Kokeshi dolls in Naruko Onsen
Kokeshi are simple, limbless wooden dolls decorated with various patterns including chrysanthemums, plum blossoms and stripes. They have traditionally been made in remote hot-spring villages, such as Tsuchiyu Onsen in Fukushima Prefecture, and Shiroishi and Zao in Miyagi Prefecture, where they are still made and have been since the Edo period (1608–1868). As with many folk toys, kokeshi were historically produced by farmers during the long winters to supplement their income. Originally for children, the dolls are now admired as elegant design pieces.

Naruko Onsen in Miyagi Prefecture offers multiple opportunities to visit studios to see woodworkers deftly manipulate the wood into kokeshi, like sculpting butter – to make the body only takes a skilled hand a few minutes. Third-generation artisan Yasuo Okazaki has 40 years’ experience and works out of his own studio. He says collectors find the demure facial expressions of the dolls ‘comforting and healing’. The dolls are experiencing something of a boom in popularity amongst urbanites, who make kokeshi ‘pilgrimages’ to various bucolic villages of the region.

Naruko Onsen also has a kokeshi museum with an expansive shop and an artisan booth – a small space where visitors can watch craftspeople work the lathe.

Naruko Onsen is about 45 minutes by train from Furukawa, which is connected to Sendai by regular and shinkansen (bullet train) services. The views on the Furukawa to Naruko Onsen stretch are particularly stunning in autumn.

A film and TV lover’s guide to Ireland’s capital

Dublin is known more for its great literature than its cinematic epics but the movies do offer a way of getting under the city’s cultural skin without having to give Ulysses another try.
For many years Ireland and its capital have been home to a thriving film industry meaning there are plenty of opportunities to see homegrown tales translated to the big screen and lots of real-life movie locations to spot.

Essential films to watch before your trip
Get a dose of history – complete with some Hollywood inaccuracies – by watching Michael Collins (1996). Liam Neeson brings the Irish icon to life magnificently and the film itself is a decent portrayal of the broad strokes of the fight for Irish independence, touching briefly on the beginning of the civil war that follows. Being a historical drama, it makes good use of Dublin’s Georgian backdrops, and a location tour doubles up as an introduction to the city’s most important historical attractions: Dublin Castle; the Four Courts; City Hall; and Kilmainham Gaol.

The Commitments (1991) takes viewers into the tough economic realities of 1980s’ Dublin to the accompaniment of a rousing soundtrack. A whopping 44 Dublin locations were used in the movie but many of them have been redeveloped since then. Eagle-eyed viewers can still visit some important settings for the band’s musical journey though, including churches on Sheriff Street and Gardiner Street and Mansion House which was disguised as the Westley Hotel.

Once (2006) is a charming tale of a Dublin busker and Czech flower-seller who bond over their mutual love of music while wandering the streets of the city. Relive the movie’s opening scene by visiting Grafton Street and listening to an eclectic mix of real-life buskers, or recreate the film’s bittersweet ending by finding a quiet time to stroll through Temple Bar.

Completing the tuneful trio, Sing Street (2016) is a coming-of-age story about a teenager dealing with a change in school, falling in love, and going on a musical exploration of his own. It perfectly encapsulates that generation’s need to look outward for creative and personal fulfilment and you can experience some of those moments by wandering along Synge Street, idling in tiny St Catherine’s Park, or looking over to London from Dun Laoghaire Harbour (just like the characters do in the movie).

Spot the film locations
Dublin is also the setting for other famous films, though cunningly disguised as somewhere completely different. One of the better known examples is Educating Rita (1983) where Trinity College makes a photogenic stand-in for the University of Liverpool. Phoenix Park’s People Garden and the polished interior of the Stag’s Head also provide backdrops to the comedy.

Dublin seems to lend itself to romance; it was also the main shooting location for Love Rosie (2014), despite the bulk of the action meant to be in an unidentified English town. It’s hard not to feel a bit loved up when exploring the charming streets of Stoneybatter, the Victorian-style indoor market of George’s Street Arcade and the dreamy coastline of Howth village.

Another romantic comedy, Leap Year (2010), is perhaps renowned for being one of the most inaccurate representations of Irish geography, showing all sorts of landscapes in completely wrong parts of the country, but it does manage to beautifully capture a romantic stroll in St Stephen’s Green that will have you adding it to your itinerary in no time.

Best day trips from London

With so many world-class things to see and do in London, planning a day trip away from it can feel akin to lounging on a sunbed in Mauritius researching beach holidays. But England is spoilt rotten with attractions meaning a day away from the capital is definitely worthwhile and generally just a short train ride away.

Why go
Stonehenge is like an amazing magic trick – delightfully mind-boggling, but you don’t really want to know how it happened. Which is convenient, because no one’s quite figured it out yet. Here’s what we do know: it’s a massive, prehistoric stone circle, believed to have been constructed around five thousand years ago, which makes it older than the Great Pyramid of Giza. The largest stones weigh 25 tons and stand 30 feet tall. Epic.

What to see
Although you can’t touch the stones (to protect them from erosion), you can stroll among them on walkways. The visitor centre has an interactive presentation that allows you to sit amongst the stones as the seasons change. If you have your own transport, you could drive north to Avebury, home to another famous stone circle – you can touch those ones.

Where to eat and drink
The onsite cafe serves sandwiches and soups. Your best option is a picnic. If you make your way to Avebury, Circles is a good cafe.

How to get there
Trains from London Waterloo to Salisbury depart twice an hour, taking 90 minutes. From Salisbury, hop on the Stonehenge Tour Bus, which takes you directly to the monument.

Day trips from Belgrade

So you did your sightseeing, dining and partying in Belgrade. What next? Consider taking a day trip from the Serbian capital to hike the nearby gentle mountains, cruise through centuries of history, take in some outlandish art, or enjoy local drops from family wine cellars.
The following excursions ensure you’ll experience Serbia’s authentic vibe, only a couple of hours’ drive away from Belgrade’s urban buzz. They can be easily done by car, bus, train and even boat. Extra tip for a day trip: explore the baroque town of Vršac and Deliblato Sands with Zagajička Hills, one hour northeast from the capital.

Down the Danube
The Danube River has been the lifeline for many civilisations throughout history. The section that runs from Belgrade to the east, towards Romania, boasts a few jewels from the prehistoric, Roman and medieval periods.

Following the traces of the Roman Empire in the Danube valley, you’ll find the ancient city and legionary fort of Viminacium located halfway between the Smederevo and Golubac fortresses. At this large archaeological park you can visit the remains of a Roman public bath, amphitheatre and mausoleum, try a Roman-style breakfast, but also see a giant skeleton of a one-million-year-old mammoth.

Continuing further down the river, the admirable Golubac Fortress greets you with its 10 towers that have seen too many battles as different peoples fought over it from the Middle Ages onwards. The fortress is undergoing a major reconstruction and will soon be ready for visitors to climb the ancient ramparts and snap photos with impressive Danube views.

South Korea’s hole in the wall restaurants

Quieted away, around the corner from one of South Korea’s grandest hotels is a great food secret: Gwanghwamun Jip. Its worn-out blue sign gives away the restaurant’s long history, and with one spicy spoonful of the signature kimchi stew, it’s clear why droves of locals queue up here at lunchtime.

South Korea’s cities are full of wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurants secreted off down back streets. Too often, these are missed by visitors, though they represent some of the country’s best and most authentic eating. Many are run by families (very often, grannies) that lived through Korea’s tumultuous 20th century. They cater to local tastes, don’t make adjustments to their dishes and aren’t afraid to demand cash. Though service might feel a bit gruff, if you flash a smile and attempt at a few words in Korean, you’ll likely find yourself showered with sudden warmth.

Many of South Korea’s mom ‘n’ pop restaurants pride themselves on two or three star dishes and really perfect them. It helps to know what to order before you set foot inside: soups such as gamja-tang (pork back stew) and seolleongtang (ox-bone soup), and noodles like naengmyun (iced noodles) or kalguksu (knife noodles) are the most typical offerings.

Identifying these dive restaurants can be tricky, and a worn interior isn’t everything. The best usually have lines out the door at lunch, fading wallpaper and a few framed newspaper clippings of a political figure or celebrity eating there.

We’ve chosen our favourite South Korean hole-in-the-wall restaurants, where – behind an unassuming door – you can fill up on generous portions of traditional food served with a dash of no-nonsense Korean culture.

Go for a winter walk in Dubai

Usually known for its desert climate and sweltering heat, Dubai boasts balmy winters that are the exception to the rule. By early November, temperatures begin to drop and continue to hover around 27°C until late February. This is when the city embraces its pockets of green, expertly manicured gardens and purpose-built walking paths, each as pleasant for a quick stroll as they are for a full day.

Roam Al Barsha Pond Park
As close to a quintessential European city park that you’ll get in Dubai, pretty Al Barsha is a great choice for a stroll day or night, thanks to lighting under the palm trees and colourful hanging lanterns. Stick to the running track and you’ll cover around 1.4 km, with acres of greenery on one side and clear blue water on the other. Popular with local families and expats alike, the park has swings, slides and climbing frames to keep kids amused, and the whole family can head out on the water in one of the kitsch swan boats. Bring a picnic and set up on one of the pockets of green on the east side of the lake to enjoy an excellent view of Media City’s towering skyscrapers and the tip of the Burj Al Arab as an impressive backdrop. If you’re taking a taxi, ask to be dropped off at Al Barsha Mall and then head across the road to Al Barsha Pond Park.

Spot an oasis in Al Qudra
With acres of desert dunes surrounding a cluster of lakes, out here surrounded by nature at the unexpectedly beautiful Al Qudra, you’ll soon forget that the oasis was created artificially. It’s now home to free-roaming wildlife, including more than 130 species of birds, plenty of fish and several desert trees and plants. For the real untouched oasis vibe, make for the outer lying lakes that see less footfall. You might even be lucky enough to spot wandering oryx, camels and antelope. Getting here involves a drive, but it’s worth it. Follow the D63 out of Dubai towards the Dubai Cycling Track until you come to The Last Exit street food park. Stock up on snacks here and then head a little further south into this oasis in the middle of Saih Al Salam desert.