The Arcachon basin
If you’re a regular reader of olive you’ll have noticed that we’ve been featuring Bordeaux quite a lot recently. Small enough to explore easily in a weekend, with some of the prettiest architecture in France (and some of the best food), it’s also the jumping-off point for visits to the Arcachon basin. Home to France’s largest oyster industry, not to mention its close proximity to some of the region’s best vineyards, this beautiful lagoon is classic holiday territory for in-the-know French food-lovers.
Earthy rather than glitzy (though that’s changing as the likes of Philippe Starck moves in with hotels and holiday homes) it’s dunes and Atlantic-pummelled shore are headily romantic. Here, about an hour’s drive west of Bordeaux (but more enjoyably approached by bike from a waterside campsite or cottage), at almost the very tip of land, is Cap Ferret. And it’s there that we stumbled on Chez Hortense, a small, simple restaurant serving fish and seafood against a beautifully undeveloped coastal backdrop.
When in Venice, do as the locals do: don’t eat anywhere near a tourist attraction. The best place for Venetian pizza, we found, was in Canneregio – the northernmost ‘sestieri’ of Venice, and the largest by population. Come dinnertime, tourists tend to avoid it in favour of cramped trattorias near the Rialto Bridge, or overpriced restaurants in Piazza San Marco.
But Canneregio, the old Jewish quarter, is home to an abundance of neighbourhood pizzerias down narrow lanes behind the region’s main road – Strada Nova. And it will only take you 20 minutes on foot from St Mark’s Square to reach them. For special occasions, head straight to Vini Da Gigio for simple pasta dishes, superbly executed – no trip to Venice is complete without their cacio e pepe spaghetti (cheese and pepper).
If you’re looking for a family-friendly idyll with plenty of sunshine and low prices, you’ll find it in the small Turkish village of Cirali, about an hour’s drive southwest of Antalya. The current geopolitical situation means many British tourists have been wary of visiting Turkey this summer, but we went ahead with our trip and were well rewarded. The two mile-long (and ridiculously quiet) beach here is lapped by warm clear water and backed, first, by pomegranate, palm and orange groves and, a little further back, by towering pine-clad mountains (think Thailand but without the long flight).
The village’s setting, within a national park (it’s one of only a handful of nesting sites for loggerhead turtles), means that building is restricted. The result is that there are no high-rise, all-inclusive resorts but just a clutch of single-storey, family-run hotels and tearooms wrapped by pretty, bougainvillea, fig and hibiscus-peppered gardens.
We based ourselves at Hotel Azur and spent our days introducing our two toddlers to the delights of swimming, boat trips, mulberry ice cream, mezzes (the perfect toddler-friendly finger food) and homemade, cumin-scented meatballs. And the food discovery of the trip – gooey, oven-baked halva (see below: don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). “Mummy, I don’t want to go home!” cried the three-year-old when we left. Neither did we.
For away-from-the-hordes Spain, head to The Alpujarras. We stayed in a villa (‘Cortijo de la Luz’) just outside a small town called Orgiva, not especially pretty itself but a great base for exploring the region, with its decent supermarkets and weekly fish market. The villa felt appealingly traditional, and thankfully cool inside because of its thick walls. The kitchen’s huge gas cooking range and a beast of a barbecue outside meant plenty of cooking, and it also came with its own swimming pool, set against a backdrop of beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains.
The English owners (who live close by) left us fresh figs, peaches and almonds from their garden, and the Alpujarra mountains were a 20-minute drive away, along a winding mountain road (stunning, but a bit hairy in the dark!). Our favourite place was Capileira, which was a quiet, beautiful, whitewashed hillside town with cobbled streets and fresh mountain air. Another town we loved was Lanjaron, to the west of Orgiva. We went there twice in the evening, because it’s a lovely place for promenading (all the elderly Spaniards sit outside in long lines, surveying the passersby) and has fantastic tapas bars.
A mid-August minibreak to Dublin came up trumps in eating terms. New discoveries since our last visit included sweet mini coffee cakes at The Butlers Pantry, fabulous fresh meat, fish and bakery counters at the new Lotts & Co grocery store, Mexican deli Picado (we’re signing up for one of the company’s Mexican cooking classes next time we go) and, most memorable of all, a starter of burrata, salted peach, sesame and basil followed by a shared main of beef, malfati, bordelaise sauce and crispy garlic potatoes (see below) at Etto on Merrion Row.
First published: September 2015
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