Travel: The delights of Alicante

The area around Alicante is said to have been inhabited for over 7000 years. In more recent times it’s become a major tourist destination with serious development in the 1950s and 1960s resulting in large buildings and complexes springing up throughout the city.

This means Alicante is the perfect example of a concrete jungle. High rises dominate the skyline (and not in a particularly attractive way) and on first sight it doesn’t seem like the prettiest of holiday destinations. It would be easy to dismiss the city as place not to visit in Spain. But you’d be wrong. Well, they do say you should never judge a book by its cover and as soon as you start looking a little deeper into the soul of Alicante you’ll be surprised to find many beauties.

While those buildings can’t be unbuilt, a lot of effort has been made to add beauty with the myriad flowers and trees. Jacarandas, bougainvilleas and hibiscus abound (gotta love those exotic names) and there are palm trees everywhere. Of course, as you’re in Spain, the sky is always blue – different colours of blue for different times of day – the sea is warm and clear, the food is wonderful and there’s a warm Spanish welcome. Because this is a truly Spanish city where simple food is perfectly prepared using the best of local ingredients, prices are great value and you’ll need a bit of Spanish to get by.

Alicante’s Playa San Juan

We stayed in the San Juan Beach area. And my first realisation that Alicante wasn’t what it initially seemed was the sight of the stunning beach. I mean really stunning. Huge, with white sand and mountains in the background. And that fabulous Spanish tradition alongside it – the promenade. Lined with restaurants and bars, the beautifully paved area in the shade of palm trees was busy all times of day with families and friends enjoying their daily amble.

Alicante: San Juan Beach

The white sandy beach with blue sea and sky

There are so many restaurants along this stretch of sandy sunniness that it’s hard to choose where to eat. As luck would have it we picked the perfect breakfast spot on our first morning. One of my favourite breakfast treats ever is pan con tomato, lightly toasted bread served with what is basically mashed up tomato and olive oil. It’s amazing how good it tastes. Today’s offering also came with a generous portion of jamon – so that’s even better. And here’s the best thing of all – this delicious breakfast, including a glass of fresh orange juice and a coffee set us back the sum of €1.80 each. No that is not a typo. €3.60 for two filling and deliciously Spanish breakfasts at 100 Montaditos right on the beach. Seriously, does life get better than that? Breakfast certainly doesn’t.

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The best-value breakfast ever, yes ever

Alicante: San Juan promenade

They do know how to do a promenade in Spain

Lunch along the promenade also offered a range of traditional Spanish tapas dishes. Like this Russian salad (ensalada Russa) which crops up on menus everywhere I go in Spain. You can read more about this dish and try out my recipe for it by clicking here. I’ve sampled some different versions recently so think I will be redoing my own recipe soon.

Alicante: Russian salad

The ever-present Russian Salad

Playa San Juan is also the perfect place for sundowners. Especially if you’re a fan of giant gin and tonics like these.

Alicante: gin & tonics

Huge g&ts beachside while pondering our dinner destination

We meandered the streets absorbing the evening sun and the pleasant babble of Spanish voices, checking out menus while we decided where to go for dinner. One of my favourite ways of spending time! Our choice was Los Charros, a charming-looking establishment on a side street up from the beach. And what a good choice it turned out to be. We started off by sharing this delicious concoction of eggs, prawns and mushrooms with a touch of garlic.

Alicante: egg, prawn and mushroom starter

Scrambled eggs with earthy mushrooms and sweet prawns

For mains we decided on lamb and goat chops respectively – simply served grilled with some lovely wild garlic and more accompaniments than we expected, including a salad, crispy fired potatoes and padron peppers and a large dish of tempura-style vegetables. All served with a smile.

Alicante: goat chops

Tasty little chops with a fresh salad

Alicante: crispy potatoes

Love the sweetness of Spanish potatoes and these were beautifully crisp

We sat outside on the lovely terrace – something we always do when we can. I think it comes from living in the Northern hemisphere. Dining alfresco is always a treat. The tapas bar inside was bustling with locals and filled with laughter.

On our second night in Alicante we were highly tempted to go back to Los Charros. But as we were only there for two nights it seemed boring so instead we chose El Mayoral for dinner, which is on the San Juan promenade. The menu was extensive and we were having decision-making hiccups. Until we saw what the couple on the next table were tucking into, a delicious seafood soup. So we ordered the same – langoustines, prawns, mussels, the softest of calamari and fresh hake in a lovely saffron-flavoured broth.

Alicante: seafood soup

Seafood soup to share – the perfect start to dinner

A Spanish classic for mains – roast suckling pig served with perfect chips and slivers of crispy fried onions.

 

Alicante: suckling pig

Love the suckling pig in Spain, they know their pork!

We finished our wine after dinner alongside the beach watching the sky develop through stages of blue until it reached this stunning indigo colour with the last light of the day.

Alicante: indigo sky

Post-dinner drinks under an indigo sky

Touring on Alicante’s tram

As hard as it was to drag ourselves away from the comfort and joy of San Juan Beach we decided we had to do some exploring. So we got on the tram heading for the Old Town and the harbour. Such a lovely way to travel and to see more of the city and all for €1.45 for what was about a 35-minute journey. We passed a lot of concrete along the way and emerged into a buzzing metropolis. The main road down from the station, Ramble de Mendoza Lunez, leads down to the beach. If you’re looking for shopping opportunities take a slow walk down as there’s plenty on offer here.

Alicante: the tram

Travelling by tram is such a pleasure

Strolling around Alicante harbour

As you start getting close to the water there’s another palm-lined promenade to stroll along.

Alicante: promenade in town

More promenading opportunities in the shade of palm trees

There’s a sparkling harbour filled with stylish boats – and even a pirate ship.

Alicante: harbour

More shades of blue in Alicante harbour

Lunch in Alicante’s Old Town

After some waterside strolling we headed into the Old Town for lunch. With the feel of ancient Spain and beautiful old buildings to view, there were also plenty of restaurant choices to explore.

Alicante: Old Town

Alfresco restaurants abound in Alicante’s Old Town

Greetings of hola, buenos días lead us to a table at La Taberna San Pascual where we tucked into delightful albondigas (meatballs) and croquettes, accompanied by some delicious Spanish rose.

Alicante: lunch in Old Town

Lunch in shades of pinks and reds

Alicante: La Taberna San Pascual

The charmingly rustic La Taberna San Pascual

We finished off lunch with a charming mini-mug of the local liquor – all complimentary of course. How I love complimentary local liquor.

Alicante: local liquor

Chilled mini drinks to complete a perfect lunch

So that was Alicante, a place can see myself visiting again and again and one I’d definitely recommend for a Spanish fix. Just make sure you see past the concrete.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn San Juan which was a short walk from the promenade and the beach. Though basic, the hotel was comfortable and welcoming and has a lovely pool area for lazy afternoons.

 

 

The many wonders of Catalunya’s Cistercian Route

I was going to call this Spanish story “Eating my way along the Cistercian Route” but decided that sounded rather greedy and most importantly it’s far from the whole truth. Yes, there was a lot of eating going on and very good eating it was, too, but there was so much more to explore and discover in the footsteps of the Cistercians.

The Cistercian Route connects the three monasteries of Santa Creus, Poblet and Vallbona. It’s a beautiful land about an hour’s drive from the region’s vibrant capital, Barcelona. The area’s a hiking paradise with its footpaths of 105 kilometres (the most in Europe) and, as I soon discovered, has amazingly warm and welcoming people, spectacular scenery and some very interesting traditions. Oh and there’s all the amazing food (and wine) of course.

We took to the road ready to explore. First stop Valls, which boasts a unique tradition as the birthplace of the human towers or Castells. The community comes together to rehearse three times a week and there are international competitions with serious rivalry. I was lucky enough to witness a rehearsal and was soon awed by the spectacle as people clamber over each other to create a towering structure. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such combined speed, flexibility, strength and dedication. Simply marvellous.

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The amazing spectacle of human towers

At the restaurant Test  in the Hotel Class Valls we were served up a range of delightful dishes. Like this colourful pineapple carpaccio topped with melt-in-the-mouth Spanish ham and a zesty dressing.

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Pineapple carpaccio topped with succulent jamon

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Savoury and flavourful broth at its best

Another Catalan tradition involves calcots, which are sort of like a sweet spring onion. Their harvest is celebrated every year when they are cooked over fire and peeled and eaten by hand with a generous helping of romesco sauce. It wasn’t harvest time when we were there but I did tuck into tempura calcots which were tasty, sweet, juicy and crunchy. Worth going back for that big celebration, I reckon.

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The delicate sweetness and crispiness of tempura calcots

On to the first monastery in the puzzle. Santa Creus, which was founded in 1168, is amazingly well-preserved and provides a great insight into Cistercian life. The stories are fascinating and the sheer scale of the place and its grand architecture are entrancing, making it easy to imagine a life very different and somewhat magical.

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The spectacular design of Santa Creus monastery

Just outside the imposing gates of the monastery is the cosy local – Restaurant Catalunya. We ordered our main courses and were then fed plate after plate of local specialities – soft and sweet ham, anchovies, tomato toast, aubergines, they just didn’t seem to stop coming. It was a real feast with the warmest of welcomes and plenty of the local vino – that’s the Catalan way.

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A classic paella with fresh seafood

With all the deliciously tempting food to enjoy it’s great that there are plenty of hiking opportunities. Time to burn off some of those calories. We headed up the mountain from Montblanc up to the abandoned L’Ermita Sant Joan. Rocky, winding pathways through the depths of the forest, made even more beautiful by the swirling mist, led us to what felt a bit like the top of the world.

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Peering through L’Ermita Sant Joan into the misty distance

A meandering descent and we headed for today’s lunchtime venue – Riudabella Castle. Yes, lunch in a real castle – just when you think dining can’t get any better. Riudabella has recently started offering accommodation in the form of large studio-style apartments with fabulous vineyard and forest views – providing the perfect retreat.

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Take in the view from your castle on high

We tucked into an amazing lunch in the huge,magnificent dining room, starting with a beautifully colourful array of canapés. For mains a delectable leg of pork which had been cooking in the medieval oven for 15 hours – so succulent!

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A table loaded with tempting tapas

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The tenderest of slow-cooked pork

For dessert a local treat awaited. This is called Gypsy’s Sleeve – a delightfully light sponge rolled with lashings of cream and topped with sugar. One of the tastiest puddings ever, imagine eating sweetly flavoured fluffy clouds.

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Soft, sugary, creamy…heaven on a plate

Poblet is the largest inhabited Cistercian monastery in Europe, so keep your eyes peeled for one of the resident monks as you wander its corridors. A huge rain storm erupted during our visit providing a dramatic atmosphere for our explorations.

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The cloister’s courtyard in the pouring rain

From an ancient monastery it was time to take millions more steps back in history to the Espluga Caves. Take a walk through eerie caves with displays explaining Spain’s prehistoric past and the story of the humans who made these caves their home for thousands of years. It’s a ghostly and somewhat spiritual experience.

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Time to step even further back in history

And then to dinner at the Hostal des Disset Fonts in L’Espluga de Francoli. We ambled through the streets of the sleepy town to our destination – another warming experience of great local food and wine.

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The substantial goat’s cheese salad

One of the nicest starters I’ve had in a long time, the sweetness of the chilled melon soup was perfectly complimented by the saltiness of the Serrano ham. A marriage of Spanish flavours made in heaven.

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The perfect mix of saltiness and sweetness

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Simple ingredients perfectly cooked

Montblanc is known as the centre of the Cistercian Route. It was founded in 1163 by King Alfons I and a lot has happened inside its protective medieval walls. The legendary fight between St George (Sant Jordi) and the dragon is alleged to have taken place here and the day is celebrated every year with a festival and the exchange of flowers and books. I could have meandered its cobbled streets for hours – popping into one (or several) of the many bars, cafes and restaurants scattered along them.

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Medieval terraces in Montblanc

And now it’s time for lunch again. My favourite part of this amazing trip with its myriad highlights was soon turning into lunchtime. And today cemented it. We wound our way up narrow mountain roads to the village of Fores where we were welcomed into the Mirador de Fores, another cosy little restaurant with far-reaching views from on high across to the sea.

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The best village restaurant in the world…possibly

The chef’s passion was clear in his descriptions of every dish (even with my limited Spanish I could get that much). He had our whole menu planned and we started with the juiciest of anchovies atop tomato and olive bread. A rustic classic bursting with flavours.

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Anchovies on toast doesn’t get better than this

And then croquettes – described by the restaurant as the best in the world! A huge claim but a fair one, I’ve eaten my share of croquettes and these are definitely up there. Large, and packed with chunks of chicken and luscious sauce.

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The tastiest chicken croquettas

Next course was this clever assembly of black sausage, a vegetable tower of potato and onion and crunchy crackling on the side. One of the nicest things I’ve ever tasted – I’ve got to try to work out how to make it myself. Or go back there soon!

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My top Spanish dish of the year…well one of them certainly

And the good stuff just kept coming. Slow cooked shoulder of lamb that melted in the mouth, sweetly caramelised onions and a crunch of fried aubergine. Ingredients couldn’t get much simpler or produce a tastier result.

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A totally tempting trio for mains

We also sampled a local stew made from rabbit, snails and chicken, traditionally eaten by the workers on the land. Hearty fare designed to give you strength.

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A hearty traditional stew

Dessert was a luscious cheesecake served with nuts, preserves and local honey. Heavenly.

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Finishing off a delightful lunch with a delightful dessert

One of my Spanish colleagues on our trip through Catalonia introduced me to Orujo – basically the local liquor drunk as a digestive after an indulgent lunch. The appropriate way to finish off your feast that definitely helps with the digestion. Thank you Jose, a new Spanish tradition that I’ve embraced.

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Colourful local liquor at Mirador de Fores

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Here’s the team outside their fabulous restaurant

Phew, that was some lunch – I’d go back to Catalonia just to repeat the experience. Seriously.

A new day dawns and it’s hiking time again. Today we took in scenes from the Spanish Civil War – lookout points, foxholes, bunkers cleverly hidden in rolling hills. A sobering sight and reminder of Spain’s recent and somewhat brutal history. Final destination, the monastery in Vallbona de les Monges, the only female monastery in the region and it still houses eight nuns.

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Vallbona de les Monges and its monastery nestle in the valley

And then of course it’s lunchtime, in another sleepy village. Rocallaura Cafe was full of locals on a sunny Saturday and offered simple, tasty fare.

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Love colourful signage, a great welcome

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Onion bread has never tasted so good

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Sausage, potato, aubergine and jamon, Spanish simplicity at its best

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The joy of the menu del dia

Final stop on our Catalonian odyssey is Verdu. Famous for its handmade ceramics (love a Spanish ceramico), imposing castle and the Miro a la Taula.

Views from on high in the shadow of Verdu castle

Views from on high in the shadow of Verdu castle

What better way to encapsulate Catalonia’s many treasures than a last-night dinner celebrating the art, food and wine of Spain. At Miro a Taula you’re guided through two tastings. The art of Miro and his contemporaries, including Dali, Picasso, Calder, Chillida and Barcelo and the food they ate.

Fabulous tapas, great art and the opportunity to absorb it all in peace and without crowds, a truly unique experience. Followed by a delicious dinner in the gallery.

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Some of my favourite Spanish ingredients on a platter

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The zesty fig and pomegranate starter

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Melt-in-the-mouth lamb with apricots

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The dining area in the centre of the gallery

I think this is the longest blog story I’ve ever written. And that’s because there’s just so much to share with you about this party of beautiful Catalonia. What a journey it was.

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The Catalonian flag against the blue Spanish sky

I was a guest of the Catalan Tourist Board on this trip.

I flew to Barcelona on Vueling.com

It’s Tapas Time in Murcia, Spain

So for today’s blog I’m in the province of Murcia in Spain. It’s a large region in the south-east that abounds in amazing produce. So much so that it’s known as the Orchard of Europe. Lucky restaurants, they have the best ingredients to cook with. And it’s on the sea, too, so plenty of fish.

I love the Spanish way of eating. Plenty of small, tasty dishes to share – it gives me the chance to try way more of the menu selection. And that’s got to be good. When in Spain, there’s no shortage of traditional bars and restaurants to enjoy amazing food in. Great, fresh local ingredients, simply cooked and served without pretension all makes for a wonderful experience and usually a great-value one, too.

One of our favourite restaurants in the fishing village of Cabo de Palos just down the road from the La Manga resort is called Miramar. We visit there every year, at least once, and this is our favourite dish. It’s called trimarino and is a combination of fresh baby whitebait, clams and prawns fried in olive oil, garlic and chilli and delivered sizzling to the table. It’s heaven and shouts “Welcome to Spain” to me as traditionally it’s what we always have for our first lunch. Traditions are a good thing…

trimarino

Beautifully fresh fish with flavoursome garlic and chilli

Today we tried something different, as the menu had changed somewhat since our last visit. Described as scallop with ham, this large scallop came in the shell served with the sweetest of onion and finely chopped serano ham, which added a sweetness of its own. Just wonderful.

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A savoury/sweet dish of scallop, onion and jamon

Just down the road in this wonderful region of Spain is the La Manga strip. It’s a long piece of land (manga means sleeve in Spanish) that’s a bustling holiday town with plenty of beaches, bars and restaurants. And even better, bars and restaurants that are on the beach. A dip in the warmth of the sea is bound to bring on an appetite, so then it’s the short walk up to Bonobo, our latest discovery. No need for shoes (though you feet may get a little toasted on your short journey along the sand), this beach bar/restaurant is so laid back, but that’s not to say the service and food aren’t up to scratch.

Their house salad is a wonderful concoction of lettuce, tomato, cabbage, asparagus, cucumber and pineapple with a light and sweet dressing.

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Bonobo’s salad is a beachside favourite

They also serve their version of the tasty baby lamb chops that are abundant in Murcian restaurants. Simply grilled with some grilled veg and light, crispy fries.

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Tasty lamb chops and chips…Spanish finger food

And then, the best of the lot, fried baby whitebait – or small, fried fish as it’s called on the menu. It’s so fresh, crispy and delicious you want to eat it by the handful. And I do!

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Small fried fish like no other

Another favourite port of call is the lovely little town of Mar de Cristal, even the name evokes feelings of pleasure. There’s a large beach and a balmy lagoon to paddle in – and right alongside it sits Arena restaurant.

They serve what could be the best patatas bravas in Spain…seriously. Amazingly crispy on the outside, soft inside and served with a mayonnaisy sauce that has a real chilly bite.

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A potato dish to dream of

We also tucked into garlic prawns and chorizo in cider. All overlooking the beach and the blue water of the Mar Menor.

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Lunch with views of blue

A restaurant much frequented by locals is Campo Verde which is kind of on the way to two towns, in the middle of nowhere. Again it’s great value and on Sunday lunchtime bustles with family business from all around. Their house salad makes the ideal starter with the freshest of ingredients, including lovely manchego cheese.

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The house salad is a must at Campo Verde

And then there are always journeys to be taken inland. The town of La Union, only a short drive from the La Manga Resort is in the centre of the farmlands. It’s quite a big place that has a lovely market (sandwiched by two rotisserie chicken sellers, the aromas certainly get your juices going) every Thursday where you can inhale the Spanishness and take in a nice tapas dish or two. No tourists in sight here.

Our lunch in the Taperia Edward which consisted of a pork dish in tomato sauce, Russian salad, a big plate of tasty croquettas and two glasses of wine cost us €11. And it was delicious and certainly substantial enough for three of us. Show me somewhere else you can get lunch for that kind of money these days. La Union we will be back.

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The pork stew was sweet and tomatoey

I love a bit of Russian salad. You can read all about the story of this mysterious dish in a previous post of mine here.

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Satisfying Russian salad with plenty of mayo

And then it’s time to go back to the beach. On the other side of Cabos de Palos harbour to Miramar there’s Katy. Katy has the advantage of being on the beach – a large cove of a beach where we spent time walking, wading and wandering…and sampling a cold cerveza at the chirringuito (beach bar) at the end. And then it was time for lunch.

Always keen to try something different, today we went for the green beans and ham as one of our tapas treats. It was huge, piping hot and tasty.

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A really flavoursome dish with ham and fresh green beans

And more piping hot and creamy croquettas to delight.

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Sampling some more croquettas

What can I say…Murcian tapas is always a joy. Lunchtime just doesn’t seem the same when you’re not in Spain!

Lovely lunch on the beach at Escuela de Pieter

I love the beach. You will know this if you’re a regular reader! So a fabulous restaurant right on the beach, well, that’s my idea of pure paradise. We try to visit Escuela de Pieter on the La Manga Strip every year. A tasty lunch followed by a dip in the beautifully warm Mar Menor and some relaxation time on one of their loungers (free to use if you eat in the restaurant). When in Spain…

The menu is wide-ranging with a great selection of meat and fish. It’s quite difficult to choose, so we pondered our options for quite some time. Luckily a gazpacho amuse bouche was delivered to help lessen the hunger pangs.

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Yummy gazpacho overlooking the beach

This is one of my favourite dishes. Simply three ingredients, perfectly cooked and all the flavours zing through. The baby lamb chops are served with the softest and tastiest of potatoes and grilled green peppers. They are very baby which means you have to eat them with your fingers…even better.

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Potatoes, peppers and lamb chops can’t taste better than this

Eggs are much used in Spain cooking. Another simple dish, fried baby whitebait on another bed of softest potatoes with a freshly fried, piping hot egg atop. Cut into your egg and watch the orangeness of the yolk soak through. Totally yum!

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A fishy delight with eggs and chips?

And then there’s the garlic chicken and potatoes. Okay it doesn’t look that exciting but it’s amazing how bursting with flavour it is. The garlic has a lovely sweetness to it, and again potatoes and chicken are perfectly cooked.

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A garlicky sweet plate of chicken

And here’s the view! Grab a table at the front and settle in for lovely food. Beach life rules.

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A table beside the sand with views of blue sea and sky

Pieter de Escuela is on the La Manga Strip overlooking the Mar Menor. It’s a long strip of land (manga means sleeve in Spanish), it’s near the 17km marker on the main road.

Loving the flavours of Spain at Los Churrascos

Today we’re eating out in the province of Murcia in Spain. Murcia is a large agricultural area that is known as the orchard of Europe. Fruit and vegetables seem to grow everywhere and are delicious in their freshness (the local markets are a real joy).

And as we’re by the sea, fish and seafood are plentiful and often straight out of the water into the restaurant and then onto your plate. Plus the local meat is full of flavour. So with that as a basis, what is probably the best restaurant in the region is bound to offer up serious delights.

The menu is comprehensive and split into sections including starters, cod dishes, paellas, meat dishes, seafood. This doesn’t seem to make it any easier to choose, as you page through the book of tantalising offerings.

As if to make it easier, some of the dishes, like the croquettes and empanadas can be ordered by the unit. What a great idea, choose one of everything, I’m picturing a whole plate of tasty morsels encompassing the flavours of Spain. Today we tried the halibut croquettes which were beautifully soft, creamy and lightly fishy and the beef empanadas, succulent filling encased in the lightest of crunchy pastry that melted in the mouth. Off to a good start!

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Order a selection of tapas tasters to get your juices flowing

On perusing the comprehensive menu I remembered the last visit here (two years past) and the amazingly unexpected starter that one of us ordered. I love dishes that turn up and are nothing like you thought they were going to be (in a good way, of course). The magarita de sobrasada con habitos baby is just one of those. It’s a combo of ingredients that doesn’t sound like it’s going to work, crispy pastry, hot chips, strips of sobrasada (a spicy Mallorcan sausage), some baby broad beans, all topped with a piping hot, beautifully fresh fried egg. And the way it’s described on the menu (in English) you’re expecting some sort of pastie! Instead this tower arrives…

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Quite simply, a tower of deliciousness

The waiter then cuts the egg into quarters and crushes the pastry so the golden yolk pours over the crispiness. Seriously, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. It sounds like nothing, looks slightly strange and is a dream to eat. Enough said…

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A delicate mix of flavours waiting to be tucked into

The Spanish do love their pigs (especially for dinner) and are famous for eating nose-to-tail. I’m not so good with some of the offerings (ears and tails aren’t among my faves) but am always waiting to tuck into something tasty like these local pork chops. So amazingly flavoursome and served simply with grilled vegetables and perfect chips. No need to complicate matters when you have such wonderful ingredients.

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Pork chops that are packed with flavour

A Spanish classic always worth ordering is the fabulous lubina – sea bass. It is baked in the oven encased in salt and your waiter cracks the mound open and fillets it at your table. It’s a wonderfully sweet fish and the salt protects it from drying out, so you can be sure it’s moist and tasty.

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The waiter skillfully fillets the sea bass

More pork…the restaurant is renowned for its suckling pig – Cochinillo Segoviano al Horno, al Estilo Jose Maria. This is a large portion of meat with thin, beautifully crispy skin and again served simply with chips and grilled veggies. Flavoursome, soft and melt-in-the-mouth, it’s one of my absolute favourites.

suckling pig

After such a feast it’s hard to contemplate dessert, but the menu sounded so tempting we couldn’t resist. This almond ice cream is covered with rich Spanish chocolate…yum. I had to have the sorbette a limone con alcohol (lemon sorbet with alcohol) which is basically a zesty lemony cocktail served in a martini glass. The perfect way to finish off a meal that makes me feel lucky to be able to experience this wonderful Spanish cuisine in a traditional restaurant that always maintains the highest of standards. All without pretention, just thoroughly good food and friendly service.

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An ample plate of ice cream and chocolate sauce Spanish style

Jose Maria comes around to shake your hand every time…it seems he never has a day off. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

Jose Maria Los Churrascos is at Avenida Filipinas, El Algar in the province of Murcia, Spain.

A surprise new discovery at Maribel

For someone with an elephant memory when it comes to food and restaurants, our visit to Maribel surprised me. I thought I’d been there before but as soon as we pulled into the car park I realised, horror of horrors, I’d never stepped foot in it! So time to try somewhere new.

The restaurant is on the La Manga estate on the way to the West Course (golf course) and is pretty large with views across to the shining Mar Menor.

A quick glass of Cava at the bar and it was time to order. When we sat down sliced, freshly made tortilla was presented to us…one of my favourite and simplest dishes and absolutely delicious.

Wonderful tortilla arrived as we sat down

Wonderful tortilla arrived as we sat down

I spotted the jamon leg sitting on its stand on the counter as soon as I walk in. I often talk about how I’m going to carry one of these home (complete with stand) one day…until I tried to lift one, that is. This jamon is just fabulous, so when I saw it on the menu I had to ask: “The jamon, is it that jamon?” – pointing to the counter. When the response was yes, my decision was made.

I got to watch the waiter cutter my delicious thin slivers and scoffed a whole plateful of this flavoursome, melt-in-the-mouth delicacy.

Ooh...carving my jamon

Ooh…carving my jamon

And here it is on the plate

And here it is on the plate

Other starters were equally well received, like a traditional scrambled egg and prawn dish, fantastic garlic prawns and a plate of smoked salmon with all the trimmings.

A traditional Spanish eggy dish

A traditional Spanish eggy dish

Jambas al ajillo

Jambas al ajillo

Smoked salmon with plenty of goodies

Smoked salmon with plenty of goodies

We all ordered fish for our mains and were in for a treat. Maribel is something of a restaurant for ceremony and tradition and the fish was all prepared on a trolley that was wheeled up in front of us. The traditional sea bass cooked in salt was cracked open and filleted and my grilled sole expertly deboned. It was sweet and perfectly cooked.

Lubina

The sea bass arrives – a delicious treasure covered in salt

Beautiful grilled, filleted sole

Beautiful grilled, filleted sole

And then we had to have pudding – recommended by Dave’s daughter (we were dining with Dave and Val), we ordered the crepes. Out came another trolley with a built in hot plate (how I’d love one of those to whip out when necessary) and our waiter proceeded to put together the delectable concoction in front of us! Let’s just say we kept our waiter busy with all the various dishes he had to prepare and cook for us.

Another course, another trolley!

Another course, another trolley!

Orangey, buttery crepes

Orangey, buttery crepes

Maribel is a really fun place with lovely food that is really exceptional value. I’m actually quite horrified that in all the years I’ve been going to La Manga I’ve never eaten there! Well I’m certainly going to remedy that in future, it’s a regular on our dining out list now. My dinner there even inspired me to do my first review on Trip Advisor!