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      February 2012 > Spotlight on Portugal

Spotlight on Portugal

James in PortugalOne of the many pleasures of working at Inntravel is catching the lilt of foreign languages and unfamiliar accents around the office. As well as numerous fluent French and Spanish speakers, we have Maria, a native Italian who hails from Puglia (the ‘heel’ of Italy), and frequently welcome our overseas consultants, who each bring their own little corner of Europe to North Yorkshire.

However, we have never had a Portuguese speaker working here. Our increasingly popular walking holidays in Portugal have been put together with the help of our nearest ‘man on the ground’, David Lanfear – who lives with his partner Linda in the hills of Andalucía – and with the input of Nick Symington, a knowledgeable near-neighbour of ours, who – through his family connections with the Port wine trade – helped to unlock a few doors for our fabulous Valley of Gold walking holiday in the Douro.

James in PortugalHowever, all that has just changed! We are delighted to introduce James Keane, who has recently joined our team of regional experts here at Inntravel, and who – among other things – is proficient in the Portuguese tongue. Having spent time studying and working in Spain, Italy and Latin America, James is certainly well travelled, but it is perhaps through his love of all things Portuguese that we stand to benefit the most. Now that he’s got to grips with how we do things here (having already sampled one of our walking holidays himself), James is already starting to look at some promising new areas for us in this gloriously laid-back country.

James’s first experience of Portugal came on a gap year after leaving school, when, armed with little more than a backpack and a sense of nervous anticipation, he landed at Lisbon Airport on his way to join a 10-month youth development project in the little-known region of the Alentejo. Not knowing a single word of Portuguese, the subsequent bus journey felt more like the beginning of an adventure into another world, and so it proved…

While working on the project (which was hugely rewarding in itself), James got to experience the very essence of rural life in the Alentejo. Coming, as he does, from a small village community in Wales, he’s used to the country life and he looks back fondly on his time spent in a land of huge views, even bigger skies, and a warm and generous people.

Lisbon Castle, PortugalThe traditional 25 de abril village fair (to celebrate Portugal’s ‘Carnation Revolution’), saw traditional dancing – as well as consumption of sardines on a grand scale – and was just one of many authentic experiences that have lasted long in James’ memory.

Lisbon (left) is, perhaps unsurprisingly, his favourite city in the world. Citing its “faded charm” as its defining characteristic, James loves Portugal’s capital partly because of its size. There is little of the ‘hustle and bustle’ you find in so many large European cities, and its wonderful position at the mouth of the River Tejo – the iconic ‘25th of April Bridge’ is often compared to San Francisco’s Golden Gate – means that attractive seaside towns such as Cascais, are within easy reach.

And then there is the food, of course (like many of us here, James likes his food!). A favourite treat is the renowned egg custard tartlet, pastél de Belém, named after the Lisbon district where the original bakery is still a major draw. Locals and visitors alike are happy to queue patiently, knowing that these filo pastry tarts, topped with cinnamon and icing sugar, can be bought warm from the oven (the turnover here is such that they have never knowingly been sold cold!).

So, what is James’ hot tip for Portugal? Again he turns to food. “Well, it’s hard to beat the bacalhau (salted cod)” he says, unconsciously licking his lips. “There are supposedly 365 ways of preparing it – one for each day of the year – but my favourite is Bacalhau à brás. It really couldn’t be simpler: flaked pieces of cod mixed with egg, potato and olives… just lovely. And you’ll never find it on a tourist menu!”

James in Portugal

Posted: 16/02/2012 08:35:27 by | with 1 comments
Filed under: festivals, gastronomy, heritage, Portugal, walking

James's sister, Pippa!
Trust you to bring it back to food, Jimmy! "Unconsciously licking his lips."!! haha :P xxx
16/02/2012 18:01:21

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