Picnics of the World

“Well — I’ll get them to put you up a tea-basket, and you can picnic all to yourselves, — that’s the idea, isn’t it?’

‘How fearfully good! How frightfully nice if you could!”

Women in Love (D.H. Lawrence)


(The most romantic grass in the world?)

For all the travelling around the world feeding my face at fancy restaurants, I still find a picnic hard to beat. Growing ‘hangry’ searching along a dining promenade, my mind will wander to the perfect park or patch of grass that awaits at the most spectacular scenic spots. Getting the right amount of romance and Rose Wine onto the rug takes a little knowledge and patience, but with preparation the picnic is the true winner in alfresco dining. Let me review some of the great picnics of the world.


FRANCE

Sunset at Sacre-Coeur 

Getting you out of the restaurants in the dining capital of the world is admittedly a hard sell, but a visit to Montmartre and the Sacre-Coeur is a ‘must do’ when visiting the French capital. Why not pack your rug, and pick up supplies along the uber cool Rue Des Abbesses on your way towards this most romantic of picnic spots in the city of love. Belon No.2 oysters from La Mascotte are shucked and ready to go, grab a chicken and a tabouleh salad at the rotisserie across the street. Don’t forget the Brie de Meaux sold at any number of the delicatessens on the strip, and add some fresh bread from the award winning La Greneir a Pain. Continue to the green grass at the Square Louise Michel below the iconic building. Watch the sunset over Paris and pop a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Rose to wash down the feast.

AUSTRALIA

Brunch on the Mornington Peninsula (outside Melbourne)



A short drive outside the city of Melbourne takes you onto a number of stunning beaches. Bushman’s  Bay on the Mornington Peninsula is the clear picnic spot winner. The walk is full of wildlife, kangaroos hoping through the eucalyptus forest, kookaburras laughing, the place nearly always devoid of people. On the way, pop into Ten Minutes By Tractor for their 10X pinot rose to accompany lunch. Down the road, Red Hill Cheese produce the apt named ‘Picnic Point’ range. A quick stop in Flinders is where you can get the rest of your supplies. Local prawns by the half kilo, and the heavenly Flinders Bakery heavy fruit loaf with poppy seed. As extravagant as the provisions are, the real reason to picnic at Bushman’s Bay is for the secluded rock pools that you can swim in after the meal. Now what Michelin restaurant supplies that! 

(Rock pools at Bushman’s Bay)

PORTUGAL


Afternoons on the Banks of the Tagus

Portugal is the picnickers paradise with so much produce perfect for the rug. Simplicity is key. Pick up a can of Conservas Santos sardines. Eat with local sourdough and fresh tomatoes. The new Mercado da Ribeira market has all you are looking for. Grab a wheel of  Evora cheese. Include some local pate and of course a bottle of Mateus Rose, a Portuguese classic. On any given weekend the party atmosphere on the river may well extend past the picnic. Not to worry as there are many pop-up bars serving sangria and mojitos to keep you fuelled.

Got a favourite PICNIC ? Please let me know in the comments below.

The Whole Point of a Bike Tour Anyway

“what really draws me is the prospect of stepping out of the daylight of everything I know, into the shadows of what I don’t know, and may never know.”

Pico Iyer, Sun After Dark.

(Beautiful blues of Sesimbra)

The hardest part of the day was behind us as the bikes rolled down down down the steep hill of Sesimbra. My GF wiped sweat from her brow, cracked a smile and blew a triumphant kiss my way. 

The brand new tour bikes, literally ridden out of the sports mega-store the day before, looked legit. Packed heavy with all our belongings, the panniers saddled to the sides bulged, another full bag sat precariously on the front, holding all our worldly possessions that we were willing to carry. A passing pedestrian would think us cyclists were old hands at touring, unless they bothered to look closely at my nervous face cringing in concentration with the task at hand. No complaints. Confronting new challenges being the whole point of a bike tour anyway.

This was the first day on a bike for me in over a decade and I was trying hard to control the machine, all the excess weight willing gravity on and causing the wheels to spin too fast. ‘Irony’ sprung to mind, as up to this point the day spent in the saddle was mostly labourious. Tendons and muscles rarely used had been stretched and torn, a reminder of how a luxurious lifestyle under utilised the human body.  No complaints. Improving personal fitness being the whole point of a bike tour anyway.

It was nearly seven hours since the day started, crossing the Tagus on the wrong ferry, to arrive at the wrong port, to get instantaneously and incredibly lost. The 40 kilometre stretch south somehow turned into an 80km tour of the peninsula. No complaints. Travelling to places otherwise not seen nor imagined being the whole point of a bike tour anyway. 

But the final hill down down down into Sesimbra was also a great test, and not only for the new brakes. This was a test of fate. I tried to suppress a niggling fear of the unknown, for we had no idea what was to be found in town, no accommodation organised. Our only expectations being the heavenly plates of salt grilled makeral, teasingly advertised on regular billboards during the last 15 km stretch into port. These billboards acted like giant carrots, perfect motivators for the legs to push the pedals, as a well earned hunger grew. No complaints. Expecting the unexpected being the whole point of a bike tour anyway.

Finally reaching sea level we quickly acknowledged that the town was in fact built to facilitate thousands more tourists than were scattered on the promenade that afternoon. The hotels were fanned around the hill in a huge arc, highlighting the strip of beach below, illuminated like a golden centre stage of a huge amphitheater. There was a relaxed holiday atmosphere. A couple walked their dog on the boardwalk, flip flopping along in bikinis and board-shorts. A man, seemingly forgotten, was half buried in sand on the beach. A boy kicked a big inflatable ball along the sea lapping at the shore. What a treat! The weather perfect, the sun still shining after 8pm at night, the sea admittedly chilly but good for a splash, and the full choice of restaurants, bars and beds. It was all working out the way a bike tour should anyway. 

 

(Above the beach, Sesimbra)



All photos nickisalwaysonholidays 

Day Trip from Lisbon


Lisbon: always a good idea!

following the locals south is an adventurous way to spend a day or two exploring the other side of the Tagus. 

Lisbon is on everybody’s ‘to do’ list this year, but what if you are lucky enough to have a couple of extra days up your travelling sleeves whilst you are in the area? Drag yourself out of the bustling bars of Alfama, away from the fantastic Fado and head south!  Go west to Cascais is a popular option, but following the locals south is an adventurous way to spend a day or two exploring the other side of the Tagus

Add one night?

This loop of the south is suitable for a day trip in a car, or add an overnight stay in either Troia, a ferry trip from Setubal, or the port town of Sesimbra for both have plenty of accommodation options. This trip would take 2 moderate/difficult days on bikes, a beautiful and rewarding way to enjoy the coast. Saying that, if you packed the Lycra you may be able to pedal the whole route in a long day!

The Trip

From Lisbon by car cross the Tagus over the historic ’25th of April’ Bridge. This should remind you of the famous San Francisco bridge seeing as it was built by the same company and painted the same colour red. If you are on bikes catch the ferry to Almada, and look towards the Atlantic to see the bridge in its full glory.

Now that you have crossed the Tagus, head westward to the ocean. Follow the N377-1 and you will find yourselves with a beautiful stretch of beach with national parks and small seaside towns. Stop in at Costa da Caparica for breakfast at one of the many restaurants on the dunes. You can follow the N377-2 parallel to the beach and take a walk through the Arriba Fossil National Park. On a mountain bike, at low tide the beach makes a great track all the way to the cape. A quick heads up, you may catch an eye full as this part of the coast is for nudists! 

Beautiful blues of Sesimbra

Continuing along the N377 which turns inland, take the right (south) on the N778 to the fishing port town of Sesimbra. There are plenty of places for lunch along the promenade here. The beachside restaurant Portofinos is always popular. For a real seafood treat, head a kilometre around the harbour and eat at one of the seafood shacks – packed with local tourists for lunch. The town is famous for its Carapau, a grilled mackerel dish (plate of 4 for 8euro), some of the freshest fish in Portugal. 

Views from the road whete James Bond’s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was shot

The real adventure starts as you leave the port town and head into the Arrabida National Park, a magical area with the micro-climate of the Mediterranean. Pass along the vineyards on the N379 and turn directly into the national park following the N379-1. From here there is a steep climb over the range with breath taking views of the Sado River. Expect to see golden beaches, aquamarine blue waters and schools of fish swimming close to shore. The area is a breeding zone for many birds that float high with the rising air currents up the hills and over the park. Stop at any one of the beaches here where you can re-fuel at one of the restaurants perched on the small sandstone cliffs. 

Outside the Arrabida National Park is Setubal, from here you can take the N252 north back towards Lisbon

Any thing to add to this trip? Please let everybody know in the comments.

All photos nickisalwaysonholidays 

Portugal Beyond Lisbon – Alentejo

 Visit Portugal’s Alentejo region for an outdoor adventure complemented with fresh local produce and breath taking walks.


Portugal strikes back! After nearly a decade in the clutches of the GFC, the South West Coast of Portugal is striding forward towards a new future with an invigorating push into Nature Tourism, well supported by the local community and council. The houses and buildings in every street have been given a fresh lick of paint, bright white with blue, orange or pink trimmings so that when you enter a town you feel like you’ve stumbled onto a film set.

Forget the Algarve for a beach break, the Alentejo region is full of activities for those looking for outdoor adventure. The jewel in the Alentejo crown is the Fishermans Trail, a four day walk along the Atlantic Coast line that, from north to south, starts at the market square in the old town of Porto Covo and finishes on the tranquil beach of Odeceixe.

EAT and DRINK

Add to your time here fantastic fresh seafood, affordable local wines and cheeses, plenty of municipal markets (mercados) and a bounty of Portuguese patisseries, there is more than enough fuel to keep you going along the trail. Keep an eye out for the rated DOC cheeses (queijo) from Nisa, Evora and Serpa regions, all made from sheeps milk with their own regional flavours. Wines from Enoforum, Herdade dos Grous and Cartuxa are all high quality and affordable made from the lesser known grape varieties grown in Alentejo. Broadly, the whites are light, zingy and refreshing, perfect for the local seafood, whilst the reds are mostly full of fruit and also enjoyed young.

WALKING  THE FISHERMAN’S TRAIL

The first stage of the walk from Porto Covo to Vila Nova de Milfontes, is a 20km trail that should take about 7 hours to complete. Start by heading south from the Porto Covo fishing port onto the trail that twist and winds along the Atlantic, passing pebbled beaches and sandstone dunes. Expect to see endemic plant species that have survived the poor soil conditions of the area and exist nowhere else on Earth. Pack a lunch with drinks for this stretch as you will have the place to yourself with no conveniences on the way. From the market in Porto Covo’s main square you can pick up ripe local tomatoes, fresh bread, a small wheel of queijo and a tin or two of Portugal’s famous sardines for a picnic along the way.


(Porto Covo)

Vila Nova de Milfontes is a sleepy seaside town facing south, over looking the mouth of the Mira river and home to great restaurants and cafes. Nestled on the banks of the Mira is Quebramar Beach Bar, serving local fresh seafood. On the dunes is Conversar Comsal, perfect for sunset, with Super Bock on tap (1euro a glass) and ‘Catch of the Day’ (7euro) it’s a popular local favourite. If you plan on spending a few days here, there are surf schools, bike hire and yoga at Love Ashtanga Yoga to keep you busy.


(Overlooking the river mouth at Vila Nova de Milfontes)

Follow the trail from Vila Nova de Milfontes to Almograve, a 15km walk along the coast. First, you can go out of town and cross the bridge and head back towards Furnas beach or knock a couple of kilometres off the day by taking the ferry straight across the river. From here head down the acacia laden path and watch local fisherman on the rocks and keep your eyes out for the small Stone Age quarries in the dunes. Turn into Almograve for another feast at one of the wonderful local seafood restaurants. There is also a ferry service from Vila Nova de Milfontes that continues all the way to Odemira for those not wanting to walk the whole ‘Fishermans Trail‘ (25 euro one way). 

The third leg from Almograve to Zambujeria do Mar is the only leg with paths wide enough to allow for bikes. This 22km stretch of trail is high and hugs close along the 100mt red sandstone cliffs, giving fantastic views down the coast. Lookout for birds nesting in the craggy rocks and keep heading to the lighthouse at Cavaleiro where you can stop for lunch. The trail leaves the cliffs edge at Bacra, where a taxi can be ordered to take you into town avoiding the last 3km straight stretch of road. Handy if you sampled the impressive list of local wines available at the Restaurant a Barca which is highly noted for their seafood soup (3euro).

Zambujeria do Mar has a magnificent beach formed by the erosion of the cliffs over the millennium. It’s a great place to stay, and you can enjoy dinner at Restaurant Rita who serve big pots of Portuguese Octopus Rice for two (19euro), and have magical sunset views over the town church and Atlantic. Local bars on the Main Street have impromptu Fado musicians throughout the night. 


(Sunset at Zambujeria do Mar)

The final leg of the trail is 18km from Zambujeria do Mar to Odeceixe where many nocturnal mammals will be at rest. Burrows and footprints can be seen on the trail, the signs of the local otter, Egyptian Mongoose and Beech Marten population. Carvalhal beach is also home to a private African zoo, a hundred metres above the Surf School and Bar. From the town of Odeceixe there are kayaks available to paddle the last couple of kilometres to the beach.


(Odeceixe)

Odeceixe is the perfect beachside town to stop and enjoy the fresh air blowing across the Atlantic and reflect on the adventure just completed. Bars, accomodation and restaurants hang off the cliff with mesmerising views over the river mouth and Atlantic Ocean beyond.

All photos nickisalwaysonholidays.
If you have any more information on the area PLEASE add a link in the comments.