Sunday, 7 October 2007

Spain, The Costa Del Sol

Do you have a menu wheat and gluten free?
Tienen un menu de platos sin trigo ni gluten?

Pink Martini perform a piece of music called Andalucia on their debut album Sympathique; the area is drenched in a deep history of civil unrest, religious and political disagreements, and in the last 20 years the coastal fishing villages are adorned with mansions and villas. Welcome to the Costa Del Sol - A playground for the wealthy, a retirement haven for the English, and a guaranteed good time for all.

Little remains typically Spanish in the tourist areas except for the odd terra cotta light fitting and the weather, however up and down the coast line are gems of gourmet discovery, especially out of tourist season when you get a more personal and relaxed service without the over inflated prices.

The Tapas bars will always offer meats and cheese (Manchengo Cheese), melon, tortilla, anchovies, olives, sardines and salads. The photos below are Playa Miguel in Torremolenos and their char grilled Sardines (my favourite).

Restaurants will also offer steak, fish, chicken and pork. Ask for all the sauces on the side, or without and avoid the chips in case they are rolled in flour, or share the same oil as other floured food items.

Tortilla is potato, eggs and oil - okay, a crazy amount of potato, eggs and oil, but this basic is a great snack and will usually be served cold or at room temperature. Mixed with a plate of salted meats and cheese and you will feel as Spanish as they come.

If you are self catering, hit the supermarket, food markets, meat and cheese boutiques and the farmacias (pharmacy) as you will find a diet section at the pharmacy. There will be items such as bread, rice cakes, nut bars and a spread. Look for the label "sin gluten".

If you stay B&B let the hotel or guest house know about your coeliac diet - most will be as accommodating as possible. The tip is to ask for food items that you can have.

If you are travelling through the EU from the UK you will be allowed to take your own bread and a few snacks to keep you going. Make sure everything is packaged properly and in your main luggage, keeping your snacks close by in your hand luggage as most domestic airlines won't have anything gf or wf for you.

Tip: Spanish hostels are small, usually family run establishments and not the traditional youth hostels. They are a good choice economically.

Marbella's Old Town is beautiful and relaxing - especially in November as this is out of peak season for tourism. At this time of year the trees are full of oranges, and the stunning colours of the bougainvillia draped against the white-washed buildings is a scene from a post card.

Tapas bars, cafes and restaurants line the Square which is called Orange Square or Plaza de los Naranjos in the centre of the Old Town with more along the cobbled lanes which weave in and out of the main square.

El Patio de los Perfumes does lovely food and is decorated beautifully and you sit in a lovely lit courtyard.

Another recommendation is Skina Restaurant, in the Old Town is gaining fame with accomplished cuisine and service second to none. Rapidly becoming one of the finest restaurants in Marbella, and with an in-built exclusivity (having just 12 covers), it comes as no surprise that reservations in the restaurant are like gold dust for the coming Summer. The menu is Mediterranean Cuisine and isn't extensive, but carefully chosen and well balanced and a dedicated array of International & Andalucian wines with a sophisticated ambience and perfection in its attention to detail. It is opened 6 days a week (Closed Sundays) and reservations are a must.

November sees the orange trees full of fruit. It seems that no-one touches the fruit and it was so tempting to just wander up to a tree and pick an orange, but it just isn't the done thing. Seville oranges make gorgeous jam, but are too bitter for juicing.

The Square is also the place to be on New Year's Eve. The tradition on New Year's Eve is to make a least one curcit of the square, saying hi to as many people as possible, just before midnight.

Puerto Banus is the marina playground to the rich and richer - the place to be seen. Like any exclusive marina, the harbour will be a scene of multi-million dollar yachts and equally impressive cars and obscene displays of bank accounts. Visitors are dripping in designer labels and sipping coffee or wine showing off their perfect pout and orange skin.

The cafes and bars lining the marina are open-fronted so you will be sure to be seen. Don't be intimidated by this because most of these restaurants are doing amazing food. This is how we discovered The Lonestar Brasserie with its classy interior.

The directors own The Lonestar Hotel in Barbados which hosts many a celebrity and The Lonestar Puerto Banus has made a similar name for itself.
The menu is positioned outside and clearly states that if you have a special diet, just tell the we put this to the test and we were in food heaven.
Mr Smith ate fillet steak (medium rare), and I ate the peppered crusted veal which melted in my mouth. The veal was served with a potato rosti.

The Parador de Malaga Gibralfaro is a beautiful hotel overlooking the city of Malaga.

I am lucky enough to have an uncle who lives close to Malaga, but one day I shall treat myself to staying in this hotel. Instead we ate at the Parado's restaurant on the terrace overlooking the bullring which is an amazing sight from this height.

The hotel is made entirely of stone and wood and is situated opposite Malaga's landmark Moorish castle (Gilbralfaro). We had a late lunch and worked up our appetite by following the winding pathway from the Citadel at the bottom to the very top.

The Parador offers the very best in Andalucian gastronomy and their seafood is undoubtably the best I have ever tasted. Malaga is of course by the sea, so you would not expect any less.

I decided on the omelet of chanquetes. Chanquetes are tiny whitefish which are popular in this part of the country. Make sure you check that if you have these on their own as tapas, that they aren't rolled in flour.