Hike, Bike or Ride The Wild South-West

September 17, 2015
                       

Along the beautiful west coast of south Portugal, the Rota Vicentina, offers more than 400 kilometres of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails.  On their new website www.rotavicentina.com you find a planning tool for trips and interactive elements including videos.

There is the Historical Way, the Fishermen’s Trail and several Circular Routes to choose from. The route is fully marked in both directions, and can be traveled independently and in total security.  The best time for walking is from September till June.  July and August will probably be too hot.

                       
 

Fresh Figs Season - What A Sweet Delight

July 20, 2015
                       


Many people only know the taste of dried figs and I think they are lovely. But here and now - until the end of September - you have the chance of tasting the fresh fruit. Before moving to the Algarve I did not even know what they looked like, leave alone how they taste. But I fell in love with them from the first time we met.

The fig could be considered the perfect fruit, although it rather is a "false fruit," or syncomium. Within the globe of the "fruit" are little clusters of flowers that look similar to threads. Figs are low on calories, full of fiber, vitamins and minerals and are very healthy.

Figs should ideally be eaten straight from the tree, because their shelf-life is very short. If you must keep them for a day or two - do so in the fridge. They are very delicate and bruise easily, but boy are they good! 

                       

There are many different varieties of figs and they come in different shapes and colours. Some are more pear shaped, others quite round. Some are green, others purple/black or yellow. You can eat them as they are - all of it - although you might want to peel the outer skin if the fruit is not super fresh anymore. The ripe figs will separate easily from the tree when you lift them upwards from  their normal drooping position. The ripe figs definitely droop a bit and feel softer.  

Fig trees are easily propagated through cuttings. In September or October, make a cutting and put it in a bucket with potting soil, or simply stick it in the ground and cover with mulch. One out of 10 will take, but once you've got a fig tree going, it's hard to kill. Protect it the first winter from frost with a deep mulch, and then it's on its own. After three years, it should start producing.

Fresh figs are lovely on their own, but also make a great combination with mature cheeses or "presunto" (cured ham), or you can add some to a fresh salad. But even if you miss the fresh fig season in Portugal, there’s always the rest of the fall and winter to enjoy the newly dried figs from the summer harvest and doce de figo – fig jam! 


                       

 

Flor De Sal - The Best Salt Of The Algarve

July 15, 2015
                       

Salt. What could be simpler than that. We have been using salt for thousands of years to spice up our food and to preserve food as well. But there actually are quite a lot of differences. The salt harvested from sea water in the Algarve if a very high quality sea salt, but the top of the line is definitely the Flor de Sal - the flower of salt. 

What is Flor de Sal? 

Through evaporation by sun and wind, a thin glistening layer of flaky salt crystals will start to float on the surface of the salt pans. This layer is manually removed on a daily basis during the summer months. The 
result of this intense work is Flor de Sal, a delicate, 100% natural gourmet salt that retains all the benefits of the sea. No brighteners or any chemical agents are involved. 

The Algarve Flor do Sal is internationally respected, as demonstrated by the high quality certification attributed to this salt by the French Association Nature & Progres. The climatic conditions of the Algarve are ideal for producing salt. The hot, dry summers guarantee natural evaporation by sun and wind. The harvest ends with the beginning of the first autumnal rain. Most of the sea salt in the Algarve comes from the Ria Formosa Natural Park in the eastern Algarve. 

There are various quality levels of marine salt to be distinguished: Flor de Sal, Sal tradicional and Sal do Mar

Flor de Sal
Flor de Sal is the finest flower of sea salt. It appears as a thin layer floating on the surface of the brine. Artisan salt gatherers use hand-crafted, butterfly-shaped sieves - ‘borboletas’ - to skim the flower of sea salt crystals from the water’s surface. The skilled artisans instinctively know when they have skimmed the very best flakes, by the sound the sieve makes. These first fragile crystals are only sun dried before packing. 

Sal Tradicional
This unprocessed sea salt comes from small traditional crystallizer ponds. Salt crystals originate from the concentrating brine and precipitate to the clay bottom of the ponds. The salt is harvested every 10 to 14 days, by hand with wooden rakes, and shaped into piles beneath the pans. Sun drying maintains the natural moisture and the sea water's minerals. 

Sal do Mar
At the end of the season this quality salt is harvested by small machinery, in most cases by a carefully guided mini loader. The salt cristals are of a more solid structure. Thus, Sal do Mar is often sold ground and is a little less soluble in water.

                        


Superior taste

The young, fragile crystals grow for a few hours only before they are gathered. The way Flor de Sal is produced makes it rich in minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium. It is this specific composition, which gives Flor de Sal its distinctive flavour. A flavour, which is a world away from common table salt and other, processed sea salts.

How to use it

Flor de Sal is the perfect finishing salt for everyday use and brings a special taste to all prepared dishes. Its smooth flakes crumble between the fingers and melt on the tongue. Sprinkled over any prepared dish, the salt adds a delicate, subtle taste and enhances the intrinsic flavours of the ingredients.

How to store it

Flor de Sal should be stored in a way that keeps its natural moisture, the so-called ‘mother liquor’. This preserves minerals and essential elements contained in the natural sea salt such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium.


Chemical composition

Tested on a regular basis, Flor de Sal is free of toxic substances such as heavy metals, nitrates and pesticides.

Typical analytical values:
Sodium Chloride (NaCl) 97 % (in dry matter)
Moisture 6.5 %
Calcium (Ca) 0.1 %
Magnesium (Mg) 0.4 %
Potassium (K) 0.2 %
Iron (Fe) 5 mg/kg
Insolubles < 0.02 %
pH 8.5

For anybody interested in a guided tour of the saltpans - Call +351 289 793 601 or email tours@marisol.biz  
Website:  www.marisol.biz






 

Why The Beach Makes You Happy !

July 14, 2015
                       


We always knew this, but now there is scientific proof that the beach really does makes us happy. The reasons why maybe go way back to the time when our ancestors left the water to live on land. But at least as far as the origin of our own life in our mother´s womb. Our brain is instinctively programmed to feel better at the coast.

But there are more health benefits to the sea shore:

  • Sea water is very good for your skin and hair. It degreases and cleans and is therefore working against acne and speeds up the healing of wounds. 
  • Swimming in the sea uses muscles you do not use for other activities, so it is a great fitness activity.
  • Walking barefoot in the sand is physically harder than walking on tarmac. It strengthens the muscles in the feet and ankles.
  • The sand on the beach is a natural exfoliater, great for a skin scrub.
  • The sound of the waves, the smell and looks of the sea are balm for the soul as well. It calms us down, reduces stress and stimulates production of feel good hormones.
Enough reasons to spend some time at the coast!
 

Experience Some Adventure In The Algarve

July 12, 2015
                       


Of course it is nice to spend some time relaxing, sunbathing and sightseeing during your Algarve holidays, but did you know there are also some great adventures to be experienced here?

We all know about surfing and there are some really great locations to do this, especially on the west coast. But there are also some adventure sports that you maybe have not heard of before, such as coasteering and stand up paddle boarding (SUP for short).

SUP consists of standing and balancing on top of a huge board, much larger and stable than a surfboard. You use a paddle to move forward and manoeuvre it around. Stand-Up Paddle boarding is much easier to learn and a lot safer than surfing. Also it gives you a special view over the surroundings, while at the same time you can see things under the water surface. It is a great way to explore the local wildlife, rivers, lagoons, coastline, caves, cliffs and secret beaches of the Algarve and even lets you catch a couple of waves !

                      

If you like being surrounded by nature and if you love water sports, then you should try Stand-up Paddle Boarding in the western Algarve. There are tours suitable for all ages, some on the Aljezur river and others on the coast near Lagos and Sagres.

                        

And then there is Coasteering, a trendy and exciting adventure activity including walking, climbing and cliff jumping along the coastline between Sagres and Lagos in the beautiful natural park of Costa Vicentina. During a coasteering tour you will be exploring the rocky coastline, hidden beaches, amazing cliffs and rock formations.  You will swim in the ocean and inside sea caves and you will even do some cliff jumping. This will surely raise your adrenaline levels!

Want to know more and maybe book a tour? Have a look at the Adventure Activities page for more info, pictures and prices. It is also possible to do a combination of activities.

 

Portuguese Olive Oil - Amongst The Best Of The World

July 8, 2015
                             

Portugal is not a giant producer of olive oil like neighbouring Spain, but the traditional production of olive oil goes just as deep here.  During the last couple of years Portuguese producers have improved the quality and polished their brands to shine among the world’s best olive oils.  

Now some of the world´s best olive oils are coming from Portugal.  Brands like Oliveira da Serra, Saloio and Gallo have some oils that won prestigious international awards. Another winner is Monterosa olive oil Maçanilha from a producer in Moncarapacho in the Algarve. 

Olive oil tasting

It is possible to visit the plantation and the mill of this price winning producer of olive oil. You can participate in an olive oil tasting, discover the olive tree culture, production process and the origins of the mill, dating back to roman times. Have a look at their website to make a reservation for a tour.


Olive trees

The olive tree is the oldest cultivated tree in the world. It flowers in springtime and the fruit can be harvested in the fall - depending on the weather.  If you want to use the olives for the oil, you should pick them just before they are fully ripe, because it is then when they contain most beneficial anti-oxidants and least acid.  If you like to cure olives, you should pick the green ones (look for the recipe at traditional food and recipes), especially the big round ones that look like mini apples (Maçanilha).

Production of olive oil already exists since around 3000 BC, but it were the Arabs who occupied this area in the 17th century, who expanded the olive culture in Portugal. The Portuguese word for olive oil is azeite, originally an Arab word for olive juice.  Olive oil is really a natural fruit juice. 

                       

Fruit fly trap

Last year I could not use any of my beloved Maçanilhas because the olive fruit fly (Bactrocera oleae) had a party with them. This fly is the worst enemy of the olives and it can destroy 100% of your harvest. But for next year I will be prepared. I found out how to trick this nasty little bugger with a trap.  This is how you do it:

Get some empty 1,5 liter PET bottles. Drill or melt 5 mm wide holes around the "shoulder" of the bottle. Fill the bottle with 1 liter of ammonium bicarbonate solution (pharmacy) or, alternatively fill it with white wine vinegar and screw the cap on. Hang 1 per tree in a shady spot. That should do the trick. 

Pruning

To get a good harvest it is also necessary to prune you olive trees yearly in late winter or early spring (before flowering).  Pruning helps to keep the tree a manageable size - important when you start to harvest - and removing old wood encourages new fruiting wood to emerge and keeps the tree youthful. Also, encouraging light and air into the centre of the tree helps prevent pests and diseases from taking hold.

Start by removing everything around the trunk on the ground and all small shoots on the lower part of the trunk. Then make sure that enough sunlight and air can reach all the fruit. That is why you need to open up the centre of the olive tree. Remember that the energy of the tree is stored in its leaves, so do not cut too dramatically. When in doubt, less pruning is better!  A manageable olive tree should be between 3 and 7 meters high.

If you prune a young tree, select 3-5 branches that grow in a 45 - 60 degree angle up from the trunk. The other branches should be cut away, close to the trunk.

                                

Harvest

An olive tree can survive a summer without water, but it is beneficial to the fruit if you give some water when the olives start swelling (August).  100 Liter per tree is recommended. Then, somewhere in the fall, when the fruit is starting to turn purple and black, it is time to harvest.

Before harvesting an olive tree, there is a net put under the tree. Then people climb ladders and carefully start raking the olives from the branches. 
Once the olives are picked they have to be processed as quickly as possible to maintain the beneficial characteristics of the oil.

It takes around 1000 - 3000 olives (5-7 kg) to produce 1 liter of oil. The oil obtained from the first - still green - olives is less in quantity, but higher in quality. The more mature (black) the olives get, the more oil they contain, but the quality is becoming weaker as well.

Storage of olive oil

Flavor and aroma of the 
oil deteriorate within 2 years. The fresher you use the product, the better the quality is. So please do look at the "best before" date on the bottle in the store.

The best place to store your olive oil is in a dark glass bottle or in a stainless steel, ceramic or tin container. If using a clear glass bottle, this should be kept in a dark spot. Keep it away from air, light and heat. Proper storage will keep the quality of your oil for up to 2 years. Once a bottle is opened you should use it within 2 to 3 months  Avoid using plastic containers and other types of metal, since the chemical reaction between the olive oil and the material can create toxic compounds.

                       


Olive oil qualities

Olive oil is classified into three categories: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Virgin Olive Oil and Olive Oil. 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Also called 
“the king of olive oils”, is made from healthy olives, gently harvested at their optimal ripeness and pressed exclusively by mechanical means, without heat. It is pure fruit juice, so to speak. The oil is tested by a panel of trained tasters who have to find no defects and the three attributes: fruity, bitter and pungent or peppery. It is also tested in a laboratory where it has to meet up to a dozen criteria to confirm that it is genuine. The acidity of this quality must not exceed 0.8%

Virgin Olive Oil - This oil is made in the same way as the extra virgin quality, i.e. only by mechanical means, but is less flavorsome and can have a slight defect. It has less durability than extra virgin olive oil.

Olive Oil This oil of lower quality is a blend between refined and virgin olive oil. The oil was refined because it had one or several defects which were removed in an industrial process involving heating, pressure, caustic soda and phosphoric acid. It lasts several years, but has lost most of its taste and aroma and some health benefits. Most of the olive oil produced worldwide is of this quality.

The best olive oil quality you can buy is extra virgin, but there are still huge differences in terms of quality, taste, aroma, color, health benefits, shelf life, presentation and price.  I believe in Jamie Oliver´s words: buy the best olive oil you can afford. But is of course mainly a question of taste. There are some qualities that are delicate and mellow and others that are quite bitter and pungent.  It also depends what you want to use it for. No point in buying an expensive oil for frying though, since much of the flavor and aroma will be destroyed in the process.

Acidity

If you buy a quality oil, the acidity level is already low, at no more than 0.8%.  The acidity level is determined by the variety of olive and the production methods. An acidity of under 0.8% means very little, unless you have a medical condition where .5 - .8% would upset the stomach. In that case choose one under 0.5% 

                         

Health benefits

More research is being done lately as to the numerous health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, including olive oil. Some of the most important benefits of using good quality Extra Virgin olive oil are:  
* it works anti-inflammatory
* it has cardiovascular benefits
* it is very good for the digestive health
* it is a great moisturizer for the skin
* it lowers the risk of strokes and neurodegenerative dementias

But above all it is, like a good wine, a pleasure to consume. Drizzle it over fish, meat, vegetables, potatoes, salads or bread and enjoy!

 

Licor Beirão - THE liqueur of Portugal

July 7, 2015
                       

The most famous liqueur of Portugal is without a doubt Licor Beirão. Its recipe is a trade secret; producer J. Carranca Redondo, Lda. only states it is made from a double distillation of seeds and herbs from all over the world.

The history of the liqueur dates way back. It was already produced as a medicinal product for stomach aches in the 19th century in a pharmacy in Lousã, before being named Beirão.  In the late 19th century alcoholic beverages were no longer qualified as medicinal, but the liqueur was kept in production in a small factory owned by the son-in-law of the original producer. 

In 1929 the liqueur entered a contest on the 2nd Beirão Congress where it earned a gold medal and its name of Beirão. In 1940 the factory was bought by José Carranca Redondo (1921-2005). In the 1960s Redondo drove Beirão to a nationwide success. He understood the importance of advertising - he used to say that after laying an egg, the hen clucks - so he launched the first Portuguese advertising campaign using billboards.

                       

Licor Beirão is currently produced in Quinta do Meiral, in Lousã (district of Coimbra, in Portugal). Here  some of the plants and aromatic seeds used in the secret recipe are produced, allowing greater quality control. The remaining ingredients are brought from distant zones like India, Sri Lanka, Brazil and Turkey.

                        

Licor Beirão can be drunk as an apéritif, but also as a digestiv. It is lovely "on the rocks", but there also exist some great cocktails with this famous drink, one of the best known being Caipirao. Caipirão is one of the favourite drinks of Licor Beirão lovers. It is a very aromatic version of Caipirinha, lighter on alcohol and sugar.

6 cl Licor Beirao
1/2 lime cut into pieces

Cut the lime and mash it merciless. Fill the glass with crushed ice. Pour the Licor Beirao into the glass and stir well. Add two straws - to share, or to double your own enjoyment.  Note that no sugar is added.  


For some surprising recipes and cocktails - http://www.licorbeirao.com/en

 

Wines Of Portugal

June 22, 2015
                       

Speaking about wine, most people do not make a direct link to Portugal. The wines from this country are 
relatively unknown in the world, but nevertheless Portugal is the 7th largest producer of wine in the world!

Besides the white, red and rosé wines, we have a few extras here: There is port wine (a wine fortified by adding Brandy), there is Madeira (fortified wine from the island of Madeira), we have Moscatel (a liquerous wine from the Setúbal Peninsula) and then there is a Vinho Verde (a sparkling very young wine). So much to choose from!

One of the most wellknown wine regions in Portugal is the Douro. This is the origin of Port wines and a very beautiful wine-growing area. Since the 1990s there are also some great smooth, dark, red wines made in this region, that received international recognition. Other important wine regions are Dão, Palmela and Alentejo.

                       
                        

Vinho Verde deserves an extra mention. It comes from the Minho region in the north of Portugal and is a very refreshing, spritzy, young wine. Low on alcohol (9%) and properly chilled, it is especially lovely in the summertime.

Slowly, the underrated Portuguese wines are gaining more recognition worldwide. If you look for "regional" (under €10) and "DOC" (under €20) appellations, you will be certain to get excellent value for your money. Many of the regional wines in Portugal are a bargain compared to the prices by French and Italian competitors. We are so lucky to live here!  If you want to read more about Portuguese wines visit the website winesofportugal.info

Whatever wine you will buy, just make sure there is a
real cork inside!  Cheers!  or in Portuguese: À nossa saúde e que as nossas mulheres nunca fiquem viúvas" (To our health and may our wives never become widows! )

                       

 

Algarvean Oranges - The Sweet Taste Of Sunshine

June 21, 2015

                       

In the middle of the winter, when nature is asleep in the northern part of Europe, the evergreen orange trees bear fruit and it seems like a million Christmas trees with bright orange balls are decorating the rural Algarve. Absolutely breathtaking!  If you drive through the western Algarve in early springtime and open your car window, the scent of the flowering orange trees tickles your senses. This lovely perfume is one of the nicest aromas I know.

Silves, 
the former capital of the Algarve, is now considered to be the capital of the oranges in Portugal. One of the reasons for the top quality "laranjas" here is that there is a good infrastructure for irrigation, due to the Arade dam, but the most important reason is the many hours of sunshine in this area. That is why the oranges from the Algarve, and especially from the Silves region, are so full of sweet juice and loaded with vitamine C.

                        

Oranges probably originated from China and were already cultivated there since 2500 BC. They were brought to Europe in the late 15th century by Portuguese merchants. In some countries the fruit still carries a name that reminds us of that. For instance in Greek an orange is called "portokali".
 
The Algarve region produces on average between 250,000 and 300,000 tonnes of oranges each year. Everybody visiting the Algarve will see lots of stands selling oranges on the road sides. They are very cheap here and taste lovely!  And if you cannot eat or juice them all, here is a special recipe for orange cheesecake with cardamom.

                         

Now a question:  what came first, the name for the fruit or the name for the colour orange?  The name for the fruit was first. The fruit was called "apple from China" in some languages, such as in German (Apfelsine) and in Dutch (sinaasappel or appelsien).  The English were the first to name the colour orange in 1512.

I found some interesting facts on oranges that I would like to share with you:
  • The sweet orange is the fruit of the Citrus sinensis.
  • It is nowhere growing in the wild, because it is a hybrid between a pomelo (25%) and a mandarin (75%)
  • All orange trees are grafted
  • Orange trees need lots of sun, water and moderate temperatures (15.5 - 29 degrees C)
  • Every part of the fruit is edible
  • Oranges are loaded with vitamine C and a lot of other goodies
If you are so lucky to have lots of oranges around, here are a few ideas on what to do with them:
  • Orange Peel Kindling -  due to the high content of flammable oil in orange peel, dried peel makes a great firestarter or kindling.
  • Peel, sigment and freeze them -  They are wonderful partially thawed in fruit salad with yogurt or to be used in other recipies.
  • Marinade - Marinate and cook pork shoulder or tenderoin in fresh orange juice. Mmmmmm.
  • Zest your oranges and cover with wodka. Let sit. Delicious Orange Extract (works for lemons, too).
  • Substitute orange juice for a portion of the vinegar in a salad dressing – a great way to add a slightly sweet flavor and to balance the taste of the vinegar. 
  • Make an orange curd, but instead of a lemon curd. Just lower the sugar by a third.
  • Orange peels can be candied to make a deliciously, zesty treat. You may dip one end in melted chocolate......


 

Traditional Portuguese Food

June 21, 2015
                       

When I first came to Portugal - the Algarve to be precise - I was a bit sceptical about the food that was served by the locals.  In The Netherlands we have a saying, literally translated into English: "what the farmer does not know, the farmer does not eat!"   And - I am a bit ashamed to admit - that is often also the way I behave.  But, getting older and wiser, I am more often trying new flavours and foreign dishes, although some things I will never ever put in my mouth because the bare looks of it give me the message: this is no food, this should not be eaten (just like these little snales, or het head of chicken...). 

Well, coming back to Portuguese food, most of the traditional recipes date back to a time when there was a lot of poverty. Vast areas of Portugal always have been very poor and thus people had to get inventive and create tasty meals with the few things they had.  This resulted in some simple, hearty, unfussy and honest dishes.

                       

One of the most important things for the Portuguese is bread.  They eat it with every meal and in large quantities. For me, the local bread is very tasty and of good quality, but only when it is fresh. If this type of bread is a day old, you can seriously hurt somebody with it!  Stale bread is also used in açordas, gaspachos and in the traditional migas.

What I really appreciate in Portugal is the fresh Altantic seafood, the creamy local cheeses (especially the one from the Serra do Estrela), ham and other meat from the acorn-fed black pigs (porco preta), the delicious olive oil, some of the tempting desserts and not to forget the noteworthy and very affordable local wines.  If you are looking for some nice recipies of traditional Portuguese food, please have a look at the page Traditional Food from my website on the area I live in www.saomarcosdaserra.com

                        

If you are visiting Portugal you should definately taste the traditional cured meats and sausages like for instance chouriço and linguiça. Then there is the outstanding local honey!  This honey is of an extremely high quality, especially in the Monchique region, because of the great biodiversity and the clean air.

In most recipies here there are some key ingredients involved:  onions, garlic, cilantro, ground paprika, oregano, parsley, wine and olive oil (azeite).  All of these ingredients are locally grown and delicious. 

                        

The Portuguese love their pork meat and chicken (and most of them keep some at home), but they also regularly eat fish, especially sardines and horse mackerel from the BBQ. Once in a while they will eat game dishes, lamb or goat. Usually all meals are accompanied by a simple salad made with curly lettuce, cucumber and onion with some salt, vinegar and olive oil.

Then there is another very important staple food of Portugal: Bacalhau - dried and salted codfish.  This is very popular throughout the country and it said that there are as many recipies for it as there are days in a year. Bacalhau is on the menu regularly.

As far as vegetables are concerned, one of the favourites is cabbage. Also dried pulses and broad beans are very popular. Most veggies are included in the slowcooked stews.  As a dessert, people usually take some fresh local fruit, such as pears, oranges (the best in the world) or figs. There are also some sweet desserts, but they are not eaten every day.  

What you will not find in rural Portugal is fast food. Instead visit one of the family run restaurants where unhurried gentle locals serve their homemade fresh dishes.  Here you can have a daily special, including wine or beer and dessert, for under 10 Euro.  Enjoy!

 
 

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About Me


Marianne Hoesen Born in the deep south of The Netherlands, I moved to the central Algarve in 2007, together with my partner and 2 dogs. In the meantime we added some goats and chickens and are living a peaceful life in the rolling hills of the rural south of Portugal. I invite you to read a bit in my blog and to leave a comment afterwards. Also check out the holiday accommodations mentioned elsewhere in this website.

 

Algarve Portugal
café Portugal, bica
Esteva, rock rose, Algarve
sun, beach, Algarve
real cork real wine
beach Algarve
folklore dance Algarve
chicken piri piri