Saint Martin - Chestnuts And New Wine

November 8, 2015

Saint Martin, the very popular Saint who became Bishop of Tours in France in the year 371, was buried on the 11th of November 397. According to the most widespread variation of the legend, Saint Martin cut off half of his cloak in order to offer it to a freezing beggar. As he faced a long ride in a freezing weather, the dark clouds cleared away and the sun shone so intensely that the frost melted away. Such weather was rare for early November, so was credited to God's intervention.

In Portugal the phenomenon of a sunny break to the chilly autumn weather is called Verão de São Martinho (Saint Martin's Summer) in honor of the cloak legend.  


Saint Martin´s day is celebrated on the 11th of November across the country. Families and friends gather around the fire in reunions called magustos, where they typically eat roasted chestnuts and drink jeropiga (drink made of grape must and firewater) and agua-pé (a sort of weak and watered-down wine). It is also the day to taste the new wine for the first time.


The Chocolate Casino

October 17, 2015

If you visited Portugal before, you probably will have noticed these machines on the counter of local bars and cafes. These gambling machines are to the locals what the Casino is for the city dwellers. There are machines that give you a chance on winning some extra cash, there are others that have more or less useful items to win, such as pocket knifes, lighters etc.  


And than you have my favorite kind of gambling machine:  the chocolate casino! And here are my 5 reasons why it is the best:

First of all:  it only costs €0,50 to take a chance
Second: you get to turn the mechanism yourself
Third: you always win, so there are no losers!
Fourth:  the price is always in chocolate!  So I am never really disappointed
Fifth:  There is this odd chance, that you win a really BIG one! It even happened to me about 4 times so far....


He who refuses the small is not worthy of the large......  Anyway, this type of Casino always makes me smile!

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 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  


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. 


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.



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.


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 -


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

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! )



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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