Happy New Year - Feliz Ano Novo - to you!
I am sure that I am not alone in welcoming 2017 with open arms and breathing a very deep sigh of relief as we close the door on 2016. What an extraordinary year it has been, for the whole world.
But when times are tough, it's more important than ever to look for the silver linings. And I am really happy to say that I have found quite a few when it comes to Portugal's successes in 2016!
SEVEN new Michelin stars to add to their existing fourteen. Two of which were awarded to existing one-star chefs, giving the country five two-starred restaurants. Not bad for such a small country and now quite the fine-dining destination.
Head chefs Benoit Sinthon of Il Gallo d'Oro in Madeira and Ricardo Costa of the Yeatman Hotel in Porto, are celebrating their second Michelin Stars this year
Portuguese wines are still on the rise and the UK saw a 23% increase in the import of still wines and 64% in sparkling. If you are not yet familiar with espumante - sparkling Portuguese wine - I suggest you make it one of your new year resolutions to become so. Great quality wines - often made by the 'gold standard' labour-intensive Champagne method - at significantly less than Champagne prices. Look out for Filipa Pato's '3B' Blanc de Blanc available at London's latest Portuguese eatery, Bar Douro.
Espumante - Portuguese bubbles. Try this stunning Blanc de Blanc by Filipa Pato
Which brings me on to the next excitement in the world of Portuguese gastronomy. London was the lucky recipient of two new Portuguese restaurants last year. Bar Douro, inspired by the traditional cervejarias and tascas of Lisbon and Porto, is a rustic restaurant offering a contemporary take on Portuguese cuisine. Its sleek and authentic interior immediately transports you straight back to Portugal.
Get down to Bar Douro in London's new foodie hotspot - Flat Iron Square
And then there's Caco & Co who have opened in Shepherd's Bush and Blackfriars. Two destinations to sample the delicacy of Bolo de Caco - breads from the Madeira islands made with sweet potato and cooked on a tile or stone slab above a wood fire. They make the most delicious 'bifana' or 'prego' - traditional pork and beef sandwiches - as well as many other traditional dishes.
Caco & Co's range of traditional Portuguese dishes including the Madeiran sweet potato bread, Bolo de Caco
I am sure the heightened awareness surrounding Portuguese food has contributed to the increased interest in the country. I have seen so many articles about Portugal being the 'next big thing' and rated top of the list of places to visit.
In Rick Stein's latest travel series 'Rick Stein's Long Weekends' he made a trip to Lisbon due to its reputation for incredible seafood. He delighted in discovering some of the city's best loved hot-spots, getting stuck into custard tarts in Belém, percebes in Guincho (a gnarly looking crustacean that, if you are bold enough to crack into, delights with the most sensational flavours of the ocean), out-of-this-world fresh seafood in the legendary Cervejaria Ramiro’ and of course the ultimate grilled sardines during the festival of St Anthony. Grilled and eaten on the street with your bare hands. Naturally.
Rick Stein enjoying a little Vinho Verde by the Tagus River in Lisbon
Percebes - goose barnacles - a delicacy for the braver foodies out there!
O Ramiro's seafood feasts are best finished off with the traditional steak sandwich - delicious and good for soaking up the beer... And Senhor Ramiro has been keeping a watchful eye on his guests since 1956!
Celebrations in Alfama, Lisbon for the Festival of St Anthony otherwise know as the 'Saint of Sardines'
I don't know about you, but all this talk of wonderful food and travel, especially in grey dreary January gives me serious wanderlust. If you are in the same position and are wondering where to wander in 2017, may I suggest Portugal?! Just like John Lewis' Christmas ad claims, it really does have something for everyone (maybe not urban foxes and badgers...) stunning beaches, beautiful countryside, incredible food, exquisite ancient cities, vibrant night life and some excellent hotels. If my word is not enough, Forbes Magazine are just one of many publications who are backing me up:
‘The 10 coolest places to go in 2017’ - Forbes Magazine, 12th December 2016
“Some places have their moments when everything comes together and they become irresistible – Paris in the 1890s, Barcelona in the 1990s Cartagena in the 2010s… that time for Lisbon is now. It really is one of the most vibrant, good value, ebullient and attractive cities in Europe. Top chefs like José Avillez and Kiko Martins are emerging as lynchpins of a brilliant restaurant scene, which is supported by an even more energetic night-life and while the country’s southern beaches have long attracted international visitors, a renaissance elsewhere is under way. New hotels in recent years have added to the appeal of exploring the country, including the charming Areias do Sixo, on the coast north of Lisbon, Porto’s exquisite Yeatman hotel and Six Senses’ resort in the Douro Valley.”
With all this in mind, my resolution in 2017 is to discover even more of this wonderful country. A tough one, but someone's got to do it. There are still so many places that I want to know better. Places off the beaten track that you just don't hear about in travel guides, all brimming with history, culture, irresistible gastronomy, exciting wines and wonderful characters. So, why don't you come on the journey with me this year? Just watch this space and I'll share all of my top tips and insiders' secrets with you as I make exciting new discoveries to satiate even the most severe case of wanderlust.