Tag Archives: coffee

Costa Rica – part 2

My published article for Silver Travel Advisor on a pretty amazing recent press trip to Costa Rica, thanks to Explore – the Adventure Travel Experts:

Part 2

Activities

Costa Rica is undoubtedly heaven for anyone interested in the natural world, but there are plenty of opportunities to combine a man-made adrenaline rush with your sloth.

Whitewater rafting on the Balsa riverThe white-water rafting on the Balsa river was a blast. With Class 2-3 rapids, it’s fun and safe but still gets the pulse racing.  The guides were as entertaining as they were competent, and I can still taste the fresh pineapple, laid out on one of the upturned rafts with watermelon and yellow oranges, as we caught our breath on the riverbank, half way down the 10 km route.

And for a thrillingly different perspective of the Monteverde Cloud Forest, dare to experience the Sky Trek Ultimate Zip Lines. Whisked by gondola up to an altitude of 1,600 metres; 8 zip lines; longest cable 750 metres; highest cable 100 metres above the forest canopy; total zipped journey of almost 4 km; and a surprise at the end, called Vertigo, go and find out for yourself what that might be.

Zip-lining high above the Monteverde cloud forestStrapped to the zip line like a spit-roasting hog, we screamed along the first couple of cable slides into thick cloud – a leap into the dark, way above the lush green forest. And then the sun emerged, and the clouds cleared – like the parting of the Red Sea – to reveal a rare, perfect view of the distant Arenal volcano.

Too energetic? Relax in the many natural hot springs near Arenal, the volcano’s geothermal activity creating bubbling bathing water as warm as 105F.

Coffee

If you like coffee, that’s just one more reason to visit Costa Rica. An important part of their history, culture and economy, they are the world’s 13th largest producer, again punching way above their geographical weight.

90% of the production, from 70,000 farmers, is exported around the world. Coffee represents 11% of the country’s total export revenues, and a significant proportion of its GDP.

And it’s good coffee. Very, very good. A Presidential decree in the late 19th century ensured that only Arabicacoffee is grown in Costa Rica. How prescient was that!

Picker coffee beans at the Doka Coffee EstateWe had a fascinating tour of the Doka Estate, on the fertile slopes of the Poas Volcano. We learned about the complete growing and production cycle; how each worker is paid $2 for filling a cajuela, a basket containing 1.5 kg of perfect coffee beans and how a very good picker can fill 20 cajuelas a day. During the harvest – 6 months from October – most of the Estate’s workers are from neighbouring Nicaragua, and their deal includes a house, water and electricity.

Naturally, we had to try some mature, finished product, which takes a full 4 years from end to end. It’s worth the wait. The Estate’s Espresso Italiano is strong enough to make you want to wrestle crocodiles; try their French Roast, Breakfast Blend or House Blend for something a little less punchy; or – for something completely different – sample the Peaberry, a sweeter brew produced from a bean which represents only 5% of the total harvest and which produces one round seed, rather than two flatter pods.

People

In 1948 the President of Costa Rica, Jose Figueres, took a sledgehammer and smashed a hole in the wall of the country’s military headquarters. This symbolised the remarkably forward thinking decision to disband the army, and to redirect any military budget towards spending on education, healthcare and environmental protection.

Arenal volcano from the Monteverde cloud forest zip-line adventureAll the ‘Ticos’ – as Costa Ricans call themselves – we met in 2016 seemed educated, polite, friendly, happy, proud, kind and deeply aware of their environment and sustainability issues.

I wonder what would happen if we made a similar decision about Trident, and the rest of our own defence budget.

Throughout our trip, meeting local people was a joy and an integral part of the travel experience. And they may have originally plagiarised a Mexican comedian, but the phrase ‘Pura Vida’ very much sums up the Costa Rican psyche and culture today. The literal translation is ‘Pure Life’, but to Ticos it means much more. It is used to say hello and goodbye, how are you, have a good day, enjoy life but on a deeper level, it represents how Ticos live their life every day, how grateful they are for what they have and a recognition that others are less fortunate.

So start saying “Pura Vida” now and embrace life like a Tico as soon as you reach beautiful Costa Rica. It really is an enriching place to visit.

Costa Rica with Explore

I walked out of my bedroom, a converted sea container, and ambled towards the swimming pool, hypnotised by the sun rising over the Pacific Ocean. It was already stickily hot, and the guttural dawn roar of the howler monkeys – dangling in the tree canopy of the adjacent Manuel Antonio National Park – had just subsided.

And then I almost stepped on the baby crocodile.

Welcome to Costa Rica.

The country occupies a narrow strip of Central America, between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, with the Caribbean on its eastern coast and the Pacific Ocean to the west. In a land of less than 5 million people, a scarcely believable 5% of the world’s biodiversity is squeezed into just 0.1% of the earth’s surface. And Costa Rica’s enlightened government and naturally caring people embrace conservation as a way of life, making it the perfect ecotourism destination.

Image result for costa rica tourism

The El Faro hotel nestles in the steep hillside contours of Manuel Antonio Park, and is just 400 metres from a white sand beach. Its bedrooms are sea containers from China, rescued from the Costa Rica port of Limón. Construction was 35% faster than for comparable hotels, saving 60% in concrete and water consumption, and producing just 25% of normal construction waste.

On our final morning of the Highlights of Costa Rica tour with Explore, the adventure travel experts, we could see a humpback whale breaching the choppy ocean, as we ate breakfast in the restaurant, above our container bedrooms and as if we were on the top deck of a luxury cruise ship. And ok, it turned out to be a healthily large iguana rather than a baby crocodile, but the story still epitomises the perfect harmony of nature and sustainable tourism in this remarkable country.

Here are a few other highlights:

Volcanoes

Part of the Pacific Ring Fire Circle, Costa Rica has more than 200 identifiable volcanic formations, dating back over 65 million years. Today, only 100 or so show any sign of volcanic activity, and just 5 are classified as active.

The volcanoes have played a key part in the country’s spectacular natural diversity, their frequent past eruptions making the soil fertile and rich in minerals. In turn, this has nurtured dense verdant forestation, supporting the huge variety of wildlife and bird species, as well as the magnificently exotic plants and trees throughout the country.

Poas is one of the active volcanoes, and is close to Costa Rica’s capital San José. We got up close and personal with its crater rim, after a short hike on our first morning. At 2,700 metres above sea level, we began to struggle slightly for breath, but the effort was rewarded with a spectacular view down to the boiling acid lake of the active crater, 1,050 feet deep and nearly a mile wide.

And to the left of the bubbling cauldron, a wide grey path – like a slushy late season ski piste – sloped away into the gathering clouds below, showing us the lava flow course of the last eruption of Poas in 2011.

A couple of hundred metres higher, the Botos lagoon is another crater of Poas, but extinct and presenting a much more serene picture. Its high acidity means it contains no marine life, just microorganisms and algae, but the rain-fed lake offers a spectacular view and is home to many exotic birds.

Later in the trip we spent time exploring Arenal Volcano National Park. Arenal is a more classical conical shape than Poas, and rises majestically from the surrounding landscape in the north-west of Costa Rica, 90 km from San José. A short 2 km hike through lush forestation brought us to the point where dark rocks from the 1998 eruption remain, after being hurled from the volcano’s core as incandescent, glowing lava.

Although still classified as active, Arenal last erupted in 2010. But in 1968 the local area was devastated by a violent and unexpected eruption, lasting several days, killing 87 people and burying 3 small villages.

We stayed in the charming town of La Fortuna. Previously called El Borio, it has a perfect view of Arenal and was renamed after 1968, in recognition of being on the eastern side of the volcano and surviving, while those settlements to the west were submerged. Lucky indeed.

Wildlife

Costa Rica is a paradise for animal and bird lovers.

Image result for amazon kingfishers

White-water rafting on the Balsa river, a short drive from La Fortuna, we saw white egrets; black vultures; green and Amazon kingfishers, skimming the surf around us; cormorants, their wet feathers reducing buoyancy to ease their fishy feasting; and – high in the trees above the riverbanks – our eagle-eyed guide pointed out iguanas, almost perfectly camouflaged by the branches on which they languished.

En route to the world-renowned Monteverde Cloud Forest, Mario – our excellent guide and driver for the week – pulled the bus to the side of the road to point out a troop of mantled howler monkeys, rustling the trees above us. Specially adapted hyoid bones in their throats allow them to emit their elemental roars, usually at dawn and dusk, to warn of danger or to communicate with troop members.

Image result for howler monkeys costa rica

And in the special environment of Monteverde, there are more than 100 species of mammals, 400 types of birds, 120 amphibians and reptiles, tens of thousands of insects, and in excess of 3,000 plants, including the largest orchid diversity in the world. Of its total 4,000 hectares, only 3% is open to the public, the rest being virgin forest.

We walked a few of Monteverde’s trails during the day, seeing millipedes and centipedes ambling across our path; an agouti, a rodent resembling a large guinea pig; two baby hummingbirds, lying side by side in a half-concealed nest, and breathing almost imperceptibly; and on a soggy afternoon, as we climbed past ferns, mosses, trees and vines to the top of the verdant canopy, we straddled the Continental Divide. Here, the water drains into the Atlantic and Caribbean on one side, and the Pacific on the other.

And, with the insight – and torchlight – of a specialist guide, we also enjoyed a night walk through this incredible forest. Exploring other trails and crossing long, high hanging bridges, we saw a plethora of exotic bugs and insects, dodged freshly spun spiders’ webs, spotted a tarantula running for cover on a branch, and several different types of noisy crickets.

But the most vivid memory is of fireflies, flourishing in the humid forest and lighting up to capture prey or to attract mates. As we dangled high above the canopy, torches switched off, it felt as though we were intruding on a private orgy. Perhaps they should have turned the lights off too….    

A few hours south and west of Monteverde, we had a boat trip through the mangrove swamp, to the mighty Tárcoles river where it joins the Pacific Ocean. Keep your hands by your side….this is crocodile territory. We saw several, lounging on the banks or sliding menacingly into the murky mangrove.

Tornado, decades old but undisputed king of this stretch of water, lay lazily near the mouth of the Pacific. The locals know he is at least 5 metres long, but with just his ugly head and a small proportion of his scaly torso visible on the muddy bank, he looked almost cuddly. Almost.

In less than 2 hours on the boat and thanks again to expert guides, we also saw a mangrove hawk; a black iguana, the second largest species in Costa Rica, basking on a slain tree trunk; two scarlet macaws, screeching high up in the trees and looking like an advertisement for  Dulux; a white ibis; a green heron, skimming the water; a rink kingfisher, the largest variety in the country; a wide-winged osprey with a catfish in its mouth; cormorants in search of their own lunch; a snowy egret, with yellow feet; a yellow-headed caracara; and lithe mangrove swallows, with iridescent blue breasts sparkling in the sunlight, darting around in search of food churned up by our boat.

Image result for humpback whales costa rica

On the water again at the end of the trip, this time in a catamaran in the open waters of the Pacific, we tracked humpback whales by their water spouts, and were almost on top of them as they breached the swelling ocean. Not to be outdone, a school of dolphins performed an almost perfectly synchronised routine. And one of our group spotted a rare and highly poisonous yellow-bellied sea snake.

And on our final day, getting up early to beat the heat, we entered the Manuel Antonio National Park. It might be the smallest of Costa Rica’s National Parks, but it packs a mighty punch of biodiversity in its forests, mangroves and on pristine white sand beaches.

We saw more pizotes, unfazed by close human presence; white-faced capuchin monkeys, destined forever to be called Marcel, after the one where Ross gets a pet in Friends; and – finally, after days of anxious searching – some 3-toed sloths, lazing around high in their special tree. One even started moving.

Activities

Costa Rica is undoubtedly heaven for anyone interested in the natural world, but there are plenty of opportunities to combine an adrenaline rush with your sloth.

The white-water rafting on the Balsa river was a blast. With Class 2-3 rapids, it’s fun and safe…..but still gets the pulse racing.  The guides were as entertaining as they were competent, and I can still taste the fresh pineapple, laid out on one of the upturned rafts with watermelon and yellow oranges, as we caught our breath on the riverbank, half way down the 10 km route.

And for a thrillingly different perspective of the Monteverde Cloud Forest, dare to experience the Sky Trek Ultimate Zip Lines. Whisked by gondola up to an altitude of 1,600 metres; 8 zip lines; longest cable 750 metres; highest cable 100 metres above the forest canopy; total zipped journey of almost 4 km; and a surprise at the end, called “Vertigo”….go and find out for yourself what that might be.

Strapped to the zip line like a spit-roasted hog, we screamed along the first couple of cable slides into thick cloud – a leap into the dark, way above the lush green forest. And then the sun emerged, and the clouds cleared – like the parting of the Red Sea – to reveal a rare, perfect view of the distant Arenal volcano.

Too energetic? Relax in the many natural hot springs near Arenal, the volcano’s geothermal activity creating bubbling bathing water as warm as 105°F.

Coffee

If you like coffee, that’s just one more reason to visit Costa Rica. An important part of their history, culture and economy, they are the world’s 13th largest producer, again punching way above their geographical weight.

90% of the production, from 70,000 farmers, is exported around the world. Coffee represents 11% of the country’s total export revenues, and a significant proportion of its GDP.

Image result for costa rica coffee

And it’s good coffee. Very, very good. A Presidential decree in the late 19th century ensured that only Arabica coffee is grown in Costa Rica. How prescient was that!

We had a fascinating tour of the Doka Estate, on the fertile slopes of the Poas Volcano. We learned about the complete growing and production cycle; how each worker is paid $2 for filling a cajuela, a basket containing 1.5 kg of perfect coffee beans…and how a very good picker can fill 20 cajuelas a day. During the harvest – 6 months from October – most of the Estate’s workers are from neighbouring Nicaragua, and their deal includes a house, water and electricity.

Naturally, we had to try some mature, finished product, which takes a full 4 years from end to end. It’s worth the wait. The Estate’s Espresso Italiano is strong enough to make you want to wrestle crocodiles; try their French Roast, Breakfast Blend or House Blend for something a little less punchy; or – for something completely different – sample the Peaberry, a sweeter brew produced from a bean which represents only 5% of the total harvest and which produces one round seed, rather than two flatter pods.

People

In 1948 the President of Costa Rica, Jose Figueres, took a sledgehammer and smashed a hole in the wall of the country’s military headquarters. This symbolised the remarkably forward thinking decision to disband the army, and to redirect any military budget towards spending on education, healthcare and environmental protection.

All the “Ticos” – as Costa Ricans call themselves – we met seemed educated, polite, friendly, happy, proud, kind and deeply aware of their environment and sustainability issues.

I wonder what would happen if we made a similar decision about Trident, and the rest of our own defence budget….?

Throughout our trip, meeting local people was a joy and an integral part of the travel experience. And they may have originally plagiarised a Mexican comedian, but the phrase “Pura Vida” very much sums up the Costa Rican psyche and culture today. The literal translation is “Pure Life”, but to Ticos it means much more. It is used to say hello and goodbye, how are you, have a good day, enjoy life….but on a deeper level, it represents how Ticos live their life every day, how grateful they are for what they have and a recognition that others are less fortunate.

Image result for costa rica pura vida

So start saying “Pura Vida” now and embrace life like a Tico as soon as you reach beautiful Costa Rica. It really is an enriching place to visit.

Sushi Rehab

This year’s festive season seemed to go on way longer than usual. Perhaps that’s because it did….

Starting with the magnificent Pine Cottage Supper Club on 11th December, it really only ended for us 2 days ago, on 11th January, after returning from a cheeky week skiing in Champoluc, Italy.

But there’s always a price to pay, right?

That month of almost continuous gluttony and debauchery was enjoyable, but physically damaging. And a week of pasta and pizza heaven, washed down with calorific Moretti beers and bucket loads of vino rosso, was the straw that broke this greedy camel’s back.

It’s a miracle that I’ve only added a few kilograms to my pre-piggery fighting weight, but it’s no surprise whatsoever that it’s all gravitated to my middle-aged midriff, as inevitably as a fat guest is drawn to an all-you-can-eat wedding buffet.

Desperate situations need desperate remedies.

Sushi.

(pic from Waitrose website).

Andy Murray swears by it. And if it helps get him fit and lean enough to win Olympic gold medals and Grand Slam titles, it might just work for me too. It even seems to be improving his sense of humour.

But let’s not go overboard. I’ll try it for a week. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, and see how much of my expanded waistline – now a shameful 36″ at its lardiest girth – I can make disappear.

I’m not expecting miracles. I don’t expect I’ll ever revisit the unchanging 32″ waist of my distant youth, but getting safely into all my middle-aged 34″ jeans without lardily rippling over the waistband should be an ambition.

I’ll report back when I’m done. In Japanese, and with a vastly improved backhand. But still with no sense of humour.

(small print terms & conditions: I’m also allowed fruit and coffee. Can’t survive without caffeine!).

Investing in coffee futures

Our embrace of coffee culture continues unabated. Every High Street is dominated by The Big 3 – Costa, Starbucks & Caffe Nero – and the back streets increasingly proliferate with ever funkier artisan shops providing the perfect espresso.

I’ve succumbed to the addiction, seeking out the individual caffeine havens tucked away in the lanes of London, Paris & Australia, and anywhere else we explore. Poor Gill….she’s a tea person.

I actively avoid The Big 3, despite being a small shareholder in Costa owner Whitbread. Apart from when they emailed me a free £5 download voucher, obviously.

And now I’ve also invested in a bundle of Starbucks outlets, through a franchise operator who was the first UK franchisee and which is now looking to further expand its portfolio of home counties shops.

Yes I know, Starbucks are the work of the devil, vilified a few years ago for their minimal UK tax payments. But I’m afraid I’m not a particularly ethical investor and besides, they’ve addressed a lot of their corporate shortcomings.

I can’t see us being weaned off the caffeine addiction any time soon, and this franchisee looks like a slick operator. This is part of an attempt to de-risk our pension portfolio away from direct equities, and – if the investment goes according to plan – should result in a profitable exit a few years down the track.

So keep on ordering those skinny lattes, espresso macchiatos and flat whites. And who needs more clothes shops when you could be drinking coffee?

Paris – 5 things to do off the well-trodden tourist track

Below is an article I’ve just written on Hidden Paris for Silver Travel Advisor,  a travel website for people of a certain age…..

————————————————————————————-

What do you think of when someone mentions Paris? The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, the Moulin Rouge….and 50 other sights, or museums, or galleries or bistros that everyone has on their must-do list?

But scratch the Gallic surface and you can really get to know the city, and feel that you’re seeing it more as a shoulder-shrugging local than as a Nikon-toting tourist.

Here are 5 ideas for you from a recent trip I made to this glorious city, with a few more to follow in a separate article. Some I stumbled upon myself and some I was led to by a book along the same lines (Quiet Paris by Siobhan Wall). I explored them all, in the interests of helping other Silver Travellers get off the well-beaten Parisian track:

1. Cinema La Pagode – rue Babylone, 7th arrondissement

http://www.etoile-cinemas.com/pagode/salles/

What would you do to impress the woman you love?

Take her to dinner at the hottest place in town? Whisk her away to a château in the Loire for the weekend? Paint those shelves she’s been nagging you about for 18 months?

How about building a completely authentic Japanese theatre for her in the heart of Paris, with an ornate pagoda and a romantic garden?

Photo Jardin 2

Thought not.

But that’s exactly what Monsieur Morin, a well-to-do Director of nearby posh store du Bon Marché, decided to do in the 1890s. He commissioned architect Alexandre Marcel to use the finest materials from the fashionable Orient (China & Japan, rather than Leyton) to create a little piece of surprising magic in the 7th arrondissement.

La Pagode is now a beautifully restored independent cinema, showing interesting films either in the main salle Japonaise (212 seats) or in the smaller salle 2 (180 seats).

Look for the VO sign (Version Originale) to see films in their original language, with French subtitles.

Enjoy the romance and history of this quiet place, take tea or champagne in the bamboo-forested garden before the movie….and forget that Mme Morin left her generous husband in the year of the Pagode’s inauguration.

2. Coutume – rue Babylone, 7th arrondissement

https://www.facebook.com/Coutume

CoutumeRightly or wrongly, I’ve always had the impression that the French are resistant to change. Some of their cafés and bistros, for example, cling proudly to their 19th century origins, or refuse to dust the chair Ernest Hemingway sat in for 15 minutes in 1926.

So imagine my surprise at finding somewhere in Paris that has embraced 21st coffee culture, where you can find an espresso micro-lot or an extraction à froid as lovingly prepared and à la mode as anything now on offer in the global caffeine hot-spots of Melbourne or London.

Coutume is on rue Babylone, a quiet backstreet in the 7th arrondissement. Along with your caffeine fix, you can grab an excellent breakfast or brunch….but it’s the coffee most people are here for.

It’s a very cool, understated place that immediately – though sadly only temporarily – makes you feel 20 years younger. Shabby chic décor, plain white tiles that wouldn’t look out of place in the loo, and hip music playing quietly in the background all combine in perfect harmony with your espresso from Brazilian and Burundi blended beans.

Head to the communal table and Slow Bar at the back of the café to hang out with the real coffee cognoscenti, sipping an aero-press as you swipe your tablet screen or argue about French politics.

3. L’Affineur’ Affiné – rue Notre Dame de Lorette, 9th arrondissement

You’re not going to Paris to enjoy a low-calorie, cholesterol-free, clean-living few days, are you?

Cheese, wine and bloody red meat are as de rigueur in Paris as a hamburger in NYC. Or as a lettuce leaf on a Champney’s detox break.

Sober vegetarians, tear up those Eurostar tickets now!

Take some time out to worship at the altar of cheese at L’Affineur’ Affiné on rue Notre Dame de Lorette in the 9th arrondissement, just south of Montmartre.

With over 120 fromages available, the charming young owners Morgane and Matthieu will help you decide what to buy from the shop for your picnic, or to take back on the train if you fancy an empty carriage.

But for a really good experience book a table and linger in the small restaurant for brunch or lunch. From a limited but interesting menu, I went for the 5-cheese platter. They serve up what they think is “thriving” that day, together with a matched wine, like a sommelier recommending a Monbazillac with the foie gras.

 

I enjoyed decent sized servings of Sainte-Maure (goat’s cheese from Touraine); Tartufo (truffle-infused Italian from combination of cow and sheep); Napoleon (sheep’s cheese from the Pyrenees); Munster (creamy cow’s cheese from Alsace); and Roquefort (classic creamy southern French blue from sheep milk). All with excellent, unlimited artisan breads and a fruity jam. And a green salad to delay hardening the arteries for a few hours….

Eat in the recommended sequence. Drink a glass or two of matched wine. Die happy.

4. Shakespeare & Company – rue de la Bûcherie, 5th arrondissement

Love books? Hunt down Shakespeare & Company, a place with so much literary history you can hear Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller whispering in your ear…

Now located on the city’s left bank, just opposite Notre-Dame Cathedral, there are two separate entrances.

On the left is the antiquarian book store, with musty first editions and a space so so small they ask you to respect the 5-person limit.

Next door is the main shop, crammed to the ancient rafters with English-language books and well worth a couple of hours of your Parisian time.

The current premises were opened in 1951 by American Francophile George Whitman, on the site of an early 17th century monastery. I think some of the original floor tiles may still be there…

This reincarnation was founded to carry on the legacy of the legendary Sylvia Beach, another American who set up the original Shakespeare & Company in 1919, in nearby rue l’Odéon. Here the most famous writers, artists, poets and flâneurs of the day would gather, and it was only the occupation by the Germans in 1941 that extinguished the place’s literary spirit.

Today, Sylvia Whitman carries on the legacy of both her father and Sylvia Beach, preserving a very special oasis for book-lovers amongst more notable and well-trodden Paris landmarks.

Don’t leave without buying a book. They’ll affix a special stamp, insert a poem and a little piece of history from the many writers and travellers who have spent time at Shakespeare & Company for almost the last 100 years.

5. Hidden Paris Walking Tours – www.hiddenparis.fr

I’m sure all adventurous Silver Travellers enjoy exploring a city, wandering aimlessly from museum to museum, café to café, via labyrinthine streets and alleyways in which you’ll inevitably get lost.

But sometimes it’s also good to have a little local expertise to help you find your way around an area, and to dig deeper into the local history, culture, nooks and crannies.

Hidden Paris Walking Tours provide such insight, three Parisiennes leading walks around Montmartre, Saint-Germain-des -Prés, the Latin Quarter, Belleville and the Marais.

I went on the Saint-Germain tour with Eglantine. She led me and just two other inquisitive travellers through hidden alleyways, into exquisite chocolate shops and past the house where Monsieur Guillotin lived, practising his new invention out on sheep in the cobbled street outside. She showed us the cafés and bistros where intellectuals and artists have hung out for over a century. She led us into the covered market to chat with stallholders. And she took us to an underground car park, down several levels on a dingy staircase, so that we could see some of the original city wall from the 12th century.

90 minutes for just €20, and a discretionary tip. Good value for real local knowledge…especially if you can persuade her to give you the digital key that opens the door to all their own favourite secret places in Paris.

Adelaide – market mooching

Day 8 – Thursday, January 22

A quiet day for our Grand Slam tour, after a full-on week exploring Adelaide and its environs.

To the famous Central Market this morning, South Australia’s main food hub for over 140 years. A covered market with more than 250 stalls, this fills the memory bank of most local people, either as reluctant children or practical parents.

It’s got a typically laid back Aussie vibe, but also bustles with commercial imperative.

We sat down at the legendary Zuma’s cafe for coffee and breakfast. The official Zuma’s half breakfast – toast, eggs, mushrooms and enough bacon to start a Middle Eastern war – sated both Gill and me. Healthy appetites, these Aussies.

Artisan cheeses and breads. Fresh fruit and veg stalls. Fish, with scary barramundi eyes staring straight at you. Dry goods. Novelty t-shirt shop – why do I need GOOGLE when I have my wife? Asian influenced produce from nearby Chinatown. The market is a feast of all the senses….smell, dribble, touch, taste, eat until you can take no more.

And then sit down with a coffee from The Grind, blending beans from Kenya, Colombia and Costa Rica in their espresso, and serving in a pop-up al fresco cafe on Grote Street today, as well as on their market stall.

We took the easy option and bought something for lunch at one counter, rather than concocting our own multi-stalled picnic. Leek and gruyere quiche, sweetcorn and feta fritter, salads of mung bean in ginger & soy and mango and black-eyed beans were savoured in 30c heat, under the welcome shade of a tree down by the river, exotic birds squawking and screeching around us, flashing plumages of vivid blue and green.

We ventured further, to the part of North Adelaide we hadn’t seen before, via the imposing statue of Colonel William Light, looking down from the highest point of the city that he designed in the 1830s. Not sure what he’d have made of the recently expanded Oval, but he should be very proud of the beautiful and enduring city he imagined.

We’re off on our next road trip now, visiting Gill’s family up-country in Wallaroo, about 2 hours on the coast north west of the city….with a pit-stop at the famous Barossa Valley wine district, obviously. Look for a final update on the Adelaide leg of our Grand Slam Tour Down Under on Sunday.

 

Adelaide – coffee culture

Day 2- Friday, January 16

In search of a healthy breakfast away from our corporate hotel, we hit the streets of Adelaide in dazzling sunshine, feeling self-righteous after an early jetlag-banishing gym session.

I thought we’d embraced coffee culture in the UK, with artisan temples of caffeine gushing up on seemingly every corner in London….but this is a whole new religion.

Adeladies and Admen en route to work grabbed their fix on the run or chatted amiably, standing at newspaper-strewn high counters, in the dozens of cafes on Pirie Street, before hitting the office.

We settled on Kicco, a buzzy temple on the corner of Pirie and Wyatt Streets, enjoying an organic booster of yoghurt, fruit and seeds, together with poached eggs and bacon on toast. And a double espresso shot of their house blend, producing a caffeine injection so intense that any last vestige of jetlag was banished as quickly as a jihadi from a synagogue.

Later, we dropped into The Store in North Adelaide, recommended by friends James and Helen. The area has a different vibe to the Central Business District, feeling  as cool and moneyed as Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills, but still with the same adoration of coffee. Simon Barista Ware, get your bean-fuelled arse over here….you’d never leave.

By the way, an Americano translates into a Long Black in these parts, unless you want to stick out like a sore Pom.

The rest of the day was action-packed. A long exploration of the serenely immaculate botanic garden was followed by a oenophile adventure at the National Wine Centre, education preceding practice, with posh Aussie whites accompanied by a groaning platter of exquisite charcuterie from the nearby Barossa Valley.

And much later, Gill tried her first ever oyster – the apparently world-class Coffin Bay variety – thanks to young expat Germans Anita and Claudia, with whom we shared several beers on The Deck at the Entertainment Centre, overlooking the Torrens River in warm evening sunshine whilst listening to some excellent eclectic live acoustic music.

A late curry on Rundle Street, then an unprofitable casino splurge, ended a brilliant introductory day to Adelaide.

But it’s the coffee culture that has defined the city for me so far.

Our Story

It’s simple really – good things are made with the heart. Like a composer writing a symphony, or an artist creating a masterpiece. At Kicco, coffee is our art. And in a world where the good things are hard to find, we put the heart back into the daily grind.

Our coffee is so good because each part of the process gets our care and attention. From plantation, right through to the cup. For us it’s not about formulas, figures or focus groups – it’s about the experience. The experience of great coffee.

At Kicco, the process begins with the selection of superior beans from premium estates, but the real magic happens in the roast. Our beans are carefully handpicked and roasted locally in small batches. This special treatment is what makes Kicco coffee consistent, fresh and full of flavour.

Over the years Kicco have perfected the art of coffee with a selection of much-loved signature blends and specialty coffee. Allow us to share the espresso love affair with you.