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26 November 2013

There's more to Portugal's rich culinary heritage than piri-piri chicken,

Portuguese cuisine is largely unknown outside the Portuguese speaking communities and does not have the same high profile as other European cuisines which is a pity because even though Portugal is a small country, it offers such an incredible culinary culture.  Portuguese cuisine is based on hearty peasant food consisting mainly of grilled fish, seafood and meat, hearty stews and casseroles and of course bacalhau (salt cod) and all served with rice, potatoes and salad. There is such an emphasis on seafood because of Portugal's long Atlantic coastline.  

There are, of course good exceptions to the norm in every town and area, crispy suckling pig from the local grill house, sardines straight from the boat and slapped on the grill, a slow-cooked ragout of wild boar in a country tavern, and these are the kind of simple, earthy dishes that Portugal excels in. 

Most restaurants are also extremely good value, especially around The Quintassential and in the Loule area.  Portuguese wine, and not just the famous port everyone knows about, enjoys a growing worldwide reputation.  If you’re not yet familiar with Portuguese wine, then you will soon come to relish a refreshing glass of vinho verde on a hot day, or a gutsy Alentejo red or full bodied Douro wine with your red meat or hearty dishes.

One of the best ways to truly experience a country whilst on holiday is to sample the local cuisine, and the best way to do this is to go to restaurants where the locals eat, rather than expensive tourist restaurants serving under rated food and very little on the menu that is actually Portuguese.  We at The Quintassential have over the past ten years tried out all the local restaurants, and is shows on the waistline and there is a comprehensive list of all good local restaurants within the accommodations.  If you plan on trying all of them, may we suggest a very extended holiday!!!

In Portugal, food plays a VERY important role. Traditional Portuguese dishes are often made from simple ingredients, based on regional produce with an emphasis on fish. The former colonies in Africa, India and the Far East have influenced Portuguese cuisine making it very different from the nearby Mediterranean countries in particular our neighbour Spain. Many herbs and spices such as pepper, saffron, ginger and coriander were introduced into Europe by the Portuguese, as were coffee, pineapples, potatoes and rice amongst other ingredients.

Portuguese recipes are characterised by their use of a wide variety of spices, for example, piri piri (a spicy chilli pepper), vanilla, cinnamon and saffron. Southern Portuguese cuisine has Arab and Moorish influences and an old tradition of almond and fig sweets.

Portuguese cuisines varies from region to region, but fresh fish and shellfish are found on virtually every menu. The national dish is "bacalhau," dried salted cod. The Portuguese have been obsessed with it since the early 16th century, when their fishing boats reached Newfoundland. The sailors salted and sun-dried their catch to make it last the long journey home, and today there are said to be 365 different ways of preparing it, one for each day of the year.

Grilled sardines and horse mackerel are also popular in the coastal towns, and a mixture of other types of fish is put into a stew called "Caldeirada."

The country is full of specialty seafood restaurants, many with artistic displays of lobsters, shrimp, oysters, and crabs. To try a mixture of these, have the rich seafood rice, "arroz de marisco" or here in the Algarve a "cataplana" 

Another national dish, but made with meat, is "cozido à portuguesa," a thick stew of vegetables with various kinds of meat. The favourite kind is pork, cooked and served in a variety of ways. Roast suckling pig ("leitão assado") is popular in the north of the country, as are pork sausages called "chouriço" or "linguiça."

After a low key breakfast which is traditionally just coffee and a bread roll, lunch is a BIG affair, often lasting up to two hours. It is served between noon and 2 o'clock or between 1 and 3 o'clock, and dinner is generally served late, after 8 o'clock. There are usually three courses, often including soup. The most common soup is "caldo verde," with potato, shredded kale, and chunks of sausage. 

The most typical desserts are cinnamon-flavoured rice pudding, flan, and caramel custard, but they also often include a variety of cheese. The most common varieties are made from sheep or goat's milk, and the most popular is "queijo da serra" from the region of Serra de Estrela

Many of the country's outstanding pastries were created by nuns in the 18th century, which they sold them as a means of supplementing their incomes. Many of their creations have interesting names like "barriga de freira" (nun's belly), "papos de anjo" (angel's chests), and "toucinho do céu" (bacon from heaven). A particularly delicious pastry is "pastel de nata," a small custard tart sprinkled with cinnamon.

Before any meal at a restaurant, try the bread placed on the table -- Portuguese bread is delicious.  Here in the Algarve is comes accompanied with butter, olives, sardine fish paste and sometimes Algarvian carrots.

24 November 2013

Family friendly attractions close to the Quintassential

The Quintassential is located 2kms north of the market town of Loule perched high on a hilltop in the Central Algarve and is an oasis of peace and tranquility. There are 4 self catering holiday cottages catering for all age groups, and there are many activities to suit everyone’s needs, especially for your younger guests.  

Possibly the most famous attraction is the Algarve coastline and fantastic beaches, 155 kms in total and so varied in the west having cove like beaches and a haven for surfers in the winter months, to the central Algarve having expansive beaches which are so family friendly to the east where you will find fine white sandy beaches and some only accessible via boat or train.  The beach is always a great day out for any family and we make it easier by being able to provide our guests with beach towels, parasols, buckets and spades etc.   

For those who like to do more than just soak up the sun and build sand castles, there is much to do.  From Quarteira beach heading west, you will be able to catch some waves, great for surfing and body boarding.   We can arrange lessons for our guests who are interested.   There are also endless water sports available on the local beaches, banana boat rides, sailing, water skiing, jet skis are just a few to mention.  

Our coastline is blessed with dolphins and we can arrange a great half day or full day out discovering the Algarvian waters in a wonderfully comfortable boat with great informative skippers.  We have experienced a few of these boat trips and they really are great.

One of the best days out in the Algarve for both young and old is ZooMarine, located in Guia and approximately a 20 minute drive from the accommodations. Zoo Marine offers a full marine experience for all the family, showcasing numerous species of tropical fish, dolphins, seals, sea lions and sharks as well as tropical birds and birds of prey from all corners of the globe.  

There are organised presentations throughout the day involving many of the park´s key attractions. The main attraction is the dolphin arena for a show that wows its audience with the acrobatic abilities of these unique mammals and showcases the beauty of the relationship they have with their trainers. The choreographed display of the sea lions is another major attraction, while away from the water hawks, eagles and owls showcase their speed, power and agility.

The park is extremely well organised and easy to navigate, with the attractions set out in spacious grounds surrounded by lawns, green spaces, swimming pools and plenty of palm trees for shade. It is peppered with a good smattering of water-themed funfair attractions all of which are included in the set-price entry fee, ensuring plenty of fun and diversity for the younger guests.

The park offers many amenities including free car parking, transport service, well-equipped changing rooms and showers, wheelchair rental, kiddy car rental, refreshment kiosks and a gift shop. This is a whole day out with plenty to do.

Another animal related place to visit, there are a few in the Algarve is Zoo Lagos, located in the western Algarve, You can tell as soon as you go in that Zoo Lagos is all about the animals, the environment they live in is beautiful and the animals are so happy that many of them are breeding!

Zoo Lagos isn't a big commercial zoo, but it is beautiful and relaxing and can be travelled around with ease - it makes it a great day out for all ages, without being too tiring. But with more than 120 animal species and 200 botanical species from 5 continents, there is so much to look at that you’ll want to go back again and again!

The other animal related day out is KrazyWorld, located on the outskirts of Algoz, again approximately a 25 minute drive from us.  For those with children, Krazy world is well worth a visit! You will find a huge mini golf, swimming pool, a petting farm, quad bikes, pony rides, a crocodile park and several other attractions - all in beautifully landscaped surroundings.  There is a live crocodile and snake show every day - weather permitting - and the braver ones can get their photo taken with a not too hungry Cobra!  For those who are not so brave, there is also a miniature goat show, which is hilarious and again you get a chance to have your photo taken with the goats and resident pony.

For those who are into water fun, well we have the biggest and the best water park close to the Quintassential, only a 10 minute drive in Quarteira known as Aquashow.  Open from May until the end of September, visitors to the water park can enjoy access to the full facilities of the theme park, effectively giving them two days of fun all rolled into one.

One of the leading attractions of this Algarve water park is the White Fall. It is a unique ride of its kind, unmatched anywhere in the world and is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Follow up with a journey into the dark on the Wild Snake for a 16 metre ride in the pitch black before pitching your wits against your family and friends on the tubes. Set off all together and see who can be the first to hit the refreshing waters of the base pool.

Aquashow is home to the biggest wave pool in Portugal and has areas that are suitable for all the family. Dive through the foam into the depths or simply paddle ankle-high in the lapping waves. If waves are not your thing, try a few lengths of the classic swimming pool to stretch out those tired muscles and head for the Jacuzzi to relax and recharge your batteries before returning for another adrenalin rush.

Children are well catered for at Aquashow with several low-rise slides and a dedicated, Aqualandia space where they can play safely under the watchful eye of the many lifeguards. Be sure to take them for a float down the Lazy River for 250 metres of family fun before the day is over.

This is a whole day out for the whole family and excellent value for money.  There are various other water parks within a short drive from the accommodations, but none as good as Aquashow.

For those that want to practice their golf, well we are surrounded by world famous golf courses, a great family day out, again for all age groups is Family Golf Park in Vilamoura, a complete family entertainment centre with super mini golf with 36 holes, kids club, games room and snack bar.  During the summer months, the course is open til late to enable guests to enjoy the long summer evenings.  Great evening out, we can say with experience.

To come to Portugal and not visit some of the quaint villages would be criminal.   Inland you will see locals still going about the business as they have done for centuries.  A trip to Loule market on a Saturday morning is a must. Loule Municipal Market is open Mon – Sat from 7am to 3pm – although the best day to go is undoubtedly Saturday morning, as there are even more stalls outside to enjoy as well. It is worth getting there early as many of the fresh food and fish stalls will start to pack up as soon as their produce is sold. As you enter the market, you are immediately struck by the wonderful colours, sights and scents which are all around you – and a dazzling array of stalls and products to entice you. There is such a great atmosphere in the town and if you seeking a bargain, the famous Loule gypsy market is another must.   From leather bags, to belts, to shoes, to children’s clothes, traditional Portuguese pottery and the must try Faturas.  The whole family will love then, they are like donuts, just nicer and served warm covered with sugar and cinnamon, do not miss the opportunity to try one and there are various vendors in the gypsy market.  Other local villages worth a visit are Salir, Querenca and Alte.

There is so much more to see and do here in the Algarve, tennis, soft play centres, jeep safari tours, walking trails, boat rides, local parks and much much more.  The Algarve is so much more than endless beaches and golf courses and we are an all year round holiday destination.

We look forward to welcoming you to our hilltop oasis of peace and tranquility in the not too distant future!