Monthly Archives: August 2016

How to exploding craft beer scene

Although its beer history isn’t as famous or marketed quite as well as that of some of its European neighbours, Portugal-produced beer predates the country itself, going all the way back to pre-Roman Lusitania. But foreign influence was heavily muted during the Estado Novo, the totalitarian dictatorship that ran the small Iberian nation from 1933 to 1974. Two rebel-rousing domestic brands, Sagres and Super Bock, flowed freely from the taps with little competition. Coincidence that Lisbon-speak for a draught beer is imperial? Not likely.

“During the dictatorship, society was so nationalistic; they didn’t want to import or export, or the influence of anything coming in,” says American chef/brewer Adam Heller, who recently opened Chimera Brewpub in Lisbon’s industrially hip Alcântara neighbourhood. “They wanted to preserve their identity.”

 

The taps they are a-changin’

Fast-forward a few decades and Lisbon is emerging from the crippling global financial crisis with guns blazing: the city is suddenly finding itself in the unusual position of European tastemaker. Booming on the backs of returning waves of creatives, many of whom left the country to explore opportunities abroad during the thinnest years of the recession (and were no doubt exposed to imperial pale ales, porters and saisonsalong the way), Lisbon in 2016 is hungry for hops and thirsty for choice.

Lisbon’s first craft beer bar, Cerveteca Lisboa, opened its doors in 2014 on leafy Praça das Flores, thus opening the cerveja artesanal floodgates. After just two short years, Lisbon now counts two brewpubs, at least five dedicated craft beer bars, nearly a dozen established microbreweries and numerous contract and home brewers among its craft arsenal.

Rui Bento, founder and head brewer at Amnesia Brewery, is a shining example of Portugal’s new generation of hopheads. At his day job, Bento keeps the peace as a police officer in the Lisbon suburb of Oeiras. Off-duty, his homebrews are changing Portugal one police officer at a time. “A lot of my fellow officers have tried some of my beers and liked them lots,” he says. “They now understand the difference between craft beer and industrial beer, and realise why I drink craft. I’m trying to show them that there’s another life beyond industrial beers!”

Bento won Portugal’s National Craft Beer Contest last April for his Juniper Smokin’, a Baltic Porter-based smoked beer brewed with juniper berries, the likes of which most Portuguese have never experienced.

Ironically, the same sort of “Buy Local” movement that was prevalent during the dictatorship is driving Portugal’s craft beer scene today, albeit not dictatorially forced; the country’s newly installed national confidence has extended to its suds. “I want to keep things local,” says Bento. “Craft beer only makes sense for me this way. Sure, I would love to sell my beer all over the country, and maybe outside Portugal, but my focus is, and always will be, local.”

Craft brew breakdown

“The craft beer explosion is happening in Lisbon for basically the same reason it’s happening everywhere – drinkers are demanding better quality and more variety in the beer they drink,” says American Scott Steffens, who in 2015 opened Dois Corvos, the first Lisbon brewery with a taproom (bar on the premises). “When we started, the scene was nearly a blank slate with only a few styles represented. In our first year we introduced 26 beers!”

But where to find them? Here’s the latest rundown of where to quench your thirst for cold cerveja artesanal.

Cerveteca Lisboa

The original and still the best, Cerveteca devotes 12 daily-changing taps to a mix of American, European and Portuguese craft beers (the latter indicated by an asterisk on the traditional chalkboard beer menu) in a casual, living room-like atmosphere on a picturesque plaza along hip Príncipe Real. This is Lisbon’s lupolomaníaco (hophead) gathering point, led by the city’s nicest and most knowledgeable staff.

Unforgettable on Athenian Riviera

download-7Both public and private beaches line the Riviera’s 48km stretch of coastline, many of which have met the stringent quality standards to earn Blue Flag accreditation. The privately operated, stylish beachside venues feature luxury sunbeds, volleyball courts and gourmet dining options. Astir Beach has one of the highest admission fees on the coast; regulars pre-book their lounge chairs. The well-appointed Baluxis the choice for all-day relaxation thanks to the plush beach loungers set on the sand. At the Yabanaki VIP section, guests enjoy special attention at a private lounge complete with cocktail and sushi bar service.

The public, state-run beaches are just as beautiful without admission fees to worry about. Amenities like umbrellas or loungers – if available – cost a few euros. Limanakia is perfect for those seeking to dive off the rocks into the crystal-clear water. Mikro Kavouri is a picturesque rocky beach with a great lookout point to enjoy views of the Saronic Gulf. Thymari beach is a local favourite known for its shallow turquoise sea.

Relaxing at Anavissos

Athenians head to the Riviera beach town of Anavissos for two things: windsurfing and great seafood. Beaches here are less crowded, the water is extra clean and the scenery beautiful. Anavissos is home to a variety of simple fish taverns with dining areas overlooking the sea.  For traditional Greek dining, join the locals at the authentic Ta Pefka (facebook.com/tabernapeuka).

Therapeutic waters of Lake Vouliagmeni

Almost hidden off the main beach road, Lake Vouliagmeni’s (limnivouliagmenis.gr) entrance is easy to miss but that would be a mistake. It’s named after a Greek word for ‘sunken’, and legend has it that a lost city fell into the deep lake which is bordered by a huge limestone cave. Managed as a stylish resort, its 24°C therapeutic waters boast mineral properties proven to heal various skin problems, rheumatism and arthritis.

Shopping in Glyfada

The US airbase may have closed years ago, but the businesses that once catered to American families in the upmarket seaside neighbourhood of Glyfada are still thriving (it helps that some of the remaining residents include millionaires and celebrities). Glyfada’s downtown area is an energetic shopping hub where boutique stores are sprinkled between cafes, eateries and bars.

 

Sailing the Riviera

The Athenian Riviera is the Greek capital’s hub for sailing, and the several harbours along the coast are the starting point to explore fantastic coves and islets or go on a day trip to nearby Saronic Gulf islands such as Aegina, Poros or Hydra. The most popular harbours to set off from include Flisvos, Agios Kosmas, Alimos and Glyfada. For day cruises and boat hire, try yachts-sailing.com in Paleio Faliro.

Open-air cinema at Flisvos Marina

Some of the most impressive yachts in the Mediterranean dock at Flisvos Marina (flisvosmarina.com), whose pedestrian promenade is the destination for a relaxing stroll, a fancy cocktail or a great meal with a perfect sea view. Also nearby is the Cine Flisvos (cineflisvos.gr), one of Athens’ classic open-air cinemas which operates under the moonlight by the sea every summer.

Cape Sounion’s Temple of Poseidon

Cape Sounion is the southernmost tip of greater Athens, where the ancient Greeks built the inspiring Temple of Poseidon in honour of the god of the sea. Perched high on the rocky headland jutting out over the Saronic Gulf, the gleaming marble columns once welcomed the ancient Athenians home as they sailed back into the Aegean Sea. Today, Cape Sounion is one of the most coveted spots on the Riviera to admire the sunset.

Fine dining on the Riviera

In addition to their gastronomic delights, the finest restaurants on the Riviera feature incredible sea vistas.  President Bill Clinton and Hollywood celebrities Sean Connery and Leonardo Di Caprio have all enjoyed the seafood specialties at Ithaki (ithakirestaurantbar.gr). World-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa brings magnificent flavours from Japan to the Riviera at Matsuhisa, set on a prime spot on the Astir Palace Resort complex.

Tips to travel in Serbia north

The rolling ranges of Fruška Gora national park are the perfect antidote to Vojvodina’s pancake plains. Clean, green and almost impossibly bucolic, the 80km stretch is dotted with picture-perfect villages and a sprinkling of 16 working Orthodox monasteries built between the 15th and 18th centuries. It’s one of Serbia’s oldest winemaking regions, and the hospitable locals are more than happy to clink a glass or three with visiting oenophiles. Look out for signs reading vinski podrum – this means there’s a wine cellar within and you’re welcome to sample from it. Wander at your whim by car or on foot, or see fruskagora-dunav.rsfor a list of monasteries and wineries. The Tourism Organisation of Sremski Karlovci (karlovci.org.rs) can arrange private visits.

Mellow meanderings

For exploration sans exertion, the flatlands of Vojvodina can’t be beaten. The region is criss-crossed with gentle hiking paths (see vojvodinaonline.com), including easy ambles along the six lakes of Bela Crkva and around placid Palić Lake; boat hire is also available at both spots. If you don’t mind getting (slightly) vertical, a 160km marked trail runs along the low hills of Fruška Gora.

Prefer to pedal?  The Danube Bike Path (danube-cycle-path.com) – suitable for cyclists of all stripes – wends along the eponymous river past idyllic villages and Pannonian panoramas all the way to the majestic Iron Gates gorge on the Romanian border. Its sister trail, the Euro Velo 6 (eurovelo.com), crosses the Deliblato Sands. Billed as the ‘European Sahara’, the 300-sq-km area is the continent’s largest sandy terrain and home to a massive array of rare plants, birds and animals, including a large wolf population.

A potpourri of the past

Vojvodina is liberally sprinkled with reminders of its mixed-bag past – everyone from the Huns to the Hapsburgs had a stint here – but to see it all would take weeks. For a concentrated hit of history, head to Bač (turizam.bac.rs), 65km west of Novi Sad. The town’s star attraction is its glorious, partially ruined fortress. Records indicate it was first built in AD 873, before being annexed, renovated and destroyed repeatedly by various empires until the 18th century. The Knights Templar planted their flag in Bač too, establishing a monastery in 1169. The cloisters were taken over by the Franciscans in 1312; it remains operational today and welcomes visitors. For a taste of Turkish times, check out the preserved rooms and water pipes of Bač’s 16th-century hammam, the only surviving Turkish bath in Vojvodina.

Architectural ambles

Sitting snug against the Danube, Sremski Karlovci has a huge history that belies its cosy size. Originally home to an ancient Roman fortress, the village peaked as a major cultural and spiritual centre during the 18th century, a legacy still visible in beautiful baroque edifices including the St Nicholas Orthodox cathedral (1758–62), the working Karlovci Orthodox Theological Seminary (1794) – the second of its kind in the world – and the magnificent Four Lions fountain.

Further north, Subotica charms comers-and-goers (it’s on the border with Hungary) with a comely collection of art nouveau buildings. An easy amble will reveal streets and squares lined with architectural eye candy; the tastiest is the sumptuous Raichle Palace (home to a modern art gallery), a 1904 marvel of mosaics, floral patterns and wrought-iron flourishes.