Yet again, Peruvian influences are spreading across London. It was only a few years ago that London’s food scene bagged itself Peruvian restaurants – all of which continue to draw crowds. One brand, Lima, has recently had a revamp, and two new restaurants have stepped into the fray since August.
Lima, based in Fitzrovia (31 Rathbone Place), added a much-needed extension and redesigned its dining spaces but also launched a new a la carte menu in November. The new dishes come with healthy twists, such as white and purple sweet potato added to main courses and an entire dessert menu free of refined sugar – yes, that is possible!
They say travel broadens your horizons, but it also broadens your palate. Though I’m a fairly fussy eater at home, as soon as I’m away I find there’s something irresistible about tasting local delicacies – stoemp in Belgium, a shot of throat-burning Brennivin in Iceland, Butlers chocolate in Ireland, you name it.
But trying quinoa in Peru was a revelation because it was already making waves around the world. So what was the fuss about, and why are superfoods like this making such an impact?
Whereas 2014 was all about knee defenders, awkward profiles of Brits in the German press, and Outlander-themed tours of Scotland, this year has been very different.
We’ve seen terror on the streets, refugees in crisis, and a king reburied half a millennium after his death, and that’s only a snippet of what 2015 involved.
A World in Chaos
With ISIS/ISIL-led terror attacks tragically striking Egypt, France and Tunisia, and with parts of Belgium on lockdown following the recent Paris attacks, it’s been a sobering year. Western tourists have naturally been cautious, but holidaymakers are not the only targets. Locals socialising or going to work also lost their lives. Whilst the travel industry is under pressure to deliver better safety measures and tighter security, anyone driven to cancel their holiday and stay at home won’t be risk-free, because domestic threats are just as common. The sad fact is that we can’t always prevent these attacks from happening, however we can’t live our lives in constant fear.
Some people have a thing against organised tour holidays. They think there’s no adventure involved, that it’s all about strict plans and blithely following the leader, with no room for fun or independence; I’m going to prove it’s far from the truth. My three group tour experiences were very different, but they all helped me to get more from the country I was visiting, and they were anything but dull.
First I headed to Berlin, Dresden and Colditz with Riviera Travel, a British company that mainly has middle-aged and mature customers – I went with my mum and I was the only one of the entire group not to have either a husband, a pension plan or the symptoms of the menopause. However, I learned loads and had plenty of free time to explore, even making it to Sachsenhausen for the afternoon.
Those travel advertising dweebs have got a lot to answer for – out of all the beautifully Photoshopped pictures of snow-capped mountains, charity hill treks and celebratory Machu Picchu poses, the unglamorous reality of altitude sickness doesn’t get a look-in.
Perhaps the sight of a grumpy tourist clutching their head and begging for a darkened room isn’t much of an incentive for potential customers, but it’s something mountain visitors need to be warned about, much like yodelling or the onslaught of posh children mowing down first-time skiers for kicks.
You want the truth? Not everyone goes on holiday to relax (though mainstream travel adverts might try to persuade you otherwise). Sure, it’s nice enough to do nothing for a few days, but soon the novelty wears off.
Instead of waiting for boredom to set in, take things up a gear and do more of what you love, surrounded by people with the same mad passion for music, media or history as you. I’ve lined up a shortlist of specialist holidays to keep you on your toes.
Capture New Orleans with National Geographic Expeditions
This photo workshop puts you in the midst of effortlessly cool New Orleans, led by Tyrone Turner, a National Geographic photographer. From your base in the French Quarter you’ll visit Jackson Square, Café du Monde, and one of the city’s famous cemeteries, in between attending workshops and getting to know the nightlife scene. In 2015 there are four different departure dates for the trip, and prices start at $1,595pp ( £1059pp at the current exchange rate) without a hotel, or $2,175 (£1444pp) with a hotel, based on two people sharing.
We’d already stayed in Puno, seen the male knitters of Taquile Island, and had our introduction to the crafty building skills of the Incas; now it was time for the final push to Machu Picchu on our Majestic Peru tour (if you need a quick recap, click back to Part 1 and Part 2).
Day 11 – Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes
Whilst we didn’t have time to trek up to the higher narrow terraces in the mountains, we got to visit the lower ones, just a short walk away from the town centre in the Archaeological Park. I then popped into the Museo de Chocolate (Chocolate Museum) to refuel, before watching some colourful street processions. Lunch was at the Hearts Cafe, a local business and charity supporting women in highland communities facing issues like nutritional problems or domestic violence.
The mid-point of this trip was all about the altitude and the brilliant views that came along with it. As with the previous days, we veered between exploring urban streets and quiet backwaters, topped off by some time on the water. Here’s the abbreviated version of what we got up to (and for Part 1, click here).
Day 6 – Arequipa to Puno
It felt as though we left Arequipa and the Hotel Asturias a little too soon, and I would have liked to spend more time getting to know the city. However, we were back on the road again and heading for Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca – this time a six hour journey. With frequent stops for coca tea and vicuña spotting, we eased ourselves into the higher altitude, albeit nursing headaches, nausea and dizziness between us.
Peru is undoubtedly one of the most engaging countries I’ve visited. I may have only spent just over a fortnight there, but I managed to pack so much into every day that I don’t feel short-changed. What’s more, I got to meet fellow travellers from around the world and discover the country with them.
If, like me, you can’t afford to spend months here but you’d like to really get to know what Peruvian culture and history involves, guided by experts, you might be tempted by the trip I booked – Majestic Peru, with Intrepid Travel. Knowing how important peer reviews are when picking a specialist tour operator, I’ve broken down my review into three stages so you can get a clear idea of what to expect.
There’s a lot more to Peruvian food than marmalade sandwiches a la Paddington Bear. In fact, asking ‘What do they eat in Peru?’ opens up a can of worms (okay, maybe not such a disgusting phrase) or a Pandora’s box (okay, maybe not such an inedible phrase), or a worm-flavoured Pandora’s box(?!) of suggestions.
The honest answer is that Peruvians eat a very varied diet, blending their own signature dishes with a lot of international flavours, so you really won’t struggle to find something you like on the menu. Many waiters and waitresses have great English skills and will be happy to translate anything you don’t understand, helping you to choose something a bit more out of the ordinary.