The West Coast is only now starting to be discovered by tourists. Yes, the water is cold and yes, the wind can blow but the views and of course, the seafood, more than make up for it!
Paternoster has a great beach and a lovely, unspoilt fishing village feel. Head to the hotel for some of the best 'honest' seafood you'll find in the Cape.
Head up West Coast Road for about 80kms
Fish restaurant with informal, friendly vibe. Choose you fish(es) and the cooking method and sit back with a chilled sauvignon blanc and wait. The calamari are apparently from Patagonia and are the best I have ever tasted.
On the top of the grand department store Kaufhaus des Westens, aka KaDeWe, there is the most fantastic set of food halls I have ever been to. Even more vast and wondrous than Harrods. The fish halls are spectacular and the range of international food unbelievable. A foodie paradise! The rest of the store isn't too shabby, either.
Kaufhaus des Westens
Willoughby's, down in the waterfront centre, is one of the best seafood restaurants I have ever been to. Melt-in-your mouth sushi, HUGE rock oysters from Namibia, the freshest fish (served in the pan with delicious potatoes) and really good paella. No booking, and really casual, it’s great for lunch and there’s no need to reserve. And it’s dirt cheap by British/European standards - you couldn’t eat like this at home.
Ground floor, V&A Waterfront shopping centre
In the late 17th century, when the Portuguese Bandeirantes (literally standard bearers or pioneers) discovered gold and precious stones in Minas Gerais, a safe deep water port was required to ship these riches back to Europe. The calm, sheltered waters of the Baía da Ilha Grande, accessed by the precarious Indian trails that traversed the Serra da Bocaina, were ideally suited for this purpose. Thus, in about 1670, the settlement of Paraty was founded and within 20 years was one of the most prosperous ports in the Iberian Colonies.
Unfortunately for the good burghers of Paraty, but happily for the modern traveller, by 1720 a much shorter trail had been blazed from the prospecting towns of Minas to Rio de Janeiro. Despite a brief disturbance during the coffee and sugar booms of the 19th Century, this historical accident, and the fact that Paraty only became accessible by motor vehicle in the 1950s, left the region in its own development-free time bubble.
Today Paraty is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its former wealth is reflected in some of the most beautiful and assiduously preserved colonial architecture in the whole of Brazil. The Centro Histórico is a masterpiece, with its baroque churches, roughly cobbled streets that flood with the rising tide and graceful merchants’ mansions. Set all this man-made elegance in a heart-stopping setting of rainforest-clad escarpments, the dramatic Costa Verde coastline, dozens of near deserted beaches and the tropical islands of the Baía and you have a combination of sophistication and natural exuberance that is hard to beat anywhere in Brazil.
It has to be said that, as a popular weekend retreat for the well-heeled of São Paulo and Rio, Paraty is not cheap by Brazilian standards but if anywhere around Rio is worth a bit of a splurge, this is it. One lower priced accommodation option is the Cigarras Pouso Familiar near the bus station. It is a popular location for makers of period movies and novellas and has en suite rooms including breakfast at R$100 and small self catering apartments for around R$150. My personal favourite, however, is the gorgeous Mercado de Pouso, Paraty’s former coffee market, on the old quayside beside the Santa Rita church, where a double room with air conditioning, ceiling fan and bathroom with breakfast included will set you back around R$250. The hotel also has its own 80 foot schooner and organises dolphin spotting, diving and beach cruises to the islands. For the truly budget minded, camping is available at the Camping Club do Brasil a short distance out of town beside the Praia do Pontal.
One of the real pleasures of Paraty is its bewildering profusion of excellent restaurants. In a high class field there are two that really stand out. The Restaurante da Matriz is situated in a colonial house on the main square, Praça da Matriz. It is rightly famous throughout Brazil for its deliciously authentic Caiçara dishes, named after the natives of this coastal region. Try the mouthwatering sea bass and shrimp moqueca, a traditional fish stew spiced with ferociously piquant dendê oil, or the prawns fried in batter with ginger and mango sauce.
If that doesn’t take your fancy, on Rua do Comercio you will find Merlin o Mago, an award winning establishment with an idiosyncratic fusion style that incorporates the best of Europe, Asia and Brazil. The restaurant is aptly named as its chef, the German-born former restaurant critic, Hado Steinbrecher, is truly a magician. His onion ice cream (yes, that’s onion ice cream) dumplings on tomato with grilled goat’s cheese are a sensation and you’ll have to go a long way to find anything to beat the lobster in orange sauce.
A good, if expensive, time to visit Paraty is during the low season months of July and August when two events draw visitors from all over the world. Every August since 1972 the town has organised the Festival da Pinga. Time was when the town and surrounding area had over 200 distilleries, or “alambiques”, producing Brazil’s sugar cane spirit, cachaça, the principal ingredient of the ubiquitous caipirinha. Whilst the alambiques are somewhat less numerous today, Paraty is still a major producer and the festival attracts some 20,000 aficionados who take their cachaça as seriously as any single malt whisky drinker.
For those of a less bacchanalian disposition, for four days every July Paraty becomes a sort of tropical Hay-on-Wye as it presents the annual Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty. Run by Bloomsbury Publishing founder, Liz Calder, the festival has played host to the likes of Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie and, after only three years, is already established as one of the world’s premier literary events.
Do bear in mind that accommodation prices can double and even triple during these busy periods and hotel bookings should be made weeks, if not months, in advance.
As far as activities are concerned, clearly the sea plays a major role. A number of companies offer skippered sailing and motor yacht charters in modern, well equipped boats and Paraty is also one of Brazil’s scuba diving meccas with a host of companies to choose from. On the other hand, if just lazing on a palm-fringed beach is your thing, the boat ride to Praia do Sono is an absolute must. Quite simply, they don’t make beaches any lovelier. Praia do Sono and the larger, busier beach at Trindade can also be reached by bus.
Paraty’s other major attraction is the Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina, which straddles the border of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and is home to endangered species such as spider and howler monkeys, harpy eagles, tree porcupines and giant anteaters. Four wheel drive and horseback tours of the Park and the Trilha de Ouro (gold trail), with English speaking guides, can be arranged at the Centro de Informações Turisticas on Avenida Roberto Silveira.
Paraty is a magical, almost unreal place with a delight round every corner. From the moment you arrive your senses will be overwhelmed by a heady confection of sights, sounds, smells and tastes that few places in the world can equal. Don’t take my word for it, though. While anchored in the Baía da Ilha Grande during his second South American voyage of 1501, Amerigo Vespucci wrote in a letter home, “Oh God! If there was a paradise on earth, it would not be very far from here!” He was not wrong.
To reach Paraty from Rio, take an air conditioned coach from the Rodoviária Novo Rio bus station. The journey time is about four hours. Here are some useful websites: Paraty, www.paraty.com.br/iindex.asp. Mercado de Pouso, www.mercadodepouso.com.br/. Cigarras Pouso Familiar, www.paraty.com.br/cigarras/ICIGARRA.HTM. Merlin o Mago, www.paraty.com.br/merlin. Restaurante da Matriz, www.paraty.com.br/matriz/index.asp. For yacht charters, Coconut Yacht Adventures (www.geocities.com/bra1868/) is a reliable German run company and for diving, Mr. Big Paraty (tel. 024/3371-1327) has a good reputation.
For some unfathomable reason, the frutos do mar (seafood) restaurant, Marius, at the Leme end of Avenida Atlántica is praised to the skies in certain quarters. Frankly, an evening spent drilling holes in your kneecaps would be a more agreeable experience. Its over aggressive staff are clearly trained to push drinks, t-shirts and anything else on unsuspecting diners. The food is bland and overpriced, and the horribly twee Barnacle Bill ambience make this a place to avoid like the plague.
There are plenty of less touristy seafood options in Rio. For a vastly superior product, at the same price and without the hard sell, go to Satyricon on Rua Barão da Torre in Ipanema. You won’t regret it.
Satyricon is at Rua Barão da Torre, 192, Ipanema, tel. 2521-0627, www.satyricon.com.br. Marius could be on Venus for all I care.
Fancy restaurant by Guincho beach. (You could try any of them because they're all great!) Fresh seafood and fish, excellent meat, top wine. A bit expensive but surely worth the while!
By Estrada do Guincho - the road that connects downtown Cascais to Guincho beach; tel: 214 870 275
For the culinarily inclined be sure to order the local oysters (huitres), prepared in many different ways. One local dish worth trying is Eclade de palourdes - clams cooked over pine needles. And a regional treat is the Chaudrée Charentaise - a creamed, fish stew that resembles chowder.
Local restaurants all over the island
This friendly attractive restaurant is on a small, pretty square very near the Burg. It only appears to seat about 40, so booking on a weekend is probably essential.
The decor is simple but elegant—white walls, white linen on the tables, cane chairs, and subdued lighting.The staff were attentive, without being overbearing, and very pleasant.
The restaurant specialises in fish and seafood, the menu includes Lobster Soup, mouth watering Scallops in Herb Butter, Catfish, Eel, Ray and a wonderfully tasty and childishly messy Bouillabaisse. The food is of an excellent quality, well cooked and delicious.
It is more expensive than average at 113 euros for two people (two courses plus one dessert, 2 beers and 2 coffees) however the food and the ambience of the restaurant is well worth the money.
050 33 34 94
Surprisingly high quality psarotaverna (fish taverna) in a pleasant, small seaside village just on and just off the tourist trail.
On the right overlooking the sea just after coming in to Nas from Armenistis;
tel: 22750 71489;
The best shellfish in the city: try the clams in garlic and parsley. In fact, try everything. The waiters are seriously professional, the tiles are seriously garish, the food is seriously good.
Av. Almirante Reis, 1-H;
tel: 21 885 1024;
Seafood dining with an absolutely unbelievable view across Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay. Upstairs is for fine dining with a better wine list (and a dearer menu) and downstairs (street level) is much more casual...
eat there on those warm summer nights
1 Melrose St Sandringham (cnr with Beach Rd), 100 metres from Sandringham railway station;
tel: 9598 2355;
A restaurant in the centre of the island where locals go when they want to push the boat out. Seafood and game, and a great selection of wines from the restaurant's own bodega.
Carretera San Miguel, Santa Gertrudis;
tel: 971 314 554
This restaurant serves a generous three-course lunchtime menu for €18 including wine, water and bread. Plenty of choice including, on our visit, clams with artichoke hearts in herb sauce, oxtail in piquant sauce, grilled dorado, and lasagne. Very smart place where locals eat. Downstairs bar food is the same but 10% cheaper.
c/ Pau Clarís, 169, just around the corner from La Pedrera and Passeig de Gracia metro;
tel: 93 215 30 47
We ate at Fisk at the Radisson Hotel on Vasagatan, near the train station. I had the most delicious fish soup that seemed a bit reminiscent of bouillabaisse. Service and ambience were very agreeable. Yes, it was sort of expensive, but not awfully.
Vasagatan 1; tel: 08 50 65 4000; www.radisson.com/stockholmse_royalviking
Remarkably fresh oysters - some taken from the water the morning they are served - available any way you can think of and shucked (opened) fresh after you order. The best clam chowder I have ever had - made with fresh clams as well as other great cooked seafood meals. All set looking over the harbour amidst some other fine restaurants. Best eating I have had in three months of travelling.
The Ferry Building at the very end of Market St;
It's a superb yet not too expensive restaurant that specialises in seafood - fantastic plateau des fruits de mer - but does everything well. Had the best confit de canard I've ever had there.
80, Rue Mouffetard, 75005.
Tel: 01 43 37 98 21
Metro: Place Monge.
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