I know it’s been a while and I have been meaning to write to you all but, honestly, the effort of moving house/country and setting up home again all whilst feeling under the weather, has rather depleted my energy. And in that wonderful way the universe has of reminding us we are NOT totally in control, I’d just forced myself to sit at the laptop and had finished typing the first line when the front doorbell rang with the new window cleaners introducing themselves. Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about Service Stations. In the UK motorway services became a bit of a sad joke really with diabolical, expensive food in drab surroundings. Things have improved somewhat I guess, with the likes of Waitrose and M&S setting up their stall (although charging me 5p for a sandwich bag drives me insane, it’s not like I’ve gone out to do a weekly shop is it!) And I guess for their fans – Costa, Starbucks, KFC, Burger King etc. are all welcome additions to a journey.
But they do things differently in Spain. As far as I know, and please correct me if I’m wrong, there are no large chains operating regionally or nationally at Spanish service stations. I’m pretty sure they’re run by local people and operate much like any other Venta or local bar. Which of course means they can be a bit hit and miss, and we’ve had one or two misses but the vast majority have been wonderful. A pleasure to stop in with great tostadas, tapas or raciones depending on the time of day. What I absolutely love about them though is that they, usually, stock local produce and here you can pick up some fabulous bargains at great prices. Of course I’m drawn to the EVOO and our drive from Vejer de la Frontera up through Spain to Cáceres, Burgos and Bilbao provided me with lots of opportunities to peruse, although banned from purchasing as our Skoda Tardis apparently could not accommodate even one more bottle (I’ll tell you how I managed to sneak in two more another time!)
These pictures are taken at a services between Jerez and Seville, the caption on the camera says Las Cabezas de San Juan (I’ve just checked and that will be right as it’s a village situated next to the ‘autopsista’ between Seville and Cadiz).
Lots of lovely EVOO, right next to the biscuits!
The fancy EVOOs, in a case, next to the toys!
And here are the big bottles that won’t fit on the shelf, on top of the Coke fridge!
Continuing North towards Cáceres we stopped again, for lunch, at a services with the most fantastic delicatessen displaying a great range of jamones, cheeses, chutneys, wine and, of course, Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Plenty of people were buying rather than just window shopping so I didn’t really get a chance to study their EVOO selection but one of my favourite’s caught my eye:
Doesn’t that Picualia stand out from the crowd! And it’s a fabulous EVOO too, not just a pretty face!
I’m not one of those people who knocks a place for the sake of it but I’ve never been able to understand why we operate service stations so badly here in the UK. I know there are some great places – Tebay up in Cumbria being my personal favourite – but you know things aren’t great when you put a search into Google for the ‘UK’s Best Service Stations’ and you’re offered a Top 5 list. Seriously, not even Top 10?! And by another of those wonderful displays of humour by the universe, after a 3-day drive to the north of Spain and overnight on the ferry, we disembarked at Portsmouth mid afternoon on a Friday (I know, I know …) Stopping at the first services we encountered – proudly boasting a Spar shop – I was horrified. Huge queues at Starbucks and whichever burger franchise it was and hardly anything I considered edible on the shelves of the Spar. I eventually conceded defeat with a box of crackers, a tub of humous and some cherry tomatoes.
So, I’m back in sunny Wales (no of course it isn’t, it’s grey and drizzly but the window cleaners were very cheery and hey, it might brighten up!!!) where I’m really looking forward to finding all those specialist suppliers, farm shops, pop up markets and artisan food events. I’ve just calculated that I spent 5 days between arriving ‘home’ and finding my EVOOs in the mountain of ‘stuff’ – I was getting withdrawal symptoms!!!
Anyway, normal service has been resumed, I’m back on track and looking forward to sharing EVOO stories from where I am. Remember to connect on Facebook (The Olive Oil Taster), Twitter(@TasteOliveOil) and Instagram and please do share this post if you like it.