On Thursday morning, the first travel question came in at 6.03am. It concerned passport validity, and the misapprehension that you currently need six months before expiry (the passport’s, not yours) for a trip to the European Union. Repeat after me: “A British passport is valid for travel anywhere in the EU at least until the date of expiry or 1 January 2021, whichever comes first; from next year it gets more complicated.”
The next, at 6.16am, was the first of many about the coronavirus known as Covid-19, and the safety of travel to Thailand. “Compared with all the other risks on your forthcoming trip, the chances of being anywhere near someone with this unpleasant virus are vanishingly low,” I wrote back. “And the likelihood of picking it up is drastically reduced if you simply keep washing your hands thoroughly and avoid people who look unwell. I urge you to go ahead with what sounds a great adventure.”
Three questions arrived in quick succession about easyJet’s failure to comply with European air passengers’ rights rules during last weekend’s Storm Dennis disruption. After Turkey announced it was scrapping visas from next month, I had to tell Agnes, Paul and Will that, no, there was no prospect of a refund on the Turkish e-visas they had just bought.
The remainder included the troubling behaviour of some online travel agents, and exasperation that airlines will not offer flexibility to runners booked to fly to the now-cancelled Tokyo Marathon.
The Ryanair question of the day was about why the Irish airline was dropping flights from Newcastle to Lanzarote, and drew the swiftest answer: “Ryanair has abandoned many UK-Canaries routes partly because of Brexit and partly because of the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max after two tragic accidents.”
I have some travel questions for you, too. It is both intriguing and professionally essential to understand how other travellers experience the world. So, if I may: what are your three favourite restaurants in Europe? Yes, in order, please; and no, your local trattoria or Thai hideaway does not count. Dining is an essential component of travel, and I would like to know where you have been enchanted when eating out.
You will, of course, calibrate the components of cuisine, ambiance, service and value in your own way, but let me share my tasty trio.
In third place, perhaps unsurprisingly, a Greek taverna. Yet this is not perched on the water’s edge of a distant island, but in the busy Psyri area of Athens. On Agios Anargiron, look for the big blue-and-white striped awning signifying Nikita’s. Since 1967 it has been relentlessly serving simple, fresh and delicious staples.
The top two are both in Portugal. Second place goes to the Bufalo Grill in the Oriente district of Lisbon. Walk through an unpromising shopping mall almost to the water’s edge to find this churrascaria, whose exuberant waiters are ready to lead you to heaven for carnivores.
Clear winner, though, is A Tasca, in the Azores. This compact jumble of maritime paraphernalia, wonky tables, cheerful staff and ecstatic diners is hidden in a backstreet plumb in the middle of Ponta Delgada, the capital of the archipelago and the main town on the island of Sao Miguel.
The menu is short. I drool over every dish, though usually settle for the tuna. Which, with a glass of implausibly good wine and a generous tip, might set me back €15. But probably less. Everyone for a thousand-mile radius knows how good A Tasca is, which is why you have to book a table (00 351 296 288 880) at the same time as you book a flight.
And you? You can email email@example.com or tweet @SimonCalder.