I jumped at the opportunity to visit Central America's best kept secret; I assure you all, this won't be the case for long, word is spreading like wildfire. There is so much to see and do and plenty to stimulate the palate. Wherever we visited we felt at ease to walk around, day and night. Nicaragua is the safest country in Latin America and tourists are treated with respect and warmly welcomed.
Our Leon Adventure
After staying just one night in an airport hotel, my friend Lesley and I headed off to the magical colonial city of Leon, some two hour's drive north of Managua, the capital. We were fortunate enough to be allocated the most delightful hotel El Convento, which as its name suggests, began life as a convent, transformed into a school, and is now a stunning boutique hotel, which by chance houses one of the city's best restaurants.
Our trip was organised by Mundo Ventura, an inbound tour operator so I left all arrangements in their knowledgeable hands.
On arrival around lunch time, Lesley and I thought we had died and gone to heaven; the trials of a long haul flight including jet lag and pit stop in Managua simply disappeared. With a rum cocktail in our hands, overlooking a beautiful inner courtyard garden of swaying palms, fountain and bougainvillea, we savoured every drop. We headed inside to the air conditioned restaurant, to avoid the heat of the day and to order lunch.
Our time difference reflected "dinner" so we went full speed ahead with three courses. A starter deep fried calamari and fresh salad was followed by a bowl of pasta al dente, with a spicy salsa sauce. We finished with "Flan de Almendras" (almond flan) which was delicious. A well needed siesta followed!
After visiting Central America's largest Cathedral and climbing to the roof where we could enjoy commanding views of the majestic Maribios volcanoes, we strolled around the town, stopped for drink and visited the market. In the evening our guide Guillermo suggested several restaurants for us to try during our stay.
Reputed to be the best steak house in Leon, Lesley and I decided to test Al Carbon. Having eaten steak the night before, I chose to be adventurous and ordered filet of Carvina, a tasty white fish served in garlic and cream sauce with rice. Lesley ordered the steak, served with fresh vegetable and a side plate of fried potatoes, so in superb surroundings we sipped excellent imported wine from Chile and savoured some local cuisine.
I finished with "Crema Quemada" (Creme Catalan) and Lesley selected the Nicaraguan version of cheesecake, thumbs up for both. What we cannot leave out is the relaxed atmosphere in this colonial patio courtyard and the excellent service we enjoyed.
Another restaurant worth noting is Il Capriccio, which we stumbled across whist strolling near the Parque Central. A glass of sparkling wine set bus up for an excellent Italian meal in pleasant garden surroundings where we noted the clientele to be locals as well as tourists. It is always a joy to feel part of a local community which made Il Capriccio even more special. The home-made pasta and Tiramisu are to die for; also Il Capriccio serves the most amazing frozen yogurt, flavoured with tropical fruits of your choice.
Visiting Leon is a very special experience; its vitality emanates from its proud people, the students that come to take advantage of the fine schools and the university, a seat of learning, for medicine and law. Also, Leon was the home of Nicaragua's most beloved poet Ruben Dario and a visit to the Museo Archivo Ruben Dario, is worth a visit. Personal possessions, photographs and portraits bring the poet to life.
Foodies, Nicaragua is ready for us
Nicaragua is a foodie paradise in the heart of Central America; the fertile volcanic soil is perfect for the cultivation of crops, and for pastoral farming. Add to that the country's lakes, rivers and seas that are home to an amazing variety of fish and you have every ingredient for a perfect organic and healthy diet. Also worth noting is the fact that water is safe to drink.
Our Leon adventure was the start of a tour of Nicaragua that brought wonderful surprises throughout, from a great selection of traditional dishes to the most sophisticated European dishes to challenge any of our Michelin Star Chefs. Check out my future blogs and you are sure to be booking a trip yourself.