Kiwis Come A Calling…

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Paddle Board Day…Billie Goes To Sea!

We were fortunate to have our Kiwi mate Shelley and her 2 kids (Finn & Stella) come by for 3 weeks & experience & enjoy the wonderful Hondarribia (Spain) & surrounds – and we packed it in!. It being the depths of winter Down Under, our first few days were spent lapping up the warmth & sunshine. We grabbed the local ferry to Hendaye (France – 5 minute ferry ride) where the beach is magnificent, and just enough wave action to get a few boogie board rides in. It was also good weather for everyone to have a go at paddle boarding…I was not so successful (top left picture below)…but Billie on the other hand, Hound #1, is a goer!

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Hondarribia, Spain – The Kiwi Home For 3 Weeks!

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Stinking HOT in Hondy! Even I Had To Jump In!

And besides the aquatic fun, we of course dove into the food & vino experience! Shelley is a long time Food Hound and was my partner in our restaurant London Street in Lyttelton, New Zealand. And of course, Spain and the Basque Country are a bountiful cornucopias for a food loving person – not just the amazing pintxo & raciones and menú del día offerings, but also the vast array of stellar products & produce. From the fresh as fish, to the veggies, to the olive oils & spices, to the cheeses & jamón – it’s all here.

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Hondy Treats – Top Left: Calle San Pedro Pintxo Fest; Pintxo; Pintxo; Special New Zealand Juice Courtesy of Shelley

After exhausting many of our regular Hondarribia haunts like Gran Sol, Vinoteca Ardoka, Sadara, Extebarri and Txantxangorri, we headed out to our only 1 star Michelin joint Alameda, which is top of the line on the pintxos front. We loved the mackerel ceviche (twice in fact), and the patatas brava (classic Basque dish) which totally vanished (by the kids) before any photos could be taken! And we had one of our fave wines of the trip – a stunning Rioja white (95% Viura – Spanish varietal)  by Bodega Allende.

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High Class @ Alameda

Next on the ‘to do’ list was our first visit of several visits to the most beautiful city in the world by most folks counts, San Sebastián (or Donosti in Basque). You need to either hang here for a number of days, or make multiple visits (we took the bus from Hondarribia – easy peezy) to get a decent dose of this wonderful wee city by the sea. What’s not to love? Grand architecture, museums & art spaces, beaches to beat the band, food & drink to die for, vistas to make ya cry, cool shopping galore and even a 100+ year old amusement park.

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San Seabstián: Top Left – Mount Igueldo Rollercoaster; On the Climb to Jesus; Jesus; La Concha Beach & City

We had a set of priorities to tick off so we set off on a mission….first, to eat. The vast array of choices to try pintxos, or raciones and eat a full meal in San Sebastián are head spinning to say the least. It is pretty hard to go too far wrong – much of the time you get to ‘look before you eat’ as you wander in & out of various tavernas checking out the types & quality of comestibles. We sampled a few of our standard spots like Paco Bueno (serious Old School & even has a signed All Blacks t-shirt framed); Bar Goiz Argi where we go for the calamare a la plancha (grilled – pictured below, top left); Borda Berri – ex-Cuchara de San Telmo folks & super pintxos; and Bar Zeruko – the award wining champ. And of course there are squadron of other places to gobble, gobble….

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San Sebastián Pintxos

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Bretxa Market, San Sebastian – Top Left: Kids; Blue Fin Tuna; Mate @ BretxOliva; Sardines; Veggies; Shrimps

On any true food person’s must do list is to pay a respectful visit to the local market(s) and have an extended wander up & down the aisles, chat away with the producers and learn a wee bit about what that region/country is proud to sell & eat. In San Sebastián that would be the Bretxa Market & related outdoor veggie stalls. It is hard to think of anything you cannot find or buy here with an extensive fish & seafood section offering the ocean’s finest; poultry vendors & butchers busy at work carving up various carcasses into fine cuts of meat; charcuterie & cheese & delicatessen stalls that will simply make your mouth water; and fruit & veggie stalls packed with the season’s produce.

Since we were in the city for the day, perishable purchases were not an option so we got happily stuck at BretxOliva, and amazing olive-everything stand (and extremely amenable host – you must try everything! he said)…excelente! We made fast friends and weighed down our backpacks with a decent assortment of Spanish goodies.

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Tasting Vino At GOÑI ardoteca

And besides the captivating Bretxa Market, quite nearby is our favourite wine store GOÑI ardoteka. They have an excellent range of vino, including some very good French wine which can be next to impossible to find in Spain, go figure?. But the best thing about GOÑI ardoteka is the staff – always super friendly & accommodating, informative & patient. On this day we lucked out and managed to be served by William, who offered us a range of wines to taste, including some quite old (and expensive) vino. He wanted us to taste the style differences and effects of age – well done William (and yes, we did buy a few bottle)!

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La Cuchara de San Telmo, San Sebastian – Yum! Top Left: Tuna, Kids, Veal Cheeks, Tomato Gazpacho com Idiazabal Cheese, Pulpo!

Even though we had managed an early pintxo pit stop to satiate growing Finn’s insatiable hunger, it was now approaching the opening time of one of our favourite regular haunts – La Cuchara de San Telmo. Now the Basque Pintxo World is basically divided into 2 worlds, the pre-made-cold-on-the-bar (can be heated sometimes) pintxos and the hot, made to order pintxos. La Cuchara de San Telmo falls into the latter camp and it is oh so good – it pays to arrive smack dab @ the opening @ 12:30pm (or there abouts as they often open late) for a lunchtime snack as within 20-25 minutes you just about cannot get in. Words of wisdom folks…

After a week’s explore of Hondarribia & San Sebastián & surrounds, it was now time for a road trip…so we grabbed a rental bus (literally) & took off for a whirlwind tour of Pais Vasco with stops in Getaria, Laguardia, Logroño, La Rioja Alavesa and Pamplona.

First destination: Getaria. A more than picturesque fishing village just an hour or so west along the Basque Coast from Hondarribia. Though still sort of quaint, it has changed a fair bit in just the 3 or so years since my first visit, with a number of more upscale shops for the shoppers and a small tourist crush. Shelley & Finn paid a visit to the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museo and they rated it a 5 star attraction – Stella & I hit the beach…as ya do.

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Getaria – Top Left: Family Pic Down Getaria Calle; Menú del Día @ Taverna Politena; Getaria’s Surf Beach; Grilled Dorado

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Laguardia, La Rioja Alavesa: Top Left – Santa Maria Church; Santa Maria Altar; La Rioja Alavesa View; Family Photo; Tower of Santa Maria

If you are ever tempted to visit the La Rioja region and taste some exquisite vino, you could not be more perfectly placed than Laguardia. And besides being perfectly placed you will be hanging in one of the most beautiful pueblos to be found in all of Spain, bar none. Like many old pueblos in Spain, it sits atop a decent hill, enclosed in an ancient fortress wall with encompassing views of the La Rioja vineyards that run right up to the start of the sheer cliff faces of the Cantabria Mountains.

Our first port of call for the day was a tasting stop at Bodegas Baigorri – one of our better go to drops. Spain’s wine scene has started to change – 3 or so years ago you needed to make an appointment & most likely take a cellar / winery tour (or even commit to lunch) before you could taste. But Bodegas Biagorri now offers tastings (only 2 wines) if you rock up on a normal working day (they do the tours/lunch thing too).

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Bodegas Baigorri, La Rioja Alavesa

It was fast approaching pintxo time, so after a fruitless search to find Bodegas Allende (the vino we had @ Alameda…we did find it, but there are no tastings or tours) we made a bee line for the Casco Viejo of Logroño which is renowned for its pintxo bars that all have a signature dish, usually centred around one prime ingredient (e.g., mushrooms or grilled pork).

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Logroño Pintxo Fest…

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Bodegas Ysios, La Rioja Alavesa

On our way to Bodegas Baigorri, we stopped in at Bodegas Ysios & found that they do require a winery tour – well so be it, as we wanted to taste their wines. Bodegas Ysios only makes 2 wines, both reds and it sometimes seems to be better known for the grand winery building than the wines! They are part of the PernodRicard empire so not exactly your mom & pop operation. All in all, they were decent vinos with one from the 2008 vintage and one from the 2009 and they were generous with the pours…and left us the bottles!

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Wine Tasting @ Bodega Ysios, La Rioja Alavesa

Post 2 picture perfect & massively enjoyable days in Laguardia & La Rioja Alavesa, we packed up and made our way up & over the Cantabria Mountains with Pamplona in our sites. Pamplona as many folks know, is mainly famous or infamous for the Running of the Bulls or the Festival of  San Fermin. We scheduled our visit the day after the festival ended which was both a blessing & a curse. A blessing in that much of the craziness (and it is VERY CRAZY) had subsided, but a curse in several ways as the town was: (a) slightly dead (guess bar & restaurant owners & staff et al needed a rest); (b) it was a tad dirty & smelled of vomit in places; (c) Shelley had her wallet pinched.

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Top Left: Magina Aceites de la Sierra & Owner; Vermut @ Baserriberri; Group Pic; Catedral de Santa Maria; Final Pintxos @ Baserriberri

Despite the curses, we toddled on & managed to find some excellent pintxos at the open bars, pay a visit to the sweet wee Mercado de Santa Domingo which has one of the best & cheapest cheese stalls anywhere, and round up quite a few gourmet goodies at Magina Aceites de la Sierra shop where the owner was beyond generous and helpful (photo above).

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Hondarribia Blues Fest – Awesome!

One of the awesome things about living in Hondarribia (and in close proximity to San Sebastián) is there is always something going on…and usually free! And such was Shelley & the Kids’s luck that upon our road trip return, they happened to time it right for the Hondarribia Blues Festival. Four days and nights of stellar performances from musicians from round the world, on multiple stages about the town. Not sure how or who pays for it, but it is a seriously fun event.

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Hondarribia Blues Fest – Good Time Had By All!!!

After a wee rest (except for Shelley & the Kids who headed off to Paris for 4 days! Lucky sods…), we caught the slow train from San Sebastián that goes along the coast & ends up in the Big Smoke of Bilbao, one of the Basque Country’s biggest cities. I did not expect to really like Bilbao much on my first visit – besides the infamous Guggenheim Museum, what could the industrial capital of the Pais Vasco offer? Well, a lot to be honest.

We checked into our sweet accommodation @ Casual Gurea in the late afternoon & got out for a decent wander in the Parte Viejo. As always, growing boy Finn was hungry, so we made our way to Plaza Nueva which is lined with numerous pintxo bars and fed the beast…we sampled the wares of Bar Zuga and of course had to drop in at the classic Victor Montes.

I had made a dinner reservation at El Perro Chico, a place the Hounds had managed to grab a quick lunch at on our first visit to Bilbao but it had been firmly put on the ‘food radar’ for a return visit for a full on meal…

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El Perro Chico, Bilbao – Best Food in Spain So Far!

Pretty much all we call say is a big WOW! El Perro Chico, without any doubt, serves some of the best food I/we have had in Spain so far. It is one of those rare breeds that takes the abundance & variety of Spanish food products, and gives them an innovative, international or other worldly twist. The food has no focus on a specific style or ethnicity except to make damn good tasting food, creatively prepared.

We all tucked into our respective plates and no one chose poorly – it all tickled the taste buds (even the salad starter was AWESOME), but the general consensus was Shelley won the day with her seared tuna, perfectly cooked & flavoured. We LOVED it here so much that upon paying our bill & leaving, we booked in for lunch on our last day…

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El Perro Chico Dinner: Top Left – Seared Tuna; Smoked Beef; Veal Chop; Pork Belly

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El Perro Chico Dog Bill & Dessert

On our first full day in Bilbao we opted for a full on museum day – first the infamous Guggenheim (I like the building the best), followed up by a visit to the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao (far better art in my humble opinion). The Guggenheim certainly has the “wow” factor going for it, but I could easily just walk around the building having a good squizzy from all sides & be more than happy.

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Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum

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Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum

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Guggenheim Fun…

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Bilbao Museo – Life Like Exhibition…Slightly Creepy.

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Museo de Bilbao

Post some seriously heavy museum time, we all had worked up some hunger pains so we walked as straight as the crow flies to Cafe Iruña, a cafe rightly famous for its lamb kebabs (called Pintxo Moruno) cooked over a charcoal grill & served by Ahmed. In general, Spanish food is not too spicy or highly flavoured, so it was a nice mouth jolt to bite into a clearly Moroccan flavoured skewer of roast lamb.

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Cafe Iruña, Bilbao – Lamb Kebabs by Ahmed

Besides the museums, the great food market, the riverside walks, the tasty bars & restaurants and the Old Town, one of the other ‘must sees’ is the Alhóndiga Cultural and Leisure Centre designed/renovated by Bad Boy Frenchman Philippe Starck. Originally a massive La Rioja wine warehouse that was built in 1909, it is now a full function space with art & culture exhibits, cinema, restaurants & bars and sporting activities. We all found the rooftop, glass bottomed swimming pool of most curious interest.

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Alhóndiga Cultural and Leisure Center by Philippe Starck

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Shelley & The Kids Take A Dip At The Alhóndiga Cultural and Leisure Center’s Glass Bottom Pool

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Group Fun – Bilbao, Spain

And just like me after my first visit, Shelley & the Kids really loved the Big Smoke of Bilbao. They felt they could easily have spent a couple more days there (just like me) to more fully explore the rich variety of experiences this Basque city has to offer.

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Out on the Town – Bilbao, Spain – Plaza Nueva with some Bacarones & Vermut!

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El Perro Chico, Bilbao -Again! For Goodbye Lunch…

And here we all are, back again @ El Perro Chico for our goodbye lunch (Shelley & the Kids were flying out of Bilboa @ 6:30pm for home, New Zealand) and once again, we were totally pleased. At lunch El Perro Chico offer a menú del día for the wee sum of €13.50 (they were super nice & let us adults have the kids’s vino). I also need to mention that besides the stunning food, the staff are simply superb, simply superb.

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Lunch @ El Perro Chico, Bilbao: Top – Waldorf Salad, Roasted Tomatoes & Polenta; Watermelon Salmorejo

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El Pero Chico, Bilbao – Goodbye Lunch….

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El Perro Chico, Bilbao: Top Left – Yellow Veg Chicken Curry, Fajitas With Beef & Crispy Red Onions, Crispy Chicken on a Parmesan Base & Thyme Polenta

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El Perro Chico, Bilbao: Dessert…So Good We Almost Forgot to Take A Photo…

So with a grand mix of happiness (great to spend such fun times with the crew & eat so well) and sadness (saying goodbye to great mates), we bid our final goodbyes & I toddled off to catch the slow train to San Sebastián with a few wee tears in my eyes. Shelley & the Kids made it home safe & sound though by a flight(s) from Hell & I hope to see them soon on the Other Side…

A Regatta, Some Bonito & Beer…

 

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And They Are Off!!!!

It is summer time here in Spain and that means regatta time! Quite a few of the Basque Coastal towns support & root for a rowing team. All summer they hold weekly races, alternating towns until the end of the season when a row off amongst the league leaders happens. It was Hondarribia’s turn to be host, and host they did.

The water looked a wee bit choppy and nervously high, and one black evil looking cloud was lingering about amongst the white ones & a patchy blue skies. The crowds were out in force though, lining the breakwater, the esplanade & beachfront for an event that lasts all of an hour! And to be honest, it is an event (as I have written before) best watched in your local pub with a big screen TV as once the boats exit the harbour, there is bugger all to see.

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Top Left: Allen Displaying True Aussie Bush Knowledge; Two Wet Nuts; Flags; Billie Boy; Hound #1 & #2 All Kitted Up

But the real highlight for us folks is the BBQ – we are smack dab in the middle of bonito season & the fish on offer @ the regatta are caught just of the coast of Hondarribia! We had our mates Lizette & Allen (the folks who bring you the awesome Warialda Beef) visiting from Melbourne so this was a local yokel event not to be missed.

And it was superb – for all of €2 we gobbled down perfectly cooked bonito steaks topped with a pimiento de padrón…and of course cold cervazas….

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Bonito A La Plancha – Yum.

A Day Out In Donosti with Idoia…Then A Surprise!

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Donosti Crew

Our good mate Idoia, who runs our local taberna, invited us to a Day in Donosti (San Sebastián) for a personally guided pintxo stroll…and a wee bit of lunch. And we were also told to keep the evening, round 6:45pm, free for a surprise!

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Our first port of call was a mutual favourite – Bar Goiz Argi. The Hounds had discovered this place on our recon strip more than 3 years ago and have been back many times since to enjoy its tasty offerings, in a tiny, tiny space in the Old Town.

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Calamari & Shrimps & Cervezas

A recent discovery has been their hot calamari pintxo, of which 2 are needed to satisfy our hunger…slathered in a minced garlic oil, grilled to a slightly caramelised brown – estupendo! The sauce is oh so good wiped up with some bread brooms…Idoia took the gambas (shrimps) path and polished off 4 perfectly seared specimens…and, of course, some cervazas!

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Top Left: Hot Duck; Mushroom Rice; Veal Cheek

Idoia had her list ready, but some of the bars were not co-operating, and for the random Spanish reasons we have not fully fathomed, they were closed on a sweet Thursday arvo. So on we trudged and landed at the next open place for some hot, made-to-order pintxos at a joint I’d forgotten to get or remember the name of – shite. This place was in the very same vein as La Cuchara de San Telmo, one of our regular Donosti pintxo stops (when we can squeeze in). There’s nothing displayed on the bar, just a hand scribbled blackboard list with about a dozen excellent choices (our choices are in the pic above)…

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Top Left: Summer Veggie Spread; Awesome Apple Thingy Dessert; Seared Steak Loin & Ash Dust; Lamb Chops & New Potatoes

Then it was time for lunch…yes, some lunch folks. The 2 pintxo stops had put a minor dent in our hunger pangs, so Idoia led us out of the Old Town, past Gipuzkoa Square, to Restaurante Zazpi. This was a new discovery for the Hounds as we’d never crossed its path in all our San Sebastián food wanderings. They had a Plato del Día (main plate, dessert, drink) for a mere €7 & we choose a stunning pulpo salad to share as a starter – perfectly cooked pulpo arrayed on 2 cones of yummy potato mash with a fresh green salad in between. Our mains were: me, lamb chops with roasted new potatoes; Hound #2 went the veggie route (beautifully displayed); and Idoia got some seared steak loin with an amazing crumbled ash dust…Dessert was a quickly devoured apple pudding crumble thing – all 3 spoons were in active, furious use.

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Up To The Bells!

Now we were stuffed, so we jumped on the bus to return us to Hondarribia to await the arrival of 6:45PM and the surprise! Spot on time, Idoia led us up to Arma Plaza where a group of her mates were waiting. We all proceeded to the old church where Ramón, armed with a key that could kill someone, opened up the doors.

We then started our climb – up & up & up to the top of the main bell tower. Wow! Once on top, we had a 360 degree panoramic view of our adopted hometown. And then they started to ring the bells as it just happened to be the Festival of San Juan (Saint John), a festival when it is customary to set bonfires alight & cast things or lists of bad people you want removed from your life into the flames.

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On Top Of Da World in Hondarribia!

 

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Top Left: View from the Bell Tower Deck; The Parador; Hound #2 By Da Bell; Calle Mayor Casco Antiguo & San Juan Fires…

Muchas gracias Idoia for once again showing us a very special day – to have a inside glimpse of real, local Pais Vasco.

For your listening pleasure…the bells of Hondarribia

A Day Hike with Mate Edu…And Lunch!

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Church From Hell

We received a welcomed invitation from our mate Edu to come for a visit & see his village of Bergara, do a decent hill hike in Oñati‘s Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Park and then…lunch! So we packed up Gertie early one Saturday morning, turned on Google Maps & away we went…

The first sight we saw upon arrival at the park was this church – the Sanctuary of Arantzazu…coincidentally the architect (famous, apparently in Spain) was there that very day presenting his new book & giving a talk. It was a scary building – a perfect paradigm of what is called ‘brutalism’ architecture. It was about as inviting as a concentration camp – the inside main chapel looked liked it came from a scene in the Hunger Games.

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Da Crypt Was Creepy…

Below the church was a crypt that was decorated with dark & menacing murals. Mate Edu said they had been painted by a man who had lived in our hometown of Hondarribia for years. Hondarribia strikes us as a bright, cheerful, sunny place – not sure where all the darkness & doom came from…religion maybe?

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Da Hike…Oñati: Top Left – Sheep Traffic Jam; Wee Pony; Up Hill Slog; Mountain Plateau Pathway Conference

Edu had warned us that start of the walk (in reality, all of it) was a bit ‘tough’ and we guess that by that he meant it was a serious up hill slog for almost 2 hours (Hound #1 Billie loved all of it). Then we reached the top plateau & it was stunning – we lucked out in arriving about 45 minutes before the misty cloud descended and made any views farther than a couple of yards impossible. We were quite amused and impressed that we only heard people speaking Basque – no Español, no English and mos def no French. So we were truly in ‘Basque Land’…

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The Mountain Plateau…

We all were in need of a bit of rejuvenating sustenance other than water, and lo & behold there is a pub on the top of the mountain. We quickly ordered up some cervazas & chorizo pintxos & Edu’s favourite – caldo (warm broth) – and had a wee rest table side.

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Top O’Da Hill…a Pub! Yay!: Top Left: Siesta Sign – Matts To Borrow; Pub; Pub Dining Room; Coat Rack Basque Symbol Lauburu

The amble down the hill was moderately more pleasant than the sweaty climb up, and we were highly motivated by a luncheon booking that Edu had made which had come highly recommended by his sister. We appeared at the door of Goiko Venta right on the stroke of 3 (Spanish & lunch – go figure).

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Top Left: Goiko Venta, Gertie the Land Rover & Crew; Happy Campers on the Terrace

Goiko Venta was a step or two up from our typical menu del día establishments – we thought very high class, and possibly very high prices. But a glance at the menu revealed a €26 luncheon delight – choice made!

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Top Left: On The House Amuse-bouche – Smoked Salmon; Two Mates; Goiko Venta

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Top: Warm Duck Salad; Vino del Día; Eggplant Thing

The boys went the meat route for starters – a warm duck salad with bitter greens. It did the trick for us two and Hound #2 went her usual veggie path & delighted in the baked eggplant.

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Top: Lomo de Cerdo (Pork Loin); Steak (Entrecot); Squid in it own Ink

Everyone went their separate ways with the mains…Edu hopped on a Basque traditional dish of squid in its own ink (hard to photo correctly as it’s ALL BLACK); Hound #2 veered hard right (for her) and actually chose a savoury grilled steak; and I finished out the meat menu with a perfectly grilled pork loin with mustard sauce & puréed mash.

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Desserts – Yum!: Cheesecakey Thing with Sorbet; Warm Pear Tart with Scream

We all agreed on one thing – the desserts were all winners. A win-win all round – us, the desserts, Goiko Venta, the hike…

Muchas gracias to our amigo Edu for organising and hosting a wonderful Saturday in el campo…

Road Trip – The End…La Costa Norte de España

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Dark Clouds Ahead…

NB: I apologise in advance for the length of this post, but I simply wanted to wrap it up & move on to writing about other more recent events & happenings before they fade from memory. And in general, I write this post as our ‘electronic diary’ so we do not forget all the good times & people we’ve met…you don’t have to read it, just look at the photos!

We headed south from Viveiro towards the Galician big smoke of A Coruña (in Galician, or La Coruña in Spanish). A Coruña was as far west as we planned to go before turning around for home…one thing that always surprises me a little is how big many of Spain’s other cities (other than Madrid, Barcelona or Sevilla) truly are. And A Coruña was no exception…

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A Coruña, Galicia…

We managed to find our accommodation, Hostal Socaire, with no problemas and the staff were sweet as with help vis a vis parking for Gertie (the port has paddocks of free parking – just a 5-10 minute walk) and a bit of neighbourhood and city orientation. Our first night ended up a wee bit quiet & local as our day had knackered us out. We had a few nibbles at a local bar & the hostal staff gladly gave us another chair from the bar for our balcony, so we sat out with a bottle of vino…

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A Coruña – Roman Lighthouse…Weather Vane…Roman Lighthouse Up Close…Giant Compass

The next morning was a bit of a mixed bag – generally grey & cloudy but patches of blue poking through. We toddled off towards one of the city’s beaches for Hound #2 to take here customary dip in the sea, and then ambled along the seaside promenade towards the ancient Roman Tower of Hercules lighthouse. The weather gods were leaning in our favour as we circled the impressive faro antiguo with patches of blue sky beginning to make more sporadic appearances.

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A Coruña Scenes…Plaza de María Pita…

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Amazing Lamp post Tiles…

All along the seaside promenade they had these amazing, massive street lamp posts – they appeared to be of iron (not the best choice cerca the sea) – that had 4 ceramic tiles per post, with each set of tiles being totally different!

We were gradually working our way to the Old Town section for a bit of an explore and, of course, lunch….We strolled through some crooked laneways, poking our heads in here, then there, strolled the Plaza María Pita and then the weather gods crapped out and incredibly huge droplets started to descend. But our timing was perfecto as we were in a gorgeous tree filled plaza whose periphery was lined with bars – yippee! So 2 cervezas of draught Estrella were promptly brought table side (we chose to sit outside under the awning so Hound #1 Billie could hang) & we serenely watched the rain tumble down.

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Marvellous Momo’s…

Once the rain had lightened up, we headed off to locate a couple of ‘researched’ places to attempt lunch. We popped into one of our first choices, Jamonería La Leonesa, and all seemed more than kosher with a couple of vino tintos in hand & plates of stunning iberco jamón being whisked past our sniffing noses (unfortunately, Hound #1 was tied up outside). But a Galician chap next to us kicked off a conversation (initially in Spanish but flip-flopped to English too) which lead to some expert dining advice. He said we needed to go to Momo’s, just up the street – better food, better value he said. He told us to tell them he’d sent us, but not to use his real name, Fernando, but his nickname Manero which was how he’s known round Coruña proper.

We followed his instructions to a ‘T’ – the Momo staff had a good chuckle and appeared to pass the word round the entire place that Manero was at it again. We struck menu del día platinum @ Momo’s with an €8.70 sticker price folks…cheap as chups as they say in New Zealand.

Post our mid day repast, we wiggled & waggled our way back to our hotel for a mini-siesta and scouted out several of the touted pintxo streets for that evening’s activities…

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El Rey Del Jamón – We Concur!: Top Left – Cecina (Dried Beef); Queen of Jamón; Muchos Jamónes; El Rey del Jamón

We had a short & sweet list of places for our pintxo stroll, but we had spotted a number of other inviting establishments…our ‘tactical plan’ was to walk to the end of several of the connected, sequential pintxo alleys & work our way back, one pintxo & bebida at a time. Our first docking place for the night was El Rey del Jamón, the name (the king of jamón) says it all folks. We placed an order for a plate of cecina (air dried beef – Spanish version of bresaola) & two pours of some Spanish red – estupendo! The night was officially kicked off…

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Vintoteca Estupendo!

The next door we sidled through was Vinoteca Argudelo – a top of the line joint where we had our 2 best copas de tintos of the night. My glass held some delicious Mencia grape juice with the label ‘Tilenus’ from Bodega Estefanía  (I had sampled this in Oviedo – yum) whilst Hound #2 grabbed a glass of the meaty, mouth filling Carramimbre from Bodegas Pingón – a wine to look out for. And a nice feature of A Coruña pintxo bars is the pintxos are free with your drink – yippee!

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La Bombilla; A Taberna – A Coruña, Spain

Our next pit stop was La Bombilla, and only because we loved the sign, shallow & superficial we know, but it works sometimes. The vino was good & we got a couple of free plates of calamari. Then we decided to alter our tactical plan & wander to the back streets for a bit of an explore as we’d read that: (a) the drinks are way cheaper and (b) some places served wine in Chinese tea cups. What’s not to like??? So we found A Taberna – about as rustic & basic & simple a taberna as you will ever find (just check out the web site). So we ordered up a couple of Chinese tea cups of white vino from a barrel, poured from a pitcher for the whopping cost of €0.60 each. Yes, you read that right folks – €0.60 each. The hombre next to us gladly & proudly announced that he has 30-40 a day…and you could tell.

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Manteleria, A Coruña, Spain – Raquel @ Manteleria

We tapped a couple more spots in our wander home, but finished out the night at Manteleria where we met & had a great and interesting chat with Raquel (you will find her blog here), an architect but currently running this fine establishment. We chose the right spot to close out the night with a couple of choice glasses, fresh from a new bottle, of Finca Cuarta from Prior de Pantón, one of the best, refined & meaty renditions of the Mencia grape I had on the trip – and worth a search. Buenas noches…

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A Coruña, Spain: Breakfast Deal To Make Ya Squeal!

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Tapia Casariego, Asturias, Spain

We bid a sweet goodbye to A Coruña (Gertie was safe & sound – phew!), and plotted a path to return to a renowned surf beach in the pueblo of Tapia de Casariego (say that 5 times fast) for Hound #2 to have a go. But the tide & waves were not co-operating, so after a good college try, we headed off in search of lunch….

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Tapia de Casariego, Spain: El Muelle, Ensalada Mixta, Pulpo a la Plancha, Port View

We made a bee line for the port for both the views, and possibly better seafood & settled into an outdoor table at El Muelle (means jetty, wharf or pier in Spanish). All worked to plan & we once again enjoyed some pulpo a la plancha and a refreshing ensalada mixta…and 2 cervezas.

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Cudillero

Our resting place for the night was a camp in the much-written-about fishing village of Cudillero. We parked Gertie up at the very top of the very steep town street (yes, just one street) & wandered down…and down and down. We would agree that Cudillero is pretty and met many of the accolades that have been written about it, but it has also gone a wee bit past the tipping point on the tourism scale. Chocka with restaurants & bars, almost hocking their menus and a smattering of very twee shops to catch the tourist’s eye.

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Cudillero, Spain: Top Left – Pulpo a la Plancha; Hound #2 & Pulpo; Clams; El Faro; Scallops

So we opted to deploy our ‘back streets’ strategy and came across the almost empty El Faro restaurant. And since we were no starv’n marvins, and we were again in a fishing port, the obvious choice was a couple of raciones (small plates) del mar. First order of business – vino…so with 2 glasses of Albariño a mano, we put the order in for some clams (almejas) & scallops (zamburinas in Galician, or vieiras in Spanish). What was delivered to our table was, both presentation & taste-wise, a true masterpiece of culinary art & flavours. So good in fact, we decided we needed to have a go @ the octopus (pulpo)…and another glass of wine (awesome Verdejo that paired perfectly with all the seafood taste treats).

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Playa del Silencio, Cudillero, Spain

The next day brought us another patchwork of a day with somber clouds dispersing to reveal a burning sun. We checked our Top 10 Beach list & Playa del Silencio was on it & we were within spitting distance, so off we went…

To say we were impressed would be a massive understatement – wow! So beautiful, and so empty…

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Playa del Silencio, Cudillero, Spain: Empty Beach, Billie & The Stick Game; Chill Bill

Another fishing village on our ‘to do’ list was Lastres, and once again, lunch time was fast approaching. Simply said, we liked Lastres a lot – not past its prime tourist-wise, chocka with old or ancient buildings that were very well kept & maintained (Cudillero was a shambles compared to Lastres) and just enough restaurants & bars to keep the locals happy & well fed & full of vino.

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Lastres

We used Dad’s Rule again (many locals filled the tables & bar), and plopped ourselves at an outside seat at Bar El Meson for the menu del día.

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Menu del Día de Lastres @ El Meson

For starters Hound #2 picked the mussels (mejillones), and I was almost beside myself as they were serving the fabada asturiana! A dish that’d been on my comida list the whole trip but I’d failed to try…Now this was my kind of food folks – big bean stew with hunks of ham hock, blood sausage & chorizo floating about in a most savoury broth. I loved it so much I forgot to take a picture of the mussels….and Hound #2 had to take a taste test with a 1/2 dozen spoonfuls of my fabada. For our mains we both got what we wanted – a wonderfully grilled, fresh sea bass (lubina)  for Hound #2 and a perfectly seared sirloin steak (entrecot) para mi.

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Our Last Night’s Camp Site…

The timing of the finale to our trip was a bit open ended, and mainly weather dependent. So with a day or two of decent weather holding a place in the forecast, we headed for another campground surrounded by some of our must see beaches.

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Top: Playa de Rodiles – Too Many People; Campground Beach; Last Camp…

We awoke to a sparkling morning and decided to seize the day as the weather forecast had radically changed – par for the course here on the Northern coast of Spain. Hound #2 had her required dips in the campground beaches whilst the Beach Ground Crew (me & Billie) had a wander. Then we plotted a course for a well written about seaside town – Llanes.

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Llanes

Llanes is one of the bigger seaside towns we hit on this trip – not at all in the league of Santander or A Coruña but significantly larger than Cudillero or Lastres or Luarca. It has a modest Casco Viejo (Old Town) where we stocked up on Asturian specialities like cider, cheeses & picante chorizo. Then it was one last beach before we pointed Gertie to the East, and home.

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Playa Ballota, Llanes, Spain

A stunner of a beach to end the trip – Playa Ballota, just a skip & a jump out of Llanes and, once again, too many people!!!

So folks, we think we can unanimously say, that if you are thinking at all about a visit to Spain, the Northern Coast is ESTUPENDO! A jewel in the Spanish crown with majestic beaches, drop dead scenery (Picos de Europa are a must see), savoury food, gulpable drink and warm & welcoming people.  So go…go now before they pave over paradise       ;-)….

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Vinos de Viaje…

Laia – Delicious Déjà Vu

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Laia – Excelente…

We had been to Laia once before (read about it here) and for the most part enjoyed a delicious menu del día lunch on the terrace. The single negative aspect was our waitress, who was the size of a decent rugby player and about as communicative & pleasant. But we were able to ignore that and savour the meal.

But our Aussie Melbourne mates David & Carolyn had dropped by for a sweet visit and for their final Hondarribian meal we put Laia at the top of our list. It is a real menu del día (€22 per person for 3 courses, wine, water, bread & coffee) with excellent food and stunning views of the Basque Countryside – away we went.

And we were in luck – our brunhilda of a waitress was nowhere in sight and instead we were warmly greeted & seated by about as effervescent a Basque person I have ever come across. She was particularly tickled by the fact that David & Carolyn were Aussies as her son was living & studying in Sydney.

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For Starters…Smoked Bacalao & Leeks & Egg Salad – Yum! Tomato Gazpacho…

For starters, the crowd went 50-50 with 2 of us opting for the potato, leek & smoked bacalao (cod) salad, and the other 2 decisively picking the salomoreja (tomato gazpacho). We all exchanged tastes and defended our choices as the better of the two, but no one really lost out. Although I’d still make the case my ensalada nudged out the gazpacho!

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Simple Main – Basque Burger! Swished Down with a Super Rich Verdejo

When it came to the mains, we had a difficult but ultimately simple choice. The pesca del día (fish of the day) was once again the Basque favourite – bacalao (cod) – which we’d all had a fill of in the past couple of days. The next option was ‘callos y morros a la manera tradicional’ – tripe and pig snouts in a traditional manner. Safe to say no one picked that…so we all went with the grilled hamburger and excellent it was too. All washed down with a weighty white Verdejo from Finca Montepedreso, that was a deep golden hew more akin to a Chardonnay than what I know of Verdejos. We will be on the look out for that white winner for summer quaffing…

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The Desserts – White Chocolate Brownie with Sorbet; Melon Mojito with Cheese Ice Cream

The dessert choices covered 3 of the 4 on offer…Alex & Carolyn chose the white chocolate ‘brownie’ with strawberry sorbet, David made a bee line for the rice pudding (sorry, no pic as not too photographic) and I chose the melón mojito with fresh cheese ice cream. All were yum…

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Happy Campers!

So if you find yourself in Hondarribia, and it is close to lunch time (Spanish time that is), and you want a menu del día several notches above the median for a fair price and beautiful views – go to Laia Erretegia!

Road Trip III…La Costa Norte de España

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Gertie Does It Hard…

As we rumbled out of Oviedo in Gertie, the weather seemed to be of a 50-50 mindset, it could not decide if it was going to rain or show some glorious sun. We’d scouted a few more interesting beaches just in case, so we headed for the pueblo of Busto…

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Goin’ Gusto for Busto…

When we parked up at the Busto lighthouse, the sun peaked out from behind some fat, puffy clouds but it was just short of blowing a gale. We walked to the coast line for a look & though the beach was none too inviting (and a ways down the cliffs), we came across an interesting coastal walk. So with the swimming or surfing options curtailed for the day, walk we did and what a stunning coast line!

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Busto Luncho…Menu del Día – Garbanzo Beans with Bacalao (Cod) & Peppers

After being sort of blown to bits in Gusto, we finished our costal walk just in time to look for some lunch. We’ve employed one of Hound #2’s Dad’s Rules – look for a place packed with people & you just may have a winner. We passed by one establishment that had all the trappings of a decent eatery, but the parking lot was seriously empty…drive on we said.

As we rounded a bend in sight of the stunning coast, we saw Restaurante La Panera Cueva – the parking lot was chocka with cars…stop! Dad’s Rule won again – sun was beaming, front deck was inviting & the food perfecto!

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Menu del Día Yum: Top Left – Slow cooked Veal Cheek & Jus; La Panera De Cueva Restaurante; Desserts; Bacalao with Tomato Salsa

On our coastal trip we had decided to camp some of the nights & the wee fishing village of Luarca was our first camping port o’call at the spectacular Camping Los Cantiles. This time of year (mid to late May or early June) in Spain it is easy peasy to camp as you can just rock up with no reservations. This campsite is (very) efficiently run by a German couple that have been here 45 years! It was beautifully landscaped and sat right on the edge of the coastal cliffs (with beach access) – excellent for catching the sunsets.

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Luarca, Asturias, Spain: Top Left – Sunset from our Campground; Camino de Santiago Pilgrim Sign; Our Camp Site (Cliff With The Trees); Beer O’Clock

Luarca is built right smack dab into the hillsides, so each town excursion (we were here for 2 nights) constituted a serious cardio workout. We ambled round the sweet harbourside and grabbed a couple of cold cervezas & greatly enjoyed watching the Sunday stroll as the locals paraded on by.

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Wee Fishing Village of Luarca, Asturias, Spain

The next day Hound #2 got the itch for her usual sea excursion so we all headed out to the main beach where, despite a mixed cloud & sun day, she had a cold dip or two. Then it was lunchtime, so we headed back to the port to try a place Hound #2 had ID’d. A big menu del día dud is all we can say…we’ve developed a new rule: if a restaurant has a menu del día that is only scribbled on the back of an order pad (i.e., no actual, serious sign age or menu board out front on display), it is most likely NOT their forte or what they really want to serve or sell you is the a la carte options. They have to do menu del día to compete with all the folks that do a menu del día right, and but it is a slight bait-and-switch game as they really hope you are there to order the more expensive menu items.

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Playa de Las Catedrales, Galicia

Departing Luarca on a slightly grizzly day, we headed for a beach that came highly recommended by my Spanish teacher Gloria – Playa de Los Catedrales. We arrived early (thankfully, before the tour buses descended in mass) to a slightly spitting day, but that did not dent one iota the amazing sights. Incredible caves and archways carved out of the stone by the ocean’s crashing waves. Reminded us a lot of the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road (now 6 I think as they have crashed into the ocean) in Australia.

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Estupendo Vino Store in Viviero, Galicia

Next in the queue was a lunchtime pit stop in the coastal town of Viveiro, Galicia. We’d read some good things about Viveiro, but it appears that big time seaside development is again starting to inch its way along the coast and spoil paradise.

On our way to the old town section we spotted in the window of Casa Chao a bottle on display of Bodegas Artuke’s Pies Negros – one of our all time faves! This we needed to investigate…Casa Chao is a wine store right up my alley & I grabbed some excellent representatives of some local juices.

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Accidental Lunch Orgasm: Top Left – Pimientos de Padrón, Pulpo Extraordinaire, La Quinta

Old Town was abuzz with folks despite the drizzly conditions & we checked out 2 of the places on our researched list – not up to snuff we thought. Then we stumbled on Asador La Quinta – jackpot! We started with our standard warm up dish – Pimientos de Padrón & 2 cold cervazas. Galicia is well known as the hot spot for octopus, so no other real choice needed to be made…this was simply the BEST octopus we’ve had in Spain (so far) – grilled to perfection (still tender but crispy, flavoured skin bits) sitting atop perfecto potatoes, sliced & roasted .

Ah…on to A Coruña!