Greendale Farm Shop – Lots of Wow…

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In our never ending farm shop tiki tour, we dropped into the Greendale Farm Shop – this is a seriously good farm shop that is well worth a visit if you be in the area. As we have written before, farm shops run the spectrum from heavily food focused to equal bits kitsch & food and the Greendale Farm Shop is squarely in the good food & plenty of it camp.

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Condiments Alley

The Greendale Farm Shop ticks off most if not all of the necessary or expected farm shop core basics (bread, eggs, cheese, deli goods, condiments, etc…) but it is the fish and meat departments that clearly set this farm shop a rung or three up the farm shop ladder.

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Cheese! Of Course…

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Happy Chooks

The fish department was one of the best we have seen in all of our epicurean foraging adventures. It would be well respected & busy with custom even if it was in London – super selection and fresh as with a plethora of piscine pleasures covering lemon sole & haddock to lobster & crab and even sweet looking white anchovies. Greendale Farm, over the years, has built up its own wee fishing fleet based in Exmouth, which is just 6 miles from the shop. Talk about fresh off the boat! The only negative thing to say is it is a bit of a drive from home…

GDMontageAnd the meat department has real butchers with real beef – back to the seriously good old days with actual carcasses hanging to dry age. All the meat (beef, pork & lamb) is raised on the Greendale Farm, grass fed, as it has been done for generations – no misplaced horse to be found here.

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Hang’n & Hard At Work

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So if you find yourself drifting along the A3052 just out of Exeter, drop into the Greendale Farm Shop & stock up!

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The Pyrénées and Back to France…

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Sad Water…Rio Eska.

We departed La Rioja and headed for the town of Roncal at the base of the Pyrénées for our last Spanish noche before starting our return trek across France, hopefully avoiding the nasty péage (toll) roads. The drive was stunning as we wound our way through deep canyons of dangerous looking cliff faces to one side, and the fast flowing, gorgeously blue water of the Rio Eska on the other. Intermittent glimpses of the river got the fly fishing juices flowing so several pit stops ensued to have a up close & personal inspection as there mos def had to be fish in that water.

But as it has happened countless times before, looks can be exceptionally & sadly deceptive. Chatting with our Spanish hotel owner revealed that, yes, the Rio Eska used to be chocka with fish but a factory was built upstream many years ago and now all the fish are gone. The way of the world these days…folks who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

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The Climb…

We set off early the next morning up the N137 through the beautiful Roncal Valley. Our Spanish is pretty good but one critically absent word that was repeatedly flashing on a road side sign was ‘Cadenas’ – chains, as in snow chains. Our wee Nissan Micra (aka Mickie) ponderously crawled up the steep switchback road as the snow to either side grew deeper…and deeper. Lucked out a bit to fall in behind a snowplow but we still kept climbing & the drifts grew ever deeper, the fog thicker and the wind wailed. At the summit & the border, the snowplow pulled over to turn around and we were left with the agonising decision: continue & descend on steep, twisting & possibly icy roads or turn back & take a 5-6 hour detour. A 4×4 Spanish policía pulled up behind us so a chat ensued (the words ‘loco’ and ‘estúpido’ may have been uttered by the policía) and they kindly offered to check out the French side (apparently the French do not salt or grit their roads). And luck be with us – the French side actually was way better weather – shining sun, no snow falling, no ice, moderate winds – yippppeeeee! Into France we go…

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Impending Sense of Doom

We booked ourselves into the ever so sweet B&B Chateau Lamarque (Sainte-Croix-du-Mont) just outside of Bordeaux. The Chateau sits atop a the crest of a hill with views up & down the valley & of the Chateau’s own vineyards (picked up a bottle of red).

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Chateau Lamarque, St. Croix du Mont, France

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Chateau Lamarque Vielle Vignes

One of our usual to do’s when bumping around a country is to track down any local markets. We again lucked out in that the Machecoul Market just happened to be on the one Wednesday we were camped out @ the fabulous La Mozardière in Legé, France. So with immense expectations we toddled off the short distance to Machecoul and we were not in the least bit disappointed – wow, ces Français font de bons marchés!!!

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La Mozardière – Legé, France

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Awesome & bountiful fish selection

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Fresh As Moules….

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Bountiful & Beautiful Veggies

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Our Main French Cheese Man – A Little Chèvre pour moi?

Logroño, España

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Soriano – The Mushroom Pintxos Bar – Logroño

As mentioned in the previous post, Logroño is no slouch when it comes to pintxos. It, like San Sebastian, has a pintxos barrio where they seem to mass, making it a 2 or 3 lane way stroll to pretty much cover the lot (but that is a lot of pintxos places). One major difference in Logroño is that rather than offer a smorgasbord of all flavours, shapes & sizes, the pintxos bars here specialise in one particular ingredient, sometimes prepared in just a select variety of ways.

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Tío Agus – Lamb Kebab Pintxos Bar – Logroño

We worked our way through several written about & recommended places which had us savouring juicy, succulent grilled mushrooms (Soriano) then onto spicy lamb kebabs (Tio Agus) and ending up with a plate of crispy calamari (Bambi).

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Bambi – The Calamari Pintxos Bar – Logroño

We were also able to drop in & pay a quick visit to the central city market & could see where most of the top notch pintxos ingredients most likely originate from…

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Fish @ the Market – Logroño

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Spain’s National Fish Fresh Anchovies – Logroño

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Your Average Logroño Market Charcuterie Stand

Tierra de Vino: La Rioja


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After stuffing ourselves pintxos silly on the Costa Vasca, it was time to veer south to one of Spain’s most famous wine regions – La Rioja. La Rioja is divided into Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja, with the Alta region snatching much of the vino fame and mos def the scenery kudos.

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La Rioja Alta Valley

We based ourselves in Laguardia, a medieval fort town with still standing defensive walls and a magical old section with a decent sampling of pintxos bars, wine stores and restaurants. It makes a great home base as it sits amidst & has easy access to many well known wineries and vineyards; is a short drive to the vino capital of La Rioja (Haro) where many bodegas are to be found and it’s only a hop, skip & a jump to the Big Smoke of Logroño (actual capital of La Rioja), which possesses a mean pintxos reputation in its own rite. 

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Las Vids Viejas – The Old Vines

As with many serious wine regions of the world, in just about any direction you choose to gander you will see vines, in every nook & cranny of marginal potential. The soil reminded us of the Southern Rhone region of France, particularly Chateauneuf du Pape, with a decently rocky mixture which helps to retain heat over night and provides better drainage. Quite impressive too were the many guardaviñas (vineyard shelters) that dot the landscape providing workers with a bit of respite from inclement weather.

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Guardaviñas – Vineyard Shelters

The Spanish bodega & vineyard scene is a bit odd – unlike most other wine regions of the world where you can rock up to the cellar door, taste & buy, in Spain it is usually necessary to book a visit in advance. And that always entails a 1 to 2 hour winery tour & tasting and sometimes a required lunch. We were ‘educated’ at the Bai Gorri Bodega (amazing place & delicious vino – worth a visit)  by their head of marketing (he was German) post an unannounced appearance that that is the way Spain has done it for decades, and trying to change things is the proverbial Sysiphus challenge. They have invested mucho dinero in the infrastructure to support the tour & lunch crowds and are scared they will lose out if they open a cellar door to any old punter that comes along.

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So we booked ourselves in for a single bodega tour & tasting at Ramón Bilbao simply on the basis that (a) we had sampled a couple of his Riojas in San Sebastian pintxos bars & liked them and (b) several exceptional wine stores in San Sebastian showcased the wines & spoke highly of them. Well, if we have seen how wine is made once, we’ve seen it a couple hundred times – yawn. Post the snooze tour, we sampled the Crianza 2010, the Reserva 2008 and the Grand Reserva 2004 & it was the Reserva that snatched our euros.

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Old Bottles in the Cellar of Bodegas Ramón Bilbao

One effect of this odd Spanish bodega visiting process is that it makes the wine store’s role even more valuable and attractive in terms of learning, tasting and buying wines. Laguardia was blessed with a variety of vinoteca options from the pared down, simple- choices-basement-tasting-room to two at the top level in the main plaza that carried an impressively extensive range of wines and vintages.

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La Vinoteca – Laguardia, La Rioja

But the wine store that snatched our breath away was Vinoteca Rodríguez Alonso in Haro. This was a wine merchant in the old-style mold (in a great way) with an awesome selection of wines (some going back to the 1950’s), at surprisingly affordable prices and stocked to the rafters with all the savoury & enticing condiments Spain has to offer…including full leg hams hanging from the ceiling. We could easily of stayed there for an hour or more as at every turn & eye site twist a new box or bottle was spotted & required an inspection. And this was the only wine merchant, I repeat, the only wine merchant who, when I mentioned Bodegas Artuke of Pies Negros (our fave Rioja on the trip), immediately knew who we spoke of & showed us his K4 limited release (@ 50 euros a bottle, not in the budget).

So if you ever make it to La Rioja and have the desire to experience el cielo de vinoteca (the heaven of wine stores), then you must visit Vinoteca Rodríguez Alonso

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Vinoteca Rodríguez Alonso – Haro, La Rioja

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Estunpendo! Tienda de Vino – Super Wine Store

 

Getaria…Costa Vasca

Getaria is a wee fishing village that is an easy coastal drive of about 25km to the west of San Sebastián. It, too, has a Parte Vieja (Old Section) though measurably smaller in size and buzz factor than San Sebastián which actually was a bit of a relief. It is a real fishing village with a small fleet of medium to small sized boats that chug off into the Atlantic waters, weather permitting, and return laden with piscine delicacies.

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Getaria from the top of El Ratón

Though we were not pintxo’d out by a long shot, we decided to indulge in a dinnertime splurge with a serious sit down meal at Restaurant Iribar. Several of the old town restaurants, including Iribar, featured outdoor charcoal grills which, like the smell of a bakery, just plainly suck you in. We opted for an all fish sequence of dishes, starting off with an amazing plate of grilled squid (Chipirónes a la Plancha), followed by the grilled octopus (pic below) & capped off with Hake (La merluza). Our pintxos-sized stomachs were a bit strained but happy with this estupendo! meal.

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Grilled Octopus – Polpo a la Placha

Getaria is also the home of a regional vino called Txcholina, or more affectionately called Txakoli (pronounced chak-ol-lee). It is a very dry white wine, low in alcohol and perfecto with pintxos & seafood. The traditional serving modus operandi, to add a bit of drama, is to pour it from a decent height, pretty much arm’s length, which seems to add a nip of fizz. The vines cover many of the steep hillsides surrounding Getaria, visible in all directions from the peak of El Ratón
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Costa Vasca – Getaria from El Ratón
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