Christmas Day in the Jaizkibel Mountains

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Christmas Day Hike in the Jaizkibel Mountains

The dawn of Christmas Day brought us yet another example of our endless summer with sun shining down from radiant blue skies and temps at t-shirt levels. With the weather forecast proving itself reasonably accurate (very dubious chances here on the Atlantic Coast in Basque Country), we set about implementing our day’s plan – a hike in the Jaizkibel Mountains topped off with a picnic.

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Hound #2, upon our arrival in Hondarribia in June, promptly purchased a set of walking trail maps…in Spanish. And we have been slowly exploring some of the walks, getting some things initially wrong, but eventually sorting through some of the various vagaries and idiosyncrasies so that we felt 100% confident our our Christmas Day plan. We picked one of the longer walks (10+km) but it looked easy peezy as it followed the horizontal ridge contour lines,  thus minimising the dreaded multiple steep ups & downs.

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Perfect Picnic, Perfect Day

Our delectable picnic nibbles were mostly procured from the Santo Tomas Festival (the Day of the Pig) where we nabbed some extremely tender & flavourful cecina de buey, some sharp & pungent blue cheese and 2 massive jars of cornichons, pickled onions & olives, bread…and of course a beverage – some brut cava washed it all down wonderfully.

Long may the endless summer last….

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Nochebuena and Olentzero

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Pre-Christmas Eve Festivities – Olentzero Gets His Letters

It is quite fun to be in another country & culture for the festive holidays…you get to witness a slightly different take on your accustomed proceedings. And so it was with the Christmas / New Year’s in Spain…The Spanish are on a wee bit of a different schedule with alternative ‘players’. December 23rd is the day that all the wee ones get to drop off their holiday wish list with Olentzero – the Basque version of Father Christmas or Santa Claus. He in no way resembles Santa Claus with a swarthy dark beard, beret (boina in Spanish) worn slightly a kilter, pipe in mouth and decked out in traditional Basque clothing. And apparently, in some interpretations (and there are many),  he’s’ not nearly as nice as old Santa – the Basque tradition is to light a fire in the fireplace so that the heat & flames & smoke keep Olentzero from actually visiting your home.

But the ‘newer’ version has him more like the traditional jovial nice guy so the kids show up to present their wish lists & return on the 24th to see how they did. As it is the 24th of December in Basque country that the presents are exchanged. For the rest of Spain, it is the Three Kings Day on January 6th.

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Singing, Dancing & Funny Costumes

On the day & night of both the 23rd & 24th of December, there is LOTS of singing & dancing & eating & drinking and some pretty interesting costumes are paraded around the streets & squares. We live on Gizpukoa Plaza in the Casco Antiguo area of Hondarribia which is one of the epicentres for festive activities. Our square hosted a wee house where Olentzero could be found sitting inside, so the square was packed with little ones & parents and numerous singing groups, from full fledged choirs to a 6 man choral group. As you strolled around Hondarribia, you would come across random melodic cascades & folks dancing…quite magical really.

A Visit to an Orchard…To Become A Vineyard.

We got a jingle from our good mate Iñaki (a wine & cider maker) who invited us to take a wee trip with him to Azpeitia where he had been asked for his vino advice. His mate Eddy had recently purchased a sizeable apple orchard with the idea of turning it into a vineyard. Eddy is what you might call a ‘vino loco’ – to say he is passionate about wine would be a vast understatement. Iñaki forewarned us that much of the orchard-to-vineyard conversations would be in Basque and he thought it would take not much more than a couple of hours – no pasa nada…

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Old & Retired Apple Press, Views from a Vineyard….and one confused rose…

It was once again a stunning day in the Basque Country with sweet blue skies, sun shinning down & mucho mild temperatures. We checked out the old cider press, walked the orchard while the discussions in Basque took place…and about the time it looked like it was a wrap, we were invited to Eddy’s house. Wow! It is always a pleasant surprise when the unexpected turns into a phenomenal time.

We retreated to a family room under Eddy’s house kitted out with a kitchen, bar, a set of long tables with chairs and, of course, Eddy’s wonderful wine cellar. Promptly laid out on the table were several plates of sliced homemade chorizo that uncle-in-law Arume retrieved from the family’s stash, fresh crispy bread and ventresca de atún (tuna belly) floating in savoury olive oil…and of course, some wines from Eddy’s cellar. Oh Boy.

Our snack & wines were accompanied by lively conversations in Spanish, where we were priviledged to hear Imanol Lazkano (sorry but the link’s in Basque), Eddy’s father-in-law, recount his fascinating early days as a improvisational singer (cantante improvisador) in a competitive style called Bertsolari. In bertsolari, a theme or topic is picked and the singer or singers (often found in pairs) improvise verses and melodies. Imanol told us he had travelled the world doing this – all over Spain of course but also to Cuba, South America and even the United States. Our mate Iñaki was a wee bit stunned to find out he was standing next to such a famous person – like me finding out I was standing next to Frank Sinatra and not knowing it!

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THE Wine Cellar Group Shot – Bottom Pic L to R: Iñaki, Imanol Lazkano, Me & Eddy

And oh the wines…Eddy, like many wine aficionados, love to share their bounty. His cellar was quite extensive in its vino coverage but he leans a tad toward the French drops. An so it was that our first bottle, generously poured, was an Arbois Pupillin from Maison Pierre Overnoy. My experience with Jura region wines is limited but this was a stunner…a mutual wine mate of mine & Iñaki’s Dave Brookes does a much better job of putting flesh to the details of this type of wine and its producer.

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The Wines – Super Yum!

Next up in the glass was a grape I’d never heard of – Xarel Lo…made by a producer I’d never heard of – Terroir Al Límit. It’s one of the primary grapes (the other two being Macabeu – nice drop on its own too – and Parellada) that go in to making cava and these guys are apparently part of the ‘new outsiders of Spain’ movement breathing new life into old vineyards & grapes. Apparently rare as hen’s teeth – muchas gracias Eddy.

And to top off our vino experience we sampled another outta here bottle, the 2011 Fontanasanta Nosiola by Foradori. A wine from the Dolomite Mountain region of Italy & a superb first try of the native grape Nosiola para mi. Rich & unctuous on the palate but still crisp & clean & very fresh.

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Chorizo, Chorizo, Chorizo by Arume & Familia

After our vino & chorizo & atún repast, Amure offered to show us his chorizo curing room where they had just hung the years makings to dry. Up to the attic we climbed to find a vast room filled to the rafters, literally, with rack after rack of various types of chorizo, colour coded for flavour and family member ownership.

And piling pleasure upon pleasure, we were generously gifted a bottle of wine from Eddy’s cellar, a FULL bag of freshly harvested walnuts, some of Arume & familia’s chorizo and a vessel of homemade quince paste!

A day to remember…for 2016 Iñaki, more of these mate!

Santo Tomas Fiesta…Or Day of the Pig

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Santo Tomas – All Basque To Us….But Day of the Pig.

As I have written before, it is quite amusing living in the Basque country of Spain as many if not most things are in Basque. So it takes a wee bit of detective work to sort out if there is something going on that we might just be interested in…take for example this poster that appeared on our newsagent’s door. Our newsagent is a funny man & when asked what was going on, he shrugged his shoulders & simply replied ‘It is the day of the pig’…nuff said, we’re going.

We’d sorted out it was kicking off on December 21st with ‘things’ happening at 9AM, 1PM, 4:30 & 6:30PM – but what, who knew? So as 1PM rolled round, we departed our flat to see what we could see.

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Estupendo Day – Crowds Are Out!

Whoa! Our High Street Calle San Pedro was packed to the rafters with stalls selling all forms of charcuterie, cheeses, pastries & cakes & breads, fruit & veg and a food court area offering up fresh steamed pulpo & the sausage of the day – txistorrra. We managed to squeeze through the crowds to arrive at the txistorra & cider counter & ordered up plate & a glass…made for an excellent mini-lunch. And we were most surprised & excited to find out that all the San Pedro bars plated up free txistorras with every drink order – perfecto! But our finest version of the day came at our local bar where mate Idoia cooks them in cider – best of the bunch.

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Snails, Pulpo & Veggies….

And blessed with yet another gorgeous no-end-to-summer day, the punters were out in force making last minute holiday purchases for the fast approaching Feliz Navidad. And since our plan for the Big Day was a hike & picnic in the Jaizkibel mountains (blog post coming up), supplies needed to be procured! We picked up some stunning blue cheese (from Asturia but not seen that often in these parts) and some delicious (and quite expensive) cecina de buey (oxen). Cecina is the Spanish version of bresaola, an air-dried & salted beef but this came from an oxen. Superb! Melt in your mouth tender & packed with flavour.

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Star of the Day – Txistorra sausage & Cider…

Love this bit about Spain – seems every other day of the week some type of festival be going on with food & drink at the heart of it…my kind of place.