Opilla…¿Qué es?


Undecipherable Posters…

These mysterious posters started to make an appearance around Hondarribia in the last week or so. Once again, mostly in Basque, so of little help to the Hounds to try & figure out if some big, fun festival or event was close to happening. We could determine that a fancy cake called an ‘Opilla‘ (at €27 must be super fancy) was involved, that came decorated with real & chocolate eggs. Easter linkage of some kind? Another religious connection? Simple secular party? Pagan ritual?

We started to ask questions…we first queried our mates at cafe Amona Margarita who are usually good for pertinent advice or insight. Nada…no real meaning at all they said – simply a special cake made just in the local Hondarribia/Irun/San Sebastián region and folks pick one up (or two) & take the family & friends out to el campo (the countryside), loaded down with beverages of the alcoholic kind & party hearty.


Marvellous Mirren Does Her Magic with the Mystery Cake…at Amona Margarita.

Apparently many of the local schools are none too pleased about the Opilla day as it causes a minor/major disruption in the school day & week…there seems to be an effort to squash the whole kit & kebob. Party poopers. Happy Opilla Day to you folks!


Opal Cake Production Line & the Real Goods on Display & for Sale.

Pamplona…What A Nice Surprise.


No Bull To Be Found Here…Obligatory Bull & Hemingway Photo

I am going to start this blog off by getting the obvious out of the way first & acknowledging that yes, Pamplona is the place where the running of the bulls takes place & Ernest Hemingway hung out & features in “The Sun Also Rises”; and yes, the place is riddled with ‘running of the bulls’ & Hemingway themes…but you will find none of that discussed or described here. And that is because Pamplona is so much more than that, so the ‘much more’ is what will be explored in this post.


Top Right: Plaza Castillo – The Big Square; Navarra Museo & Church; And the Town Hall

We truly lucked out on this short trip: (a) we found a hotel (Hotel Maisonnave) that allowed dogs with no special instructions or additional fees & was right in the heart of the Old Town; (b) upon arrival we were upgraded to a suite! Complete with living room, king sized bed & 2 flat screen TVs; and (c) we accidentally managed to arrive smack dab in the middle of Semana del Pintxo week!


Pintxos! Pintxos! Pintxos!

And with lunch time in progress, we hit the pintxo trail for some tasty treats. During Semana del Pintxo all the bars labour to create special pintxo creations to show off their kitchen’s culinary prowess. Yay! And though Pamplona prices where a tad above our locals in Hondarribia, there were no complaints to be heard as it was still as cheap as chips.


From Top Left: Bar Otano; Bar Otano’s Special Pintxo; Poster for Semana del Pincho Week; Our Winning Pintxo Pick

Pictured above were two of our favourites (though pretty much all were worthy of our gullets): my 2 thumbs up pintxo came from Bar Otano & was a sort of modernised rice cracker cone stuffed with duck confit & a crème fraîche salsa & micro greens, with side bits of fried apple & tiny fruit ‘balls’ (bottom right corner of photo) that gave it a sweet/sour umph! Hound #2’s fave pintxo (and the unanimous overall winner) was sourced at San Nicolás Cocina Vasca: a seafood stack of grilled calamari, cuttlefish & octopus a top a sautéed mushroom & crispy wafer – lucky we do not live in Pamplona as that would be a regular order….several times a week.




From Top Left: It’s Fresh Sardine Season; My Special Duck Pintxo (final step – blow torch) @ BaseBerri; Cool Bar Next Door; Juenvintxo – Pintxo Thursday….



Bistrot Catedral & Vermut Estupendo!


Pamplona Scenes…

Besides the marvels of Semana del Pintxo week, we’d read about a master bakery (Pastas Caseras Beatriz) that produced a Pamplona specialty called ‘los garroticos‘…a mini chocolate power packed morsel that has to be tasted (right out of the oven) to be believed. So we went & bought & ate some…and came back and bought some more….



Cafe Iruña, Plaza Castillo, Pamplona – An Old Time Classic Beauty with Surly Service

When we told some of our friends we were going to Pamplona but only spending a day & a night, they all said ‘that is enough’. So we were not expecting a lot, but we were more than pleasantly surprised. Besides all the fine pintxo excellence we were duly impressed with Pamplona’s parks & gardens. It is considered one of the greenest of Spain’s cities and we would have to concur.


Parks of Pamplona…Gardens Too!

We three had a decent wander through various greenery spaces (Hound #1’s favourite part of the trip besides pintxos), all nicely framed by the city’s old stone fortress walls and everything reaching for the height of their Spring powers. It even included a rather large animal (deer) and bird (peacocks, turkeys, ducks, game fowl) sanctuary where all types of Spring ‘activities’ were happening.


More Parks!


Billie, On Guard!

We always look for markets in any town we visit & on our last day we wandered the parks & then the Old Town fortress walls & pondered if Pamplona had some type of mercado? Voilà! We managed to toddle past it on our way back to our hotel.


Mercado Santo Domingo, Pamplona

Mercado Santa Domingo is not a huge market by many Spain market standards, but it lacks nothing in terms of selection, quality and price. We just had a short visit but managed to round up 3 seriously big chunks of cheese from Queseria Yolanda for a mere 6 euros…we think it would have been twice that back home in Hondarribia!


Mercado Santa Domingo, Pamplona

Well it did have to happen, eventually…a bad meal in Spain. We decided to skip a sweet menú del día deal in Pamplona & be a bit more adventurous and try one of the roadside joints we spotted on our way into Pamplona. First to be sighted was Benta Miguel with an advertised menú del día for €12 and a decent number of vehicles in the car park – hope springs eternal…


Menú del Día on the way home….

We were seated & given menus but we were a bit confused as to what the actual menú del día was, as first & second courses and desserts were listed, but they appeared to be a la carte with appropriately higher prices. We queried our waitress & she promptly dropped on our table a small piece of paper that was the menú del día. We figured they were hoping folks (almost everyone there was foreign, mostly French) would order of the a la carte menu thinking it was the ‘special’ & get tagged with a decent bill.


Starter & Vino Tinto…

Not too much need to waste words on the food – just look at the photos. My lamb dish I think was, maybe, lamb knuckles with barely enough meat to satisfy Billie the Dog. And Hound #2’s trout – well look at it – must have been dead a wee while…and tasted like (her words) the ‘riverbed’. Yum…Maybe it is a good place if you fork out the €’s & go a la carte but make a wide path round the menú del día.


Mains & Desserts…

On our short drive home to Hondarribia we opted for a pitstop at Parque Natural del Señorío de Bertiz, a place of natural beauty highly recommended by my Spanish teacher Gloria. And she was spot on – we did not have enough time to try one of the many trail walks but spent a leisurely hour walking the Batzan River trail & spotting fish from the ancient stone bridge. We will be back – and Billie’s allowed!


Parque de Bertiz…Excelente!

So if you are in Spain, thinking about coming to Spain or live here – think about a trip to Pamplona (not when the bulls are running)…we mos def plan to return.

Olite, Navarra and Surrounds…


Puente la Reina, Navarra…One of the pueblos on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela…11th Century Stone Bridge!

The Hounds had read about the sweet wee town of Olite as it makes just about every guide book’s ‘must do’ list. We thought we might have been there on our trip 3 years ago, but we felt it was worth a couple of night’s stay as it would allow us to do the dinosaur hike just outside of Enciso…and we’d be smack dab in the middle of the Navarra wine region!

It is a relatively short drive in Gertie the Land Rover, so we decided to explore a bit on our way to Olite. We made a pit stop in Puente la Reina as the 11th century stone bridge was said to be worth a look.


Excellent Butcher & Charcuterie in Puente la Reina…Took Home One of the Chorizo….From Carniceria de Juan Sanz

We parked up in Puente la Reina near on noon, just long enough to have a wander & then track down some lunch. The town seemed almost vacant with very few folks wandering about, and many of the local stores & bars & restaurants were pretty much closed. But we did come across the open Carniceria de Juan Sanz (pics above) & ventured in to catch a whiff of the awesome chorizos hanging from the rack. Quickly negotiated the purchase of a chorizo picante and we were back on the street. And then we found the bridge, and what a marvel – folks in this day & age might learn a thing or two about how to build a bridge to last over 900 years!


Taberna La Fonda de Tito’s Menú del Día – From Upper Right: Pochas (Beans – yum), Grilled Horse Mackerel, Grilled Rabbit…and Vino!

With the smell of the chorizo still in our nostrils, our hunger strings had been stroked so it was time for lunch – more specifically, a menú del día. We were having next to no luck as many places (even though it was a Thursday) were either closed, or closing or had no food on offer. So we felt very lucky to find La Fonda de Tito open and they were more than happy to serve us up a menú del día – yeah! It hit the spot and all for the princely sum of €10!


Olite’s Palacio Real….

On to Olite! Olite is renowned for a few things: (a) seriously cute old town section; (b) it is the capital of the Navarra wine region & has its vino museo; and (c) its fairy tale castle. And it is all those things & more on an early inspection tour late on Wednesday arvo when we toddled into town. We had a room for 2 nights at HOTEL LA JOYOSA GUARDA, a tad upscale for the Hounds but a splurge is called for on occasion. We struggle with places to stay due to one wee problema: Billie the Dog. Hotel La Joyosa did not say ‘no’ to Billie, but they did not exactly say ‘yes’ either. A few email exchanges & we were told he was allowed if we carried him across or through any of the public spaces in the hotel (made for some funny entrances & exits) & he had to be kept in & sleep in the wee balcony cubby hole.


Empty Olite…Except for the Pigeons….

We quickly scrubbed up and got out for an exploration…what struck us first was how empty the whole town seemed (especially compared to Hondarribia)  – very few folks out & about and many of the businesses, bars & restaurants shuttered up. Por qué? We actually went into the tourist office (it was open – phew!) to query what was shaking? The nice lady told us it was a bit quiet as they had just finished Semana Santa (Easter Weekend) and many businesses took a small break. It was damn near beer o’clock and thirst levels on the rise, so she pointed us to the Parador, being a hotel it is usually open. Score – dos cervazas in a spot that captured the late afternoon sun!


A View from the Top….

The evening meal in Olite was a challenge – we were not inclined to do any ‘fine dining’ and many of the touted pintxo bars remained firmly closed, even at 7:30 or 8PM. We ended up, sort of by default, at our only option – Hotel Merindad de Olite – which flung its doors open at exactly 8PM for 2 hours of service. It is an enjoyable spot despite a bit of grumpy service (which eventually warmed up). We wolfed down 2 pintxos each & placed an order for a rancion of artichokes – excelente! They also have an fantastic wine by the glass menu and an in-house bodega where you can buy bottles of wine. Which we did…


Gertie the Land Rover in amongst the Navarra / Rioja Vines…and trusty co-pilot.

Up and alert quite early the next day, we ventured out in search of some coffee and pastries for breakfast…success though Hound #1 had to stayed tied up outside. Then we piled back into Gertie the Land Rover & pointed her due South with the day’s goal to reach the town of Enciso to do a 6KM dinosaur walk. Yes, folks…you heard me right, a dinosaur walk – something Hound #2 had on her ‘Spain To Do’ list from our visit 3 years before (we did not do the walk then).


Dinosaur Fossil Walk – Enciso, Navarra

And it was pretty cool – to be up close & personal with footprints of beasts that walked this planet 130-150 million years ago. And they provided quite a few ‘life like’ replicas just in case your imagination suffered a massive failure….awesome.


From Top Pic: Billie, Dinosaurs are over here mate….Boot & Foot Print Comparison….Family Photo….

After 6+KM of walking, up a reasonably steep mesa…time for lunch! Hound #2 had identified our best candidate – Casa Cañas in the small pueblo of Arnedillo, just a short hop down the road.


Casa Cañas – Arnedillo, La Rioja…Anyone for a 1950 Rioja?

Hound #2’s research was spot on – local as local gets with an €11 menú del día & packed with town folk. The place has been up & running & serving comidas since 1907 – wow! That is what I’d call ‘success’ in the food biz!


Casa Caña’s Menú del Día…Starters of Peas & Bacon, Lentils with Chorizo…and of course, vino!

Hound #2 took to the pea plate as her starter, I opted for a steaming bowl of lentils with chunks of chorizo floating through it – both super yum (we switched bowls half way)! The vino tinto was a pleasurable drop….like the name.


Casa Caña’s Mains…Grilled Sea Bass, Braised Beef Cheek and Flan & Pudding for Dessert

For mains, we again split the difference with Hound #2 hankering for seafood, so the grilled sea bass was ordered. A braised meat option? Decision made – braised beef cheeks with peppers & patatas fritas. And of course, dessert…


Río Cidacos – Sweet water…Looks Trouty.


On Way Back to Olite – Quick Stop in Wee Pueblo of Funes….Graffiti reads: “Smile, the world is at your feet.”


Billie’s Annual Right of Spring – A Gallop Through a Field of Wild Flowers

Our last day in Olite, Hound #2 wanted to get a close squizzy of the Palacio Real de Olite castle while the Museo de la Viña was my preferred destination – surprise!


We both loved our respective choices – Hound #2 made the effort to climb many of the castle towers which gave her come excellent views (see pics above). And I found the Museo de la Viña an extremely well laid out, visual & tactile & sensory pleasure. As many of you folks may know, Spain takes its wine quite seriously and it has played a large part in Spanish life ever since the Romans walked & settled in the Iberian Peninsula.


Museo de la Viña – Olite, Navarra…Like How You Finish the Tour – glass of vino!

Back in Gertie we set our course for the hilltop pueblo of Ujué. A TINY place of 239 folks with streets better designed for sheep or small carts to navigate, but not really a 1975 Land Rover.


Gertie Makes the Climb to Hilltop Town of Ujué


Ujué – Sweet Church of Santa María


Mesón Las Torres…Ujué, Navarra

We wanted to drop in on Ujué to: (a) see the church of Santa María; and (b) track down & sample a local dish called Migas de Pastor. Migas de Pastor has its origins in Spanish & Portuguese cuisine and the ingredients vary across provinces, but essentially it is: day old bread crumbs soaked in water, garlic, olive oil, paprika & sometimes bits of bacon or chorizo (ours had mushrooms too). It originally was a breakfast dish, but has migrated to a starter for lunch and dinner.


Mesón Las Torres – Migas de Pastor & Pochas…and Cerveza!

We were lucky to find Mesón las Torres open for business, and with a stunning Spring day, we opted for a picnic table outside in the sun (so Billie could join us). It was a version of Spanish ‘comfort food’ I’d say – very satisfying, filling and garlicky! A taste sensation that lasted the whole way home….

One the way down the hill from Ujué, Hound #2 spotted the Co-operative Bodega St. Martín so of course a vino visit was in order. We sampled 3 or 4 of their wines right in the fermentation warehouse where we were able to get up close to the clay amphora pots they use for some of their better wines. Came home with 2 Garnachas for the cellar….


Bodega St. Martín…San Martin de Unx, Navarra


Headed Home…From Bottom Right: Billie OK, Then Getting Tired & And Out For The Count!

Mutriku’s Mackerel (Verdel) Fest!


Fishing Port & Town of Mutriku…on a Perfect Spring Day.

When we first arrived in Hondarribia in June 2015, we dutifully scanned a mass of tourist brochures & magazines to identify anything that might be of interest to the Food Hounds. One that stood out was a mackerel festival in the port town of Mutriku in April – so it was duly recorded on our adventure calendar.

As we approached April, we did a bit more research as the tourist brochure stopped at telling us the festival was: (a) in Mutriku, and (b) it was in April. A bit of Googling did indeed confirm the date to be Saturday April 2nd, but other than that (all the info’s in Basque) we knew no more than we did before (time, events, etc…).

Wanting to make the most of the day, we 3 Hounds headed off in the trusty Land Rover (Gertie) shortly after 8AM for Mutriku – a beautiful coastal drive that winds its way through the seaside towns  of Orio, Zarautz, Getaria & Deba. We started to get a bit worried as we entered Mutriku as we fully expected a bit of a traffic bun fight (we’d just driven through one in Deba due to a bike race) and a parking from Hell experience…but nada. Easy peasy. What’s up? Did we get this TOTALLY wrong?


Mackerel Fest Evidence & A Few Of The Locals…

We had a good wander round the port and could see evidence that something was going to happen – but when? No posters were up anywhere, no crowds, no nothing. We decided to stay calm & have a couple of coffees in a picturesque town square which just happened to be by the tourist information office.

A quick consultation with a very helpful & friendly person @ the oficina de tourismo confirmed it was all happening – beginning at roughly noon (after all, it is Spain) the bars & tabernas would start offering FREE mackerel pintxos! There would also be music at one of the squares and some wee accordion marching bands. And it would all culminate with a mackerel BBQ at the port. When we headed back outside to the square, the scene had quickly changed to folks streaming in from every direction with the square filling up & the tabernas ready to go…


Mackerel Pintxos – Free!!! From Top Right: Mackerel Slivers in Oil with a sprinkling of Vincotto; Mackerel, Mayo & Balsamic; Smoked Mackerel & More Mayo & Mackerel

Now Hound #2 is an almost rabid mackerel aficionado – if fresh mackerel is on ANY menu we come across, the mackerel is a done deal order. For me, not so much – I tend to find mackerel a wee bit too much of a fishy fish but hey, I am here at a mackerel fest, in a port town widely known for its very fresh fish – so taste I must. Wow – what a pleasant surprise…Hound #2 was a bit stunned that I actually ate far more mackerel than she did (she scolded me a couple of times for taking more than my ‘fair share’). I think the real key is the level of freshness, which makes all the difference – and fresh this mos def was.


Fest Is Kicking Off In The Square….


We All Join In….Even Billie!

Thanks Mutriku – we had a blast. We rated it a 9 out of 10 day out & we highly recommend the Mackerel Fest if you be in Spain, in April or there abouts.


Insert Mackerel Pintxo Into Mouth, Sip Cerveza, Repeat…Billie Wonders When It’s His Turn.

And not to leave any options unexplored on such a gorgeous day, we made pit stop in Deba so Hound #2 could have a boogie board session, and then on to the Basque Geoparque Flysch Coast walk. Estupendo! Never knew rocks could look so cool…


Basque Flysch Coast

Restaurant Sebastian


Restaurant Sebastian – Old Town, Hondarribia

We’d been quite intrigued by Restaurant Sebastian ever since we’d moved to Hondarribia in June 2015. It’s on the Calle Mayor, one of the sweetest streets in the Casco Antiguo and we pass by it just about every day. It has atmosphere in spades and could easily be the next place Woody Allen shoots a scene or two in his next movie. We wandered past over Easter Weekend and they were in full lunch swing so we decided to take the plunge & make a dinner reservation for the coming Friday. Here we go….


Super Atmospheric…



A Woody Allen Movie Set I’d Say…

Restaurant Sebastian does not do a menú del día nor an evening degustation, just a la carte so that was how we rolled. It is not an over the top expensive place but a notch or two up from our usual taberna meals with a short, sweet & quite reasonable wine list.


Delish Vino…and A Cheapy!

We did not try to pick the cheapest wine on the menu, but this bottle from Bodega Borsao Bole caught our eye as it is a blend of Grenache & Syrah, two of our fave grapes. It was estupendo!


House Smoked Salmon – A Great Start….

We started with a gratis house hummus & chips – perfect palate pleaser. Then it was on to a shared plate of the house smoked salmon – might of been the best bit of the meal! Wow! This was beautifully presented and a taste sensation to match.


Hound #2’s Main – Pork….

On to the mains where Hound #2, uncharacteristically, decided to go for (a) meat, and (b) pork – she is most often a fish hound but not tonight. It was very tasty but a wee bit salty for her taste buds (we swapped halfway through)…


My Main – Slowly Braised Beef…

I have a very hard time resisting any slow braised cut of meat, as we do not seem to get around to doing a lot of braising at home. So my decision was pre-made & it was an excellent decision I’d have to say…no knife needed here folks, just the tines of your fork will do the trick.


To End – Warm Chocolate Pudding…

For dessert, we did our usual thing – Hound #2 the sweet stuff, and I finish the vino! She chose well, a warm melt-in-your-mouth chocolate pudding to end a most pleasurable meal.

So if you find yourself in Hondarribia, in the Old Town, think about a special dinner or lunch at the picture perfect Restaurant Sebastian…and keep your eyes peeled for Woody Allen!