Back in the U.K. for Summer…Sort of.

Last Hoorah in Hondarribia…

We said adiós with heavy hearts to our home of 2 years Hondarribia…and of course all our great mates. We had a week or so of farewell get togethers that ranged from an evening pintxo stroll down Calle San Pedro to a menú del día with our sweetheart Itziar to a grand lunch @ with Gloria & Bernard @ Andoni’s (and Carmen) Txoko (cooking society). Hondarribia & Spain will be an experience that will be very hard to beat…

Back in the U.K. – Effing Cold!

We boarded the Bilbao-to-Portsmouth ferry on time post a nerve-wracking traffic jam that Hound #2 skilfully avoided by using  her Google map skills to route us through a wee fishing village – phew! Onto England…and as we disembarked in the Land Rover, England greeted us with its typical weather – pissing rain, windy as and effing cold…more like winter than effing August!

Frome’a A Pop’n! New Places Round Every Corner! – Sam’s Kitchen & the Rye Bakery Where Billie Found A Bean Bag…Loves Bean Bags!

We spent our first 4 nights camping in our old village of Frome, Somerset as Hound #1 Billie had an important vet appointment (1 of 4) to gear up for his return to New Zealand. We greatly enjoyed our return to Frome despite the wintry weather conditions as it has truly begun to blossom with new establishments popping up around just about every corner. One of our favourite morning coffee spots was the Rye Bakery which inhabits, quite stylishly, the vast insides of an old church. An amazing space that has seen some serious investment….

We also checked out Sam’s Kitchen Deli which has a truly stunning fit out & space…but we were not so impressed with the coffee in terms of quality and price, but could easily see enjoying a glass of wine or two in the 2nd floor bar & just walking the world go by, up St. Catherine’s Hill.

Fox & Badger @ Wellow – Awesome Lunch! Top Left: Bacon & Pea Risotto with Seared Duck Breast; The bar; Grilled Fresh Mackerel with Potatoes & Horseradish Cream Atop Chard

As we wrapped up our brief stay in Frome & prepared to head for Totnes for a month in an AirBnB cottage, we decided to indulge ourselves for having camped in wintry, wet conditions with a lunch @ our fave pub – the Fox & Badger in Wellow. We have never been disappointed in a meal here and this time was no exception. Exceptional quality at a more than fair price! If you’ve never been, GO!

Home Sweet Home for a Month – Totnes, Devon

We settled into our sweet AirBnB cottage late in the arvo with a cracking evening forecast ahead weather-wise. If you ever need a perfect place to stay in Totnes that is centrally located & comfortable as then check out this place. We ended up in good-vibe Totnes because my old Land Rover needed some TLC by my Devon mechanic Kevin prior to shipping to New Zealand. And Devon in August is or can be a serious challenge accomodation & price wise. But this ticked all the boxes!

Top Left: Best BLT & Avocado Sammie @ Rousdon Bakery; Venison Burger @ The Green Dragon Pub; Landcombe Cove – Stunning!

We have had sporadic stretches of an English summer & when we do, we leverage our time & our Secret Beaches book to the max. This is an excellent informational source for secluded, unpopulated beaches – a necessary bundle of information when you live in jammed to the gills England.

Top Left: Pigs Nose Pub – A Real English Pub; Macely Beach/Cove; Coastal Fields on Walk to Macely Beach

We got lucky with another forecasted, semi-summer’s day so made a plan to walk the track along the River Dart (below) to the village of Ashprington. An excellent walk was had by all and is a favourite activity of Hound #1, Billie. Hard to beat the Devon (or Dorset) countryside with rolling hills, mucho greenery & woods and a sweet river…and the pubs! Ashprington is home to the Dunstan Arms and we had a stunner of a lunch (and a pint or two).

Top: Dart River; Billie Waits for the Pizza; Lunch @ Durant Arms in Ashprington…Rabbit Rillettes & Toast Points & Cornichons.

Top: Billie Plays Hard With Toy Gift from Mate Gorka in Hondarribia; English Summer – Needs a Fire!; Another Gift from Gorka – Txakoli Vino!

We felt that after a few weeks in the village of Totnes that a day out in the Big Smoke of Exeter was in the cards. We had a few shopping missions to accomplish that could not be satisfied in Totnes, so on the train we hopped, Exeter bound.

A Day Out in Exeter…

We were able to tick a quite a few boxes in Exeter – I succeeded in replacing my about-to-disintegrate Levi jeans & Hound #2 raided all the Op Shops (Charity Shops for non-UK folks) nabbing some books & DVDs. We also managed a quick squizzy of Magdalen Road, foodie central for Exeter.

Thurleston Beach, Devon…

We were gifted with another stunner of a summer’s day…only problem it was a Bank Holiday Monday. Hound #2’s whole family has a genetic aversion to doing anything on a Bank Holiday, especially going to the beach. But we sort of devised plan which was to leave super early, get a swim & beach time in and do a coastal walk to the village of Bantham to the Sloop Inn pub for at least a pint & maybe lunch…crowds dependent.

The beach was awesome…until the hordes horded in. General theory is that any beach you can drive to & has a cafe or beach bar will have a tsunami of folks by lunchtime. And it always strikes us as funny or strange that if you are only willing to walk 10-15 minutes farther along you will almost always find a near empty, secluded beach.

The Sloop Inn was also awesome – we knew nothing about this pub but we dodged another Bank Holiday bullet by arriving a bit early when no one was there (yet) & placed our food & drink orders & grabbed a table in the empty garden courtyard.

The meals were stupendous and exceptionally well priced…wish it was our local!

The Sloop Inn, Bantham, Devon: Smoked Mackerel Salad & Local Mussels in Cream/Butter Sauce – Superb All!

Well, as we count down the days to our New Zealand return, frantically ticking off dozens of boxes of things to do with Billie the Jack Russell, my 1975 Series III Land Rover (Gertie – going to New Zealand!) & us and all our stuff, we have this (below) to return to…a massive slip – the backyard is now ever so much closer to the back door. Happy, happy, joy, joy in our wee casa in Lyttelton :-(.

Welcome Home…

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Fly Fishing Los Ríos Norte de León…

Río Curueño, León

I have always had the rivers of Castilla y León on my ‘to fish’ list but last season was literally a washout. My mate Asier & I tried to go several times but his good León fishing friend waved us away as pretty much all the rivers were in flood and pretty much stayed that way for the season. So I was very happy to see the León rivers come right this year and be in mint condition if not a wee bit low. So I packed up Gertie, my Series III Land Rover, and made a bee line for the hills north of León…

Río Curueño…

My primary source of information or guidance for this escapade was an article in Eat-Sleep-Fish, a free web-zine put out by my friend & super UK guide Pete Tyjas of the Devon School of Fly Fishing, that recounted a fly fishing adventure on León’s rivers. The Río Curueño was awarded high marks in the article for its abundant amount of trout and this was backed up by an article in Danica, Spain’s one (as far as I know) fly fishing magazine.

It is VERY difficult in Spain to find any useful information about where, when & how to fish. And you need information because Spain is an extremely complicated country to fish in with numerous licensing requirements, special permits to access to private or managed water (called cotos), vastly varied seasons and regulations, etc… Despite hundreds of Internet searches I was able to track down ONLY 2 books (and a few web sites) on where to fly fish in Spain, but one, Dónde y Cómo Pescar En León by Eduardo García Carmona, is outstanding – only drawback is you need to be able to read & understand Spanish.

As a 3rd backup information source I have struggled to use some of the books written by Englishman Philip Pembroke – his heart is in the right place but to be perfectly candid, they pretty much suck. They are poorly written & edited (or not), the maps are almost undecipherable and much of the information is just plain wrong or mis-leading. On the positive side they do not cost much and they are in English.

Centre of the World for Coq de León…

I based myself at the lovely Casa Candana in the pueblo of La Candana de Curueño which happens to be the centre of the world for the famous Coq de León feathers (there is actually a feather museum up the road in La Vecilla de Curueño). Casa Candana is perfectly situated to access the Ríos Curueño (it flows past the Casa Candana & is free to fish pretty much from La Vecilla all the way down the valley), Torio, Porma, Esla, Bernesga & many more with a short to modest drive. And the owners of Casa Candana are sweet as and serve up an awesome start-to-the-day breakfast.

Bar La Pluma (Only Bar in Town) & Free Pintxos…

To say that La Candana de Curueño is a small village is quite the understatement – it has 2 streets (one is simply called ‘the street behind the church’) and one taberna called, naturally, La Pluma (The Feather) which also appears to double as the local store because there isn’t a store in La Candana…or any of the other pueblos up & down the valley.

Rush Hour in La Candana de Curueño…

All Star Fly Fisherman’s Breakfast @ Casa Candana….

In my first full day on the Río Curueño, I combined some fly fishing with a wee bit of reconnaissance to suss out where the free (libre) fishing spots were and what the stretches or beats (tramos in Spanish) looked like in terms of fishability. I came across a lot of superb water which confirms León’s reputation as  one of the best places to fish in Spain and I believe it has the largest amount of free fishing water of any of the autonomous communities (there are 17).

Río Curueño, León

I fished 5 or 6 different beats my first day that were quite varied in character – below the gorge (Hoces de Valdeteja) you will find numerous sweet, well defined pools (top picture above) with some faster & rockier runs in between. Here the river is about 20-30 metres across with the deepest depth being about thigh high. Hooked a pile of trout with 2 or 3 hitting the 1-1.5 pound mark & beautifully coloured…Above the gorge it becomes a tad bit more bouldery and turns more toward pocket water fishing. The Río Curueño has 2 cotos – Coto de Vildapiélago and Coto de Tolibia.

Río Curueño @ the Source – High Mountain Fishing…

The next day I decided to head to the source of the Río Curueño for a fish and then work my way back down river. As you would expect, the river narrows significantly here to no more than 5 or so metres across (or way less in some cases) and the banks are, for the most part, completely covered in bushes or small trees. Some precision casting is called for or you’ll lose all your flies – after 2-3 hours I caught 6 small fry and was a bit surprised concerning the lack of trout as usually these less fished waters are chocka with very stupid trout. And these types of waters are mostly ignored by fishing folks as: (a) the fish are not big or big enough to take home for a feed; (b) the casting is a bit tricky & frustrating and (c) moving & navigating up river with all the bush is a serious hassle.

So I toddled down river to a free stretch that runs between the pueblos of Tolibia de Abajo and Lugueros. Had a delightful couple of hours here with 2 trout to hand that tipped the scale at just over a pound (or half a kilo) & they were feisty as! Now it was time for some lunch…

Superb Menú del Día @ Los Argüellos: Top Left – Vino del Día; Local Hooch; Salad of Scrambled Eggs, Shrimp & Young Garlic; Veal Cheeks – Super Yum!

I was a bit of a starv’n Marvin at this point as the last real meal I had eaten had been Sunday night (it was now Wednesday) as La Pluma bar only serves pintxos when you order a drink & Casa Candana was closed to go shopping in León. I first stopped in a popular, local taberna but when I inquired about some food I was told ‘later’ – it was now 2PM – so I asked how much later & was told 3PM! So I drove on to the next taberna or what I thought was a basic taberna (Los Argüellos) only to walk into a super swanky place – in my full on fly fishing kit of boots, neoprene socks, gravel guards, polypropylene tights & shorts and an Akubra fedora. They wanted to put me in the dining room but I managed to talk them into letting me eat in the courtyard…and what a meal! They offered an outstanding menú del día (3 courses, wine & coffee) for the pittance of €12 – score!

Post my superb lunch, I tackled several of the stretches of the Río Curueño that run through the gorge. Gorge fishing is not my favourite cuppa tea though I know (especially in New Zealand) it can be superb if you have the right conditions. It can be frustrating putting in at one point only to fish 4 or 5 pools and then find when you round the corner you cannot go any further due to deep water and there is no way to get around it as you are bookmarked by sheer rock walls. So you retreat…and repeat.

The next day I decided to test some new water – the Río Torio – which was an easy 25-30 minute drive west & then south. I parked up riverside in a pueblo called Pedrún de Torio & I knew there would be a weir here (I hate weirs), but Googe maps showed a road that paralleled the river for quite someway. Well, there is no road but I managed to walk across the weir to a footpath on the other side & make my way a decent distance up river to find – another effing weir! Pushed on to some good water & noticed the trout were taking dries – so put on a #20 Royal Wulf (all purpose bug) & made a perfect cast to drift it under some overhanging bushes and just when I lifted my rod to avoid snagging the fly – bam! A serious tug on the other end! Best fish of the trip (pic below) weighing in @ 2+ pounds (1+ kilo) – a seriously fat boy!

Roman Bridge over the Río Torio (and big trout); Río Torio; Best Trout of the Trip from Río Torio – Weighed in at 1+ Kilo or 2+ Pounds…

I left the Río Torio @ Pedrún and headed north to another free section near the pueblo Serrilla. But first – lunch! Another menú del día deal to make ya squeal @ Las Portillas @ a price shattering €9! Had a quick chat to 2 local council workers & they gave me instructions on how to get to a Roman bridge which marked the start of the free section. I was able to park up just short of the Roman bridge & slowly crept across, scanning up & down river for trout when I spotted the biggest trout I have seen in Spain. He/she easily weighed in at 5-6 pounds (sort of normal for New Zealand) but was located directly under the Roman bridge, cruising a beat in shin deep, super calm water. Impossible to fish to…

Top Left: Gertie The Land Rover; Ensalada Ruso (Mayo & Shrimp); Lomo de Cerdo (Pork Loin)

Brought to hand a decent number of trout on this free stretch, but then the wind & weather changed & I could hear the deep rumble of thunder a ways away…and some flashes! Done & dusted for this trip…

Fly Fishing: Los Pirineos de Aragón – Estupendo!

The Fun Starts for Texas Cari…Out on a Pintxo Stroll in Hondarribia!

Many months ago I received an email from my good UK mate Pete, a great fly fishing guide @ Devon School for Fly Fishing, asking me for the OK to forward my contact details on to a woman in Texas named Cari who was interested in the possibilities of fly fishing in Spain. I have been living in Spain for 2 years and I am well acquainted with the mysterious vagaries & deep black holes you can encounter in sorting out a Spanish piscatory adventure, so I was more than happy to be of any help…

But as weeks and then months went by, with round after round of email exchanges with advice to do this or not do to that, it appeared to me the simple solution was for Cari to come to me & we would fish together. Problem solved…

Cari flew into Hondarribia on a Tuesday arvo in June & after settling in, we headed out for the 50 cent tour of Hondarribia & of course, a pintxo stroll. Our next day was spent in the Big Smoke of San Sebastián and then it was time to get serious – pack up Gertie the Land Rover & get fishing!

Río Ara, Torla-Ordesa, Aragón

We were headed to Aragón where we had at our disposal the Ríos Ara, Cinca, Cinqueta, Aragón & Veral. But first, we had a mission – to reach the Environment Office in the pueblo of Boltaña before closing time (2PM but Gertie is a tad slow) to try & procure several permits to fish some of the managed or private water called Cotos. And as usual with Spanish fishing, it was a bit of a palava : extended conversations in Spanish per what cotos were available, several phone calls were made, lots of paperwork & document checking, then a brisk run to the local bank before closing time (2PM) to pay our fees & a mad dash back to the Environment Office to pop through the door at 1:57PM…Phew!!! Mission accomplished.

Cari’s First Spanish Trout on the Río Ara Alto…

After a bit of lunch, we had a substantial amount of fishable day left so we headed for a free fishing stretch on the Río Ara above the pueblo of Torla-Ordesa. We kitted up & climbed down the steep path to find ourselves abreast of a typical, high mountain river with big boulders, fast water and pools of pocket water. Cari confessed she felt a bit daunted to fish this water as it was a totally new style to her, but a few minutes of instruction & demonstration & she was away & brought her first Spanish trout (of many) to hand!

5 Minutes of Fame…Just Starting Río Cinca & Spanish Fishing Film Crew Shows Up!

Our first full day of fishing began on the Coto de Bielsa on the Río Cinca…we arrived at the start of the beat, parked up and started to assemble our gear when a Spanish film crew appeared out of nowhere & asked if we’d mind being interviewed for a Spanish fishing program…why not? A very amusing exchange transpired where I was given ample opportunity to trash Spanish fly fishing (in a humorous way) with regards to its bureaucracy & limitless paperwork (I have 7 fishing licenses). Hoping to catch the program…

Río Cinca, Coto Social Captura y Suelta, Biesla, Aragón

Ready to go, we started to work our way up some marvellous looking water – crystal clear, good current flows & depth and hopefully lots of trout! Well, we were not disappointed – each of us connected with a decent drop of trout and some running to a 8-10″ range…but lots of fun wee ones. After a couple of hours we bumped into some other anglers upstream (the coto allows 6 anglers a day) so we retreated to devise an alternate plan…

Top: Río Ara Below Tributary Río Cinqueta; Río Cinqueta, Saravillo, Aragón

We opted to drive back down river to where the Río Cinqueta joins the Cinca & scrambled down to have a go at several of its stretches but it was not very productive water and a bit of a difficult wade…so on to a lower stretch of the Río Ara. We had some decent hookups here…but it was getting late so we headed back to our home base of Sarvisé & a cold ‘jarra‘ (or 2) of Alambra beer to finish the day @ Chill Out Los Caballos, the only bar in town…

Asador Ordesa – Pulpo Enslada & Ventresca Tuna / Pimientos & Onion Ensalada

Top: Duck Confit; Suckling Lamb Ribs & Taters; Cari…

Since lunch that day had only consisted of a few muesli bars, some nut mix & a packet of cecina, we decided to hit the local Asador Ordesa for a proper meal. A tad extravagant for 2 fly fishing folks, but we felt we had earned it…we were the first & only people in the dining room for the better part of an hour (it being after 9pm) but tucked into 2 monstrous starters – Ensaladas de Pulpo (Octopus) & Ventresca de Atún…estupendo!

And both of us craved a decent dose of protein, Cari had the Duck Confit with potatoes cooked in the duck fat – the only way – and I went for the Costillas de cordero de Broto a la brasa (Lamb ribs on the grill) – mos def hit the spot. Home to bed…

Gertie The Land Rover Did Her Job, Now It Is Cari’s Turn To Catch Some Trout!

Up bright & early the next day (Saturday), we toddled off to our second chance to fish some more private water (Río Ara) on the Coto de Torla-Bujaruelo. A modestly nerve wracking drive up a single lane, shingle road that in the off season is often closed to traffic or requires a serious 4×4 & careful negotiation. But we made it and parked & geared up for a day of fishing – stupendous weather too…

Río Ara, Coto Social Captura y Suelta, Torla-Bujaruelo, Aragón

Stunningly beautiful – Cari blurted out it was the prettiest place she’d ever been in her life…I concurred. Gin clear waters, impressive mountain peaks & lush woods…but we’re here for trout! Well we were not to be disappointed on any count – every pool was good for 4-5 or more trout…granted, wee ones but awesome fun still the same.

Río Ara, Coto de Torla-Bujaruelo, Aragón

Río Ara, Coto de Torla-Bujaruelo, Aragón

Río Ara, Coto de Tora-Bujaruello, Aragón…Muchas Truchas!

We fished our way through numerous pools during the morning but about mid-day we bumped up against a couple of other anglers so we reviewed out coto map & saw that above a non-fishable gorge section, the river again opened up into a valley. So off we went in search of a track or path to the other side…after many false starts & dead ends, we climbed a super steep track to reach another track that for all intents & purposes felt like THE track…we queried several folks that confirmed we were spot on, so on we went.

Río Ara Muy Alto – Top of the Beat…Serious High Mountain Fly Fishing…Cari Pulled 5 Trout Out of that Pool!

And finally our nirvana was within sight…post a wee bit of scramble down some shingly slopes, we were again on fishable waters. Although a short section, it was chocka with lovely pools…Cari pulled 5 trout out of the last pool before becoming a gorge again…then the long walk home – we covered more than 20km that day!

Río Ara High Mountain Scenes…

Our last day together we had planned to hit the Ríos Aragón & Veral as a fishing mate Oscar said they were waters that usually held some bigger fish. It being Sunday, and good weather, the Spanish pescadores were out in force. We struggled to find a vacant stretch but eventually managed & had a fun morning/early afternoon hooking some wee ones.

We then turned our sights & rods on the Río Veral, and parked up on the free stretch below the pueblo of Biniés. The river seemed in low flow but we gave it a thrash for a few hooks ups but the higher up we moved, the more like a jungle it became where casting was near impossible…so we called it a day on the Veral & decided to hit a good, free stretch of the Río Ara just below our town of Sarvisé.

Río Ara Final Casts…

Slowly cruising the mountain road parallel to the river, we found our designated access point to the Río Ara on the Coto de Broto. We ambled down the track to the riverside & waded across to the opposite & fishable side. This section of the Ara was about as close to a New Zealand river as I have seen in Spain. Pool after pool, after perfectly formed pool of impressive water. I fished it blind & hard, (like I would a New Zealand pool if I were to fish it blind), methodically quartering the river & then moving up a rod length…but nothing. But not at all surprised either as my Spanish experience has been as much about not catching or seeing trout as catching them. After 2-3 hours & many pools later, the dark clouds started to move down the valley…then the drops began to fall. A retreat to our local pub for a jarra was in order…where it began to hose down…fly fishing finished!

Aragón Scenes…

It was a stupendous trip where fish & the weather gods fully co-operated…we both enjoyed ourselves & had no arguments at all with the scenery. Hoping to see Cari on the Other Side (New Zealand) when I return in September….

Restaurant Arroka Berri – Excelente!

Restaurant Arroka Berri (The Rocks), Hondarribia, Spain

We Hounds keep a bucket list of places we want to try for a meal & a beverage and Arroka Berri was quite near if not at the top of our list. We heard some good mumblings amongst our Basque mates and the restaurant became an ardent follower of Hound #2’s Instagram feed, but the final push or raison d’être was our Aussie mates David & Carolyn were visiting us.

The Crew; Arroka Berri Logo

We arrived promptly at 8:30PM as we English, Aussie & American folks tend to do, only to find the restaurant 100% empty, and our arrival seemed to cause a bit of front of house consternation & chaos. We retreated to an outside table for an aperitif of a chilled bottle of José Pariente Verdejo (perfecto) whilst we waited for the staff to receive us. At 9:15 or so, más o menos, we sat down at our table…

Vino of the Night – Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas Mencía…Estupendo!

First order of bidness – vino. The wine list @ Arroka Berri is not only very interesting but stunningly affordable. We opted for some bottles of red with a few glasses of white thrown in for Carolyn. I was most curious to pop a cork on the Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas – a wine from the Bierzo region which is famous for the use of the Mencia grape & a bottle of which I have resting on my wine table. This wine costs me (at the retail level) €13.50 euros but Arroka Berri lists it at €16 – deal to make ya squeal! A stunner – to borrow an old mate’s phrase, a velvet Elvis.

Platter of Ibérico Jamón…Yum!

Now to the business of starters – I & Hound #2 were going to order 2 of the Ibérico Jamón & Lomo platters but our waiter discouraged us down to just 1 platter – and he was right as we struggled to finish it! Layered on wee toast points & drizzled with the savoury tomato sauce, jamón heaven…

Foie & Arroz Bomba

David decided on a super rich dish — foie gras. The foie gras was a la plancha (grilled) and sat atop a mushroom based risotto…not missing any gigantic flavours here.

Cordero Asado (Roast Lamb)

On to the Mains…and mostly meaty ones at that. Carolyn decided on the Cordero Asado (Roast Suckling Lamb) with Baker’s Potatoes…the pictures here do not do these dishes justice but the flavours were astounding.

Carrilleras de Ternera (Beef Cheeks)

David ordered, sort of on my high praise for beef cheeks, the beef cheeks (Carrilleras de Ternera) and promptly devoured the plate….man can eat but then again he’s an Aussie.

Cochinillo de Segovia (Roast Suckling Pig)

For my plate of the night I opted for Cochinillo de Segovia, a beautifully roasted suckling pig with ever so crispy skin & perfectly cooked potatoes. This was finger lick’n good…we took the remains home to Hound #1 (Billie) for dessert.

Torrija Caramelizada

And speaking of dessert, the guys opted out but the girls opted in – Hound #2 decided quickly on the Tarta de Queso and Carolyn decided to try the Torrija Carmelizada. It was the Tarta de Queso that merited the multiple thumbs up. And the boys were not truly left out as we ended out our Arroka Berri meal with free glasses of Cava and Patxarán! Needless to say, we all wobbled home at around midnight – a typical happy Spanish repast…

Arroka Berri Tarta de Queso (Cheesecake) – Excelente!

Gíjon – Magical Town…

Our distant impression of Gíjon from various readings & conversations was that it was a seriously heavy industrial port town & maybe not worth a visit, but we had heard from several good friends that Gíjon was mos def worth a visit. These were friends who had lived & spent a chunk of time in Gíjon and, we assumed, they knew of what they spoke. So as part of our return trip to our fave area of Asturias, we put it on the list…

La Galana…Not So Galamorous – Looks Good But Pulpo Tough and My Fabada Vey Weak on Flavour…

We broke up our long Land Rover drive with a brief stop in Noja and pretty much have nothing to report…so on to Gíjon to arrive in a pissing down chubasco (rain storm) & struggling to find a park. But we did, and then zigged & zagged our way to our AirBnB flat that was strategically located in primo territory (Cimavilla). After a warm welcome by our hosts, we headed out with Billie in tow to luckily find a break in the weather! We made a bee line for the Plaza Mayor with a wee bit of hunger & thirst on the burn & several folks had put in a good word for La Galana, so it was our first port of call. This place was the definition of style over substance – staff were surly & rude, prices a tad on the high side and the food was more than a few steps below average. Hoping things would improve…

Gíjon Street Scenes…

Coastal Park Near our AirBnB flat in the Cimavilla Barrio…with a sculpture by Eduardo Chillida

Our AirBnB flat was located within a 3-4 minute walk to the coastal park of Cerro de Santa Catalina which suited Billie to a ‘T’ for his early morning piss & poo walk. Stunning 360 degree views capped off by a wonderful Eduardo Chillida sculpture titled ‘Elogio del Horizonte‘.  Billie was very impressed…

It being Saturday, and Gíjon having a reputably damn decent mercado, we made a bee line for the Mercado del Sur to stock up for our coming days of camping by the sea at Camping Troenzo. And boy did we score! We’d made a list of special Asturias items that needed to make it into our basket & we found several stalls that were packed to the gills with our desired delectable items. By pure accident, we did most of our procurement at a deli stall called Pimienta y Perejil (Pepper and Parsley) that many folks outside the market and post our visit said was THE BEST. The man knew his Asturias products like…well, an Asturian deli expert, so we grabbed some jabalí (wild boar) chorizo, some Cabrales queso and some fat & big Asturias white beans.

Awesome Mercado del Sur - Snagged some excellent jabalí (wild boar) chorizo, cheeses (Asturias is famous for dairy & cheese) & beans!

Mercado del Sur – Gíjon’s Major Market…Snagged some excellent jabalí (wild boar) chorizo, cheeses (Asturias is famous for dairy & cheese) & beans!

And as luck would have it, the monthly artisan market was on for that very Saturday – double score. We picked up some more Asturias queso de cabra cheese and some primo cecina from the Gancedo stall — all organic, all home grown, all in the family and free range.

Artisan Market in Plaza Mayor…

And if our supply shopping could not get any better, in the barrio del Carmen we chanced across Coalla, Spain’s version of the famed US of A’s Dean & Deluca. This joint was a taste & smell sensation – our camping pantry was now past fulll…

Coalla – The Spanish Version of Dean & Deluca…Impressive.

As we edged into our Saturday night, one thing we needed to continue to continue ticking off was a decent taste of ciders as Asturias and the Basque Country are THE makers of Spanish cider. So just round the corner from our flat was La Tabacalera which suited all our minimal requirements just fine – it was a sideria and they had cider.

Sideria La Tabacalera…Top Left: 1st Cider of the night, Zapica; Hound #2 Gets In Some Pouring Practice; Chorizo in Cider; Marinated & Spicy Olives; Da Place…

In most other parts of Spain it is quite customary to just order a glass of cider, but in Asturias you have to have the whole bottle. Not too potent @ 6% or so on the alcohol scale, but it does sneak up on you. Asturias is also one of the provinces where a free pintxo comes with your drink…here we were first plied with some spicy, garlic olives. But our hunger was a tad bigger than that so we put in a racion order for sauteed chorizo with, of course, cider!

Way Cool Bar – La Vida Alegre…

Our next destination was the barrio (neighbourhood) del Carmen which our good mate Terra had tipped us off as THE COOL & HOT area of Gíjon, chocka full of bars, restaurants, cafes & stores. And she was spot on…

We started with a wee cerveza rest stop outdoors @ La Vida Alegre (The happy or joyful life) and enjoyed the excellent people watching as the Saturday night crowds began to stuff the streets….

Hop’nest Bar of the Night – Turnedo! Top Left: One of our 3 Free Pintxos @ Turnedo; Outside View; Excellent Vino Selections; Da Crowds; Menus…

Then it was on to Vinatería Turnedo – now this was the definition of popular…but even though super busy, the staff was more than up to the challenge with quick service and always with a smile.

Yawn…More Bars…Tough Life.

Tierra Astur – More Cider!

Almost happy that Saturday night came to an end – our heads & livers thanked us…so up early & in need of a decent, pre-leaving-Gíjon-coffee we had only one choice – Raw Coco, who’s acquaintance we’d made the previous morning. And it was a case of déjà vu too with the same order of two cafe con leches & a slice of sinful carrot cake.

Raw Coco – Fave, fave Cafe

So we waved a sad goodbye to Gíjon, but we were not too sad as we were heading  for a lunchtime rendezvous @ Casa Juanín…

 

Spanish Recipe from Movida in Melbourne, Australia

Braised Beef Cheeks & Cauliflower Purée a la Movida, Melbourne, Australia

Hound #2 has been niggling me of late to get back to some of my more ‘creative’ cooking, as here in Spain I have gotten a bit slack. Reasons being that: (a) it is way cheap and mucho fun to eat & drink out in Spain; (b) many of the dishes in my kitchen repertoire require ingredients (some are key & non-substitutable) that are very hard to find or are VERY expensive or do not exist at all here in the Basque Country.

So she paid a visit to Movida’s web site (an awesome Spanish restaurant in Melbourne that makes the real deal) and yanked a couple of their recipes that use local Spanish ingredients to make right here in our cocina pequeña. To make a long story very short — this was SUPER YUM SQUARED. We are a bit nutty for anything cooked long & slow, falling off the bone tender & in its own broth of flavoured juices. The sweet touch (in both meanings of the word) here is the use of the Pedro Ximénez sherry, which if you have ever had PX you know the deep, dark, nutty dulce flavour of which I speak.

Duck Confit with Leftover Beef Cheek Stew & Asturian White, Fat Beans

And we never, ever waste a good thing, so the next day Hound #2 took the leftovers & added some potatoes and some pre-soaked Asturian White Beans to push the stew-thing to another rich & dense level. And to push it to its ultimate pinnacle, day #3 found me pan searing a Duck Confit leg to sit atop the final remnants of the stewy goodness – pure duck & stew & bean heaven. Now for a siesta…

Braised Beef Cheeks with Cauliflower Purée

Serves 6

  • 1.5 kg (3 lb 5 oz) beef cheeks
  • 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) olive oil
  • 3 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic bulb, halved
  • 1 brown onion, sliced
  • 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) Pedro Ximenez sherry
  • 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) red wine
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 head of cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 185 ml (6 fl oz/¾ cup) cream
  • 40g (1 ½ oz) butter

1. Trim the beef cheeks to neaten them up and remove any sinew and silver skin. Season well.

2. Heat half the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over high heat. Brown the beef cheeks for 2 minutes on each side, or until golden, then remove from the pan.

3. Add the remaining olive oil, then add the carrot, garlic and onion and sauté over high heat for 12-15 minutes, or until well browned. Stir in the sherry, wine, bay leaves, thyme, sea salt and 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) water.

4. Reduce the heat as low as possible, add the beef cheeks, then cover and cook for 3-4 hours, or until the cheeks are beginning to fall apart.

5. Meanwhile, put the cauliflower, cream and butter in a saucepan, season to taste with salt, then cover and cook over low heat for 35 minutes, or until very tender. Place the cauliflower mixture in a blender and process until smooth. Keep the puree warm.

6. The sauce from the beef cheeks should by now be reduced and glaze-like. If it needs further reducing, remove the cheeks from the pan, cover with foil to keep them warm and simmer the sauce over high heat until nicely reduced. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve and return to the pan; gently reheat the cheeks in the sauce if necessary.

Serve the cheeks and their sauce on warm plates with the cauliflower puree on the side.

A Walk On The Wild Side – The French Basque Country…

Village of Bera, País Vasco…

The weather forecast called for a near perfect Spring day recently, so we decided a Sunday tiki tour was in order to: (a) shake the cobwebs off Gertie, the 1975 Land Rover, and (b) to explore & visit a bit of the French Basque country since it’s just over the border.

We sorted out a circular road trip which had us headed for the Spanish village of Bera as our first stop of the day. We arrived earlier than planned, so the village was more than quiet, though it was quite obvious that things be shake’n in Bera as for a village its size it appeared that it could feed Napolean’s army with the number of dining establishments spotted.

We wandered up to the town church and puttered around the graveyard which was peppered with fascinating old, Basque tombstones. Then a wander down a crooked laneway for a wee stroll & then a return via a path along the village river. The water looked sweet & we quickly spotted numbers of trout holding their feeding positions…one looked to run to more than 1 pound which is a decent size for these parts. Hummmmm????

We decided it was time to move on if we were to make our lunch date in St. Jean de Luz & be able to pay a visit to 2 or 3 other French Basque towns. As we left town though, headed for France, we were a tad disappointed that we had not wandered farther along as Bera has a decently sized Old Town section where they were hosting an agricultural machinery fair…damn!

Crossed to the French Side – Cute As Village of Sare…

From Bera you climb up & over the foothills of the Pyrenees and descend down into the first Basque Country village of Sare. You have or hate to admit it sometimes, but the French truly do have a grand sense of style and that was on display in spades in Sare. Tidy as, almost movie set perfect & clean as a whistle…we tested one of the local cafes with a café au lait & it passed more than a muster. A bit of souvenir shopping was completed, then a good zig zag wander round the village lanes & back to Gertie the Land Rover.

We literally made a pit stop in Ascain, it was nice but did not seem to hold a candle to Sare and there appeared not to be a soul on the streets. We made a pause for a bit of refreshment (local brewed beers), in some sun facing deck chairs before making the decision to move on to our lunch destination…

Lunch on the French Basque Coast @ St. Jean de Luz…

Hound #2 had read somewhere, about some cafe or bar that was someplace on the beach, somewhere near or close to St. Jean de Luz – I know, not exactly the directions you can put into Google & achieve success. But lo & behold we managed to find not 1, but 2 bars/bistros on the beach & opted for La Guinguette d’Erromardie. It just had the too cool for school look, with lots of hip folks taking in the sun & beach vibe and clearly tasty food & drink.

Yum Food @ La Guinguette d’Erromardie – Top Left: Caesar Salad; Grilled Fresh Sardines, Baked Potato & Salad; Coastal View with 2 Hounds; Drinks & Flowers Beachside…

The Daily Special was all Hound #2 had to see – grilled sardines with a baked potato & salad – choice made & she was happy as Larry (so was Billie). I thought I’d be healthy & have the Caesar Salad & get my dose of greens, but was disappointed to see the chicken in my Caesar came deep fried, not simply grilled. No serious complaints – all very tasty & washed down with some red vino & chilled cerveza & sweet, sweet staff. This place must rock @ night on the summer weekends.

Top: The Company Car; Beach View Towards St. Jean de Luz; Sunday Buzz…

This type of day needs, needs to be repeated before we depart for the UK, then New Zealand…so close & so interesting…and they have trout!!!!