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…

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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!

 

Road Trip II…La Costa Norte de España

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Tunnelling Gertie Trucks On…

As we were winding our way out of the Picos de Europa via a slightly scary gorge road, the day once again looked to be a stunner. So we altered our original plans from making a bee-line for Oviedo to a day-at-the-beaches. You may not know this fact folks, but Asturias is home to some of the most gorgeous (and empty this time of year) beaches in northern if not all of Spain. So we’d made a list, and checked it twice, and 2 beaches were within Gertie’s Daily Driving Allowance (GDDA), so it is to them we toddled…

In the course of our beach drive we ended up passing through, for a second time, the town of Unquera which avidly advertised on just about every building the ‘corbata’. Now in the usual Spanish vocabulary ‘corbata’ is a necktie, but this was clearly not the case. So we needed to investigate…

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Las Corbatas…

Needles to say, corbata pastries made very a modest impression on our palates, but hey we give them an A+ for effort…we stopped!

First on our list was Playa de Torimbia and after a seriously narrow laneway hill climb, we’d arrived at the picture below…too many people we thought – not.

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Playa de Torimbia, Asturias, Spain

Everybody got naked, including Billie (he just takes his collar off so he doesn’t get a rust stain). Everyone had a paddle, but Hound #2 did some naked swimming and boogie boarding – perfecto fun.

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Playa de Torimbia, Asturias: Naked Billie, Modest Me and a Picnic Lunch…

Playa de Torimbia ticked ALL THE BOXES folks, but we still had another beach on the list to pay a visit to – Playa de Gulpiyiri. We’d been told by several of our Hondarribian mates that this was a way cool beach and a must see, so our search began.

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Playa de Gulpiyiri, Asturias

This was one COOL spot…as travel blogger www.rustictravel.com describes it so well…

A real gift from nature and a quite unique place. More or less undiscovered until recently, this little village has become more popular in the last few years and can get quite busy at the height of the season; still, it remains an exciting spot and well worth the visit. The action of the sea digging into the limestone cliffs over hundreds of years has created natural tunnels that emerge to the back of the cliffs in the fields beyond. The depression left behind fills with water when tide rises to create a natural pool with its own beach, quite special and very attractive.

We 100% concur with this assessment & description – quite special and beautiful…

We were now beached out for the day, so we pointed Gertie towards Oviedo

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Oviedo, Spain

Oviedo was made slightly famous by the fact that Woody Allen shot his film ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ here, and the town embraced that fame and has leveraged it to the max. There are a few things that stand out about Oviedo: (1) they are obsessed with statues (there’s even one of Woody); (2) they like their city clean, very clean; (3) they love their Asturian cider (sidra) and even have a ‘Cider Boulevard’ (and a sister wine alley); (4) the residential buildings attractively feature, to great effect, glassed in balconies & loads of shutters; and (5), the food is effing awesome.

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From Top Left: Cider Boulevard; Woody & Me; Billie & Sign; Town Hall

Our hotel owner (Hotel Santacruz – great location) highly recommended we visit Cider Boulevard (it was a Friday, we thought it might be a manic mess post a chat with a parking attendant) so off we went on a slightly zig zag path to see a few of the sights whilst walking.

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El Ferroviario, Cide Bar, Oviedo, Spain

We arrived at Cider Boulevard & it was pleasantly buzzing – both folks & chatter. We checked out a few of our researched cider bars but they seemed too swish for the Hounds, until we found El Ferroviarro – seriously Old School (our style). As mentioned before, cider can only be bought by the bottle – so we bought & got taught how the pour gets done. Hound #2 had a go & managed to bath the bar in cider…

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Cider Boulevard: This Is How It’s Done….

Saturday morning we were up bright & early (maybe a tad early for Oviedo) and headed off for coffee & a town toddle in search of statues, a market, art & culture and food & drink.

The ‘statue search mission’ worked well as a general modus operandi to explore Oviedo, as we got lost mucho times but we always discovered something fun, new or interesting.

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Some of the many Oviedo Statues…

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…and more statues.

It being Saturday, it was a prime market day so in between statue ‘search & rescue’ we found the Mercado El Fontan. Oh Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy! We love markets – only draw back is we cannot buy much as we have no place to store it if it needs cold (e.g., fish, cheese) or any place to cook it up. Still the market offers a wonderful panorama of what local products are on offer and it also gives us a chance to track down some Asturain specialties.

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Mercado El Fontan, Oviedo

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Mercado El Fontan, Oviedo

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Mercado El Fontan, Oviedo

And as usually happens, markets tend to attract complementary purveyors in the surrounding spaces and it was certainly true of Mercado El Fontan. There were a good half dozen or more specialty food & wine stores on all sides of the market, offering up Asturias’s (and other regions) best. Coalla Gourmet was particularly impressive – a few bottles of vino were snatched up here!

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Coalla Gourmet, Oviedo

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Pooped Pooch & BB Vino, Oviedo

Post a decently long day of wandering, we all had a small siesta back at the hotel before we (minus Billie – pooped pooch needed more siesta) ventured back out to continue our explore. We headed for the Museo Bellas Artes de Asturias for a wee cultural squizzy. The Hounds were massively impressed with the works of Joaquín Sorolla – he’s been one of our faves since we saw his work in Bilbao.

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Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturais, Oveido: Top, Joaquín Sorolla, Museo & Don’t Know the Painter but Likey…

Well, by now we had certainly rolled into Beer O’Clock time…and then some comidas were in the cards. We have a pretty good knack for sniffing out the right places – we are not batting 1,000 but pretty damn close. So as we wandered the back alleys post our museo perusal, we came across El Molinón (The Big Mill) & it looked like our kind of place. Ordered up a couple of vino tintos from a sweetly selected wine list, chatted with the very nice bar folks & decided to give it a whirl. Yippee! Geez this was good – we decided to just order up a couple of raciones (smaller than a plate but bigger than a pintxo/tapas). We picked an old but delicious fave standby to start – Pimientos de Padrón – and followed that up with something new – Picadillo con Cabrales.

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El Molinón, Oviedo

The Pimientos de Padrón were perfecto, but the Picadillo con Cabrales was a taste sensation – essentially the Spanish version of New Zealand/Aussie/UK’s mince on toast except made with Chorizo (out of its casings) & Queso de Cabrales (delish Asturian blue cheese). We would like to try & make this at home…

So we bid adieu to Oviedo – sweet place…and onwards we drove.

Road Trip…La Costa Norte de España

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Land Rover ‘Gertie’ Coasting Along….

The Hounds had hatched a plan early on upon our arrival in Spain to do a northern coastal road trip in May, before it got too hot & too harried with tourist hordes. And so we packed up Gertie the Land Rover with all the requisite gear (mostly Hound #2’s surf & swim stuff) & headed out on another Spanish adventure….

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Hill Hike in Gorliz…

Our destination goal for the first night was the Big Smoke of Santander, but we’d read about a sweet hike in the seaside town of Gorliz & with some spare time in our schedule, we popped in for a bit of an explore. Weather gods were with us on the day & we meandered up & around & down the stunning coastal cliffs.

We arrived into Santander in the late afternoon & faced the usual challenge as to where o where could we park Gertie & not pay a king’s ransom or rip the roof off (she’s a tad tall for most Spanish garages). A quick chat to a helpful policeman sent us in the direction of the beach – excelente as that was where our hotel was!

Once we’d comfortably settled into Hosteria Santander (though not so comfy with the 15 euro fee for our dog!), we ambled off on a coast & beach walk in search of the Casco Viejo section of town for a little picoteo (pintxo stroll)…

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Bodega Cigaleña, Santander – Serious Vino Heaven…

My good mate Iñaki, a great cider & wine maker, highly advised me to pay a visit to Bodega Cigaleña, a virtual museum of vino. And he was dead right…

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A Real Vino Museo…

Vino, vino everywhere and all to drink! We quaffed a couple of decent reds but we were a bit scared to ask what the Rioja Reservas from 1923 & 1915 might set us back.

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Most Excelente Bar Fuente Dé

We wandered just a block away discovered Bar Fuente Dé – mos def our kind of place: alive with folks & chatter, good selection of bebidas & comidas (and way, way cheap)  & a jolly bar man. We squeezed (all 3 of us – dogs allowed) into an open spot at the bar & had 2 vino tintos quick snap & ordered 2 pintxos just like the hombre next to us had…a piece of excellent, crispy crusted bread with cheese (a flavourful blue) from the Picos de Europa slathered on. Our new Santander local…

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Bodegas La Conveniente – Perfecto…

Next on our ‘pintxo to do’ list was Bodegas La Conveniente – only a quick hop & a jump away. Set in what certainly appears to be an old warehouse space of some sort (maybe vino?), with massively high ceilings and deep, dark recesses – this is a place chocka with the kind of character you cannot build. We had a good wander & look-see & then some copas of vino tinto with our usual jamón iberico bocata.

We awoke early to yet another weather god blessed morning and Hound #2 headed for her customary sea dip while Hound #1 & I wandered the beautiful Santander beach…then a breakfast of some of the best croissants we had ever had – the coffee was damn decent too…

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Early morning swim with a ghost ship , Puss Face Jack Russell & Best Beachside Brekky

Then it was Picos Time. During our trip we ambled across the provinces of Pais Vasco, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia before turning back for home. The group consensus was Asturias ticked all our boxes & more. We had been told over a number of years, by a number of folks that if we were ever in Spain we HAD to go to the Picos de Europa as it is as close to New Zealand as you will find on this side of the world. And they were spot on…

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Picos de Europa – Stunning…

Once again – thank you, thank you weather gods! A cracker of a day to take a hike up a hill & enjoy the multitude of natural surroundings in full Spring mode. We had wanted to do route PR-PNPE 24 which is a circular hike & gives you a scenic ride down on the ‘funicular‘ (cable car) but, damn, no dogs allowed! So we opted to climb to the snow level on PR-PNPE 24, frolic in the snow & have a picnic. All in all a full on day…

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Picos de Europa: Our Home Sweet Home

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It Really Looks Like This Folks…No Photoshop Here.

It was all these pictures show & more – it was a very tough choice as to what photos to include or leave out as they were all stunning shots.

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Mountain Hike…From Top: Church Picnic Site, View Down the Mountain, PR-PNPE 24 Route Sign with Hiking Hound #2

We reached the snow line & debated whether to continue on to a ‘refugio’ (a hut in New Zealand terms) but a short discussion with some descending German hikers put the kabosh on the that notion. They painted a picture of some pretty sloshy, wet goings with sinking into snow up to your knees & some difficulty in finding the track.

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The Snow Line…and One Happy Puppy

So it was the right time for a picnic – we set up shop in front of the old church (see pic above) with 360 degree views of the Picos & we tucked into some savoury chorizo & sausage (from our super Hondarribia charcuterie shop on Calle San Pedro – Jon Alzaga), bread & cheese…but no wine…

And to prove once again how small the world has become, we had 2 mountain bikers descend to the church & once our chatting commenced we instantly realised they were Kiwis! But not only Kiwis, they lived 10 minutes away from us outside of Christchurch on the South Island – estupendo!

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Fun In The Snow….

For the Picos visit we were based a skip outside (in Ojeda – a 10 minute walk) the wee pueblo of Potes, in the wonderful Hostal Toscana where the folks could not have been friendlier or nicer or funnier. It was always – ‘no probllema’ & no charge for Billie!

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Potes – Sweet Wee Pueblo

Potes has an old section bursting with old time character with cobbled streets, medieval bridges and seriously ancient buildings. It also has a plethora of eating & drinking establishments. We were in search of the famed Asturias cider & got directions to a popular establishment but we got hopelessly lost in the narrow, cobbled laneways and ended up at La Luna En El Sol (actually we were only 2 doors away from where we were supposed to go). One small quirk – you can only order cider by the bottle, not by the glass. So we got with the locals & had a bottle…

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Meal of the Evening: Grilled Squid & Tacos…Yum.

Post our Picos mountain climb, we had a bit of a hunger & wandered the Old Town looking for something tempting…and quite ironically, we ended up at the only Mexican joint in town!

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Trouts!!! Deva River So Sweet…

The next day saw us all piled back in the Gertie the Land Rover & making our way for a 2 night stay in Oviedo…up next in the Local Food Hound blog posts.

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Río Deva…There Be Trouts In There!

Pamplona…What A Nice Surprise.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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Bistrot Catedral & Vermut Estupendo!

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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….

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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.

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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.

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More Parks!

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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…

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Río Cidacos – Sweet water…Looks Trouty.

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Gertie Makes the Climb to Hilltop Town of Ujué

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Ujué – Sweet Church of Santa María

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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.

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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….

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Bodega St. Martín…San Martin de Unx, Navarra

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