Big Birthday Lunch @ La Hermandad de Pescadores…

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La Hermandad de Pescadores, Hondarribia

Another year, another birthday – regular as clock work these things. This being my 61st and not the Big 60, we played it more casual & local and had a lunch time booking at the La Hermandad de Pescadores right here in Hondarribia. This joint has been on our ‘must do’ list for quite some time but it warrants a special occasion as they do not offer any deals to make you squeal with a menú del día, so it is strictly a la carte so it costa lotta.

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Birthday Benefactor…

We had been proffered some menu advice by our good morning coffee mate Pia – she insisted we start with the Pimientos Verdes Fritos con Jamón Ibérico, so we did and they proved to be the perfect kick off to a wonderful birthday feast. You will find a version of this dish on many, many ración menus & it is more commonly called Pimientos de Padrón (minus the jamón). They are local peppers that are 99.9% of the time completely devoid of any chilli type heat so safe as for most folks…

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Pimientos de Padrón con Ibérico Jamón

The Hermandad de Pescadores vino list was well chosen and most fairly priced and even though we were headed towards a seafood affair, we decided to go with one of our regular faves – Macho Man Monastrell. Besides being an entirely quaffable drop, the marketing angle is superb…even the bottle is macho sized by being just a tad bigger & heavier than your normal wine bottle…same amount of vino though :-(.

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Macho Man Monastrell – Yum!

Next up for table delivery was the Pulpo a la Plancha – Octopus on the Grill. This was nicely plated up atop a puree of potatoes with 2 salsas – one of coriander or cilantro origins and the other a very punchy, picante pimiento which is quite rare in Spain. It all worked exceptionally well together & plates were cleaned & cleared quickly…

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Pulpo (Octopus) a la Plancha (Grilled) with Coriander & Pimiento Salsa on a bed of Mash Purée

For our mains we had 3 core choices done in various forms: merluza (hake), bacalao (cod) or almejas (clams). The first 2 we cook at home quite often or consume on may occasions as bar pintxos so we both picked off the almejas dishes. Clams are a bit on the luxury side of things in the Basque Country, with a serving for two from a local fishmonger to cook at home racking up a 20-25 euro bill. The clams come two ways here – Hound #2 went with the Almejas con Pochas (white beans) and mine was Almejas con Alcachofas (artichokes). After multiple taste-test sharings, the slim margin of a thumbs up victory vote went to the pochas version…though there were no real losers ;-)…

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Almejas (Clams) with Pochas (White Beans)

So if by far chance you find yourself wandering the streets of Hondarribia and feel the need for some excellent seafood choices for a lunch or dinner, La Hermandad de Pescadores will not let you down…

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Almejas (Clams) with Alcachofas (Artichokes)

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Kiwis Come A Calling…

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Paddle Board Day…Billie Goes To Sea!

We were fortunate to have our Kiwi mate Shelley and her 2 kids (Finn & Stella) come by for 3 weeks & experience & enjoy the wonderful Hondarribia (Spain) & surrounds – and we packed it in!. It being the depths of winter Down Under, our first few days were spent lapping up the warmth & sunshine. We grabbed the local ferry to Hendaye (France – 5 minute ferry ride) where the beach is magnificent, and just enough wave action to get a few boogie board rides in. It was also good weather for everyone to have a go at paddle boarding…I was not so successful (top left picture below)…but Billie on the other hand, Hound #1, is a goer!

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Hondarribia, Spain – The Kiwi Home For 3 Weeks!

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Stinking HOT in Hondy! Even I Had To Jump In!

And besides the aquatic fun, we of course dove into the food & vino experience! Shelley is a long time Food Hound and was my partner in our restaurant London Street in Lyttelton, New Zealand. And of course, Spain and the Basque Country are a bountiful cornucopias for a food loving person – not just the amazing pintxo & raciones and menú del día offerings, but also the vast array of stellar products & produce. From the fresh as fish, to the veggies, to the olive oils & spices, to the cheeses & jamón – it’s all here.

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Hondy Treats – Top Left: Calle San Pedro Pintxo Fest; Pintxo; Pintxo; Special New Zealand Juice Courtesy of Shelley

After exhausting many of our regular Hondarribia haunts like Gran Sol, Vinoteca Ardoka, Sadara, Extebarri and Txantxangorri, we headed out to our only 1 star Michelin joint Alameda, which is top of the line on the pintxos front. We loved the mackerel ceviche (twice in fact), and the patatas brava (classic Basque dish) which totally vanished (by the kids) before any photos could be taken! And we had one of our fave wines of the trip – a stunning Rioja white (95% Viura – Spanish varietal)  by Bodega Allende.

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High Class @ Alameda

Next on the ‘to do’ list was our first visit of several visits to the most beautiful city in the world by most folks counts, San Sebastián (or Donosti in Basque). You need to either hang here for a number of days, or make multiple visits (we took the bus from Hondarribia – easy peezy) to get a decent dose of this wonderful wee city by the sea. What’s not to love? Grand architecture, museums & art spaces, beaches to beat the band, food & drink to die for, vistas to make ya cry, cool shopping galore and even a 100+ year old amusement park.

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San Seabstián: Top Left – Mount Igueldo Rollercoaster; On the Climb to Jesus; Jesus; La Concha Beach & City

We had a set of priorities to tick off so we set off on a mission….first, to eat. The vast array of choices to try pintxos, or raciones and eat a full meal in San Sebastián are head spinning to say the least. It is pretty hard to go too far wrong – much of the time you get to ‘look before you eat’ as you wander in & out of various tavernas checking out the types & quality of comestibles. We sampled a few of our standard spots like Paco Bueno (serious Old School & even has a signed All Blacks t-shirt framed); Bar Goiz Argi where we go for the calamare a la plancha (grilled – pictured below, top left); Borda Berri – ex-Cuchara de San Telmo folks & super pintxos; and Bar Zeruko – the award wining champ. And of course there are squadron of other places to gobble, gobble….

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San Sebastián Pintxos

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Bretxa Market, San Sebastian – Top Left: Kids; Blue Fin Tuna; Mate @ BretxOliva; Sardines; Veggies; Shrimps

On any true food person’s must do list is to pay a respectful visit to the local market(s) and have an extended wander up & down the aisles, chat away with the producers and learn a wee bit about what that region/country is proud to sell & eat. In San Sebastián that would be the Bretxa Market & related outdoor veggie stalls. It is hard to think of anything you cannot find or buy here with an extensive fish & seafood section offering the ocean’s finest; poultry vendors & butchers busy at work carving up various carcasses into fine cuts of meat; charcuterie & cheese & delicatessen stalls that will simply make your mouth water; and fruit & veggie stalls packed with the season’s produce.

Since we were in the city for the day, perishable purchases were not an option so we got happily stuck at BretxOliva, and amazing olive-everything stand (and extremely amenable host – you must try everything! he said)…excelente! We made fast friends and weighed down our backpacks with a decent assortment of Spanish goodies.

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Tasting Vino At GOÑI ardoteca

And besides the captivating Bretxa Market, quite nearby is our favourite wine store GOÑI ardoteka. They have an excellent range of vino, including some very good French wine which can be next to impossible to find in Spain, go figure?. But the best thing about GOÑI ardoteka is the staff – always super friendly & accommodating, informative & patient. On this day we lucked out and managed to be served by William, who offered us a range of wines to taste, including some quite old (and expensive) vino. He wanted us to taste the style differences and effects of age – well done William (and yes, we did buy a few bottle)!

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La Cuchara de San Telmo, San Sebastian – Yum! Top Left: Tuna, Kids, Veal Cheeks, Tomato Gazpacho com Idiazabal Cheese, Pulpo!

Even though we had managed an early pintxo pit stop to satiate growing Finn’s insatiable hunger, it was now approaching the opening time of one of our favourite regular haunts – La Cuchara de San Telmo. Now the Basque Pintxo World is basically divided into 2 worlds, the pre-made-cold-on-the-bar (can be heated sometimes) pintxos and the hot, made to order pintxos. La Cuchara de San Telmo falls into the latter camp and it is oh so good – it pays to arrive smack dab @ the opening @ 12:30pm (or there abouts as they often open late) for a lunchtime snack as within 20-25 minutes you just about cannot get in. Words of wisdom folks…

After a week’s explore of Hondarribia & San Sebastián & surrounds, it was now time for a road trip…so we grabbed a rental bus (literally) & took off for a whirlwind tour of Pais Vasco with stops in Getaria, Laguardia, Logroño, La Rioja Alavesa and Pamplona.

First destination: Getaria. A more than picturesque fishing village just an hour or so west along the Basque Coast from Hondarribia. Though still sort of quaint, it has changed a fair bit in just the 3 or so years since my first visit, with a number of more upscale shops for the shoppers and a small tourist crush. Shelley & Finn paid a visit to the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museo and they rated it a 5 star attraction – Stella & I hit the beach…as ya do.

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Getaria – Top Left: Family Pic Down Getaria Calle; Menú del Día @ Taverna Politena; Getaria’s Surf Beach; Grilled Dorado

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Laguardia, La Rioja Alavesa: Top Left – Santa Maria Church; Santa Maria Altar; La Rioja Alavesa View; Family Photo; Tower of Santa Maria

If you are ever tempted to visit the La Rioja region and taste some exquisite vino, you could not be more perfectly placed than Laguardia. And besides being perfectly placed you will be hanging in one of the most beautiful pueblos to be found in all of Spain, bar none. Like many old pueblos in Spain, it sits atop a decent hill, enclosed in an ancient fortress wall with encompassing views of the La Rioja vineyards that run right up to the start of the sheer cliff faces of the Cantabria Mountains.

Our first port of call for the day was a tasting stop at Bodegas Baigorri – one of our better go to drops. Spain’s wine scene has started to change – 3 or so years ago you needed to make an appointment & most likely take a cellar / winery tour (or even commit to lunch) before you could taste. But Bodegas Biagorri now offers tastings (only 2 wines) if you rock up on a normal working day (they do the tours/lunch thing too).

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Bodegas Baigorri, La Rioja Alavesa

It was fast approaching pintxo time, so after a fruitless search to find Bodegas Allende (the vino we had @ Alameda…we did find it, but there are no tastings or tours) we made a bee line for the Casco Viejo of Logroño which is renowned for its pintxo bars that all have a signature dish, usually centred around one prime ingredient (e.g., mushrooms or grilled pork).

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Logroño Pintxo Fest…

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Bodegas Ysios, La Rioja Alavesa

On our way to Bodegas Baigorri, we stopped in at Bodegas Ysios & found that they do require a winery tour – well so be it, as we wanted to taste their wines. Bodegas Ysios only makes 2 wines, both reds and it sometimes seems to be better known for the grand winery building than the wines! They are part of the PernodRicard empire so not exactly your mom & pop operation. All in all, they were decent vinos with one from the 2008 vintage and one from the 2009 and they were generous with the pours…and left us the bottles!

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Wine Tasting @ Bodega Ysios, La Rioja Alavesa

Post 2 picture perfect & massively enjoyable days in Laguardia & La Rioja Alavesa, we packed up and made our way up & over the Cantabria Mountains with Pamplona in our sites. Pamplona as many folks know, is mainly famous or infamous for the Running of the Bulls or the Festival of  San Fermin. We scheduled our visit the day after the festival ended which was both a blessing & a curse. A blessing in that much of the craziness (and it is VERY CRAZY) had subsided, but a curse in several ways as the town was: (a) slightly dead (guess bar & restaurant owners & staff et al needed a rest); (b) it was a tad dirty & smelled of vomit in places; (c) Shelley had her wallet pinched.

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Top Left: Magina Aceites de la Sierra & Owner; Vermut @ Baserriberri; Group Pic; Catedral de Santa Maria; Final Pintxos @ Baserriberri

Despite the curses, we toddled on & managed to find some excellent pintxos at the open bars, pay a visit to the sweet wee Mercado de Santa Domingo which has one of the best & cheapest cheese stalls anywhere, and round up quite a few gourmet goodies at Magina Aceites de la Sierra shop where the owner was beyond generous and helpful (photo above).

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Hondarribia Blues Fest – Awesome!

One of the awesome things about living in Hondarribia (and in close proximity to San Sebastián) is there is always something going on…and usually free! And such was Shelley & the Kids’s luck that upon our road trip return, they happened to time it right for the Hondarribia Blues Festival. Four days and nights of stellar performances from musicians from round the world, on multiple stages about the town. Not sure how or who pays for it, but it is a seriously fun event.

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Hondarribia Blues Fest – Good Time Had By All!!!

After a wee rest (except for Shelley & the Kids who headed off to Paris for 4 days! Lucky sods…), we caught the slow train from San Sebastián that goes along the coast & ends up in the Big Smoke of Bilbao, one of the Basque Country’s biggest cities. I did not expect to really like Bilbao much on my first visit – besides the infamous Guggenheim Museum, what could the industrial capital of the Pais Vasco offer? Well, a lot to be honest.

We checked into our sweet accommodation @ Casual Gurea in the late afternoon & got out for a decent wander in the Parte Viejo. As always, growing boy Finn was hungry, so we made our way to Plaza Nueva which is lined with numerous pintxo bars and fed the beast…we sampled the wares of Bar Zuga and of course had to drop in at the classic Victor Montes.

I had made a dinner reservation at El Perro Chico, a place the Hounds had managed to grab a quick lunch at on our first visit to Bilbao but it had been firmly put on the ‘food radar’ for a return visit for a full on meal…

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El Perro Chico, Bilbao – Best Food in Spain So Far!

Pretty much all we call say is a big WOW! El Perro Chico, without any doubt, serves some of the best food I/we have had in Spain so far. It is one of those rare breeds that takes the abundance & variety of Spanish food products, and gives them an innovative, international or other worldly twist. The food has no focus on a specific style or ethnicity except to make damn good tasting food, creatively prepared.

We all tucked into our respective plates and no one chose poorly – it all tickled the taste buds (even the salad starter was AWESOME), but the general consensus was Shelley won the day with her seared tuna, perfectly cooked & flavoured. We LOVED it here so much that upon paying our bill & leaving, we booked in for lunch on our last day…

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El Perro Chico Dinner: Top Left – Seared Tuna; Smoked Beef; Veal Chop; Pork Belly

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El Perro Chico Dog Bill & Dessert

On our first full day in Bilbao we opted for a full on museum day – first the infamous Guggenheim (I like the building the best), followed up by a visit to the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao (far better art in my humble opinion). The Guggenheim certainly has the “wow” factor going for it, but I could easily just walk around the building having a good squizzy from all sides & be more than happy.

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Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum

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Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum

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Guggenheim Fun…

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Bilbao Museo – Life Like Exhibition…Slightly Creepy.

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Museo de Bilbao

Post some seriously heavy museum time, we all had worked up some hunger pains so we walked as straight as the crow flies to Cafe Iruña, a cafe rightly famous for its lamb kebabs (called Pintxo Moruno) cooked over a charcoal grill & served by Ahmed. In general, Spanish food is not too spicy or highly flavoured, so it was a nice mouth jolt to bite into a clearly Moroccan flavoured skewer of roast lamb.

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Cafe Iruña, Bilbao – Lamb Kebabs by Ahmed

Besides the museums, the great food market, the riverside walks, the tasty bars & restaurants and the Old Town, one of the other ‘must sees’ is the Alhóndiga Cultural and Leisure Centre designed/renovated by Bad Boy Frenchman Philippe Starck. Originally a massive La Rioja wine warehouse that was built in 1909, it is now a full function space with art & culture exhibits, cinema, restaurants & bars and sporting activities. We all found the rooftop, glass bottomed swimming pool of most curious interest.

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Alhóndiga Cultural and Leisure Center by Philippe Starck

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Shelley & The Kids Take A Dip At The Alhóndiga Cultural and Leisure Center’s Glass Bottom Pool

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Group Fun – Bilbao, Spain

And just like me after my first visit, Shelley & the Kids really loved the Big Smoke of Bilbao. They felt they could easily have spent a couple more days there (just like me) to more fully explore the rich variety of experiences this Basque city has to offer.

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Out on the Town – Bilbao, Spain – Plaza Nueva with some Bacarones & Vermut!

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El Perro Chico, Bilbao -Again! For Goodbye Lunch…

And here we all are, back again @ El Perro Chico for our goodbye lunch (Shelley & the Kids were flying out of Bilboa @ 6:30pm for home, New Zealand) and once again, we were totally pleased. At lunch El Perro Chico offer a menú del día for the wee sum of €13.50 (they were super nice & let us adults have the kids’s vino). I also need to mention that besides the stunning food, the staff are simply superb, simply superb.

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Lunch @ El Perro Chico, Bilbao: Top – Waldorf Salad, Roasted Tomatoes & Polenta; Watermelon Salmorejo

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El Pero Chico, Bilbao – Goodbye Lunch….

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El Perro Chico, Bilbao: Top Left – Yellow Veg Chicken Curry, Fajitas With Beef & Crispy Red Onions, Crispy Chicken on a Parmesan Base & Thyme Polenta

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El Perro Chico, Bilbao: Dessert…So Good We Almost Forgot to Take A Photo…

So with a grand mix of happiness (great to spend such fun times with the crew & eat so well) and sadness (saying goodbye to great mates), we bid our final goodbyes & I toddled off to catch the slow train to San Sebastián with a few wee tears in my eyes. Shelley & the Kids made it home safe & sound though by a flight(s) from Hell & I hope to see them soon on the Other Side…

A Day Out In Donosti with Idoia…Then A Surprise!

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Donosti Crew

Our good mate Idoia, who runs our local taberna, invited us to a Day in Donosti (San Sebastián) for a personally guided pintxo stroll…and a wee bit of lunch. And we were also told to keep the evening, round 6:45pm, free for a surprise!

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Our first port of call was a mutual favourite – Bar Goiz Argi. The Hounds had discovered this place on our recon strip more than 3 years ago and have been back many times since to enjoy its tasty offerings, in a tiny, tiny space in the Old Town.

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Calamari & Shrimps & Cervezas

A recent discovery has been their hot calamari pintxo, of which 2 are needed to satisfy our hunger…slathered in a minced garlic oil, grilled to a slightly caramelised brown – estupendo! The sauce is oh so good wiped up with some bread brooms…Idoia took the gambas (shrimps) path and polished off 4 perfectly seared specimens…and, of course, some cervazas!

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Top Left: Hot Duck; Mushroom Rice; Veal Cheek

Idoia had her list ready, but some of the bars were not co-operating, and for the random Spanish reasons we have not fully fathomed, they were closed on a sweet Thursday arvo. So on we trudged and landed at the next open place for some hot, made-to-order pintxos at a joint I’d forgotten to get or remember the name of – shite. This place was in the very same vein as La Cuchara de San Telmo, one of our regular Donosti pintxo stops (when we can squeeze in). There’s nothing displayed on the bar, just a hand scribbled blackboard list with about a dozen excellent choices (our choices are in the pic above)…

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Top Left: Summer Veggie Spread; Awesome Apple Thingy Dessert; Seared Steak Loin & Ash Dust; Lamb Chops & New Potatoes

Then it was time for lunch…yes, some lunch folks. The 2 pintxo stops had put a minor dent in our hunger pangs, so Idoia led us out of the Old Town, past Gipuzkoa Square, to Restaurante Zazpi. This was a new discovery for the Hounds as we’d never crossed its path in all our San Sebastián food wanderings. They had a Plato del Día (main plate, dessert, drink) for a mere €7 & we choose a stunning pulpo salad to share as a starter – perfectly cooked pulpo arrayed on 2 cones of yummy potato mash with a fresh green salad in between. Our mains were: me, lamb chops with roasted new potatoes; Hound #2 went the veggie route (beautifully displayed); and Idoia got some seared steak loin with an amazing crumbled ash dust…Dessert was a quickly devoured apple pudding crumble thing – all 3 spoons were in active, furious use.

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Up To The Bells!

Now we were stuffed, so we jumped on the bus to return us to Hondarribia to await the arrival of 6:45PM and the surprise! Spot on time, Idoia led us up to Arma Plaza where a group of her mates were waiting. We all proceeded to the old church where Ramón, armed with a key that could kill someone, opened up the doors.

We then started our climb – up & up & up to the top of the main bell tower. Wow! Once on top, we had a 360 degree panoramic view of our adopted hometown. And then they started to ring the bells as it just happened to be the Festival of San Juan (Saint John), a festival when it is customary to set bonfires alight & cast things or lists of bad people you want removed from your life into the flames.

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On Top Of Da World in Hondarribia!

 

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Top Left: View from the Bell Tower Deck; The Parador; Hound #2 By Da Bell; Calle Mayor Casco Antiguo & San Juan Fires…

Muchas gracias Idoia for once again showing us a very special day – to have a inside glimpse of real, local Pais Vasco.

For your listening pleasure…the bells of Hondarribia

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!

A Txoko Experience…

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Club Nautico Hondarribia – Our First (and maybe last) Txoko Experience.

We had heard or read about txokos and we had seen quite a few of these slightly mysterious Basque men’s gastronomic societies or eating clubs in our wanders around Hondarribia and San Sebastián. But they remained a wee bit of a mystery to us, as they appeared almost impossible to get into without some form of  invitation. We came so close in our first month or so here when, by sheer accident, we stumbled into a group of chatty txoko folks round the corner from our flat. Once we made it clear that: (a) we lived in Hondarribia proper, in the Casco Antiguo and (b) we really liked our food & wine, a convivial older hombre said a visit just might be arranged. But nada happened…

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Awesome Txoko Group

Until my wonderful Spanish teacher Gloria came through, once again, with a special Spanish opportunity. Gloria’s mate Andoni (and sweet partner Carmen) is a member of the Club Nautico Hondarribia which is not only a full on sailing club & school (with fishing too), but also a txoko, with a splendid port side club space with great views of the marina.

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First Course – Vegetarian Pizza

Txokos have been around in the Basque Country for more than 100 years and got their start as places where the fishermen & workers could bond & chat & tell stories over food & drink. They have been pretty much 100% male up until a few years ago when a few opened up their doors to women – only to eat though, as all the cooking is usually done by the men folks (Andoni’s txoko allows women in the kitchen).

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Gloria Fast @ Work on the Main Course…

Boy, it’s a lot of fun folks! Andoni’s txoko, like all txokos, has a top notch professional if not better kitchen which is shared amongst the members (you need to reserve a space). You bring all your required meal ingredients but the txoko also has a bar for beer, wine, cider & soft drinks (you can also bring in your own bebidas). It is a serious social affair – muchas familias were there that day, cooking & drinking up a storm & chattering away. The table just behind us was having a grand old time post draining half a dozen bottles of Moët bubbles, which is when the boisterous singing began…and we left.

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Dessert & Cava to Wash It Down With…

So a big muchas gracias to Andoni, Carmen, Gloria and Bernard for an estupendo time! So if you are ever in the Basque Country and somehow manage to wrangle a txoko invite – GO!