Fly Fishing: Los Pirineos de Aragón – Estupendo!

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

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

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

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

Río Ara, Torla-Ordesa, Aragón

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Río Ara, Coto de Torla-Bujaruelo, Aragón

Río Ara, Coto de Torla-Bujaruelo, Aragón

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

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

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

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

Río Ara High Mountain Scenes…

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

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

Río Ara Final Casts…

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

Aragón Scenes…

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

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Fly Fishing The Pyrenees

As I may have mentioned in my previous blog on fly fishing in Spain, the season is or can be a short one. With that in mind & fall / winter quickly marching in, I decided I really wanted to have a go at some of the high mountain rivers in the Pyrenees. A wee bit of research and I was in touch with Chema @ Danica Guides. And as luck would have it, he and his lovely wife Marta also run the phenomenal La Casa del Río hotel. So we were off…FYI – this blog post will be more pictures & less text as I was also blessed with an ace photographer as well as a professional trout guide!

Anywhere is a long drive in my 1975 Series III Land Rover (Gertie) so we tried to make the most of it and stopped off at various sites for a look see and often a cold cerveza. Hound #1 requires a few piss & poo stops so we pulled over at this lovely looking reservoir where quite a few folks were either having a dip (it was a warm one) or fishing. Litter is a big problem in just about every place we have lived, but I think sometimes Spain is vying for the global championship.

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Contrasts…

The very final stretch of our travels presented the Land Rover with a wickedly winding gorge road that paralleled the Ésera River the whole way – sometimes several hundred yards/metres above with shear drop offs that gave Hound #2 the willies.

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Scary Gorge Drive…

But we made it safe & sound and received a warm & wonderful welcome at La Casa del Río….we were most def ready for a beverage or three, some comestibles and a good bed!

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Estupendo!

A sign I like to see upon arrival! And BTW, La Casa del Río is also very dog friendly which gets a solid 2 thumbs and 1 paw up from this crew.

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Good Sign To See…

The weather could not have been more co-operative and we awoke our first morning to a stunningly sunny, bright blue sky day…and a estupendo breakfast which was exactly the food fortification we would need for our full on day of activities.

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Two Brothers From Different Mothers….Guide Chema & Me

The river water in the high mountains of the valle de Benasque is stunningly pretty – clear as the water that I find in my home rivers in New Zealand. But the fly fishing style is a bit different than most of New Zealand fishing as these rivers are quite bouldery with small pools of pocket water. It can be difficult wading at times, and much of the actual fishing is dapping a dry fly with a nymph dropper on the water surface with very little fly line out, mostly leader.

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A Beauty of a River

One of the things I had to learn when I moved from New Zealand to the UK and now Spain is that the trout are damn quick on the take. It is a common piece of advice or practice in New Zealand that when you see a trout take the fly, you need to say “God Save the Queen” (or the real Kiwi phrase – “Bloody Hell – a fish”) so as not to strike too early. Not here…

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Small Pocket Water Fishing…Small Fish

On numerous occasions during my two days of fishing with Chema we had some challenging boulder scrambles and tricky casting perches.

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Tricky Waterfall Climb…Then Trickier Perch

As the first day wound down to a close, Chema took me to a section of the Ésera River lower in the valley where it flattens out a bit and looks a bit more like your normal river. We stayed at it until dark or I was unable to see the fly and were rewarded with some very solid hookups & fish!

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Best Catch of the Day…and Night.

As I mentioned above, the quality of the river water struck a New Zealand chord with me as did much of the flora and fauna (of which Chema was supremely knowledgable)…just a wee squint of my eyes and I could have been fishing one of my fave rivers Down Under.

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Fishing for Trout in Hobbitt Country…

And Hound #1 is a faithful wee boy – it’s just that rivers and fast moving & sometimes deep water is not really his thing. So he and Hound #2 joined us for a wonderful lunch each day for a chance to recharge the batteries and then they were off to hike the valley & mountains.

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Hound & Fisherman….

We also greatly appreciated the fact that besides giving me 2 excellent days of fly fishing in the Pyrenees, Chema organised the day’s activities to easily include Hounds #1 & #2 in the fun. Muchas gracias…

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Happy Pyrenees Crew – Perfecto Weather!

Halfway through the second day I, by George, think I got it, the pocket pool fishing & it was fun…

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Pool Pocket Fishing…

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Just One More…Please.

The Menú del Día March Continues @ Laia Erretegia

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Laia Erretegia – Asador y Sidería

We decided to up our menú del día game a wee bit as we had read about a very highly regarded place called Laia Erretegia, which is both an asador (cooked on the grill kind of place) and a sidería (cider house).

It was a simple & pleasant 20 minute hike up into the hills surrounding Hondarribia and we were at Laia’s front door and very happy to see a functioning kitchen herb garden.

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Fresh Herbs – Yes!

We had opted to sit on the terrace and though not as nice a day weather-wise as we have been having we still had terrific views of the start of the Pyrenees range. And we were most amused by a robot lawnmower that had to be rescued from repeatedly pounding his or her ‘head’ against a fence post. Who then proceeded to mow in the most random of patterns. Not so sure about the new age of robots & AI if this is a basic example…

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View From Our Table…

 

The menú del día was a very reasonable (at least we thought so) @ €22 per person for a 3 course meal including vino, water and coffee. We initially thought the menu selections to be quite extensive until we tried to figure out what some of the additional items were and realised they were just the same menu items written in Basque…Duh!

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Menú del Día @ Laia

Two completely different starters were chosen, for Hound #2 the usual suspect of a healthy choice was an ensalada de cogollos (hearts of lettuce). I opted for a dish, arroz con chipirones (rice with baby squid), that Hound #2 had sampled the week before at another menú del día. Tough life I know but someone has to eat like this!

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The Starters

We both thought our respective dishes excellente but there was little doubt who’s was the winner – mine. Look at that tender piece of baby squid perfectly grilled sitting atop a savoury hill of risotto rice bathed in a most tasty broth. Would eat again most def.

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Arroz con Chipirones

And we both agreed that the vino tinto on offer at Laia was the best house red we had had in our time in España so far. Muy rico, a velvet Elvis and made to be a crowd pleaser.

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A Velvet Elvis (thanks to Scott Monahan for that phrase)

A carnivorous choice was made by both parties for the main event. And since España is the king of cerdo (pork) and I think it is the national dish, I went for the solomillo de cerdo a la brasa (grilled pork tenderloin) – perfecto!

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Solomillo de Cerdo

Hound #2 was tempted by the jarrete de cordero y puré de patata (lamb shank & super puréed potatoes)…estupendo! Though she felt it was lacking in vegetables…

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Jarrete de Cordero

Desserts were delicious, so much so we forgot to take a picture at the start! But it was decided that mine (pictured below), the París-brest con chocolate blanco, took the honours as most tasty.

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París-brest con Chocolate Blanco – Yum!

Hound #2 chose the crema de jengibre y espuma de chocolate (ginger cream & chocolate foam)…the jar was totally emptied.

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Crema de Jengibre y Espuma de Chocolate – All Gone!

 

Fly Fishing in the Basque Country in Spain…

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Iñaki In Action…

Compared to New Zealand, fly fishing in the UK was a hard yard with most of the water being in private hands of some form (business, fishing syndicate, club, person) and loads of rules as to the wheres, whens, whats & hows of what was fishable water. But Spain makes the UK look like a walk in the park.

The UK, like New Zealand, has a national fishing license so you only need to pay once and license wise you are pretty much good to go. Spain requires you have a license for every state that you plan to fish in, and in some cases you need a specific area license. So I am now the proud owner of licenses for states of Euskadi (Basque Country), Navarra and Aragón. And my mate Asier has urged me to apply for a ‘sport license’ which you can only get if you can show proof of residence (el padrón) in Hondarribia at the local city hall (el ayuntamiento).

A licence is not expensive – about €8 – €15. And you do not want to ignore this bureaucratic necessity, as you might in some countries where you would get a slap on the wrist, a scolding and be told to get a license. The Spanish police of all levels are reputed to be seriously tough on violators. You stand a good chance of having all your gear confiscated and possibly your vehicle too and be in for a serious fine ( up to €6,000) and get a criminal record…not a good thing to have when you want to enter a country.

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Asier Changes Flies…

Another factor adding mucho complications to the fishing brew is the many and varied seasonal dates & times you can actually fish. To begin with, the season in many places is very short (in some places just July & August) compared to most countries. When you add in restrictions like ‘no fishing on Tuesdays & Thursdays except festival days and religious holidays and Mondays are reserved for people over 65 and under 18 and nymphs that look like worms are prohibited until August 15th’…well you can spend the bulk of your time holding your rod & just scratching your head.

But I have been most fortunate since arriving in the Basque Country to have been hooked up (pun intended) with Iñaki and Asier (two local fly fishing nuts like me) by my good mate David Brookes (a New Zealander living in the Eden Valley, Australia).

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My First Trout of España! Oiartzun River

No more than a week after my first meeting with Iñaki, he introduced me to Asier (who also graciously helped me navigate the Basque fishing license process) and they had me on the Oiartzun River, just a stone’s throw from San Sebastián. It flows all the way to the sea and we saw schools of mullet and one massive salmon in the river! It is a curious bit of water in that it flows through a heavily populated area (by normal fly fishing or New Zealand standards) with loads of apartment complexes bordering the river, with crowds of folks riding bikes, running or walking their dogs.  We met & got kitted up in the car park of a huge Alcampo shopping centre & petrol station but the water (as you can see in the pictures) ran clear and they assured me it was chocka with trout.

These guys like their tiny (#20-#22) dry flies and avidly fish for the surface take. I opted for my bog standard Kiwi style rig – dry fly (#18 Parachute Adams) with a nymph dropper (#18 Golden Bead Head Pheasant Tail). We alternated pools and I was the first to hook up with a small brownie but he soon managed to loose my nymph. I lucked out again and copped a great stretch of water just as the rain took on a heavier pour and the nymph once again worked its wonders and a sweet 6-7 inch brown trout made it into Asier’s net. Yippee! My first trucha de España!

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Iñaki Catches 1st Vibrator Fish!

We all met again just a few days later at the same Oiartzun River and walked a considerable ways down stream to a point where there were far more mullet in the water than trout. After an hour and a half, Asier deep sixed the Oiartzun River as it was not fishing well and proposed we hit another river about a half hour away. And 30 minutos later, we were on the banks of the Orina River and could immediately see a dozen trout feeding voraciously on the surface – una problema, they were directly under a canopy of tree foliage. Smart trouts.

Asier spotted some caddis flies and a cursory check of a river rock confirmed that, so it was a caddis fly all round. Asier, being the gentleman that he is, let Iñaki and I have a good go at the fly snarfing trouts and Iñaki connected first with a real leaper (pics above).

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A Decent Fish…

Then I managed to flick a halfway decent cast up under the leafy canopy and at the bottom of the drift the caddis fly was gulped – bingo! Sweet, sweet rainbow trout on the line and fighting just like a rainbow does.

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Net Troubles…

As I said, these guys, like me, are fly fishing nuts & we kept at it well into serious darkness and I managed to make it home a little after 11PM…I think this could be the start of some awesome fun!

Cantina de Guadalupe – Hondarribia

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Cantina de Guadalupe, Hondarribia, Espana

One of the things that strikes you quite clearly here in Spain is how cheap it is to eat out. Whether you are partaking of an evening pintos stroll or diving into the Menú del Día as we did here at the Cantina de GuadalupeMenú del Día can be awesome value deals as the price usually is for a 3 course meal (entree, main & dessert) and includes water, wine (a bottle!) or beer or cider and coffee. Our lunch at the Cantina set us back €12 each, (€11 if you did not want to be seated on the outside terrace) which translates into $17NZ/AU, £8.6BP and $13US. I think you just might be getting a glass of wine in Melbourne at that price! And for the most part, at least in our limited experience, the food is damn good…

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Chorizo & Patata Sopa…

For my starter I opted for a more substantial dish — chorizo and patatas sopa (I am guessing that is what it was or could have been a stew) which was presented in its own serving bowl allowing me to refill my bowl until it was all gone…which it was.

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Ensalada Mixta…

Hound #2 went her usual healthy, wealthy & wise route and was presented with a ensalada mixta fresca that included some sweet tuna & a hard boiled egg…

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Pollo Asado – Estupendo!

I could not not try the Pollo Asado (Roast Chicken) and was rewarded with half a bird…Billie helped out. It was perfectly done & tasty and the patatas perfecto.

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Bistec con Patatas

And Hound #2 decided to get some serious sustenance under her belt and ordered the Bistec con Patatas – seriously large cut of meat for the price & well cooked and half ended up as Billie’s dinner…lucky dog.

The vino was the house tinto which was nicely chilled – wine, like the food here in Spain, is absurdly cheap. Not only when you are buying at the stores but also when eating out. I am not totally sure why that is – low taxes? cost of production? loss leaders? And it is not swill by any means – you often see or get very recognisable wines from some serious producers. Granted. these are not their aged, reservas but their crianzas or jóvenes (young wines) but they seem to bring a reasonable amount of effort & vinification knowledge to bear & make a decent quaffer. Most pintxos bars offer glasses of blanco, rosado and tinto at €1.30 to €1.80 – deal to make ya squeal!

We finished out lunch with a very nice flan – sorry, no pic – and a very decent cafe con leche.

We will go back…we actually tried last Sunday & they were fully booked out.

The Pyrénées and Back to France…

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Sad Water…Rio Eska.

We departed La Rioja and headed for the town of Roncal at the base of the Pyrénées for our last Spanish noche before starting our return trek across France, hopefully avoiding the nasty péage (toll) roads. The drive was stunning as we wound our way through deep canyons of dangerous looking cliff faces to one side, and the fast flowing, gorgeously blue water of the Rio Eska on the other. Intermittent glimpses of the river got the fly fishing juices flowing so several pit stops ensued to have a up close & personal inspection as there mos def had to be fish in that water.

But as it has happened countless times before, looks can be exceptionally & sadly deceptive. Chatting with our Spanish hotel owner revealed that, yes, the Rio Eska used to be chocka with fish but a factory was built upstream many years ago and now all the fish are gone. The way of the world these days…folks who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

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The Climb…

We set off early the next morning up the N137 through the beautiful Roncal Valley. Our Spanish is pretty good but one critically absent word that was repeatedly flashing on a road side sign was ‘Cadenas’ – chains, as in snow chains. Our wee Nissan Micra (aka Mickie) ponderously crawled up the steep switchback road as the snow to either side grew deeper…and deeper. Lucked out a bit to fall in behind a snowplow but we still kept climbing & the drifts grew ever deeper, the fog thicker and the wind wailed. At the summit & the border, the snowplow pulled over to turn around and we were left with the agonising decision: continue & descend on steep, twisting & possibly icy roads or turn back & take a 5-6 hour detour. A 4×4 Spanish policía pulled up behind us so a chat ensued (the words ‘loco’ and ‘estúpido’ may have been uttered by the policía) and they kindly offered to check out the French side (apparently the French do not salt or grit their roads). And luck be with us – the French side actually was way better weather – shining sun, no snow falling, no ice, moderate winds – yippppeeeee! Into France we go…

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Impending Sense of Doom

We booked ourselves into the ever so sweet B&B Chateau Lamarque (Sainte-Croix-du-Mont) just outside of Bordeaux. The Chateau sits atop a the crest of a hill with views up & down the valley & of the Chateau’s own vineyards (picked up a bottle of red).

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Chateau Lamarque, St. Croix du Mont, France

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Chateau Lamarque Vielle Vignes

One of our usual to do’s when bumping around a country is to track down any local markets. We again lucked out in that the Machecoul Market just happened to be on the one Wednesday we were camped out @ the fabulous La Mozardière in Legé, France. So with immense expectations we toddled off the short distance to Machecoul and we were not in the least bit disappointed – wow, ces Français font de bons marchés!!!

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La Mozardière – Legé, France

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Awesome & bountiful fish selection

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Fresh As Moules….

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Bountiful & Beautiful Veggies

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Our Main French Cheese Man – A Little Chèvre pour moi?