Gíjon – Magical Town…

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

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

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

Gíjon Street Scenes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artisan Market in Plaza Mayor…

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

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

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

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

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

Way Cool Bar – La Vida Alegre…

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

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

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

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

Yawn…More Bars…Tough Life.

Tierra Astur – More Cider!

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

Raw Coco – Fave, fave Cafe

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

 

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Cider Time…

Well it’s almost, almost Spring here in the Basque Country – the primavera smell is in the air & the birds seem to think it has arrived already, but the winter weather gods have another thing or five up their sleeves. So it was a perfecto day to be inside, at a local Basque sideria sampling this year’s vintage from the barrels. And once again, our good mate Idoia had sussed & sorted all the details out – all we had to do was make it to the bus stop on time. This year, as opposed to last year, was a luncheon (versus a late Basque dinner) date which held the promise of being a wee bit more on the tame side…

Idoia had chosen a sideria called Gartziategi – a very old school sideria with a serious history. The main building sits on the banks of the River Urumea in a caserio (country house) dating from the 16th century and it most definitely feels like 16th century – cold as and a tad damp which added to the cidery atmosphere. Julian Arrieta was the core bloke behind the start of the cider house in the early 20th century as cider making is a big & honoured tradition here ever since the French, post a battle defeat, ripped out all the Basque grape vines.

Idoia told us that many local folks (both French & Basque) flock to the siderias starting in January, but she feels the cider is far too young then & needs some time in the barrels to settle down & mellow out. But you cannot wait too long as the bottling process for the new vintage kicks off sometime in April and your chance of a visit & a sample vanishes.

The ‘process’ (called a txotx in Basque – pronounced ‘choch’) follows a set pattern both for food & drink. Once seated at your table, a baguette of bread & small plate of sautéd mushrooms & caramelised onions arrives to pleasure your taste buds while you wait for the first shout out of ‘Txotx!!!’, which triggers the mass migration to the cider barrels. You queue up, taking your turn to slip your cider glass under the continuous stream of golden, slightly cloudy & effervescent liquid until all are satisfied.

Back to your table where the second comestible has arrived – a bacalao (salt cod) tortilla. A perfect foil for the crisp, slightly acidy cider that comes from a specific barrel, made from specific apple variety or varieties. This is a lot of the fun – to sample the various barrels and try & pick your fave to return to. Then the shout of ‘Txotx!!!’ is heard again & back we all go…

Top Right: Bacalao Tortilla; Dessert of Basque Cheese, Fresh Walnuts & Apple Paste; Serious Chuleta de Vaca (Ribeye); Steamed Bacalao; Sautéd Mushrooms & Caramelised Onions; Devoured Chuleta

Next table delivery is a chunky, chunky slice of steamed bacalao smothered in sweet onions & sautéd scallion greens – yumbola! And once again (it is repeated A LOT OF TIMES) the call to drink, ‘Txotx!’, was shouted out & we have another barrel to slay…

And then the pièce de résistance awaits us at our table – a perfectly wood grilled chuleta de vaca (rib eye) that could feed a small village (or Billie our Jack Russell). We make a mess of it, but it is all carne fenomenal and tasty as (the 3 French dudes sitting next to us requested another chuleta de vaca – they were BIG FELLAS).

We close out this marvellous, festive feast with a more modest, lighter plate of Basque cheese, freshly harvested walnuts & apple paste…perfect counter-balance to all that preceded it, but of course more cider was needed…

Top Left: The Txotx Pour Begins; And Continues from Another Barrel; 2 Txotx Chicas; Wooden Apple Art

To The Cidery We Will Go…

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Itziar’s Home Sweet Home…and Dogs & Cats.

We have a very good mate named Itziar who, like us, is struggling to learn a second language – for us Spanish, for her English. She’s quite good with her English but for practice we spend a bit of time each week in what is called an “intercambio”, where half the time we speak in Spanish and the other half in English. We first met Itziar at one of our absolute fave restaurants, Cantina de Guadalupe, where she works along side many folks from her family. During one recent visit to the Cantina, Itziar presented us with a bottle of her family’s cider which we promptly took home, chilled & drank as our evening beverage. Estupendo! was the general consensus.

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Cider Making Stuff

We conveyed those sentiments to Itziar upon our next meeting and she offered up an invitation to pay a visit to her parents home & see the cider making workshop and…buy some cider! Yippee! So off we toddled one fine summer’s eve in Itziar’s car, winding our way up several back country laneways, making a slow ascent toward the foothills of the Jaizkibel Mountains.

We pulled into a courtyard where a passel of folks were having a chat, buying some wonderful cider while the dogs & cats wandered freely about. Itziar introduced us to her Mum & Dad, and then launched into a tour of the cidery, explaining each piece of equipment & how it is used, as well as a timeline of events from start to the finish – cider to sell & drink. Post the tour, samples were poured all round and after a couple or three doses of cider, we headed up the hill for the late evening views.

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View from the Hill

It was a warm and slightly humid evening, which left a vague haze across the valley but the view was still stunning. We had a close inspection of the neighbour’s txakoli vineyard which appeared to be coming along nicely. Txakoli is the only native Basque Country grape and it makes a wonderful crisp, low alcohol, slightly fizzy white wine that is meant to be drunk within a year of bottling. Traditionally it is poured from a decent height when served to punch up the effervescence factor.

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Apple Orchard Trees & Sheep Shed

Post a tour of the orchard and the veggie garden, we got down to business and procured 12 bottles of this wonderful liquid. It is our favourite cider that we have tasted so far in the Basque Country and on all our trips through Spain. Long may it last or at least Itziar’s family supply stock! We hope to buy more…and maybe lend a helping hand in next season’s harvest….

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…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!

And It’s……………..Cider Time!

We received another one of those invitations you cannot refuse from our mate Idoia to join her & friends on a visit to a Basque sidrería. The early part of the New Year is cider season round these parts where the sidrerías open their doors for a traditional Basque repast and a tasting of their new ciders from barrel prior to a Spring bottling.

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Mina Sidrería – Da Man Stands Ready To Pour!

Despite a wee bit of a language communication hiccup (we showed up @ 8AM for the taxi, not 8PM as ordered), we all piled into the taxi minibus and off we went to the Mina sidrería. The menu for the evening was: cider,  bacalao tortilla, cider, then cooked bacalao en salsa (house specialty), cider, then the main event – chuletas de vaca (ribeye steaks) cooked on the grill, cider, then dessert of cheese, quince paste & freshly harvested walnuts and cider.

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Sidra Mates; Cheese, Quince Paste & Walnuts; Bacalao Tortilla; Bacalao En Salsa

We feel extremely lucky so far in our time in the Basque Country as we have been welcomed with open arms by many folks and we feel very privileged to experience events like this (and the calçots meal with Gloria & familia) that push us beyond a simple tourist’s view of Spain.

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Mina – Sidra Natural

You might think that cider is cider but, just like wine or beer, each area or country and cider maker has a particular take on what cider is or should be. Here in the Basque Country the ciders tend to carry a strong acidic bite or quality – according to semi-cider expert Hound #2 – versus their brethren in England or Australia or New Zealand. I am not a big cider drinker but given the ultra fun circumstances it was not a hard swallow!

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Chuletas, Chuletas, Chuletas…Hound #1 Billie Got The Tidbits

And as you can tell from the top photo below, we all had the ‘cider glow’…and full stomachs. Definitely not a pintxo type stroll of a meal but estupendo!

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Happy Campers & Satiated Crew…One More For The Road, Please!