Fly Fishing Los Ríos Norte de León…

Río Curueño, León

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

Río Curueño…

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

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

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

Centre of the World for Coq de León…

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

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

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

Rush Hour in La Candana de Curueño…

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

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

Río Curueño, León

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

Río Curueño @ the Source – High Mountain Fishing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

 

Mutriku Mackerel Madness – Déjà Vu!

Welcome To Mutriku!

The Hounds made the pilgrimage to the Mutriku Mackerel Fest last year, but because detailed info on the when, what & how was next to non-existent, we opted to set off quite early in old Gertie the Land Rover to avoid any crowds & parking hassles & pulled in just short of the 10AM mark. The town was absolutely vacant, and we had a couple of serious doubts about the possible success of our mackerel fest quest. But a quick chat with the Tourist Information folks confirmed that it was all a “Go!”, but kicking off shortly after 12PM…

Mackerel Pintxo Numero Uno y Dos! Our First Port of Call – Taberna Ametza.

The only substantial mistake we made last year was that we missed the BIG MACKEREL GRILL OFF that capped the day at around 6PM (due to driving & drinking restrictions). So included in this year’s operational plan was an overnight stay. There are only 2 places to sleep with a dog in Mutriku & we lucked out with one of the 3 rooms @ Hostal Rin. Perfectamente location…

Our greatest advantage in attending this year’s fest was that we pretty much knew the score, and queued up for our fave spots from last year. First stop, Taberna Ametza, where we sampled 2 different mackerel pintxos washed down with a pair of  zuritos (small beers) on the town square – off to a solid start…

Batzokia’s Excellent Mackerel Strips in Olive Oil with a Drizzle of Balsamic…Top Pintxo By Far!

We next made a bee line for our top voted bar from last year’s visit – Batzokia. The front of house service @ this taberna is all women & they were: (a) super friendly and (b) massively efficient. In a brief chat with one of the women we learned (if our Spanish was up to snuff) that the bar/restaurant is run as a co-operative and is somehow part of or supported by a Basque political party called EAJ-PNV (we have one in Hondarribia). And, once again, we were not disappointed to find our most desired pintxo still being dished out in quantity (and free!) at the bar. We found it hard to leave…

Mutriku Scenes…

The Weather Gods, though not fully co-operating, were indeed most kind to us. As every time we headed into a bar or taberna for a drink & a snack, the heavens opened up & hosed Mutriku down. Then, miraculously, just as we zipped & buttoned up to battle the elements, they flicked a switch & it all ceased & desisted. Two hats off to the Weather Gods!

Mutriku Scenes – Billie Strolls the Harbour…Buildings of Mutriku.

Top Left: Mackerel Pintxos & a Croqueta; Event Poster; Yet Another Taberna – Bar Zubixa; Mr. Mackerel Stokes Up the Crowd

Top Left: Bar Zubixa Political Poster; Da Marching Band!; Boat

Top Left: Mutriku Port; Boat Houses; Family Pic; Duck Fountains

As the arvo wore down, it was fast approaching the kick off time for the Big Event – a grand scale mackerel grill up & pintxo fest port side. We developed a plan to: (a) make an initial foray into the crowded fest as Hound #2 had a great fear of missing out on some mackerel a la plancha; then (b) return Billie to our hostel room for a siesta; (c) wander the Old Town & sample some more pintxos at any bars we might have missed; and (d), end up back at the port for some more mackerel pintxos & some live music.

The Big Verdel Event – Top Left: Plate of Grilled Mackerel & a Cold Beer for 1 Euro!; Da Crowd; Festival Menu in Basque; Up Close & Personal Verdel Pic; From On High Crowd View

Parts (a), (b) and (c) all went to plan & success was achieved on all fronts…but when part (d) rolled around, something was clearly amiss. We arrived back at the port shortly after 9PM (give to take 15 minutes) and everything & everybody had vanished – no mackerel food stalls, no people, no stage and no music…party over! We were going with the general consensus view that the Spanish like to party & stay out late, but I guess the stall vendors & musicians had other ideas. But it was true that the gente (people) fullfilled their mantra ‘eso si que es la vida‘ (this is the life) & saw the sun rise…we could hear the riotous crowd noises from our paper thin walled room. And it was not much help on the sleep front when our two neighbours stumbled in (and I mean stumbled in) around 4 or 5AM.

Top Left: ‘Mackerel Day’ in Basque; Professional Txakoli (local white wine) Pourer; Two Fun Late Night Pubs…For Young Folks.

Zumia Pit Stop…

Up early for a quick walk round the Mutriku port, then headed home with a quick stop in Zumia for a second coffee and a wee squizzy around the Old Town section…safely back in Hondarribia for lunch. Excellent adventure had by all…

A Salamanca Weekend…A Savoury Visit.

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Pueblo de Palencia…Top: Plaza Mayor & Town Hall; Local Band; Church.

We had decided to opt out of a Valentine’s Day Valentine’s Day with all it requisite paraphernalia & fluff and instead, 2 weeks later, have a romantic weekend (minus our ‘child’ Billie the Jack Russell) in Salamanca.  With our time in Spain rapidly diminishing (we leave on August 1st for the U.K. to prep our New Zealand return), we have assembled a decently long list of to do’s & Salamanca was top of the list.

It is a reasonably long drive (5+ hours) so we sorted out a few pit stops along the way which was a tad difficult as there seems to be, by all appearances, nothing much of real interest on the road to Salamanca (Burgos is great but we’d already been there). We have a Spanish friend who was born & raised in Palencia, so that was where we headed for a roadway breather & something to eat…

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Bar Alaska, Palencia – Estupendo!

Though many of our guide books or articles gave Palencia a minor pass, we made the most of it & headed straight through the Old Town to highly recommended Bar Alaska. And the reviewers were spot on – our only mistake was we did not take stock of exactly how good this place was & simply stop here & enjoy. But no, Hound #2 had read about a Turkish place called El Rincon de Istanbul which by Tripadvisor ticks was the bee’s knees for Turkish food outside of Turkey itself. Not…we were both slightly suspicious when the menu was: (a) almost longer than the Bible (obviously not freshly cooked); and (b) the menu & the restaurant walls were plastered with florescent plastic photos of their food.

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Lunch @ Rincon de Istanbul, Palencia – Not Too Good…

And our gut instincts were right – the falafel came out of a frozen packet, the bread was also a packet product and my curried chicken was almost stone cold & Hound #2 summed it up precisely by stating that it looked like ‘sick’. Onward to Salamanca…

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View of Stunning Salamanca & the Roman Bridge that crosses the River Torme (trout are in there!)…

Our arrival into Salamanca was easy as due to the fact that our hotel Vincci Ciudad de Salamanca, was right on the outskirts, only a 10 minute walk into the centro, so easily avoiding all the driving & parking hassles of a central Old Town space. We quickly settled in & headed out for a Friday arvo / evening stroll to the City Centre – across a beautiful Roman bridge over the River Torme. Once again, the Weather Gods smiled upon us and we had a perfecto winter’s day of blue skies, sun, no wind & mild temps…

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Beautiful Architecture Round Every Corner….

The Old Town is, thankfully, very pedestrianised so walking or strolling is a breeze. Salamanca is a big university town & has one of, if not the oldest, university in Europe. And it is chocka with students – we heard more American/Canadian/British accents in one weekend than we have heard in our entire time in Hondarribia. We were late to find out that this weekend was El Carnaval weekend – so a wee bit fearful of possible chaos & craziness. No problema…tranquilo…sweet as.

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Top Left: Back Street View, Cathedral in the lights, Plaza Mayor – Excellent Space!

Salamanca is a bit closer in modus operandi to the South of Spain than the North, which means that many places open later (round 8PM or after). So with a small chunk of time on our hands we made a bee line for La Vendimia Vinoteca – tienda de vino supreme!

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Tienda de Vino Excelente!

It is ALWAYS a great pleasure to peruse a wine store that offers up a distinctly different range of vino bebidas….not your bog standard super mercado or local bodega selection but different juices from small producer folks that I only seem to read about in magazines. Several bottles were purchased (and 3 more the next day) and off we went into the Salamanca night…

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Bodega Cuzco – Our Salamanca Fave….

At the top of our list & just about everyone else’s was Bodega Cuzco which offered up caliente made-to-order pintxos paired with a superbly chosen wine list. The staff were top notch too – friendly & super efficient. I had the chicken curry mini burger while Hound #2 went with her usual favourite – pulpo (octopus) a la plancha (grilled).

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Bambú – Another Great Choice for Friday’s Comestibles…

Next on our visitation agenda was Bambú – again a crowd pleaser and a highly rated establishment. A really well oiled hospitality machine (not President Trump’s kind) that was cranking on all cylinders & buzzing with Friday night crowds filling the place to the max. Salamanca is technically reputed to be a city that falls into the category of a free pintxo with every drink order. What we found were 3 distinct offers: (a) order a drink & get a gratis pintxo; (b) order a drink & not get a free pintxo but notice that most of the locals were getting one so we asked…and usually, begrudgingly got one; and (c) you pay for your pintxos (like at  Bodega Cuzco) . Bambú fits into the first bucket so with our first round of cervezas, I got the universal Spanish sandwich – jamón with pimiento pepper on a wee roll. Hound #2 scored with a smoked salmon wrapped around cream cheese & dusted in bread crumbs. Round 2 was accompanied by some delicious meatballs or albondigas as they are called here.

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Salamanca Scenes…

Up early on Saturday to have a full on day in Salamanca, first port of call was the Casa de las Conchas. Unfortunately, La Casa was undergoing some renovation works so the full beauty of its facade was hidden by some serious scaffolding. But still a marvel – and we had a nice chat with the librarian (yes, there is a library inside) who told us a bit about the history & construction and said it was VERY difficult to find qualified people to do the restoration so they had ONE woman doing it bit by bit as they could afford to pay her.

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Casa de las Conchas….

Next on our Saturday morning agenda was our required visit to the local mercado – the Mercado Central de Salamanca to be exact. An always fascinating adventure to walk the aisles & floors (2 levels here) and have a decent perusal of all of the local products on offer. Salamanca has a reputation as serious ‘meat country’ in all its various forms – fresh beef or pork or veal or fowl or ox; charcuterie of all shapes & sizes like chorizo or jamón sliced or full legs, salchichon (salami extraordinaire), morcilla (blood sausage), sausages & cecina (dried beef or ox).

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Mercado Central de Salamanca….

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Mercado Central de Salamanca: Top – Serious Spanish Beef; Veggies Galore; More Meat & Charcuterie…

And of course you will find a decent collection of veggie & dry goods stalls too, and as icing on the cake, a magnificent fish section stuffed to the gills with everything possible from the sea or fresh water. The Spanish love their seafood and we are quite blessed living in Hondarribia as it is a fishing port town so we see el pescado as fresh as it can be.

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Mercado Central de Salamanca – Fish Section….

Post our mercado visit, we paid a second visit to La Vendimia vino store and then set our course for Calle Van Dyck. This street is a renowned student haunt due to its cheap eats & drinks. We were hesitant to see it in all its glory, late at night on Carnaval weekend so we opted for a mid day visit to see what the fuss was about.

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La Cocina de la Yaya (affectionate term for grandma)…Top: Braised Mushrooms; A Moruno skewer – usually lamb but this was pork…

We did a couple block walking tour, sticking our noses into various joints & decided we liked the look of La Cocina de la Yaya (Spanish for grandma). And yes folks, the price was right – 2 cervezas & 2 LARGE pintxos for all of 6 euros. The students have sussed this out correctly…

We popped into one other taberna on Calle Van Dyck before aiming ourselves to return to the Old Town & we came across Restaurante Don Bustos in our wanders. Following, once again, Hound #2’s Dad’s Rule – if it has loads of local folks inside there is a high probability it is a keeper. Score for Dad’s Rule – busy as & buzzing with Spanish. Two cañas (beer) ordered straight away & 2 pintxos gratis of fried eggplant handed across the bar. Delish.

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Restaurante Don Bustos….Pintxo of Fried Eggplant. Place was hop’n!

We had built up a respectable ‘to do’ list with regards to bars & pintxo places, so we next made our way to La Casa de Las Pulgas (House of the Fleas) which was warp speed busy with only one bartender, but scored a sweet pintxo of chickpea stew with diced shrimp & mussels. Yum.

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Casa de las Pulgas (Fleas) – Chickpea Stew with Shrimps & Mussels…

And just down the street on Plaza Angel was a super popular place called Casa Vallejo which people spilling out onto the street & plaza. And here the free pintxo was a white bean stew with various bits of diced chorizo mixed through it. Perfecto…

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Casa Vallejo – Busy As…

Queued up next was La Cocina de Toño, a place known for its hot, freshly made pintxos (versus cold or microwaved off the bar). This place got the 2 thumbs (maybe 4) up as super tasty, excellent pintxo snacks at a fair price with a great vino selection and, thankfully, in a slightly less hectic atmosphere than our previous 2 bars.

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La Cocina de Toño – 2nd Fave of the Trip…Top Left: Chickpeas with Shrimps; Back Bar & Hanging Jamón; Pulpo (Octopus).

After a wee siesta back at the hotel, we geared up for a Saturday night in Salamanca with Carnaval supposedly in full swing. We were again quite relieved to find out that carnaval in Salamanca, despite all the youngsters, was a quiet affair.

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A Return Visit to Bodega Cuzco – Great Again…Top: Goats Cheese with Caramelised Onion Topping; 2 Copas de Toro; Duck Confit Fajita.

We made our plan to be @ Bodega Cuzco spot on the 8PM opening to avoid the inevitable throngs. We got two cozy seats at the bar & placed our order for two vino tintos de Toro and 2 pintxos – Hound #2 had warmed Goat’s Cheese with a topping of Caramelised Onions while I satisfied my duck craving with a Duck Confit Fajita.

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2 Blogger Favorites….

We popped into to several other places on our list like La Viga and Bar Montero but ended up just having a wine. La Viga was packed with locals but the food on offer was not our cuppa tea – fried pork crackling & other fried things. Bar Montero seemed a bit more formal with very little being offered on the bar and only a full menu to order from.

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Live Music @ Local Salamanca Dive Bar….

We decided to call it a night & zig zagged our way through the narrow back streets & stumbled across a teeny tiny bar & decided on a nightcap. Happy to find that they served Alhambra Reserva 1925 but even more surprised to see a group setting up to play. We hung around for some tunes which, again, were not our cuppa tea but a fun way to end the evening…

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Goodbye Beautiful Salamanca…

We felt we had seen what we wanted to see in Salamanca, so we set off early to take advantage of another spectacular winter’s day & drop in on Valledolid as we had never been & had no plans to visit.

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Stretch Your Legs Pit Stop @ Valledolid….

We spent an hour or so wandering around the Old Town, stopping off @ Plaza Mayor for some coffee in the winter sun and finding 2 serious wine stores right next to each other but closed (it was Sunday) – damn!. We concluded it was a city mos def worth a night & day’s stay…

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Lunch in Burgos @ La Pez…Simple As – Tuna Fillets Topped with Pimiento Peppers & Then Turned Over – Yum!

With Burgos up ahead on our road trip home, we made the executive decision to make it our lunch destination. We had had a stupendous time in Burgos on another trip and had fond memories of its Old Town section & excellent food. We laid out a direct walking line to Plaza Mayor & its various side streets and popped in at an old fave – Meson Los Herreros. Two pintxos & two cervazas down the gullet we navigated to La Pez de la Senda which is a very different pintxo bar from your bog standard. La Pez had just recently opened on our first visit to Burgos and we found the staff super friendly and they seemed to be always giving us free pintxos or samples of vino or vermouth. La Pez is also a mini deli with various products available for sale to take home. Our pintxo of the day was a beautiful jar of the local tuna  topped with cooked pimiento peppers, then turned upside down – what a presentation! Tasted great too…

So if you have never visited or heard of Salamanca, it is a city to put on your Spanish to do list. You will be rewarded with awesome architecture, old world charm, food & drink to please any palate – go!!!!!

San Tomas Fiesta…in San Sebastián

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Scenes of San Sebastián on a December Winter’s Day…Still Folks Swimming @ La Concha Beach!

We had attended the San Tomas fest last year, but in our local abode Hondarribia, where it all seemed extremely tame & crowd free. But many of our Basque mates said we absolutely had to go to San Sebastián to witness how the pros do San Tomas. We were also urged to get an early start as it was the place were most of the world wants to be for San Tomas, and we would find ourselves cheek by jowl with the local Basque hordes.

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Top: Inventive Day of the Pig Chistorra Signage; Funky Hair Do Chook in the Farm Section; Big Bread.

The cheap & cheerful background story on San Tomas fest is that it was the day the country folks ambled into town to pay their taxes, and generally they made a day of it by bringing in their families, a few prized animals from the farm to show off and to get all gussied up in their traditional Basque finest attire for a wee social conclave.

The honoured & traditional taste treat at the San Tomas fest is the txistorra (or chistorra in Español) – a wonderfully delicious local sausage that is especially flavoursome if cooked in a bit of Basque cider. The main method of presentation at the fest as seen in a dozen or more stalls is to serve it in a hand pounded corn tortilla that is then lightly grilled.

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The Day of the Pig – Chistorra! Chistorra!

We caught the 8:15am E21 express bus & stepped off in San Sebastián at 8:45am only to find most folks still setting up their stalls and no chistorra even being cooked yet :-(….so we toddled off to our new fave coffee joint Sakona for as close to a Melbourne or Christchurch class coffee to be had in Spain.

There were stalls EVERYWHERE – with a good mix of food & drink, deli specialties, charcuterie, cheeses, chocolates, breads, pastries, and a extensive range of artisan Basque products that ranged from jewellery to clothes to toys to shoes. And speaking of shoes, both human Hounds quite surprised themselves respectively in that we each bought a pair of shoes from shoemaker Zapatari – not in the mainly-eat-chistorra-and-drink-cider-plan, go figure.

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Top Left: Pigs in a Blanket; Recyclable Festival Cider Cup!; How Basque Cider is Poured; Corn Tortillas in the Making.

So now it was chistorra time & we followed Hound #2’s Dad’s Golden Rule per choosing a place to eat – look where there are lots of people (preferably local) and/or a healthy queue and you have found the right spot. And we did & we queued & we nailed the perfecto chistorra stand. Crispy tortilla with a melt in your mouth, perfectly cooked, tender as chistorra tucked away inside. Our only fatal mistake was to order just one to share – but in our defence it was only 11am & a bit south of the traditional 12pm starting line to begin: (a) serious meat consumption and (b) imbibing something of an alcoholic nature.

We were VERY impressed with the council or fest sponsors for providing (for a euro per glass but refundable) a re-usable plastic glass for your cider pour. One of the things that is so upsetting about events like this is the massive waste…cups, napkins, plates, cutlery, etc…that just ends up in landfill somewhere. So a HUGE HATS OFF to the folks who thought this scheme up….we kept our glasses as souvenirs and to use on our camping or picnicking trips.

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Basque Father Christmas Olentzero Atop the Brexta Market; Wee Fellows Gobbling Chistorra in Traditional Clothes & Caps; Da Crowds.

By 1pm it seemed like the entire population of the Basque Country if not Spain had descended on the San Tomas Fest…so it was doing our heads in a wee bit & we needed some quiet space & a bit of a sit down, so off we went to the Tabakalera, a stunningly re-developed old tabacco warehouse that is just starting to spread its wings. It is a wonderful space for art, music, food & wine, films, quiet reflection…with an amazing view of San Sebastian from its rooftop deck space.

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Two of Alberto Schoomer’s Photos of Andy Warhol & Spanish Sculptor Chillida…and some Basque Punk.

So our second San Tomas Fest ticked off & under our belts (or over from the chistorra consumption) and we each have a new pair of Basque handmade shoes as a souvenir…excelente!

Tolosa Chuleta Fest – Yippee!!!

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Yum Yum Eat’m Up — Chuleta Fest @ Tolosa


WARNING: To all vegetarian and vegan folks, this post contains meat photos.

The Hounds had recently paid a visit to the Basque town of Tolosa to check out the famous weekly Saturday market (which we loved BTW) and we spotted some announcements regarding a Festival de Chuleta – a Steak Fest to put it simply. A few weeks later, I read in my regular Saturday El Diario Vasco newspaper a detailed article on said festival with loads of history, ticket details, etc…I decided – “I’m in on this deal”.

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Street Scenes Tolosa…

I made the tactical decision to catch a train to Tolosa so as not to put a cap on any potential fun by having to drive my 1975 Land Rover back home post visiting vino & chuleta heaven. Like many other things here in Spain, trains are sort of an approximation…más o menos. The web site said a train departed from the Irun station at 11AM, so got myself there by 10:30AM only to find there is no 11AM, there is a 10:53AM. Said train, according to the web site, would deposit me in Tolosa at 11:40AM…try 12:05PM. But no pasa nada – I was not in a hurry & still had a decent chunk of time to wander old town Tolosa.

Casco Antiguo (Old Town) is, like many other Spanish cities or towns, the best part of the town with narrow, cobble stoned, pedestrianised streets that simply reek with character & charm. The only negative or slightly creepy thing was that they had loudspeakers strung up & down every street, playing a very weird mix of traditional Basque music, which was then followed by a Heavy Metal tune…go figure.

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Old Town Tolosa…

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Lots of Tolosa Graffiti…And Hay Muchos Signs…

The Tolosa Chuleta Fest was started in 2006 to commemorate the 750th (yes, that’s right 750th) birthday celebration of the founding of Tolosa. Tolosa, over several generations if not centuries, has earned a well deserved reputation for expertise in all things grilled. The chefs who grill are called asadores in Spanish & the restaurants are asadors. And originally the meat used came from the ox, but has now shifted to beef and is called locally ‘vaca vieja’ or old/aged beef.

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The festival runs for 3 days (6th, 7th and 8th of December in 2016) and is housed in the ‘Tinglado‘ (translates to ‘shed’) which was constructed in 1899 & 1900 to be the new home to the Saturday weekly market. The Tinglado sits smack dab on the Oria River, with glassed walls providing a very up close & personal river view.

The Festival Folks had divided the Tinglado into 2 bits – a sweet, spacious dining room for the lunches & dinners and a casual pintxo & bar area for a bit of Chuleta Fest warmups. There were 5 or 6 stalls, each offering a different pintxo or two, and of course, a bar serving the usual suspects – vino tinto (Rioja) & blanco (local Basque star txakoli) , cerveza & cider.

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The Best Fest – Pintxo Alley. Bottom Right – Pintxo to Beat All Pintxos!

I started my festival warmup with the pintxo pictured above (slow braised beef in a pork bun with micro greens, pickled red onion & a secret sauce) which was SO delicious that I came within in inch of having another, but given I was only an hour or so away from a massive steak fest I decided to spread the wealth and sample a different taste treat.

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Top Left: Local Brew Called La Salve (Translates to ‘Hail Mary’); Family Who Made Da Vino; Chistorra (Basque Sausage); Grill’n Up Some Pintxos…

My second comestible treat came in the form of the locally famed chistorra, a Basque sausage that is often cooked up in some local cider. Again, a hit right out of the park – 3 different types of chistorra perfectly grilled with another secret sauce (pictured above). Excelente & washed it down with a local brew call La Salve (translates as ‘Hail Mary’ – cool).

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Chuletas de Vacas….The Star Attraction

When the clock struck 2, folks started queuing up at the dining hall entrance…tickets in hand and appetites, just like the charcoal, on fire. As we passed through the foyer entrance, we were greeted with a chuleta display to get the juices flowing and we could plainly see the asadores hard & hot at work.

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Table Is Set…Wine is Open. Ready, Set, Go!

We had 10 folks at our table – 5 native Spanish-speakers, 2 Americans from Denver speaking American, a couple from Holland (who live in France) & me. Besides the asadores hard at work, the Ibérico Jamón carvers were all non-stop knife action to repeatedly fill & refill our plates to kick off the luncheon with a bang. The jamón goes down SO easy & marries perfectly with a glass or two of red vino.

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First Up – Sliced Ibérico Jamón…The Good Stuff – Black Label.

Next up was the veggie portion of the fest – white asparagus in a tangy vinaigrette dressing (sorry, no pics…too busy eating & drinking) followed by cogollos de Tudela – Romain lettuce hearts. Perfect foil to the previous salty & savoury jamón flavours, and the beef that was to follow…a light interlude was mos def called for…

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Top Left: Dining Room; The Veggie Plate – Hearts of Lettuce; The Dining Room Cow

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All Fired Up & the Grilling Begins!…A Man & His Ox.

As you can see by the grilling photo above, the Spanish are generous with their salt. As many chefs & cooks will tell you, salting the meat generously prior to grilling or cooking works small wonders as does brining (particularly chicken, turkey or even pork). Despite what appears to be, to me, an excessive amount of the salty stuff, you could not in any way taste it on the finished steak.

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Turn Away Now Vegetarians…

So the goods get delivered, and they are oh, oh so good. Cooked (for me) just the way I like it, as I think many meats become totally devoid of flavour when singed to within an inch of their life – might as well eat your shoe. This was perfecto – a crispy, char broiled brown crust with a deep, deep red centre and flowing with good steak juices. The meat was well balanced with just the right amount of fat marbling (relative to the meat) which added delectable, flavourful bits to the overall flavour.

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Steak & Roasted Pimientos….

The plates of steak just kept coming – no one @ our table seem to be able to get enough chuleta, nor vino as our Spanish table mates kept hailing our waitress with ‘Más Vino! Más!’ & bottles magically kept appearing.

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Lonely Dessert Cheese Plate & Sweet Snack…

To say I had a good time would be the understatement of the day or week – our festive table was the last to leave the Tinglado & its merry surrounds…all happy campers toddling off home for a wee siesta…Great job Tolosa! Keep up the good work!

 

 

Bonanza Birthday Adventure…Segovia, A Parador & Toledo Up First…

My girlfriend’s (Hound #2) birthday comes up every November, as they do, and this year she made it clear that no pressies were required, just a trip, a trip to see the city of Granada and the Alhambra. Because of public travel complications (takes too long and no doggies allowed), we opted for a week or so long road trip with pit stops in Segovia, Toledo and a sweet Spanish parador thrown into the mix before our arrival in Granada…

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Segovia’s Roman Viaduct…Impressive! No Cement or Mortar here Folks…just the weight of the stones, perfectly placed.

First stop was Segovia as Hound #2 was aching to see the Roman aqueduct and that was pretty much it! We had actually thought about staying in Segovia but Segovia has NO PLACES YOU CAN STAY WITH A DOG! Serious faux pas Segovia…but we had a nice wander as the weather was more than co-operating with bright sun, blue skies and mild temps. Segovia was super busy with bus loads of tourists…and it struck us that the pueblo had been taken over by many well known chain stores. In fact, just under the 100AD Roman aqueduct was a Burger King AND a McDonalds – ugh.

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Segovia in Super Light….

Onward & upward to the Parador @ Gredos…Hound #2 has always wanted to stay at one of Spain’s amazing paradors but:

(a) they be expensive – the one in Hondarribia, where we live, can run you €250 per night; (b) and most of them do not, once again, do not allow dogs.

But as luck would have it, the parador in the wilds of Gredos (absolutely nothing else around but conveniently on our way to Toledo) not only allowed dogs, but set us back a mere €70 (plus €15 for a full on breakfast)! And Hound #1 Billie copped the deal to make ya squeal – a new travel bed, 2 new food / water bowls and a 4kg bag of Royal Canin kibble (all thanks to Royal Canin) – for free!

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El Bar @ El Parador @ Gredos…

Simply said, the paradors of Spain are impressive. Stunningly old but classy buildings with character in spades, top level staff & service, food & drink that is hard to beat and rooms to suit all needs. We hit the bar for some delicious (for lack of a better word) mushroom stew (it is the forage season here) and then split a perfect, fresh salad with a few brews in front of the open, warming fire.

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A Parador Brekky!

I scored big time too as being north of 55 years of age, we got the old folks breakfast discount & were treated to this plethora of delectable delicacies…left the table full and satisfied.

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Post Brekky Parador Woods Walk…Billie’s Fave.

And to top off & finish our wonderful parador stay, they have a marvellous woods walk which ticked everyone’s boxes (we worked off breakfast, Billie got his sniffing & peeing done) in a crisp fall morning. Estupendo!

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Toledo Bound….Bit of A View…

Then off to Toledo, with a wee pit stop atop a seriously high hill (not really a mountain) and we got this wonderful gander across a misty valley…

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Hola Toledo!

A few things to mention about Toledo:

(a) it is relatively tiny – ‘tiny’ as in squished onto the pinnacle of a hill & surrounded by old stone walls. The squish factor makes for challenging navigation – especially when they allow cars & trucks & scooters to use the very same streets. And it is quite hard to get your bearings as the streets are so narrow, and the buildings smack dab on either side of the street that you cannot see an effing landmark to orient yourself;

(b) Toledo is not a vibrant, late night kind of place by a long shot. You may have heard how famous the Spanish are for ‘la marcha’ (nightlife) and they like to be out very late – not here. Granted, it was a Thursday night but we wandered up & down dozens of streets only to find the majority of places shuttered up…and Toledo supposedly had a gastronmic tapas competition happening as we wandered!

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Window Shopping – Toledo…They Like Their Swords & Knives…Sort of Famous for them…

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Toldeo Scenes – Crazy Trafico!

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Awesome Views from the Library Cafe…

One of the all time best views to be had of Toledo that is actually in Toledo is from the library’s cafe, which sits on the top floor with vistas in all directions – and the coffee’s damn cheap @ €1 per cuppa!

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Tasting the Wares….

When we awoke on the Friday morning, it was Hound #2’s actual birthday. So a special breakfast needed to be sought out, so we went on a search & discovered Cafetería Wamba. Deal to make us squeal…

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Birthday Brekky Deal To Beat The Band….

Stuffed with the sweetest of birthday pastries & coffee, it was time for a bit’o culture. So after several dead ends & retracing of steps, and employment of Google maps, we found the El Greco Museo.

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El Greco Museo

And lo & behold, for some still not understood reason, today (Hound #2’s birthday) the entrance was free! We liked the museum but were a wee bit puzzled early on as there appeared to be no El Greco works actually at the El Greco museum. They had an interactive computer program at the start that showed you on a map all the other places in Toledo you could see El Greco’s work, and the first 2 or 3 exhibition rooms we toured were all disciples of El Greco or outright copiers, but no El Grecos. But phew, we eventually found a decent sampling of his work which some art folks speculate is painted in a seemingly exaggerated or distorted style (tall & extended bodies with pointed & small heads) because they think El Greco’s eyesight was either horrible or fading quickly, or that he was slightly mad – or both.

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Celebratory Lunch @ Kumera….Curried Chick Peas with Shrimps & a Perdiz (Local Partridge) Salad…

With the Culture Box ticked, it was time for a birthday lunch & we were hoping we’d be a tad luckier than the previous night’s debacle. And we were, as we settled into a savoury menú del día at Kumera. I won the first plate competition round with my Garbonzos Con Curry y Langostinos (Curried Chick Peas & Shrimps) but Hound #2’s Ensalada de Perdiz a la Toledana (a local seasonal Toledo specialty) was not far off a top score.

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Kumera Mains – Seared Salmon & Venison Stew….

And sorry, but glad to say folks, I won the main plate competition too with my Venison Estufado (Stew) – superb! Though, once again the Salmón al Horno (Baked Salmon) in a Spring Onion Cream would not have been kicked off the table. All washed down with a most delicious cuppa vino blanco (verdejo and macabeo grapes) of Paso a Paso by Bodega Volver.

Satiated and more than satisfied, we packed the vehicle & set our course for Granada & the Alhambra…the next phase of the birthday festivities.