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…

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….

A Walk On The Wild Side – The French Basque Country…

Village of Bera, País Vasco…

The weather forecast called for a near perfect Spring day recently, so we decided a Sunday tiki tour was in order to: (a) shake the cobwebs off Gertie, the 1975 Land Rover, and (b) to explore & visit a bit of the French Basque country since it’s just over the border.

We sorted out a circular road trip which had us headed for the Spanish village of Bera as our first stop of the day. We arrived earlier than planned, so the village was more than quiet, though it was quite obvious that things be shake’n in Bera as for a village its size it appeared that it could feed Napolean’s army with the number of dining establishments spotted.

We wandered up to the town church and puttered around the graveyard which was peppered with fascinating old, Basque tombstones. Then a wander down a crooked laneway for a wee stroll & then a return via a path along the village river. The water looked sweet & we quickly spotted numbers of trout holding their feeding positions…one looked to run to more than 1 pound which is a decent size for these parts. Hummmmm????

We decided it was time to move on if we were to make our lunch date in St. Jean de Luz & be able to pay a visit to 2 or 3 other French Basque towns. As we left town though, headed for France, we were a tad disappointed that we had not wandered farther along as Bera has a decently sized Old Town section where they were hosting an agricultural machinery fair…damn!

Crossed to the French Side – Cute As Village of Sare…

From Bera you climb up & over the foothills of the Pyrenees and descend down into the first Basque Country village of Sare. You have or hate to admit it sometimes, but the French truly do have a grand sense of style and that was on display in spades in Sare. Tidy as, almost movie set perfect & clean as a whistle…we tested one of the local cafes with a café au lait & it passed more than a muster. A bit of souvenir shopping was completed, then a good zig zag wander round the village lanes & back to Gertie the Land Rover.

We literally made a pit stop in Ascain, it was nice but did not seem to hold a candle to Sare and there appeared not to be a soul on the streets. We made a pause for a bit of refreshment (local brewed beers), in some sun facing deck chairs before making the decision to move on to our lunch destination…

Lunch on the French Basque Coast @ St. Jean de Luz…

Hound #2 had read somewhere, about some cafe or bar that was someplace on the beach, somewhere near or close to St. Jean de Luz – I know, not exactly the directions you can put into Google & achieve success. But lo & behold we managed to find not 1, but 2 bars/bistros on the beach & opted for La Guinguette d’Erromardie. It just had the too cool for school look, with lots of hip folks taking in the sun & beach vibe and clearly tasty food & drink.

Yum Food @ La Guinguette d’Erromardie – Top Left: Caesar Salad; Grilled Fresh Sardines, Baked Potato & Salad; Coastal View with 2 Hounds; Drinks & Flowers Beachside…

The Daily Special was all Hound #2 had to see – grilled sardines with a baked potato & salad – choice made & she was happy as Larry (so was Billie). I thought I’d be healthy & have the Caesar Salad & get my dose of greens, but was disappointed to see the chicken in my Caesar came deep fried, not simply grilled. No serious complaints – all very tasty & washed down with some red vino & chilled cerveza & sweet, sweet staff. This place must rock @ night on the summer weekends.

Top: The Company Car; Beach View Towards St. Jean de Luz; Sunday Buzz…

This type of day needs, needs to be repeated before we depart for the UK, then New Zealand…so close & so interesting…and they have trout!!!!

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.

salpalenciascene

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…

salbaralaska

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…

salbridgeview

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…

salscene4

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.

salplazamayor

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!

sallavendemia

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).

salbambu2

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!!!!!

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.

Kiwis Come A Calling…

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Paddle Board Day…Billie Goes To Sea!

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

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Hondarribia, Spain – The Kiwi Home For 3 Weeks!

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

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

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

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

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High Class @ Alameda

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

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

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

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San Sebastián Pintxos

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

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

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

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Tasting Vino At GOÑI ardoteca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bodegas Baigorri, La Rioja Alavesa

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

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Logroño Pintxo Fest…

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Bodegas Ysios, La Rioja Alavesa

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

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Wine Tasting @ Bodega Ysios, La Rioja Alavesa

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

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

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

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Hondarribia Blues Fest – Awesome!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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El Perro Chico Dog Bill & Dessert

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

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Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum

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Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum

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Guggenheim Fun…

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Bilbao Museo – Life Like Exhibition…Slightly Creepy.

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Museo de Bilbao

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

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Cafe Iruña, Bilbao – Lamb Kebabs by Ahmed

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

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Alhóndiga Cultural and Leisure Center by Philippe Starck

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

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Group Fun – Bilbao, Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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El Pero Chico, Bilbao – Goodbye Lunch….

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

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

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