GOÑI Ardoteka Vino Market…

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One of the things I really miss since leaving New Zealand and Australia to live in the UK & Spain for a wee while, is a decent amount of regular, interesting & affordable wine tastings. Melbourne was a seriously sick place for wine tastings as it was almost harder to sort out & decide what not to do versus searching to find a wine event to do. Usually, every weekend some wine store (like the Prince Wine Stores or Seddon Wine Store or even your local Dan Murphy’s) was featuring a tasting & typically with the producers doing the pour – for free. And to add wine tasting insult to injury, there was almost always a massive wine event happening every other week or so with the likes of the Barons of the Barossa rolling into town or The Taste of Tasmania making a Melbourne splash. My head (and liver) hurts just remembering all of these vinous opportunities!

The UK is pretty much bereft of these kind of gustatory pleasures unless, of course, you are able & can afford to live in London or even Bristol or Bath, or some decently sized pueblo. And we couldn’t, so we didn’t, so we did not  have easy access to a regular rasher of sipping & tastings…for effing out loud people, even Christchurch, New Zealand (population 350,000 más o menus) puts on a decent juice show with Vino Fino or Decant doing the city honours.

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When we first arrived in Hondarribia, I discovered GOÑI Ardoteka in San Sebastián quite early on, and it is, by almost any measure, an estupendo wine store – great selection, knowledgeable and pleasant staff, fair prices and easy peasy access from Hondarribia via the marvellous E21 autobus. I signed on to their regular email newsletter for updates & started to see some notifications of tasting events. But I was a bit hesitant to jump right in & sample as, to me anyway, many tasting sessions seemed a wee bit dear – like €40 to €60 dear for the option to test out a few new unknown vinos. As I mentioned above, many of the regular Australian tasting sessions were 100% free and if not, they would hit up your wallet for a modest debit of round $20+ or so (same thing in New Zealand) which is like €13…eso es no problema.

So I was more than delighted to see in my inbox the news notice for the Christmas Wine Market @ GOÑi Ardoteka – wines & bubbles & beer & producers and FREE! I have no hesitation in stating it was the best wine event, so far, that I have attended in either Spain or the UK – and the producers were: (a) super knowledgable and generous with their information & time and pours (and my crappy Spanish) and (b) they be pouring the good shite! We are talking the top of da vino line folks – the cava bodega I started with finished our tasting round of 5 different bottles of bubbles with their 2005 Reserva that would set you back a tidy €93 ($140 NZ), so clearly not in the Lindauer league.

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The Wine Market Bad Boys…

And to add more foam to the froth, all the wines (not just the Wine Market wines) were smacked with a 15% price reduction – whoa nellie, hold on to my wallet! Fortunately (for my wallet), I was a bit constrained as I only had my modestly sized backpack with me and my allowable maximum wine allowance (by weight) was 5-6 bottles. So purchase I did & hauled my delicious treasure back to Hondarribia on the E21 autobus to savour at a later date…keep it coming GOÑI Ardoteka!

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Kiwis Come A Calling…

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Paddle Board Day…Billie Goes To Sea!

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

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Hondarribia, Spain – The Kiwi Home For 3 Weeks!

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

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

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

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

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High Class @ Alameda

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

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

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

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San Sebastián Pintxos

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

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

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

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Tasting Vino At GOÑI ardoteca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bodegas Baigorri, La Rioja Alavesa

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

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Logroño Pintxo Fest…

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Bodegas Ysios, La Rioja Alavesa

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

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Wine Tasting @ Bodega Ysios, La Rioja Alavesa

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

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

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

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Hondarribia Blues Fest – Awesome!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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El Perro Chico Dog Bill & Dessert

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

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Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum

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Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum

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Guggenheim Fun…

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Bilbao Museo – Life Like Exhibition…Slightly Creepy.

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Museo de Bilbao

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

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Cafe Iruña, Bilbao – Lamb Kebabs by Ahmed

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

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Alhóndiga Cultural and Leisure Center by Philippe Starck

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

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Group Fun – Bilbao, Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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El Pero Chico, Bilbao – Goodbye Lunch….

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

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

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

Olite, Navarra and Surrounds…

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Puente la Reina, Navarra…One of the pueblos on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela…11th Century Stone Bridge!

The Hounds had read about the sweet wee town of Olite as it makes just about every guide book’s ‘must do’ list. We thought we might have been there on our trip 3 years ago, but we felt it was worth a couple of night’s stay as it would allow us to do the dinosaur hike just outside of Enciso…and we’d be smack dab in the middle of the Navarra wine region!

It is a relatively short drive in Gertie the Land Rover, so we decided to explore a bit on our way to Olite. We made a pit stop in Puente la Reina as the 11th century stone bridge was said to be worth a look.

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Excellent Butcher & Charcuterie in Puente la Reina…Took Home One of the Chorizo….From Carniceria de Juan Sanz

We parked up in Puente la Reina near on noon, just long enough to have a wander & then track down some lunch. The town seemed almost vacant with very few folks wandering about, and many of the local stores & bars & restaurants were pretty much closed. But we did come across the open Carniceria de Juan Sanz (pics above) & ventured in to catch a whiff of the awesome chorizos hanging from the rack. Quickly negotiated the purchase of a chorizo picante and we were back on the street. And then we found the bridge, and what a marvel – folks in this day & age might learn a thing or two about how to build a bridge to last over 900 years!

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Taberna La Fonda de Tito’s Menú del Día – From Upper Right: Pochas (Beans – yum), Grilled Horse Mackerel, Grilled Rabbit…and Vino!

With the smell of the chorizo still in our nostrils, our hunger strings had been stroked so it was time for lunch – more specifically, a menú del día. We were having next to no luck as many places (even though it was a Thursday) were either closed, or closing or had no food on offer. So we felt very lucky to find La Fonda de Tito open and they were more than happy to serve us up a menú del día – yeah! It hit the spot and all for the princely sum of €10!

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Olite’s Palacio Real….

On to Olite! Olite is renowned for a few things: (a) seriously cute old town section; (b) it is the capital of the Navarra wine region & has its vino museo; and (c) its fairy tale castle. And it is all those things & more on an early inspection tour late on Wednesday arvo when we toddled into town. We had a room for 2 nights at HOTEL LA JOYOSA GUARDA, a tad upscale for the Hounds but a splurge is called for on occasion. We struggle with places to stay due to one wee problema: Billie the Dog. Hotel La Joyosa did not say ‘no’ to Billie, but they did not exactly say ‘yes’ either. A few email exchanges & we were told he was allowed if we carried him across or through any of the public spaces in the hotel (made for some funny entrances & exits) & he had to be kept in & sleep in the wee balcony cubby hole.

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Empty Olite…Except for the Pigeons….

We quickly scrubbed up and got out for an exploration…what struck us first was how empty the whole town seemed (especially compared to Hondarribia)  – very few folks out & about and many of the businesses, bars & restaurants shuttered up. Por qué? We actually went into the tourist office (it was open – phew!) to query what was shaking? The nice lady told us it was a bit quiet as they had just finished Semana Santa (Easter Weekend) and many businesses took a small break. It was damn near beer o’clock and thirst levels on the rise, so she pointed us to the Parador, being a hotel it is usually open. Score – dos cervazas in a spot that captured the late afternoon sun!

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A View from the Top….

The evening meal in Olite was a challenge – we were not inclined to do any ‘fine dining’ and many of the touted pintxo bars remained firmly closed, even at 7:30 or 8PM. We ended up, sort of by default, at our only option – Hotel Merindad de Olite – which flung its doors open at exactly 8PM for 2 hours of service. It is an enjoyable spot despite a bit of grumpy service (which eventually warmed up). We wolfed down 2 pintxos each & placed an order for a rancion of artichokes – excelente! They also have an fantastic wine by the glass menu and an in-house bodega where you can buy bottles of wine. Which we did…

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Gertie the Land Rover in amongst the Navarra / Rioja Vines…and trusty co-pilot.

Up and alert quite early the next day, we ventured out in search of some coffee and pastries for breakfast…success though Hound #1 had to stayed tied up outside. Then we piled back into Gertie the Land Rover & pointed her due South with the day’s goal to reach the town of Enciso to do a 6KM dinosaur walk. Yes, folks…you heard me right, a dinosaur walk – something Hound #2 had on her ‘Spain To Do’ list from our visit 3 years before (we did not do the walk then).

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Dinosaur Fossil Walk – Enciso, Navarra

And it was pretty cool – to be up close & personal with footprints of beasts that walked this planet 130-150 million years ago. And they provided quite a few ‘life like’ replicas just in case your imagination suffered a massive failure….awesome.

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From Top Pic: Billie, Dinosaurs are over here mate….Boot & Foot Print Comparison….Family Photo….

After 6+KM of walking, up a reasonably steep mesa…time for lunch! Hound #2 had identified our best candidate – Casa Cañas in the small pueblo of Arnedillo, just a short hop down the road.

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Casa Cañas – Arnedillo, La Rioja…Anyone for a 1950 Rioja?

Hound #2’s research was spot on – local as local gets with an €11 menú del día & packed with town folk. The place has been up & running & serving comidas since 1907 – wow! That is what I’d call ‘success’ in the food biz!

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Casa Caña’s Menú del Día…Starters of Peas & Bacon, Lentils with Chorizo…and of course, vino!

Hound #2 took to the pea plate as her starter, I opted for a steaming bowl of lentils with chunks of chorizo floating through it – both super yum (we switched bowls half way)! The vino tinto was a pleasurable drop….like the name.

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Casa Caña’s Mains…Grilled Sea Bass, Braised Beef Cheek and Flan & Pudding for Dessert

For mains, we again split the difference with Hound #2 hankering for seafood, so the grilled sea bass was ordered. A braised meat option? Decision made – braised beef cheeks with peppers & patatas fritas. And of course, dessert…

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Río Cidacos – Sweet water…Looks Trouty.

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On Way Back to Olite – Quick Stop in Wee Pueblo of Funes….Graffiti reads: “Smile, the world is at your feet.”

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Billie’s Annual Right of Spring – A Gallop Through a Field of Wild Flowers

Our last day in Olite, Hound #2 wanted to get a close squizzy of the Palacio Real de Olite castle while the Museo de la Viña was my preferred destination – surprise!

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We both loved our respective choices – Hound #2 made the effort to climb many of the castle towers which gave her come excellent views (see pics above). And I found the Museo de la Viña an extremely well laid out, visual & tactile & sensory pleasure. As many of you folks may know, Spain takes its wine quite seriously and it has played a large part in Spanish life ever since the Romans walked & settled in the Iberian Peninsula.

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Museo de la Viña – Olite, Navarra…Like How You Finish the Tour – glass of vino!

Back in Gertie we set our course for the hilltop pueblo of Ujué. A TINY place of 239 folks with streets better designed for sheep or small carts to navigate, but not really a 1975 Land Rover.

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Gertie Makes the Climb to Hilltop Town of Ujué

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Ujué – Sweet Church of Santa María

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Mesón Las Torres…Ujué, Navarra

We wanted to drop in on Ujué to: (a) see the church of Santa María; and (b) track down & sample a local dish called Migas de Pastor. Migas de Pastor has its origins in Spanish & Portuguese cuisine and the ingredients vary across provinces, but essentially it is: day old bread crumbs soaked in water, garlic, olive oil, paprika & sometimes bits of bacon or chorizo (ours had mushrooms too). It originally was a breakfast dish, but has migrated to a starter for lunch and dinner.

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Mesón Las Torres – Migas de Pastor & Pochas…and Cerveza!

We were lucky to find Mesón las Torres open for business, and with a stunning Spring day, we opted for a picnic table outside in the sun (so Billie could join us). It was a version of Spanish ‘comfort food’ I’d say – very satisfying, filling and garlicky! A taste sensation that lasted the whole way home….

One the way down the hill from Ujué, Hound #2 spotted the Co-operative Bodega St. Martín so of course a vino visit was in order. We sampled 3 or 4 of their wines right in the fermentation warehouse where we were able to get up close to the clay amphora pots they use for some of their better wines. Came home with 2 Garnachas for the cellar….

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Bodega St. Martín…San Martin de Unx, Navarra

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Headed Home…From Bottom Right: Billie OK, Then Getting Tired & And Out For The Count!

A Visit to an Orchard…To Become A Vineyard.

We got a jingle from our good mate Iñaki (a wine & cider maker) who invited us to take a wee trip with him to Azpeitia where he had been asked for his vino advice. His mate Eddy had recently purchased a sizeable apple orchard with the idea of turning it into a vineyard. Eddy is what you might call a ‘vino loco’ – to say he is passionate about wine would be a vast understatement. Iñaki forewarned us that much of the orchard-to-vineyard conversations would be in Basque and he thought it would take not much more than a couple of hours – no pasa nada…

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Old & Retired Apple Press, Views from a Vineyard….and one confused rose…

It was once again a stunning day in the Basque Country with sweet blue skies, sun shinning down & mucho mild temperatures. We checked out the old cider press, walked the orchard while the discussions in Basque took place…and about the time it looked like it was a wrap, we were invited to Eddy’s house. Wow! It is always a pleasant surprise when the unexpected turns into a phenomenal time.

We retreated to a family room under Eddy’s house kitted out with a kitchen, bar, a set of long tables with chairs and, of course, Eddy’s wonderful wine cellar. Promptly laid out on the table were several plates of sliced homemade chorizo that uncle-in-law Arume retrieved from the family’s stash, fresh crispy bread and ventresca de atún (tuna belly) floating in savoury olive oil…and of course, some wines from Eddy’s cellar. Oh Boy.

Our snack & wines were accompanied by lively conversations in Spanish, where we were priviledged to hear Imanol Lazkano (sorry but the link’s in Basque), Eddy’s father-in-law, recount his fascinating early days as a improvisational singer (cantante improvisador) in a competitive style called Bertsolari. In bertsolari, a theme or topic is picked and the singer or singers (often found in pairs) improvise verses and melodies. Imanol told us he had travelled the world doing this – all over Spain of course but also to Cuba, South America and even the United States. Our mate Iñaki was a wee bit stunned to find out he was standing next to such a famous person – like me finding out I was standing next to Frank Sinatra and not knowing it!

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THE Wine Cellar Group Shot – Bottom Pic L to R: Iñaki, Imanol Lazkano, Me & Eddy

And oh the wines…Eddy, like many wine aficionados, love to share their bounty. His cellar was quite extensive in its vino coverage but he leans a tad toward the French drops. An so it was that our first bottle, generously poured, was an Arbois Pupillin from Maison Pierre Overnoy. My experience with Jura region wines is limited but this was a stunner…a mutual wine mate of mine & Iñaki’s Dave Brookes does a much better job of putting flesh to the details of this type of wine and its producer.

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The Wines – Super Yum!

Next up in the glass was a grape I’d never heard of – Xarel Lo…made by a producer I’d never heard of – Terroir Al Límit. It’s one of the primary grapes (the other two being Macabeu – nice drop on its own too – and Parellada) that go in to making cava and these guys are apparently part of the ‘new outsiders of Spain’ movement breathing new life into old vineyards & grapes. Apparently rare as hen’s teeth – muchas gracias Eddy.

And to top off our vino experience we sampled another outta here bottle, the 2011 Fontanasanta Nosiola by Foradori. A wine from the Dolomite Mountain region of Italy & a superb first try of the native grape Nosiola para mi. Rich & unctuous on the palate but still crisp & clean & very fresh.

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Chorizo, Chorizo, Chorizo by Arume & Familia

After our vino & chorizo & atún repast, Amure offered to show us his chorizo curing room where they had just hung the years makings to dry. Up to the attic we climbed to find a vast room filled to the rafters, literally, with rack after rack of various types of chorizo, colour coded for flavour and family member ownership.

And piling pleasure upon pleasure, we were generously gifted a bottle of wine from Eddy’s cellar, a FULL bag of freshly harvested walnuts, some of Arume & familia’s chorizo and a vessel of homemade quince paste!

A day to remember…for 2016 Iñaki, more of these mate!

Cornwall Fly Fishing Adventure – and Food Too!

We took a chance and booked a wee cottage (Pixie Cottage) in Crossgate (just outside of Launceston) for a week at the end of September for (a) me to finish out the fly fishing season on the River Tamar; (b) for Hound #2 to hopefully snag some boogie board beach time on the Cornish Coast and (c) Hound #1 (Billie) to have another Billie Holiday.

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By lucky coincidence (ahem!), one of our favourite local independent wine merchants, the Yapp Brothers in Mere, were having their annual Autumn tastings and it was only a modest detour on our way to Pixie Cottage. It has been a while since we have attended a decent vino sampling & this ticked more than the most boxes. The Yapp Brother’s wines on offer were predominately French (their speciality since 1969) and all excellent, with our 2 faves being the Domaine Py AOC Corbières: 3ème Cuvèe Blanc 2012 (white) and the St. Chinian Magali 2010 (red).

Rant break: These small, independent wine stores are such fantastic repositories of wine knowledge and offer up a far more interesting selection of winemakers than the Big Boy Supermarkets, but even as I write this, they are under threat which is very sad news for anyone who gives a hoot about wine. It seems that in a very short time & not too distant future the English retail wine world could very much be like Henry Ford’s Model T – you can have any colour (wine) as long as it’s black (it’s on our supermarket industrial wine stock list). They are Starbuck-ing our wine options. And it’s not like the Big Boy Supermarkets don’t already scarf up a decent chunk of your vinous dollars as they reportedly account for more than 70% of all wine retail spending. Support your local wine shop – fast. Ranting all done…

In addition to the wines on offer, the Yapp Brothers enlisted the help of some of their foodie friends, Godminster Organic Cheddar and Chesil Smokery in Dorset. And if a caffeine hit was required before the drive home, Claude the Butler was on duty. So since we were now all stocked up wine-wise for our week at Pixie Cottage, we needed some lunch…

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On our ‘to do’ board at home we’d pinned an article from one of the weekend rag’s magazines on what to do if you found yourself in the Somerset Levels. Well we were, so we made a zig-zag-backcountry-lane detour to the glowingly written about White Hart Inn in Somerton. Somerton is a sweet village and this pub (and inn) is a perfect match. The White Hart prides itself on being a pub (there is a restaurant too) in all the best senses of that word – welcoming everyone, including dogs, warm atmosphere & affordable food & drink. It takes seriously the mantra of supporting local producers whether you are talking food or drink. After a good scan of the menu (provenance of suppliers are included FYI) we opted for light bites – Hound #2 gravitated to the ham sandwich with chutney (£4.75 – when’s the last time you saw a pub sammie for less than a fiver?) and Hound #3 felt the wood fired pizza would hit the spot (£10.95). Correcto on both accounts…

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Wood fired Pizza

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House Cooked Ham & Chutney Sandwich

Our hunger pangs satiated, we got back on the road to make a pit stop @ the Lifton Farm Shop for some provisions (the sweet corn was the best we have had this summer) before our scheduled arrival time @ Pixie Cottage.

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Crossgate and Netherbridge Pools on the River Tamar & Pixie Cottage

Pixie Cottage was everything we expected and it suited the 3 Hounds to a ‘T’ – Billie absolutely loved the massive lawn to bounce around in and Hound #3 could not believe the River Tamar ran right past the property – score –  with 5 different fly fishing beats on the River Tamar within walking distance of Pixie Cottage and Hound #2 was a hop, skip & a jump to the Cornish Coast! So with the weather more than co-operating, fly rod & boogie board in hands, a bit of river thrashing & wave whacking was in order.

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The Harris Arms has kept coming up in our epicurean readings for not only a great reputation for its food, it is also quite renowned for its wine list – in fact, named the Best Wine Pub in Britain for 2013 we will have you know. We had a fun, down-memory-lane chat with Rowena (owner with partner Andy) who had spent time in our home space of New Zealand learning how to make wine in Gisborne. And more vinous fun was had perusing the multitude of empty, excellent bottles decorating the various nooks & crannies – someone’s had loads of fun.

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Classy Beverages

Hound #2 made an early decision to go a wee bit lighter on her main to leave enough space for something sweet (Baked White Chocolate Cheesecake – £6.95) & picked the Tomato & Basil Soup  (£4.95).

Alex had Soup du Jour - tomato & basil....she was saving room for dessert.

Tomato & Basil Soup

Hound #3 had no such plans for a sweet finish and hesitated not a nano-second for one of his perennial, palate pleasers – Duck Confit (£12.95). The Duck was served with a flavour bursting, awesomely Autumnal accoutrement of Chorizo & Bean Ragout with a side scoop of Mash to soak up the au jus. This was SO GOOD I had to get the recipe…find it below.

So as the UK starts to feel truly autumnal (rain, wind & cold), anymore Cornwall adventures will be put on hold till the weather comes right again….

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Duck Confit with Chorizo & Bean Ragout on Mash

Chorizo & Bean Ragout 

Soak dried Haricot Beans in water (keep in fridge) overnight.

Cook the beans in fresh un-salted water (not the water you’ve soaked them in) until they start to split.  Strain them, refresh in cold water to stop them cooking and then strain them until they are pretty dry – if you have a vac pack machine you can vac pack them, then refrigerate and they’ll keep for a week or so.  If not, keep them in the fridge, in a closed plastic container, for a few days (they will go off quite quickly) but you can cook them the day before you want to make the sauce. 

Dice chorizo (mild or hot to your taste).

Make red wine sauce as follows (this is the simple way to do it without making your own beef stock).

I suggest that you get hold of the stock ingredients from Essential Cuisine they make really great stuff.

1 litre of beef and chicken stock mixed together 50/50 (1/2 tablespoon each of stock powder).

1/2 bottle for strong red wine (Argentinian Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon).

2 x banana shallots skinned, halved and sliced.

Thyme

Crushed clove of garlic (skin on).

Put the stock and all the other items into a large pan and reduce by about a third.

Add some Essential Cuisine Concentrated Veal Jus – 1 tablespoon – you will have to stir really well into the simmering liquid as it takes a long time to dissolve.

Reduce by a further 20% approx.

If you make a mix of 1oz butter and 1oz flour in advance (soften the butter so you can mix the flour and then harden in the fridge) you can then dice about half of this and add to your sauce whisking vigorously until it’s dissolved.

Cook the sauce at a simmer for about 10 minutes to cook off the flour – this will, with luck, thickens the sauce.

Taste and season to your taste.

You should then strain through a fine strainer into a plastic storage tub.

To make the Ragout, just bring the sauce up to a gentle boil & add the bean and the chorizo and hey presto you have the red wine sauce with chorizo and haricot bean ragout.