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!!!!

Advertisements

Cider Time…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bilbao…More Than A Museo Continued…

Saturday morning the weather gods were once again on our side with bright blue skies, decent doses of sun and no wind. First on the ‘to do’ list was a visit to the Mercado de La Ribera – markets are always on our to do list & this market came with some words of high praise.

BILMercado1

Mercado de La Ribera, Bilbao

The market opened in 1929 and used to be housed in a glorious old art deco building but has recently been modernised. It is the largest indoor market in all of Europe to which I can mos def attest. As much as we love markets, it is always a tough visit in that so much of what is on offer we cannot buy as we lack any cold storage. But it is all here folks in spades – we are not sure how the people of Bilbao can possibly buy and consume all the food that was on display. The seafood was blinding in its fresh brilliance and variety. And the meats were the same – Spain is especially good in all things pork and the charcuterie here would possibly make the French a bit envious. We did manage to grab a sweet, fat stick of salchichón for the train ride home – score!

BILMercado2

Mercado de La Ribera, Bilbao – Fish! Fish! Fish!

BILMercado3

Mercado de La Ribera, Bilbao – Estupendo!

We had decided to go a wee bit museo hog wild and plunked down the dosh for a double ticket – the Guggen and the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. And our experience with this museum was the polar opposite to the Guggenheim – the art was spectacular and enthralling and we could take pictures! The focus of this museum is Spanish painters or artists and we got seriously lost in time here which is what you hope to do in a museum. So if in Bilbao, do yourself a serious art favour and spend a chunk of your time at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao (Bodega Urbana is a 5 or less minute walk away for a delish post or pre museo lunch visit – and of course wine).

BILArtMuseo

Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

BILArtMuseo2

Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

We felt s bit peckish after our inspiring art tour, so we made a bee line for Plaza Nueva, again, armed with some postcards to be done and some thirst & hunger to be quenched…hard to believe sitting outside in just a shirt in February in the Northern Hemisphere.

BILScenes7

Mid Day Break…

Saturday night was yet another big pintxo quest and fest…we love this way of eating – have a nice stroll, spot some tempting morsels laid out on a bar top, pick your fave & wash it down with a vino tinto. Repeat. Your appetite is satiated at a much more healthy food consumption level than the sit down feed most folks usually do.

BILBarSigns

Pintxo Fest

Armed with our trusty list we made the rounds….and the folks were out this Saturday night given the absence of the wet stuff and a reasonably mild temperature. And we gave it the good old college try – sampling the wares & vinos at Gatz, Motrikes (grilled stuffed mushrooms to die for), Kuku Soak, La Viña del Ensanche and Gure Toki to name but a few…

BILPintxos

Though we like our ‘hot top spot’ lists, we also greatly enjoy a bit of spontaneity and a smidgen of free will or discovery and we were most lucky on this trip to come across a few gems. While weaving in and out of the Old Town laneways, we noticed a happening area across the river near Calle San Francisco. We dutifully crossed the bridge and found ourselves in a clearly up and coming hipster street. Our first stop was El Perro Chico where we were pleasantly surprised to be served El Pájaro Rojo vino (Mencia grape) from Bierzo as the house tinto, an excellent drop and not standard bar juice. We had a peruse of the menu and ticks all our boxes – worth coming back to Bilbao to just eat here! And directly catty corner to El Perro Chico was the super hip Bar Marzana…we will return here. And you should too.

BILElPerroChico

El Perro Chico…

Returning to the Casco Viejo we got a wee bit lost and landed in Saltsagorri – a vermut bar! What excellent hosts these folks were and the taberna was packed with rowdy, fun crowd. Put it on your lists people – this is a seriously local hole in the wall.

BILSalltaGorri

Saltsagorri, Old Town, Bilbao – Vermut Bar!

But our night was still sort of young (we’re sort of old) so why not a rock concert? Hound #2 had spotted a listing in one of the local entertainment guides for a group called the Reverendos that was playing that night at a venue close by. So off we went – a Basque blues band, who knew? But way fun and rock’n music and an excellent venue.

BILConcert

The Reverendos….

And you might be surprised to hear but we’d worked up another appetite so we decided to close out our Bilbao stay on a high note and make a return visit to Cafe Iruña to savour the most tasty & spicy Pintxo Moruno – lamb kebabs cooked over a wood fire by Ahmed. These are worth a detour from any place you find yourself in Bilbao – a decent portion of Spanish food lacks any real kick or intense flavours but this had it all.

BILCafeIruna3

Cafe Iruña, Bilbao – Pintxo Moruno…Super Yum.

So for not expecting too much and fearing we may have overbooked our needed time in Bilbao, we came away quite enamoured with this Basque city….so much so we plan to make a return trip before we depart Spain for New Zealand.

BILScenes3

Bilbao Scenes…

 

Harvest Time!

HRHVGrapes

Hound #1 & #2 in the vineyard with Jaizkibel Ranges; The Hondarrabi Zuri Grape on the Vine


My good friend Iñaki put the call out for some needed helping hands this past Saturday as he has managed to score 6 rows of vines in a sweet wee vineyard just outside of Hondarribia. And a very nice location it is – surrounding the awesome restaurante Bekoerrota! They had a full house that day and we could see why…

HRHVTanks

Tank Prep…

We arrived promptly at noon to find Iñaki and Martxel hard at work cleaning a fermentation tank in preparation for the grape harvest. But first – lunch!

HRHVLunch

Lunch!

We joined Iñaki’s mate Kike on the restaurant’s outside veranda to share the kitchen staff’s lunch before the hard slog of grape harvesting – I like this style of work! And Hound #1 loved our lunch of pork kebabs…

HRHVHarvest

Hard Labour in the Vines – Kike, Martxel, Iñaki, Alex & Billie

Post a delicious lunch, the picking crew got to work and slowly worked our way up and down each row…once a row was completed, a bit of a break was declared & we headed straight for the cider barrel as they make an excellent beverage here. And what a small world as we all were surprised to discover that the cider the Hounds loved the most at the Hondarribia Cider Fest was theirs! We now have 2 bottles in the fridge….

HRHVSports

Basque Rural Sports

And what would a beautiful Saturday afternoon be like if it did not have some Basque rural sports demos! Between picking rows, we dropped by for a squizzy and were fascinated with the heavy weight hoisting and especially the ax man’s skills. He chops his way up the tree trunk & then proceeds to hack the top into two bits…do not try this at home folks!