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

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To The Cidery We Will Go…

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

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

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Cider Making Stuff

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

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

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View from the Hill

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

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Apple Orchard Trees & Sheep Shed

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

Road Trip II…La Costa Norte de España

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Tunnelling Gertie Trucks On…

As we were winding our way out of the Picos de Europa via a slightly scary gorge road, the day once again looked to be a stunner. So we altered our original plans from making a bee-line for Oviedo to a day-at-the-beaches. You may not know this fact folks, but Asturias is home to some of the most gorgeous (and empty this time of year) beaches in northern if not all of Spain. So we’d made a list, and checked it twice, and 2 beaches were within Gertie’s Daily Driving Allowance (GDDA), so it is to them we toddled…

In the course of our beach drive we ended up passing through, for a second time, the town of Unquera which avidly advertised on just about every building the ‘corbata’. Now in the usual Spanish vocabulary ‘corbata’ is a necktie, but this was clearly not the case. So we needed to investigate…

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Las Corbatas…

Needles to say, corbata pastries made very a modest impression on our palates, but hey we give them an A+ for effort…we stopped!

First on our list was Playa de Torimbia and after a seriously narrow laneway hill climb, we’d arrived at the picture below…too many people we thought – not.

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Playa de Torimbia, Asturias, Spain

Everybody got naked, including Billie (he just takes his collar off so he doesn’t get a rust stain). Everyone had a paddle, but Hound #2 did some naked swimming and boogie boarding – perfecto fun.

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Playa de Torimbia, Asturias: Naked Billie, Modest Me and a Picnic Lunch…

Playa de Torimbia ticked ALL THE BOXES folks, but we still had another beach on the list to pay a visit to – Playa de Gulpiyiri. We’d been told by several of our Hondarribian mates that this was a way cool beach and a must see, so our search began.

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Playa de Gulpiyiri, Asturias

This was one COOL spot…as travel blogger www.rustictravel.com describes it so well…

A real gift from nature and a quite unique place. More or less undiscovered until recently, this little village has become more popular in the last few years and can get quite busy at the height of the season; still, it remains an exciting spot and well worth the visit. The action of the sea digging into the limestone cliffs over hundreds of years has created natural tunnels that emerge to the back of the cliffs in the fields beyond. The depression left behind fills with water when tide rises to create a natural pool with its own beach, quite special and very attractive.

We 100% concur with this assessment & description – quite special and beautiful…

We were now beached out for the day, so we pointed Gertie towards Oviedo

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Oviedo, Spain

Oviedo was made slightly famous by the fact that Woody Allen shot his film ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ here, and the town embraced that fame and has leveraged it to the max. There are a few things that stand out about Oviedo: (1) they are obsessed with statues (there’s even one of Woody); (2) they like their city clean, very clean; (3) they love their Asturian cider (sidra) and even have a ‘Cider Boulevard’ (and a sister wine alley); (4) the residential buildings attractively feature, to great effect, glassed in balconies & loads of shutters; and (5), the food is effing awesome.

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From Top Left: Cider Boulevard; Woody & Me; Billie & Sign; Town Hall

Our hotel owner (Hotel Santacruz – great location) highly recommended we visit Cider Boulevard (it was a Friday, we thought it might be a manic mess post a chat with a parking attendant) so off we went on a slightly zig zag path to see a few of the sights whilst walking.

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El Ferroviario, Cide Bar, Oviedo, Spain

We arrived at Cider Boulevard & it was pleasantly buzzing – both folks & chatter. We checked out a few of our researched cider bars but they seemed too swish for the Hounds, until we found El Ferroviarro – seriously Old School (our style). As mentioned before, cider can only be bought by the bottle – so we bought & got taught how the pour gets done. Hound #2 had a go & managed to bath the bar in cider…

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Cider Boulevard: This Is How It’s Done….

Saturday morning we were up bright & early (maybe a tad early for Oviedo) and headed off for coffee & a town toddle in search of statues, a market, art & culture and food & drink.

The ‘statue search mission’ worked well as a general modus operandi to explore Oviedo, as we got lost mucho times but we always discovered something fun, new or interesting.

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Some of the many Oviedo Statues…

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…and more statues.

It being Saturday, it was a prime market day so in between statue ‘search & rescue’ we found the Mercado El Fontan. Oh Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy! We love markets – only draw back is we cannot buy much as we have no place to store it if it needs cold (e.g., fish, cheese) or any place to cook it up. Still the market offers a wonderful panorama of what local products are on offer and it also gives us a chance to track down some Asturain specialties.

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Mercado El Fontan, Oviedo

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Mercado El Fontan, Oviedo

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Mercado El Fontan, Oviedo

And as usually happens, markets tend to attract complementary purveyors in the surrounding spaces and it was certainly true of Mercado El Fontan. There were a good half dozen or more specialty food & wine stores on all sides of the market, offering up Asturias’s (and other regions) best. Coalla Gourmet was particularly impressive – a few bottles of vino were snatched up here!

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Coalla Gourmet, Oviedo

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Pooped Pooch & BB Vino, Oviedo

Post a decently long day of wandering, we all had a small siesta back at the hotel before we (minus Billie – pooped pooch needed more siesta) ventured back out to continue our explore. We headed for the Museo Bellas Artes de Asturias for a wee cultural squizzy. The Hounds were massively impressed with the works of Joaquín Sorolla – he’s been one of our faves since we saw his work in Bilbao.

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Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturais, Oveido: Top, Joaquín Sorolla, Museo & Don’t Know the Painter but Likey…

Well, by now we had certainly rolled into Beer O’Clock time…and then some comidas were in the cards. We have a pretty good knack for sniffing out the right places – we are not batting 1,000 but pretty damn close. So as we wandered the back alleys post our museo perusal, we came across El Molinón (The Big Mill) & it looked like our kind of place. Ordered up a couple of vino tintos from a sweetly selected wine list, chatted with the very nice bar folks & decided to give it a whirl. Yippee! Geez this was good – we decided to just order up a couple of raciones (smaller than a plate but bigger than a pintxo/tapas). We picked an old but delicious fave standby to start – Pimientos de Padrón – and followed that up with something new – Picadillo con Cabrales.

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El Molinón, Oviedo

The Pimientos de Padrón were perfecto, but the Picadillo con Cabrales was a taste sensation – essentially the Spanish version of New Zealand/Aussie/UK’s mince on toast except made with Chorizo (out of its casings) & Queso de Cabrales (delish Asturian blue cheese). We would like to try & make this at home…

So we bid adieu to Oviedo – sweet place…and onwards we drove.

Road Trip…La Costa Norte de España

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Land Rover ‘Gertie’ Coasting Along….

The Hounds had hatched a plan early on upon our arrival in Spain to do a northern coastal road trip in May, before it got too hot & too harried with tourist hordes. And so we packed up Gertie the Land Rover with all the requisite gear (mostly Hound #2’s surf & swim stuff) & headed out on another Spanish adventure….

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Hill Hike in Gorliz…

Our destination goal for the first night was the Big Smoke of Santander, but we’d read about a sweet hike in the seaside town of Gorliz & with some spare time in our schedule, we popped in for a bit of an explore. Weather gods were with us on the day & we meandered up & around & down the stunning coastal cliffs.

We arrived into Santander in the late afternoon & faced the usual challenge as to where o where could we park Gertie & not pay a king’s ransom or rip the roof off (she’s a tad tall for most Spanish garages). A quick chat to a helpful policeman sent us in the direction of the beach – excelente as that was where our hotel was!

Once we’d comfortably settled into Hosteria Santander (though not so comfy with the 15 euro fee for our dog!), we ambled off on a coast & beach walk in search of the Casco Viejo section of town for a little picoteo (pintxo stroll)…

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Bodega Cigaleña, Santander – Serious Vino Heaven…

My good mate Iñaki, a great cider & wine maker, highly advised me to pay a visit to Bodega Cigaleña, a virtual museum of vino. And he was dead right…

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A Real Vino Museo…

Vino, vino everywhere and all to drink! We quaffed a couple of decent reds but we were a bit scared to ask what the Rioja Reservas from 1923 & 1915 might set us back.

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Most Excelente Bar Fuente Dé

We wandered just a block away discovered Bar Fuente Dé – mos def our kind of place: alive with folks & chatter, good selection of bebidas & comidas (and way, way cheap)  & a jolly bar man. We squeezed (all 3 of us – dogs allowed) into an open spot at the bar & had 2 vino tintos quick snap & ordered 2 pintxos just like the hombre next to us had…a piece of excellent, crispy crusted bread with cheese (a flavourful blue) from the Picos de Europa slathered on. Our new Santander local…

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Bodegas La Conveniente – Perfecto…

Next on our ‘pintxo to do’ list was Bodegas La Conveniente – only a quick hop & a jump away. Set in what certainly appears to be an old warehouse space of some sort (maybe vino?), with massively high ceilings and deep, dark recesses – this is a place chocka with the kind of character you cannot build. We had a good wander & look-see & then some copas of vino tinto with our usual jamón iberico bocata.

We awoke early to yet another weather god blessed morning and Hound #2 headed for her customary sea dip while Hound #1 & I wandered the beautiful Santander beach…then a breakfast of some of the best croissants we had ever had – the coffee was damn decent too…

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Early morning swim with a ghost ship , Puss Face Jack Russell & Best Beachside Brekky

Then it was Picos Time. During our trip we ambled across the provinces of Pais Vasco, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia before turning back for home. The group consensus was Asturias ticked all our boxes & more. We had been told over a number of years, by a number of folks that if we were ever in Spain we HAD to go to the Picos de Europa as it is as close to New Zealand as you will find on this side of the world. And they were spot on…

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Picos de Europa – Stunning…

Once again – thank you, thank you weather gods! A cracker of a day to take a hike up a hill & enjoy the multitude of natural surroundings in full Spring mode. We had wanted to do route PR-PNPE 24 which is a circular hike & gives you a scenic ride down on the ‘funicular‘ (cable car) but, damn, no dogs allowed! So we opted to climb to the snow level on PR-PNPE 24, frolic in the snow & have a picnic. All in all a full on day…

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Picos de Europa: Our Home Sweet Home

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It Really Looks Like This Folks…No Photoshop Here.

It was all these pictures show & more – it was a very tough choice as to what photos to include or leave out as they were all stunning shots.

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Mountain Hike…From Top: Church Picnic Site, View Down the Mountain, PR-PNPE 24 Route Sign with Hiking Hound #2

We reached the snow line & debated whether to continue on to a ‘refugio’ (a hut in New Zealand terms) but a short discussion with some descending German hikers put the kabosh on the that notion. They painted a picture of some pretty sloshy, wet goings with sinking into snow up to your knees & some difficulty in finding the track.

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The Snow Line…and One Happy Puppy

So it was the right time for a picnic – we set up shop in front of the old church (see pic above) with 360 degree views of the Picos & we tucked into some savoury chorizo & sausage (from our super Hondarribia charcuterie shop on Calle San Pedro – Jon Alzaga), bread & cheese…but no wine…

And to prove once again how small the world has become, we had 2 mountain bikers descend to the church & once our chatting commenced we instantly realised they were Kiwis! But not only Kiwis, they lived 10 minutes away from us outside of Christchurch on the South Island – estupendo!

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Fun In The Snow….

For the Picos visit we were based a skip outside (in Ojeda – a 10 minute walk) the wee pueblo of Potes, in the wonderful Hostal Toscana where the folks could not have been friendlier or nicer or funnier. It was always – ‘no probllema’ & no charge for Billie!

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Potes – Sweet Wee Pueblo

Potes has an old section bursting with old time character with cobbled streets, medieval bridges and seriously ancient buildings. It also has a plethora of eating & drinking establishments. We were in search of the famed Asturias cider & got directions to a popular establishment but we got hopelessly lost in the narrow, cobbled laneways and ended up at La Luna En El Sol (actually we were only 2 doors away from where we were supposed to go). One small quirk – you can only order cider by the bottle, not by the glass. So we got with the locals & had a bottle…

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Meal of the Evening: Grilled Squid & Tacos…Yum.

Post our Picos mountain climb, we had a bit of a hunger & wandered the Old Town looking for something tempting…and quite ironically, we ended up at the only Mexican joint in town!

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Trouts!!! Deva River So Sweet…

The next day saw us all piled back in the Gertie the Land Rover & making our way for a 2 night stay in Oviedo…up next in the Local Food Hound blog posts.

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Río Deva…There Be Trouts In There!

It’s A Cider Fest!

HRCFSign2And the tsunami fest continues here in the wee seaside pueblo of Hondarribia…no sooner had we gotten our breath back from the Blues Festival, we saw the above poster plastered all about town. It’s 100% in Basque but we could decipher the important stuff like (a) it was a cider thingy, and (b) it was going to be right outside our flat on Gipuzkoa Plaza.

HRCFSignAnd what a deal – 5€ got you a cider glass & a pintxoa and all the cider you could imbibe by 10pm (started at 6pm or for the early drinkers like 5:30) or until they ran out.

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The Cider Crowd from our Flat

We managed to make it to almost 8pm before a serious cider buzz was starting to kick in, so we retreated to our flat for a breather before doing our usual Saturday evening pintxo stroll down Calle San Pedro.

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Alex & Billie Show How It’s Done….

We are not at all sure who or how it was organised but we did recognise several of our new friends manning the pintxoa table. We met them at a local Basque Social Club (bar) which is a 1 minute walk from our flat when we locked ourselves out & they loaned us a ladder to climb in the first floor window….new mates.

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The Basque Social Club’s Sign…

And if you want to see how a real ‘local’ (as in I live on this square) does it….here ya go.