Basque Snaps

20 October 2009

It’s been a few weeks since we came back from our motorbike trip to northern Spain – the weather here in the UK is now definitely on the depressing side, so I’m trying to remember the gorgeous weather we had while we were there. We’ve been to quite a few places in Europe by motorbike (I’m the pillion by the way) – Stockholm to the north, Florence to the south and Barcelona to the west – there are always interesting places to visit, but time is always an issue, as it takes a long time to cross Europe by road.

After my wonderful trip to Madrid and southern Spain last summer I’ve been wanting to go back to see all the friends I made, but all we could squeeze in was just over a week and there was no way to make it that far. So, as a compromise we decided to head to northern Spain, or more specifically the Basque country. I’ve always been interested in this region’s rich history and unique culture – and as many of you know, the Basque region is famous for wonderful food too.

After a quick overnight stop in Bordeaux, our first ‘base’ was Bilbao – the de facto capital of the Basque country. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t quite know what to expect from this industrial city (of Guggenheim fame), but it had such a great atmosphere – we loved the laid-back feel and just like everywhere else in Spain, people were really lovely.

Among all the sights, the Ribera market is a must if you’d like to get a taste of what great produce this region offers. It’s a huge food market set in a historic building in the old town. They sell everything, but the fish and meat floors are especially impressive – I wish we had a great market like this near us!

We enjoyed some delicious pintxos (the Basque version of tapas) both in Bilbao and San Sebastian – I’m not going to give any specific recommendations as our stay was short and I don’t think we tried enough places, but Brett has written a great review of the pintxos bars in San Sebastian. However, the place I was most looking forward to visiting this time was a restaurant called Etxebarri. The restaurant is in a very pretty village at the foot of a mountain – when we arrived in the car park we could already smell the mouth-watering aroma from the grill in the kitchen.

I learnt about this place when I read Pim’s post a few years ago, and I’ve been wanting to visit since then. I knew there are many ‘starred’ restaurants in the area – and I thought about trying Mugaritz at first, but being fan of simple delicious food (which this restaurant has become famous for) I opted for Etxebarri. (it would have been better if we could go to both but we have to wait until next time!)

I won’t go into too much detail of their food because Pim did such a great job (and I didn’t even take my camera out there) but we enjoyed every dishes – they were absolutely wonderful. I felt happy that the chef has taken grilling to such an art form and pays tribute to the best ingredients. I’m already looking forward to going back, hopefully I can book a table as easily as this time…

We enjoyed some fantastic rides along the coast too – if you have a car/motorbike, you should visit some of the little fishing villages from Lekeitio to Mundaka and Bakio – the scenery is stunning.

On the way from Bilbao to Guernica (a town famous for the Picasso painting) we stopped in a town called Amorebieta. We probably wouldn’t have done so otherwise, but prior to our trip I was talking to the lovely Aran, who is from the Basque country, about where we should visit in the area. She was most helpful and gave me many recommendations, and let me know that in her hometown of Amorebieta, her family have run a patisserie for nearly 60 years. I’ve never met Aran in person (and I’m really looking forward to doing so one day) but having seen the wonderful pastries she makes, we just had to go :) Her auntie Miren was there when we visited – and although all I could tell her in Spanish was ‘I am Aran’s friend’, we enjoyed some delicious cream puffs, cakes and biscuits on the way to the coast…

We happened to visit the weekly market in Guernica too – I was excited to see everyone was selling my favourite Guernica peppers (similar to pimientos de padrón) as well as Piquillo peppers. I knew we couldn’t carry anything when travelling by motorbike (I’m only allowed a pair of jeans and couple of t-shirts!) but couldn’t resist carrying back some dried Piquillo peppers from here.

We managed to visit the Navarra region as well which sits south of the Basque country. I have wanted to go there since I found this beautiful hotel on my favourite site. I loved the middle-of-nowhere feel (and the hotel was indeed in the middle of nowhere) and it was lovely to explore the area which was quite different – barren, but very beautiful.

On the way to Navarra, we travelled through the Rioja region – it goes without saying how many vineyards we saw, sadly we didn’t have time to stop for winery tasting but at least enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

The last place we stayed before the long journey back through France was San Sebastian – it’s a very pretty historic seaside town – they have a great market in town centre which we enjoyed visiting, although somehow it felt quite touristy and we didn’t explore as much as we should have done…

During our stay there, we headed along the coast to visit a small town called Getaria, home to a couple of popular fish restaurants that Pim and Brett have written about. We had a lovely lunch at Kaia Kaipe (we sneaked into Elkano and it looked great also) – when we arrived, they were just starting to light their trademark grill which made us even more hungry! They didn’t have any sardines on offer on that day :) but we had wonderful hake and sole – the fish were so fresh and juicy, my glass of Txakoli didn’t last long :) Like Etxebarri, this is definitely my kind of food, taking pride in simplicity and quality of ingredients – so that’s another place I need to go back to.

Having driven through the region, you can easily see how the changing landscapes of mountains, plains and sea lend themselves to the wonderful produce we experienced. There were many more places we wanted to visit, but that was all we had time for – hopefully we’ll have another chance to go back to this beautiful country soon…

Places        41 comments    Permalink

  • Keiko A stunning journey. The Hotel de Bardenas looks fascinating. Have you read the Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky? I enjoyed a memorable wine tasting when we walked through Rioja.

    Posted by barbara | 20 October 2009 #
  • Such lovely pictures as always Keiko, and I know what you mean about the gloom here now. How wonderful that you got to go to Aran’s family’s bakery, I’ve only been to Barcelona and haven’t had a chance to explore further. Beautiful post.

    Posted by Hilda | 20 October 2009 #
  • I really loved my trip to “Pays basque” three years ago… your pictures are so beautiful! We were in Bilbao, Guetaria and after in Salamanca (very nice place to but not in Basque Country!). thank you for your post…

    Posted by Dominique (De vous à moi...) | 20 October 2009 #
  • Oh keiko… this is making me so emotional. Beautiful, beautiful images of my homeland. I recognize all those spots (even the Gorostiaga hat store which is a staple in Bilbao’s old quarters!). Thank you for making the time to visit Amorebieta. How I wish I could have been there…

    Lovely you made it to Getaria too. One of my favorite towns and Lekeitio where I have so many childhood friends.

    Thank you again for sharing with us and we shall meet soon! xoxo

    Posted by Aran | 20 October 2009 #
  • You’ve aroused in me a longing to go back to Spain! It’s my favourite country in Europe because of the great food and warm and kind people (not to mention the stylish and affordable shopping) and I’d love to see some of the places you’ve talked about – I went to Santander in the north, and then further south to Barcelona, Madrid and then right down to Granada over two trips but I’m definitely not done there yet. Thank you for the reminder!

    Posted by Sasa | 20 October 2009 #
  • Beautiful photos and memories of what looks like a lovely trip! You have inspired me to want to go there too….

    Posted by Kristin | 20 October 2009 #
  • Absolutely gorgeous!

    Posted by tiina | 20 October 2009 #
  • can’t wait to visit – lovely, lovely post. especially the hotel in the middle of nowhere!

    Posted by giao {kiss my spatula} | 20 October 2009 #
  • thanks keiko,
    even though i haven’t said much here…i’ve always been inspired by your gorgeous-feeling-good photos, wherever you go and take your camera with you :-)
    i’ll do tour europe one day, but i’ve been to bilbao and visited the guggenheim museum there, but i missed the mercato etc. it was only a half-day trip by car with a lovely friend from madrid.

    thank you so much, keiko, for taking us to special places and for sharing with us what you see and think are specials. you’re a generous big hearted woman! :-)

    warm regards,

    Posted by maya | 20 October 2009 #
  • Wow they look amazing and I’m sure you had a fab time! Makes me crave a little travel loving right now… ;)

    Posted by Lil | 20 October 2009 #
  • How brave to face the roads…such a distance on a motorbike! And you probably made the right choice of lightweight things to bring back….. enjoy your peppers

    Posted by Kitchen Butterfly | 20 October 2009 #
  • The Basque region is definitely at the top of our Travel List (behind the country of Turkey)...your photos built the anticipation to a new height.

    Lovely! And a well-deserved vacation, I’m sure!

    Posted by Michelle | 20 October 2009 #
  • Good morning!

    Posted by y_and_r_d | 21 October 2009 #
  • 今、私の母がバスク地方を旅行してます。


    Posted by aya | 21 October 2009 #
  • You brought back so many great memories of my travels in the region! Beautiful images Keiko!

    Posted by Tartelette - Helen | 21 October 2009 #
  • Very nice post and thank you for sharing. It makes me miss Europe…

    Posted by Vanille | 21 October 2009 #
  • I’ve wanted to visit the Basque region for a long time, not only for the food but also (being a Somerset boy) to try the cider the region is famous for

    Some great recommendations for places to eat and brilliant pics (of couse!)

    Thank you for another wonderful post

    Posted by Paul Bowler | 21 October 2009 #
  • Stunning pictures of a beautiful country. Thank you for sharing this.

    Posted by Deeba | 21 October 2009 #
  • Spain has always captured my imagination – we visited Barcelona, Seville and Granada a few years ago and I was amazed at the diversity of cuisine and architecture within the same country. Really hope to make it to Basque country one day and your travelogue has intensified that ambition!

    Posted by Danielle | 21 October 2009 #
  • It is always great idea to have a car or a motorbike to explore somewhere we do not usually have access, and, because of that, we can meet wonderful people who genuinely welcome our visit. I always love that.

    Thanks for your lovely shots I feel slightly “up” now (as you mentioned the weather and the sun! it’s dark when I get in a car in the morning!!!) and your posts are always great bedtime stories. I’ll see a dream about Spain tonight. sxx

    Posted by kitsch-en | 22 October 2009 #
  • Lovely!!

    Posted by akane | 22 October 2009 #
  • i’ve always dreamed about a trip like this ever since i learned how to ride a motorcycle. i can’t even begin to imagine how wonderful it must have been. and you went to Etxebarri too! i was introduced to that restaurant from an episode of no reservations. sublime.

    Posted by rick @ ala mode | 22 October 2009 #
  • Fabulous fabulous pictures. I feel like I’ve just had a lightning trip to Spain.

    Posted by Sarah Trivuncic | 22 October 2009 #
  • Absolutely gorgeous, absolutely a stunning journey Keiko! Your post on London markets has helped us during our honeymoon trip to the UK late September – we were lucky the weather was gorgeous. We managed to cover plenty except for Columbia Rd Flower Market. I also got to meet the lady of Coco & Me at Broadway. Thank you. :)

    Posted by Nur Suraya | 24 October 2009 #
  • stunning photos as always, sounds like a wonderful trip.

    Posted by atia | 24 October 2009 #
  • Merci pour ce très beau billet sur le pays basque
    Je découvre votre blog qui est merveilleux
    Je reviendrai avec beaucoup de plaisir

    Posted by Sacha | 24 October 2009 #
  • Keiko,

    I know the weather in UK is depressing most of the time. Good for you to have a Spanish escape. But despite the depressing weather I still look forward for my UK trip next year.

    I hope to meet you. You’re a good photographer :)

    Posted by The Artist Chef | 25 October 2009 #
  • wow the hotel aire de bardenas, is one of my dream trip!
    It seems to be an amazing experience…

    Posted by sooishi | 25 October 2009 #
  • I get back home to the basque country from a trip to the UK to find this new article waiting to be read about the area where I am sitting. I’m only a few minutes from Asador Etxebarri and have yet to try it out!
    I was stunned a couple of years ago when blogged about a list of the best restaurants in the world and a little place called Asador Etxebarri appeared.

    An Asador is normally a steakhouse type of place so it was a surprise to see its name in the list in the first place and doubly so when one of the my colleagues told me where it was. I had had coffee there a couple of times without realizing the treasure which on the other side of little local bar.
    We were going to go a while back but went to the very excellent Boroa (just outside Amorebieta) instead. The problem in this area is that there are so many fabulous restaurants and my waistline can only take so much.

    Wonderful photos


    Posted by Ian murphy | 26 October 2009 #
  • Sounds like a great road trip. I’m not sure many people outside Spain no much about the Basque region beyond the news headlines concerning ETA. What a shame – great scenery, a rich history and some of the finest produce in Spain… as your photos so eloquently show.

    Posted by Andrew | 26 October 2009 #
  • very very nice shots.
    didnt know they grill sardines that way.

    Posted by J2Kfm | 27 October 2009 #
  • Wow!! is where I live. You have take the essence of my beautiful land very well!! Your work is sooo sweet and tender :)

    Posted by Mia Charro | 28 October 2009 #
  • Beautiful work! I love your photos.

    Posted by Terah | 28 October 2009 #
  • Lovely pictures! Are those red chilli garlands for drying?

    Posted by S | 30 October 2009 #
  • Beautiful. so beautiful.
    photos,messages, air
    I love your site.
    Visiting your site makes me “everytime happy”.
    Thank you . from Japan

    Posted by Takae Asada | 31 October 2009 #
  • You had a fabulous time and it shows in all your beautiful pictures and words. Thanks for sharing your trip and all the food.

    Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

    Posted by Natalie | 2 November 2009 #
  • Keiko,

    I LOVE the pictures. I’ve been to Spain 3 times as a child. I think it’s time to go again, especially after this post. Thank you for sharing.


    Posted by Dinners & Dreams | 2 November 2009 #
  • @S
    The strings of what look like dried chillies are dried red peppers. These are what are used to give Chorizo sausage its red colour. They are used in loads of local recipies either roasted and put in jars or dried out as in the photo. The dried ones are generally used whole in soups or casserole type dishes.

    Once they’ve moistened up you cut them open and scrape the flesh into the dish and throw away the hard skin.
    They’re also very photogenic. the traditional way of drying them was on the balconies under the eves of farmhouses or inside large arched porchways, so they show up a lot in tourist brochures with photos of pretty villages.

    Posted by Ian murphy | 2 November 2009 #
  • your pictures are a feast for the eyes,heart and soul

    Posted by secil | 2 November 2009 #
  • Oh Keiko, what gorgeous photos, especially those red vines! I’ve been wanting to visit Bilbao and the Basque region for the longest time – sounds like your trip was wonderful :)

    Posted by Jeanne | 2 November 2009 #
  • I just came across your Basque Country post, and I’m excited that you loved my country. Today is one of this late winter sunny days, and I took my time to go for a walk, close to the end of it I told my boyfriend that sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have near us…..and I must admit Bilbao is great. Although it was an industrial city, it isn’t any more, and it still keeps some of the tradition and spirit of the past. You know, I do my shopping in la ribera’s market, every day, and it’s a real luxury. I wish I could have helped you out with some hiden, non-touristic, mystic and special spots of my country. May be next time…

    Posted by intxaurtsu | 23 February 2012 #

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