Monday, June 19, 2017

On The Road To Laguardia And The Basque Wine Country

We had a fantastic time in San Sebastian - its pretty hard not to!

So now it was time to head to the country just like we do on our Italy tours. Of course most tours would charter a bus but I have found that my travelers love having their own cars and the freedom and privacy it affords them, especially in the country. So we did board several vans at the Hotel Londres for the San Sebastian airport and Europcar where we rented our sedans. Each couple had their own car and we got out convoy in order and head out for the Basque Wine country.

First, I cannot tell you how nice the roads and highways are in Spain! Impeccable! Wider than Italy, well marked, and not one pothole this entire trip. Yes there are tolls along the way, but I would say well worth the price.

The road trip from San Sebastian to the Basque Wine country starts with lush greenery brought to life from the sea. As you rise in elevation the trees transition to pines and if I just woke up from a nap you would swear you were on I-90 driving through western Montana. Absolutely beautiful.

Once you cross the divide the mountains act as a dam for the sea moisture just like the Sierra Nevada do in California and then the air dries and the greenery slowly diminishes to what then looks like the landscape around Cordes Junction which also has now a number of wineries. Rolling hills line with vineyards all embraced by lovely mountain ranges.

We drive up and down the hills slowly make our way to our next venue, Laguardia. Laguardia is one of many little walled, medieval, hilltop villages that time has forgotten. Of course we were arriving on a Saturday and let's just say the tourists as well as the locals have not forgotten this town - it was packed. No place to park so we just had to wait our turns for stalls to open in the parking lot at the bottom of the hill. With the cars parked we needed to schlep our bags up the hill, through the walled entrance, and through the narrow streets to our hotel, the Hospenderia de Los Parajes.

What a lovely spot right in the middle of the village and a very cool mix of the old with the modern. We got settled in and then all made our way outside to explore the village, grab some lunch and then a nice siesta.... Yes we were all unknowingly embracing the life of a Spaniard!

Well, one true trait of Spanish culture is the fact that dinner does not start until 9 pm.Usually, Isabel and I are just wrapping up for the evening as we both like to get up at 4 am. But not here in Spain. Our first dinner in the country was a welcome dinner hosted by Candelaria Design right here in the hotel and starting at 9 pm and finishing sometime around midnight! Fabulous way to start our time in the country and the food was fantastic.

The evening finished with a walk around the village perimeter and then down the narrow streets with a nightcap and a cigar and stories shared by all of our journey to the Basque Wine Country.

San Sebastian Day 4 - Fine Dining At Akelare'

On Day 4 we all got a chance to enjoy San Sebastian but it would be our last full day here. 

I started the day with a nice walk with my good friend Larry Peery who along with his lovely partner, Gloria Ipock, were joining us on their second trip together and Larry's third trip with me. Larry and I met in 1983 when we collaborated on back in 1983 with him as the builder and me as the architect. Some 34 years later we are still the best of friends. What an absolute pleasure it is to have this time together and enjoy some good chats, some wonderful meals and of course a cigar or two along the way. 

We enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and some pastries and then made our way back to the hotel to rendezvous with our ladies for a day of sightseeing and shopping. The girls shopped and had a total blast and I enjoyed the architecture. 

We stopped for a nice glass of wine and some spritzes and just enjoyed Spain passing by. So nice to just take some time with no rush and just daydream, laugh and chat with two of my most repeat travelers!!! Boy have the four of us had fun over the years and how our lives have changed and transitioned since our first trip together which was in 2012. On that trip to Italy I was still going through my divorce, Isabel was on her first trip with me, and Rebecca had just separated from her husband. Now Isabel and I are happily married, and Rebecca is happily remarried, and Gicela is still just plain happy - as always! I wonder where we will all be five years from now......?

To finish our time in San Sebastian a group of us booked dinner at a 3-star Michelin restaurant, Akelarre just outside of San Sebastian.

Ok first - the architecture and setting are beyond words so even if the food was average I would have been thrilled but then the food comes over a 16 courses and four hours and satisfied is a mere understatement. This is beyond spectacular. 

Here was the Menu:

Prawns and Green Beans cooked in "Orujo" Flame and sea roes

Chickpeas and Violet Potato, not conventional at all

Sourced kokotxa, white Garlic Pil-Pil

Hake in Seaweed stem, Piancton and Oyster Leaf

Squid as a Risotto, Butter Flower

Grilled Lamb Loin. Salad in Skein. Mushrooms and Sweetbreads

Melting Cupcake

A Different Apple Tart

Add a spectacular sunset, fine wine, and of course our wonderful group of travelers and all the ingredients were in place for one of the most memorable dinners of my life.