Tag Archives: Basque Country

Provence, Pyrenees & Pays Basque Road Trip

Last August, Rio and I embarked on a road trip to explore the South of France. While we’re here, we want to see as much of France as we can and decided that a road trip commencing from Avignon to Saint-Jean-de-Luz via the Pyrenees mountains sounded like just the way to do it. What we didn’t anticipate is that we would have to do this in a Smart car. Our favorite memories of the trip include experiencing a jai alai match, hiking, visiting our friend Steeve and his family in his hometown, walking through the red ochre town of Roussillon, driving through the hills of Luberon, and, of course, wine tasting!

So despite driving through some death-defying cols, we wouldn’t change a thing about this two-week adventure…actually, we really would have liked having a normal-sized car.

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Eating at…Akelaŕe

Akelare
So about a year ago, I posted that I would “fly back to San Sebastián just to eat at Akelaŕe“. Well, I didn’t fly…but during the last leg of our Provence, Pyrenees and Pays-Basque trip, we stayed in Saint Jean De Luz, which is a mere 30 kilometers and 30 minute drive from this foodie town. So return to San Sebastián for Akelaŕe is exactly what I did.
Akelare
Having dined at Akelaŕe twice now, I can honestly say that the food truly is amazing, the service is impeccable and the view of the Bay of Biscay while you indulge in eight courses can’t be beat. And it’s a nice touch when friendly, handlebar-mustachioed chef Pedro Subijana comes out and chats with each table (we might’ve hogged his attention for a bit.) However, if I make it back to San Sebastián for a third time, I think it’ll be time for me to try the other buzzed-about Michelin restaurant Arzak. That’s not to say that Akelaŕe’s food wasn’t as good as our first dining experience – but instead of saying “Wow” repeatedly after each dish like I did last year, this time I kept saying things like “Oh, I think I had this pasta dish last year. Remember our waiter who kind of looked like a better-looking Fabio last year? I remember this vegetable sea garden starter!”, and so on and so on. And honestly, when San Sebastián has more Michelin stars per square meter in the world (that’s 16, folks), then it’s probably a good idea to see what else is out there. But if you’ve never eaten at Akelaŕe, go!! You absolutely will not regret it, it’ll probably be one of your most memorable dining experiences, and honestly, you just can’t go to San Sebastián without ever having tried this restaurant. I highly recommend it.

Since I only posted one photo from Akelaŕe last year, here are a whole lot more. So I apologize for the following food porn…and to Rio for taking photos of every dish before letting him eat it.
Akelare Vegetable Sea Garde
 
Akelare - Gambas

Akelare - Gambas

Akelare - Gazpacho

Akelare
Akelare
Akelare - 2
Akelare Dessert

Akelare

San Sebastián
Akelaré
Pasao Padre Orcoloaga, 56
20008 San Sebastián
Tél: 34-943-311-209
**Three prix fixe menus at 155 euros each. I had the Anorani menu (with some pescatarian adjustments) and Rio had the Bekarki menu.

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La Raison De Ma Petite Pause: Provence, Pyrenees & Basque Country Road Trip

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A view of the Pyrenees from Pic du Midi, the most easily accessible peak at nearly 10,000 feet.

I haven’t posted in a while because I was on vacation – a vacation that I had really been looking forward to for quite some time. It was a Provence to Basque Country road trip that wound all the way through the Pyrenees Mountains, a mountain range in Southwest Europe that essentially forms a natural border between France and Spain.

One of the things I regretted when studying abroad in Paris 13 years ago was not traveling within France enough. At the time, exploring the many nearby countries and ticking them off my “travel list” was more important to me. Living in Paris the second time around, and having seen quite a number of European countries by now, I knew I wanted to explore every bit of France as much as I could. This recent vacation provided that opportunity.

From August 14 to 25, Rio and I embarked on our first real road trip. With Avignon as our home base, we spent the first few nights exploring Provence before making our way to the beachside town of Collioure where the Mediterranean Sea meets the beginning of the Pyrenees Mountains. It was at this point where the intense portion of our road trip began as we drove the 300-plus mile stretch of mountainous roads over the course of five days until we reached the Bay of Biscay in the Atlantic Ocean. Settling in Saint-Jean-de-Luz for the last few nights, it would be an understatement to say we appreciated the less intimidating roads of Basque Country. If you’ve ever driven through any of the D-numbered roads in the Pyrenees – what I like to affectionally say stands for “death-defying” – then you won’t be surprised to know there were many times I was clenching my seat hoping we wouldn’t drop off the narrow winding roads that somehow rarely ever seemed to have a guardrail and thinking thank goodness I had already asked my brother to take care of Tyler if death decided to meet us then and there.

On that cheery note, I’ll be posting photos, an itinerary, tips and hopefully some hotel and restaurant recommendations soon. Right now, I have some major errands (I’m on the fifth load of laundry today) and work to do. Oh, and did I mention, tending to Tyler’s wound?  Yes, more to come on that. Let’s just say he has two staples in his back leg right now. Mon pauvre bébé!

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San Sebastián: Day 4


Last day! We woke up early so we could hike the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail. You basically have to walk to the east side of town, hike up Calle de Zemoriya in Gros and follow the yellow trail markings in reverse. We didn’t walk through much of it, but what we did see, you weave through some forest and get to see some pretty cliffs that go into the sea. Apparently one of Jesus’ apostles was buried in Spain, so lots of people did this pilgrimage trail across Europe to honor it/see the site. I thought Rio’s mom would be proud that we did a little portion of this.


Before we headed there, we did carbo load with a pastry from Galparoso, which apparently is a bakery that supplies the area’s top restaurants. (Calle Mayor 6, +34-943-420-113). We saw a guy carrying a bunch of baguettes from this shop, and all of a sudden the little paper bag broke and all his baguettes came tumbling out on the street. Poor guy.


After that, we took a little boat ride to Isla Santa Clara – that little island you see in a lot of the San Sebastián pics… also known as the “Phantom Fourth Beach”. We took the Motora de la Isla, which comes about every 30 minutes and only cost about 5 euros. It was nice to check out a different part of town and get a different perspective of the city. After that, we just laid out by the beach, and then headed back home!

Next stop… Corsica!

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San Sebastián: Day 3


So this day was a total bust as it was heavily pouring all day. We ended up going to San Telmo Museum, which has a “history” of San Sebastián but it was honestly the most boring thing ever. Granted – I’m not a big fan of museums, but this one was pretty darn bad.


So after being tortured in the museum for a couple of hours, I deserved some pintxos! We went to A Fuego Negro and La Cuchara de San Telmo – both of which had some delicious pintxos. Apparently other people had the same idea, because both places were packed. What I found interesting was that you could order your food, they’d call your name once the food was ready, you’d bring it to your bar/high-boy, and you could easily walk out with no one being the wiser. So trusting!


Afterwards, the rain had cleared a little bit, so we attempted playing beach tennis at Playa de la Concha… but sadly, we suck and it wasn’t much of a game. C’est la vie.

We capped the night with dinner at Rekondo – a restaurant that’s supposed to have an amazing, old wine list and wine cellar with 100,000+ wines. It was featured in WSJ and Wine Spectator, plus, most importantly, it was actually open on a Sunday night! It was good, not amazing, but the daughter of the owner was very friendly and I enjoyed it.

Rekondo
57 Paseo de Igueldo
+34-943-212-907

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San Sebastián Vacation: Day 2


We started off the morning by walking from the hotel, past Playa de Ondaretta to Comb of the Winds (Peine del Viento or Peine de los Vientos). Since it was pretty hot and it was already 11:58am, we naturally thought a nice ice cold beer was needed during our stroll.
Peine del Viento is a modern iron sculpture by Eduardo Chillida that’s embedded in the rocks at the water’s edge. It’s just west of town and has nice views of the city and the surrounding coastline. I definitely think it’s worth checking out if you’re in town.

After that, we walked to Monte Igueldo, which we had passed on the way to Peine del Viento, and took the funicular up. The funicular is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday to Sunday from 10am to 10pm and is only a few euros. Monte Igueldo has a nice view of the city, plus Monte Urgull, which we had walked up the day before. The two are must-visits.


On top of Monte Igueldo is also a cute old-school amusement park.

After all that walking and picture-taking, we were pooped and had lunch by Playa de la Concha. It was nice to just sit and relax. Then we headed back to the hotel to change and went to the beach – Playa de la Concha is literally two blocks away from our hotel Tryp Orly, which was nice. Boy was I surprised to see all the topless women and nude men on the beach! It did inspire me to try out the topless thing for a hot minute, but that’s about as much courage I had.


We ended the night with the most amazing meal at 3-star Michelin restaurant Akelaré. It was seriously the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. 8 courses for around 140 euros (a steal compared to other Michelin restaurants in Paris and NYC!) – and they even accommodated my vegetarian request. I would fly back to San Sebastián just to eat here. The handlebar-mustachioed chef also came out and chatted with each table, which was nice. Not to mention, the waiter was pretty hot. I asked Rio if it would be appropriate to ask him if he was on the tasting menu too – hahaha.

Akelaré
Pasao Padre Orcoloaga, 56
20008 San Sebastián
34-943-311-209

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San Sebastián Vacation: Day 1

7:40am flight, which meant a 5:45am cab ride to the airport. God, I hate early mornings. We landed around 9:45am and took an hour-long bus ride from Bilbao to San Sebastián – it’s about 15 euros and make sure you have exact change.

I started getting concerned it was a bit rainy when the weather app on my iPhone had said it was going to be high 80s and sunny. Turns out – I had entered the wrong San Sebastián city! Dios mio. We’re in Basque country, people, which meant unpredictable weather… but really good food. At least that’s what the hotel receptionist told me once we arrived.


Since we couldn’t check into the hotel until 3pm, we had a pintxo lunch at Morgan, which was recommended by the hotel receptionist for having a few vegetarian options. Good food – but not mind-blowing.


After that, we walked around the Old Town and Marina.


Once we checked in, we walked up to Monte Urgull to see a view of the city. When you walk up to the top, there are low castle walls and a big statue of Christ. Take the path from Plaza de Zuloaga or from behind the aquarium. There’s also a small museum on the city’s history – Mirando a San Sebastián – but it closed at 8pm sharp and we missed it by a minute.

We finished the night with a dinner at Bodegón Alejandro, which was written about in NYT. It was good – but again, not mind-blowing. One of the waitresses must’ve been a newbie because she couldn’t figure out how to open the wine bottle and ended up slicing her finger.

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San Sebastián Vacation


Rio and I recently took a long weekend vacation in San Sebastián, which is in the Basque area of Spain. We had originally wanted to go to nearby Biarritz, but by the time we booked, it was too expensive. So… San Sebastián! Two important events happened to me during this trip:

  1. I had the best meal of my life at 3-star Michelin restaurant Akelaré.
  2. I might’ve channeled my inner European and tried out the topless thing… for about 1 minute.

Here’s a link to the Google Doc of my itinerary in case you ever decide to go and need some trip advice. I’ll also be posting more details and tips about the trip breakdown… and I promise there won’t be any photos of bullet number two (yikes).

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