Pays Basque & Pais Vasco
Basque. The shutters that adorn the architecture in both Bayonne and Saint-Jean-de-Luz are stunning and apparently quite photogenic given the number of pictures I took of shutters. It’s also where we were introduced to the delight that is a French cheese shop as well as honest-to-goodness chantilly! Swoon! We had a chance to walk (me), jog (Luis) along the Bay of Biscay for the first time and enjoy the tail end of the off-season on the Basque Coast. While Bayonne proved herself worthwhile, Saint-Jean-de-Luz turned out to be a dud of a stop. The town seems to be a place that only exists for vacationers so it doesn’t really have a soul of its own, especially in off season. Luis was excited to be in France to watch the soccer match between Paris Saint Germain and Barcelona, but it turned out that this is the only part of France where the average joe prefers rubgy over soccer and we were hard pressed to find a bar that was even showing the game, much less could offer something resembling an ambiance futbolera. The highlight of my night in Saint-Jean-de-Luz was having our own bathroom after 4-5 nights of guesthouses with a shared bath – so that tells you a little something about how the place ranked in my book (although having your own bathroom IS something to greatly appreciate!)
Before we knew it, we were back in Spain and into the heart of the Basque County, and the place our stomachs had been looking forward to most: San Sebastian(Spanish) or Donostia (Basque).
We loved most everything about our time in Donostia. It is a town well known for high quality food and tapas (known as pintxos here) and has a great culture of bar hopping. We had a long chat with a woman who was telling us how things have changed over the years as restaurants cater more towards visitors and take less time to prepare traditional foods. While she said she certainly could tell the difference – we obviously couldn’t and were over the moon with the pintxos on offer around the city.
We also got to experience the concept of La Sidreria! Sidra, or cider, is produced locally and is a popular drink in this region. Many of the warehouses where the cider is stored before bottling open up as a restaurant. There are several on the outskirts of Donostia and we chose to visit Zelaia. A very well served 5 course meal was topped off with endless sips of fresh cider. The idea is you only fill your glass with a sip or two and have it in between bites. You eat standing for ease in walking to the nearest tap whenever you need something to wash down the amazing meal and the setup provides ample opportunity to chat with your neighbors. We had such a delightful evening and we so surprised that the bill only came out to about 30 Euro per person. An extraordinary value!
Donostia would have made a perfectly good week-long stop and perhaps next time we return to Spain on a less hectic tour, we will do just that.
Peace, love & tapas,