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The wife and I are off to Spain over the Christmas holidays. Most of our trip will be spent in Barcelona where I've been before, but we're going to take a 4-day road trip over to the area north of San Sebastian. We plan to stay in Hondarribia Spain right near the border. We'll hit San Sebastian, of course, but where else would you head for gastronomic adventures? Bayonne? Biarritz? Saint-Jean-de-Luz? Is there anything interesting inland? Also, are there any recommendations in the Aragon region? We may use one of our nights there on the way back to Barcelona.

Feliz Navidad,

Al

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I think they were safe choices but I couldn't have been happier with my meals at Arzak & Mugartiz over the summer. Wonderful food, wonderful service, wonderful wine (esp. @ Arzak). I can pm you photos of the menu if you are interested. I think if I could only return to one it would be Mugartiz, and we would excercise the option of requesting some of his signature dishes in advance.

We didn't get a chance to eat there but I've heard amazing things about Extebarri, which is first on my list of places to try next trip.

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I think they were safe choices but I couldn't have been happier with my meals at Arzak & Mugartiz over the summer. Wonderful food, wonderful service, wonderful wine (esp. @ Arzak). I can pm you photos of the menu if you are interested. I think if I could only return to one it would be Mugartiz, and we would excercise the option of requesting some of his signature dishes in advance.

We didn't get a chance to eat there but I've heard amazing things about Extebarri, which is first on my list of places to try next trip.

I haven't yet checked in with A&M, but Extebarri is closed over the holidays. I wonder how much of a hinderance going this time of the year will be.

Sure, PM me the menu!

Thanks

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Lucky you! San Sebastian was one of the highlights of my backpacking excursion through northern Spain (after living for four months in Madrid). I don't remember any notable restaurants, as I was on a meager budget. However, one night our hostel owner took us way up into the mountains to a fantastic sidreria (cider house)--and it was the most incredible and truly local experience I had during my travels. We were served enormous portions of grilled meats and vegetables, all while dining at large communal tables. We were also able to drink delicious cider, poured right from the barrel into our glasses. If you have ANY way to arrange a similar excursion (speaking Spanish would help in this regard), I would highly recommend it. Safe travels! Looking forward to reading the report upon your return.

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Honeymoon stop number number two was a couple of days in Bilbao to see the Guggenheim.

The museum had some great snacks and sandwiches for when you needed a break from the amazing collection of art. The old section of town had fantastic pintxos. I've lost the names of the places we hit up, unfortunately. Worth wandering

First dinner was at Restaurant Mina, which had a tiny dining room and open kitchen. Amazing service and cocktail skills by the staff (the latter was something we found to be very rare in Spain) they served best negroni my wife has ever had.

The tasting menu was fantastic, and had some true standouts, including: homemade blood sausage, partridge ravioli with pork belly, hake in a dashi soup, and a confit suckling pig.

The wine pairings were also a real treat for us, lots of things that pushed our palates. The Nates 2012 Cantabria Albarino we are currently on the hunt for a case of...and trying to get to Indianapolis. We really loved this white.

If you are in Bilbao, you better have a meal here.

Second evening we went to Restaurante Arbolagana for a friday night dinner, as they touted themselves as a slow food restaurant. The place was dead and in a strange location above the Bilbao Art Museum (the other one in town). Great view of the city. We regretted getting the tasting menu after watching another table order a more meat-centric meal. The best thing we had there was the blood sausage (again!) truffles coated in crushed up chicharones under a bed of fried peppers (the spanish version of shishito). They had a tough act to follow after Mina the night before.

We really loved Bilbao...it was like a spanish Pittsburgh with the way the city was nestled next to the hills and wedged between multiple rivers. Although I wouldn't recommend a stay longer than a couple of days, it's a good stopover on your way to Donostia / San Sebastian.

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Not sure if this'll be useful to anyone, but in case someone wonders at some future time:

I contacted Etxebarri in preparation for a trip back to Basque country, this time with 2 kids in tow. They were delighted to have kids in the restaurant and assured me it wouldn't be a problem.

(And it should go without saying that if you find yourself anywhere near it, you are doing yourself a huge disservice if you don't make a reservation for lunch there. 5 years later, still the best meal of my life.)

Lucky you! San Sebastian was one of the highlights of my backpacking excursion through northern Spain (after living for four months in Madrid). I don't remember any notable restaurants, as I was on a meager budget. However, one night our hostel owner took us way up into the mountains to a fantastic sidreria (cider house)--and it was the most incredible and truly local experience I had during my travels. We were served enormous portions of grilled meats and vegetables, all while dining at large communal tables. We were also able to drink delicious cider, poured right from the barrel into our glasses. If you have ANY way to arrange a similar excursion (speaking Spanish would help in this regard), I would highly recommend it. Safe travels! Looking forward to reading the report upon your return.

Do you happen to remember the name of the Sidreria? We'll be heading back to San Sebastian in June, and that sounds like a worthy excursion. Thanks!

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Sorry, I have no earthly idea what the name was - I just remember a very steep uphill taxi ride to get there.  The actual cider season is only January through April, though, and there are only a few sidrerias that stay open to the public year-round.  Where are you staying?  I would imagine that if you asked the owner/concierge, he or she could recommend a place you could visit in the off-season.

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Barcelona makes a good entry and exit airport for traveling around the Pyrenées - you can go either clockwise, or counter-clockwise, around the entire range, and you'll see both San Sebastian and Carcassonne.

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Unless you have one hell of a constitution, do not make the same mistake I did, of taking an overnight flight to Barcelona, renting a car, and driving straight to San Sebastian. I don't remember exactly how long the drive was, but it was five or six hours - it's just not worth it, and I was quite literally falling asleep at the wheel.

If I had it to do again, I'd go counter-clockwise and see Carcassonne before San Sebastian. Carcassonne is beyond magnificent, *but* unless you stay inside the ramparts (a hotel such as this, inside the walled city, is not only "worth the splurge" - it's essential to visiting Carcassonne). There are many places to stay outside the city walls, but there's just something magical about staying inside, because before the tour buses come, and after they leave, the city is nearly completely empty, and it's all yours - and it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

However, I say "Carcassonne before San Sebastian" because you can "do" Carcassonne in one night, and as spectacular as it is (and it *is* monumentally spectacular), it's a one-trick pony; San Sebastian is (in my mind) the nicest, cleanest, most beautiful city I've seen in Europe south of Scandinavia (and depending on your personal tastes, maybe even including Scandinavia). You can get a lot out of San Sebastian in two days, but you could also stay for a week (I could stay for a lifetime).

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8 hours ago, naxos said:

Heading out for 3 weeks in the Basque region early July. Will stay in Bilbao, San Sebastian, Laguardia, Biarritz and a 2 day detour to Lectour in Gascogne.

Hoping for some recent updates on dining suggestions.

I only have recent experience with San Sebastian, and you can either go hyper-upscale (at a number of places), or do a tapas crawl. If it were me? And if the weather is nice? I would take the nicest evening there is, and start an *early* tapas crawl. Two things you need to know:

1) There is a very clear east-side / west-side division, both in terms of geography, and in terms of style of tapas served. When I did mine, I started out on the "traditional side" and moved towards the "modern side" (which I believe is East, then West). If you're staying in the center of town, it's the same amount of walking either way. If I were to do it again, I would reverse the two, and do Modern/West first, then Traditional/East second. Why?

2) The restaurants close a *lot* earlier than I had thought, and by the time I got over to the modern side, places were not only beginning to close (it wasn't even 11 PM), but they were spread out from each other. Don't discount the number of miles you'll walk - it'll be five-or-so - and with all the eating and drinking, you might get tired. Ending at the East/Traditional side will put you closer to your hotel (again, assuming you're staying in the center of town), and you'll appreciate the shorter walk back. Plus, since the places are closer together, I think they stay open later - especially one street of tapas bars which are clustered very close together.

Remember the wine "Txakolina" - it will be your best friend. Don't scrutinize too closely, or question the nuances of the wine, just knock them back, one after the other. And don't hesitate to try hyper-traditional tapas (don't forget, you *are* at their birthplace, so you're truly getting the real thing). 

I think San Sebastian is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen in my life. It's not large, but it is drop-dead gorgeous. If you're spending one night, and doing a tapas crawl, I would consider getting a hotel near the two east-west sections so you don't have to walk a mile to begin and end your trip without tapas.

Are you making a loop around the Pyrenées, and is there any particular reason you're going to Lectour? 

If yes to the loop, have you considered a night *inside the walls* at Carcasonne?

If no to Lectour, is there anything preventing you from visiting Arcachon?

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Thanks, Don!

The main purpose of the trip is eating well and we will walk it all off afterwards hiking in the Bernese Oberland.

We are trying to limit our driving- having done an intense trip  in Portugal a few years back and have learned to limit our distances. We fly in and out of Bilbao.We have considered visiting the dunes near Arachon and may go a day trip.

Carcassone is enticing, but further east and will save that for a May trip when I'm no longer tied to an academic schedule.

We have 5 nights in Donastia so we have time for one  or two splurge restaurants and will try for a reservation at  Arzak but it may be too late. Your directional advice for the pintxo crawl is helpful- had no idea!

Honestly, Lectour was added after reading a recent NYT article about Gascogne and the duck, foie gras and markets.

Gentaria for percebes and seafood and Biarritz for some France.

Reading lots of blogs and looking for other recent recommendations.

This forum is an amazing wealth of information !Thank you for all your hard work.

 

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1 hour ago, naxos said:

Thanks, Don!

The main purpose of the trip is eating well and we will walk it all off afterwards hiking in the Bernese Oberland.

We are trying to limit our driving- having done an intense trip  in Portugal a few years back and have learned to limit our distances. We fly in and out of Bilbao.We have considered visiting the dunes near Arachon and may go a day trip.

Carcassone is enticing, but further east and will save that for a May trip when I'm no longer tied to an academic schedule.

We have 5 nights in Donastia so we have time for one  or two splurge restaurants and will try for a reservation at  Arzak but it may be too late. Your directional advice for the pintxo crawl is helpful- had no idea!

Honestly, Lectour was added after reading a recent NYT article about Gascogne and the duck, foie gras and markets.

Gentaria for percebes and seafood and Biarritz for some France.

Reading lots of blogs and looking for other recent recommendations.

This forum is an amazing wealth of information !Thank you for all your hard work.

Okay, if you go to Arcachon, one of my best friends is from there. Let me know as soon as possible, because she's very well-connected with restaurants, and knows more than anyone. Even if you don't go, but go to the Bordeaux region, I think you should talk with her for ten minutes to get a feel for things. When I was in there for the first time (this is around St. Emilion, etc.), I had Confit de Canard *three nights* in a row!

If you can possibly see any cave art, build your trip around it - with the same enthusiasm that you'd build your trip around seeing the Pyramids of Giza. I'm not sure there are very many places left that are letting tourists in, but there's something about seeing 10,000-year-old paintings, literally painted by *cavemen*, yet brilliantly (and purposefully) contoured to the unevenness of the rock, that changes your perspective on life.

It's never too late.

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Agree about the cave paintings. Although we were too late to visit Lascaux before the original caves were closed to visitors, we were fortunate to visit Font De Gaume  in the early  80'snd enjoying the great cuisine of the Dordogne and the  wonderful Sarlat market.

Thank you for your offer to connect to your friend; I look forward to contacting her.Please message me.

 

 

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On 4/18/2017 at 8:54 PM, naxos said:

Thanks, Don!

The main purpose of the trip is eating well and we will walk it all off afterwards hiking in the Bernese Oberland.

We are trying to limit our driving- having done an intense trip  in Portugal a few years back and have learned to limit our distances. We fly in and out of Bilbao.We have considered visiting the dunes near Arachon and may go a day trip.

Carcassone is enticing, but further east and will save that for a May trip when I'm no longer tied to an academic schedule.

We have 5 nights in Donastia so we have time for one  or two splurge restaurants and will try for a reservation at  Arzak but it may be too late. Your directional advice for the pintxo crawl is helpful- had no idea!

Honestly, Lectour was added after reading a recent NYT article about Gascogne and the duck, foie gras and markets.

Gentaria for percebes and seafood and Biarritz for some France.

Reading lots of blogs and looking for other recent recommendations.

This forum is an amazing wealth of information !Thank you for all your hard work.

 

Check out the San Sebastian thread for some recs on tapas places.  La Cepa is a great place for "traditional" tapas...especially fried things. La Cuchara de San Telmo really shouldn't be missed either.

If you're driving to and from Bilbao you will hate yourself forever if you don't book a lunch or dinner at Etxebarri.  I've had the fortune to go twice and they are both the most memorable meals of my life.  A prawn I had last year still haunts me.

Another short drive from San Sebastian that is fully worth it would be to do a lunch at Elkano.  Fish perfected.

And do try to get a spot at Arzak.  I waited too long on our first trip there and was really bummed that we couldn't go, but they worked us in after a cancellation.  The folks there are incredibly friendly and would likely bend over backwards to get you in if you really express an interest.

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After nine years, we returned to San Sebastian. I seriously question our sanity in waiting so long to return. If you love food, wine and beaches it is paradise on earth. As always, more detailed photos and info on wine available on my Instagram.

Fine Dining:

Nerua, Guggenheim Bilbao - This meal was just weird. Despite a "seasonal" menu, every dish was a mushy ball in some sort of broth. It was a strangely monochromatic (mostly brown and white) menu with the sole truly fresh seasonal dish consisting of tomatoes. We drank their last bottle of Prevost - no joke, their Somm made a big fuss about it. Service was slow and inattentive.

Arzak - We wanted to love this meal, but didn't. The issue wasn't the food. We generally really enjoyed it, although some dishes for the same course varied very differently in quality.  That said they have the most incredible wine list that is so bizarrely and cheaply priced that it took us 45 minutes to make a selection. Their senior somm was not working the night we were there. The somm who was on service that night had nominal interest in engaging us in a conversation about their deep cellar of older Spanish bottles. The bottles he did recommend were all pretty pedestrian and marked up 300%. If we ever went back it would be to sit in their bar and drink wine.

Etxebarri - This was our second visit, actually 9 years to day from our first visit. We loved it on our first visit and its still excellent. But its become much more polished over the past nine years and has lost some of its more rustic charm. Be sure to tack on the caviar and percebes additions. Make a request at the start of your meal for the warm cheese flan.  Note, they have two wine list - one that is more pedestrian and another that has some older, more rare vintages. Also, on Sundays they serve pintxos in their downstairs tavern on Sundays from 11-2.  They're offal focused prepared by a junior somm (no joke), but it sounds fascinating and someone needs to try this.

Azurmendi - This meal was absolute perfection. By far our favorite in the region. You can order off of two menus - one classic and one more experimental. We went with the classic menu. We also ordered some gorgeous bottles of wine and their somm is delightful to work with. I can't speak highly enough of this meal and if you go for one splurge this should be it.

Rekondo - We went for the wine to be honest. Their cellar is one of the biggest in the world and the wine is exceptionally well priced.  We were very pleasantly surprised by the food. The seafood is really excellent - we really loved the white shrimp in particular. They will also make you a beautiful plate of cheese and jamon iberico. We didn't get desserts but they looked excellent. 

Pintxos, San Sebastian:

La Cuchara de San Telmo (open Monday, website says they arent) - Excellent seafood options. We enjoyed the razor clams, foie gras (huge chunk for cheap), octopus

Bar Martinez - More options on the bar, including an awesome tuna stuffed pepper

Ganbara Bar - If you go to one place for Pintxos, this should be it. Order off the menu rather than choosing from the bar (though the Jamon Iberico on medialunas is excellent). We loved the confit tuna collar with onions, percebes, and mixed mushrooms with raw egg yolk. Note they also have a downstairs bistro.

Atari Gastroteka (open Sunday/Monday) - We went here twice, again order off the menu rather than the bocadillos on the bar. Excellent options included - lightly cured salmon with fresh cheese and salmon roe, platter of tuna with olives and pickled peppers, octopus, patatas bravas

Bar Bergara (open Sunday/Monday) - They have some of the prettiest bocadillos in the city. 

Bar Restaurante Hidalgo 56 - We ordered lots of stuff off their menu including the tuna tataki, mushrooms and black pudding volcano

Bar Antonio (open Sunday/Monday) - We ordered a ton of stuff both bocadillos and off their menu. We weren't super impressed with their kobe burger (it was gristly) but their seafood offers were excellent. Note they also have a lovely downstairs bistro that some say is better than Ibai.

Tips:

1- Many pintxos bars are closed on Sunday and Monday. Plan accordingly.

2- If you go and you are a wine drinker, plan around visits to Rekondo, Arzak, Elkano and Kaia-Kaipe. Make a stop at Goni Ardoteka, which is an excellent wine shop. 

3- If someone offers you percebes, order them! Goose barnacles are a local delicacy and can't be found anywhere else in the world.

4- Coffee sucks in this town. We found one acceptable place called Old Town Coffee. Others say Sakona is excellent, we disagree. 

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