Monday, November 29, 2010

La Table du Lavoir at Caudalie

We went to meet up with friends who after many years as expats in the north of France have returned to their home country close to la Brède outside Bordeaux. First an Osso Bucco like my mum used to make.... thank you Noëlle!

Then lunch at a place I have wanted to get to know for a while, les Sources de Caudalie. It is an hotel, two restaurants and a spa surrounded by vines next to Château Haut Smith. A very smart girl asked herself if she couldn't use the waste from the wine making process to make beauty products... yes, exactly that. Apparently research has showed that the skin of raisins contain lots of highly effiecient ingredients to make your skin look better! I had a look at the price list. You just need 100 euros to get started.... maybe old Santa can help out?

We didn't try any of the massages or baths in wine, but an extremely nice lunch at their second restaurant La Table du Lavoir. The setting, the decorations, the service, the food.... truly an excellent experience!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the pilgrim last stop before Spain

I asked my husband: How can I describe this place without becoming bombastic... full of clichés... pitiful? This place is full of the wings of history and set in a magnificient setting... you can hear the footsteps of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims that have passed here during hundreds and hundreds of years on the paved streets.... a tradition that is still well alive even though many modern pilgrims only do parts of the way to Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle in the north of Spain.

If you want you can just enjoy the cute shops and the different house fronts with the building year indicated (1510, 1648...). The view from the Citadelle is amazing and there is an incredible offer of restaurants and housings. A village well alive the whole year.

Paved streets, old houses...

Many cute little shops with local products... we bought Brana products in their shop, eau de vie plum, pear and raspberry...

Our hotel Les Pyrenées that I highly recommend and an equally recommendable restaurant! Doesn't look much though...
The time we spent here was lovely. The food was AMAZING.  I discovered afterwards (!) that it has two stars in the Michelin Guide.... absolutely worth them! The service was swift and discreet, not too much, to make us feel at ease. Among others we had an egg boiled at 68 degrees with cod cream, fricassée of lobster with green peas and panfried pigeon....  (I didn't bring my camera. My husband hates when I take photos of food at the table. Too nerdy.)

Our four-o-clock snack... Basque cake and a glass of cider

The church Notre Dame

Little details everywhere show that this is a pilgrim city. Did you know that there are more and more pilgrims for every year? That 65 percent of them start in this place?


The Bishops prison. Today a museum. And apparently the bishops didn't have much to do with the prison anyway.

In the background you see some vineyards (Irouléguy) and beside the portal a small stairway. It leads up to the wall watchround and you can walk around it...

View from the citadel. More vineyards.

View from the citadel... beautiful autumn colors.

And finally another view from a bridge over the river Nive that flows through the city. This place is often called the Little Basque Venise....

Monday, November 15, 2010

Oteiza, ham from the Kintoa territory

I am a sucker for pigs. No not really, but I love seeing things I eat BEFORE I eat them...  The Kintoa region got its name Pays de Quint or Kintoa in Basque, from the Spanish word quinta. La quinta was the fifth of each herd the Navarra kings took as a tax.... remember that when you complain about paying too high taxes!

Here in the Kintoa valley around Aldudes has Pierre Oteiza set down his foot and created an empire mostly based on ham. His pigs are of the race Pie Noir, the Basque pig, and roam freely to eat whatever they find in this rich region; like acorns, chestnuts and beechnuts.... They are fed til at least 12-14 months and by then they weigh 140-160 kilos! The resulting ham won a gold medal at the Concours General Agricole in Paris 2010 so the idea of make good ham out of happy pigs seem to stand true.

We went to his shop and the pig nursery. They have also a walk of about one hour up in the mountain where you can watch the pigs and learn more but we had to save that to another time... I would also want to come back to Banca close to Aldudes, where they breed the famous mountain trout or visit any of the many cheese makers... next time, next time!
Inside the shop. Try this saucisson... and this one... and the chorizo.. and this ham.. and that ham... and have a piece of this cheese.. and that cheese... Did you try this? I LOVE places where they let you try... so of course we were loaded by the time we left. We even got some fig jam that they didn't even let us try!

Dried Espelette peppers.

Take-away on the go snacks!!!!

Some of their stuff and the red gold medal.

Pig mummy relaxing in the sun. The Basque pig race was almost extinct when Oteiza started breeding them in 1988.

Bye bye... next stop Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port!!!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The mountains around Saint Etienne de Baïgorry

The Basque country is more known for its coast but the inner parts have an authentic beauty and culture that is more than well worth knowing. Mid november and the temperature is above 20... and we left the kids at home with a baby sitter... Life is more than sweet. Only one problem: why do we only have one day to spend here? Must plan coming back very very soon!

My husband stopped many many times so that I could take one more photo... the green rolling hills, the lush valleys and the typical houses...

... and the sheep and the cows... a living agricultural landscape!

The Domaine de Brana, an Irouléguy wine and liquor and eaux-de-vie producer. They have tastings in the 'house' you see on the photo... we decided to skip the wines this time but I really wanted to stop at the Cave Irouléguy in Saint Etienne de Baïgorry....

Our first stop was at the Bar du Fronton in Saint Etienne de Baïgorry. Empty outside but when we pushed the door open... it was full.

We had to wait by the bar for 15 minutes. Just the time to have a yellow (pastis) for my husband and a  Txapa for me, a mix of wine and red fruit liqueur. Cosy and easy going place. We felt good being there.

I had lamb with salad, chips and cheese. Simple and good. My husband had lomo, a kind of ham, egg and salad. A bit of local red wine, Irouléguy. Then we were ready to head south, towards Aldudes...
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