From Santillana del Mar to Barcelona via Zaragoza

It was going to be a long drive to Barcelona so the logical stopping point was Zaragoza. A place we knew nothing about. 

We set off and drove though the stunning landscape of Rioja. Since we’ve had a dog we’ve seen many more places due to driving. While it’s sometimes more challenging, we would probably never have driven through Rioja, one of the highlights of our whistlestop tour. 
We stopped for lunch on the banks of the River Erbe, an enormous lazy green river snaking its way through the arid vineyards. We were near a small medieval  village called Briones which we’ll be looking for on Rioja wine labels from now on.

After a relaxing picnic the land became drier and hotter and we were relieved when we arrived in Zaragoza. It was 40 degrees which is pretty hot by anyone’s standards.

After a relax in air conditioning (phew) we set off to the main plaza where a wedding was taking place at the stunning cathedral.

A modern fountain reflected the traditional buildings and we relaxed with a Spanish gin and tonic.

The Spanish serve a very generous measure of gin in a fish bowl of a glass filled with ice and tonic. Our kind of drink, much more generous than the British measures!

We enjoyed the evening exploring Zaragoza before going to bed very early by Spanish standards.

The next morning we emerged to see the aftermath of the late night partying. People were still out, bleary eyed in the daylight as we set off.  

Next stop Barcelona!

The Barcelona Endurance Test

We had given ourselves the ultimate challenge, to see as much of Barcelona in a day as possible. It was madness!

Barcelona is an enormous city and it was a case of what didn’t Gaudi design as it seemed he was prolific. 
We started at the Sagrada Familia, his unfinished cathedral which, while stunning is covered in scaffolding and still has a lot to be done. It was impressive but very touristy and the place was packed. 

From there we walked to the Arc de Triomf, a large red brick celebratory arch leading down to the Parc de la Ciutadella as we needed a bit of a sit down. It was hot!

We sat in the park to rest before setting off into the old town passing Santa Maria del Mar and the cathedral. 

It was impressive to say the least. 
After lunch we continued the tour as we walked along Las Ramblas and passed a couple of Gaudi buildings along the way, unique in their organic design but taking inspiration from their surroundings. 
By the end of the day we were exhausted and that’s when things started to go wrong.
There’s nothing worse than looking for somewhere to eat in a strange city when you’re tired and hungry. Unfortunately that’s what happened and for the first time we were struggling with what to do. 
Nothing seemed to be open near us and we hadn’t done any research on where to eat. In a city the size of Barcelona, that was a big mistake. 
In the end we ate and went to bed soon after, the realisation that perhaps we’d done too much on our Barcelona Endurance test. 
Lesson learned?

Santillana del Mar

We left San Sebastián reluctantly having enjoyed our time very much. 

A great place for a weekend if the opportunity arises, and so we set off further into Spain to Santillana del Mar, a small historic town in Cantabria. 

We passed the built up cities of Bilbao and Santander, resisted the temptation to go to the Guggenheim and finally arrived at our traditional hotel, the Hotel Altamira on a small cobbled street. 

It was a very charming hotel despite the fact that Agnes was apparently the biggest dog in Spain. 
The manager claimed she wasn’t a small dog, I helpfully pointed out she was small in London but apparently small is subjective.
We went out to explore the town and were immediately surrounded by massive dogs. Subjective indeed!
Santillana del Mar was on the Spanisjh tourist trail and was very busy. We enjoyed tapas and the obligatory cervezas and after a brief siesta discovered horses and local cider. 

Agnes has become horse obsessed, the smell obviously awakening some terrier hunting instinct so instantly went beserk. 

Just down the road the local cider looked and smelled suspiciously horsey, I decided to pass but Big T soldiered on bravely. His expression dubiously enjoying the cloudy yellow liquid. 

And so the Spanish culinary adventures continued as we found paella and spent the evening sitting in a garden with a steaming pan of seafood paella between us. 
To finish off our evening perfectly we discovered a Mexican mariachi band playing just around the corner from our hotel. It was a traditional taste of Mexico in Spain and the band hailed from Ensenada, a place I’ve spent some time in. 
And so the end of a busy day, falling asleep to the sound of mariachi trumpets and guitars. 

San Sebastián Part Dos

Arriving at the Hotel Gudamendi, a large motel masquerading as a hotel, we realised that things were slightly amiss. 

We could spent the evening on Dog Alley (as we could hear bad dogs barking from their rooms), we could listen to Stan’s owner call his missing dog as he’d escaped down the hillside or we could go back to town for an evening session. 

As tempting as it was to sit in our room, we decided to seize the day and so off we went for Tapas Part Dos. 

The old town was buzzing as the Spanish eat late. Every tapas bar was packed as the atmosphere was vibrant. Hurray for going back out!

We had a few more tapas and then had tapas remorse as one tapas too many is not a good thing. 

Eventually we went back up the hill to the motel/hotel where hopefully Stan had been found and slept the sleep of the well fed and watered. 

What a brilliant city. San Sebastián!

San Sebastián Part Uno

It was a short drive to San Sebastián, just over the Spanish border. Known for fantastic food, we were going eating!

It turned out to be a fantastic place as we sat on the main avenue people watching and as Spaniards do, drinking ice cold beer at 11am. The Spanish seem to start even earlier with beer for breakfast!
We set off for a wander around town and ended up hiking up to the top of the city where an enormous statue of Christ overlooked the bay below. Stunning!

It was a very big Jesus…

After our spontaneous two hour hike we decided to do a little tapas tasting. We struck gold on our first stop with the most amazing selection of tapas possible. 

We enjoyed everything we tasted, each one perhaps better than the last before setting off to our hotel up on the hills 

San Sebastián, yum!

From La Rochelle to Biarritz

After two days exploring La Rochelle and Ile de Re, we set off to Biarritz. 

We had an easy hop down the coast stopping for a sandwich before arriving at our beautiful hotel, the Chateau Clair de la Lune, just outside Biarritz. 
We enjoyed a swim and a drink by the pool before setting off to Biarritz for the rest of the day. 
The town was busy, everyone on holiday, surfing, swimming and sunning. We strolled along the beach and explored the fishing port.

I renewed my love affair with the traditional cake, the Gateau Basque although ten years later, it seemed sweeter than the last time I had tried it. 
After eating we took a bottle of wine back to the hotel where we watched the last of the sunset and Agnes ran around in the stunning grounds. 
The day had cooled and we enjoyed an evening respite from the heat of the day. 

Donkeys in pyjamas

It turned out that donkeys on Ile de Re are known for the fact that they wear pyjamas. An interesting fact indeed. 

Apparently the donkeys were getting bitten by mosquitos and pyjamas were the obvious solution!

A borrowed picture from the Internet. 

I wonder if they switch to flannel in the winter?

Dinner in Ile de Re

After a very hot day we cooled off in St Martin, a beautiful town halfway down the island before enjoying an aperitif in La Flotte sitting by the port. 

From La Flotte we started heading back to La Rochelle when we stumbled across the perfect roadside restaurant selling freshly caught fish and seafood. 
It was fantastic. We sat by the road facing the sea and enjoyed prawns, langoustines and the most delicious whole fish called Bar in French which was  grilled with fresh herbs and was the best fish I have ever eaten. 
For Big T a fresh plate of Fruits de Mer with prawns, whelks, mussels, cockles, clams and other things in shells. Washed down with a local Chardonnay it was a certainly meal to remember. 
Tired and full we meandered back to La Rochelle as the sun set like a Rothko painting. 
We managed to climb up the stepladder to the mezzanine bed. A lovely day. 

Ile de Re

Having managed to climb down the stepladder from the mezzanine bed, we set off to explore the nearby island of Ile de Re. 

We drove over the connecting bridge, apparently the most expensive road in France per metre, and arrived on a little utopian island where everyone cycled and was happy. 
We decided to explore and before long found ourselves passing through a picturesque village, La Flotte. It was immaculate with a small port, waterside restaurants and everything painted in shades of grey and green. 

From there we drove across the island and found an old church near another tiny village. We parked and decided to look for a beach. 
Having let Agnes off the lead, she bounded off, we shouted, she vanished and we were left wondering what to do. Agnes hadn’t quite mastered puppy recall meaning that if there’s a better option, she’ll take it!
We found a small path (with thorns of course) and emerged at the end slightly scratched to discover a black and tan puppy leaping around on a very hot sandy beach. 
We set up an umbrella and in the meantime Agnes took off across miles of rock pools with a random couple she saw walking. After a bit of shouting we followed her, one of us wearing shoes, one without. 
It goes without saying that the one of us wearing shoes didn’t swear, didn’t have bleeding feet and made pretty good speed over the rocks. The one not wearing shoes was not very happy. 
I (I mean) the one wearing shoes soon had the small dog back on the lead and before long we were safely ensconced under the shade of the umbrella and peace was somewhat restored. 

We decided to eat lunch before going on further. It had been a little fraught and we were all a little hot and bothered…

La Rochelle

After the tranquility of the chateau and the picnic among sunflowers, La Rochelle took us by surprise. 

It was packed with people enjoying their summer holidays. Ice creams and les gaufres (enormous cream covered waffles) were the menu of the day. 
The town itself was a walled citadel with ramparts facing the Atlantic and a series of small connecting quays creating a long promenade. 

A labyrinth of one way streets made our game of “Find the Airbnb” a challenge but we were soon parked, keys in hand surveying our next challenge, the mezzanine bed. 
AirBnb is a gamble, sometimes it pays off massively and other times, not so much. 
This time the location was fantastic but we were sleeping in a bed wedged under the beams, at the top of a precarious stepladder. Still, good location!
We set off to spend an evening exploring La Rochelke, moules mariners on the menu.