Tummy says no….

It seems ages since we left Sare. Jean is a strange mix, charming over serving you breakfast but after paying the bill he couldn’t wait to get you out of the place. Though the house and area have lots of charm, I don’t think it’s enough to draw us back.

We managed to fill the tank and got on the road for Ile de Re. Charles threw a slight wobbly and had us trying to ‘turn round where possible’ but once we got on to the autoroute towards Bordeaux he was fine, in fact he seemed to nod off. But south of Bordeaux we hit a traffic jam, there must have been an accident as the autoroute was closed and had an hours tour until we reached the next junction. It threw Charles into a right tizzy.

So, we arrived here in the late afternoon. Gosh, what a wonderful hotel this is and St Martin de Re is really charming itself. I think it only took five minutes for us to decide this was somewhere worth returning to. Service here is exemplarary, the breakfast is yummy but special mention must go to the cocktail barman, Stephan. Great to talk to and he makes a mean mojito.

Our evening meal was in a very busy, touristy, but excellent port side bar. The portions were huge.

Today was probably the best weather we’ve had since coming away. Perfect for a wander round the town. We had a huge galette each for lunch and then couldn’t resist a whopper ice cream tub. Well it had to happen, neither of us could face going out for a meal tonight. We settled for a last short tour of the port and cocktails and nibbles with Stephan. I even had a Manhattan…

Tomorrow, we set off for home. This has probably been the most dissapointing trip from the weather point of view but the last two days have made up for it….I think my burnt head would agree…

 

 

South of the border…down Erratzu way.

Thankfully this morning was dry, there was even a hint of sunshine when we set off for our ‘international’ tour today. Three pretty towns, buy some wine, hop into Spain for a bit, then back into France, sounds easy doesn’t it? Actually it was, apart from the hairpins up and down the mountains.

We began at Ainhoa, a lovely small Basque village with white houses and red shutters. The skies were still mostly grey which muted the colours and sadly, I was impressed but not wowed by the setting. A quick walk round and on to Espelette, white houses, red shutters but additionally red peppers hanging on the exterior of the houses. Espelette has a pepper festival in the Autumn, after the pepper harvest, and well, it was a bit touristy….and white and red…

We had to drive a little longer to reach Saint Etienne De Baigorry where we hoped to buy some wine. We stopped and had a quick lunch in one of the bars, which for some reason was painted white with red shutters. I think it’s only fair to point out that some buildings are white with green shutters but it must be awkward giving directions. “You can’t miss us, we’re the house with the red shutters”.

After lunch (incidentally, the bar had some of the cleanest loos I’ve ever seen) we got directions and arrived at the ‘cave’ or wine store. Susie sampled some red and I, some white. Choices made, we bought six of each, plus a local cheese and got a free corkscrew from the really charming young manager of the ‘cave’.

Now, for the perilous mountain passes over the border. Well, I suppose that may be overstating matters but it was quite a challenging drive to the very top of the Col d’Ispeguy (672m) where in the parking area a bus had just disgorged todays load of tourists. It is a wow spot, though we only stopped long enough to take a few photos.

We wound our way back down the Spanish side of the mountain and Charles kindly took us on the road back to Sare. Crossing from Spain back into France we drove through Dantxarinea, which contains multiple roundabouts and multiple retail outlets.

After a couple of hours back here, we drove over to St Pee-sur-Nivelle for a lovely dinner at Ttotta. Yes, you read that correctly. I think originally it was called Totta but the signwriter had a stammer and it was going to cost too much to redo so they just left it as it was.

Well tomorrow, we drive to our last destination on the Il de Re. Yes, it’s by the sea so I’ll be breaking out my bucket and spade…

Bienvenue a la Maison Whacky…

Before checking out of our hotel this morning we had a walk by the river towards the Guggenheim. Yes, it was still raining. The river was low, grey and muddy. Next to the Guggenheim a lonely sax playing busker was giving passers-by his version of ‘All By Myself’. Hearing him play, never has a melody been more aposite…

We returned to the hotel and extracted the car from the subterranean depths and began our journey over the border and back to France. Charles was in a bit of a dither as we again ended up on autoroute that didn’t appear on his map but after a stiff G&T he calmed down and directed us properly.

It poured, the heavens opened and a deluge followed us all the way past San Sebastian, across the border into France, into the foothills of the Pyrenees and made mountain streams into raging, boiling torrents. Our final destination, just out of Sare, was not known to the sat-nav, so we had to resort to asking a local. Ten minutes later we were driving down a potholed track to our b&b for the next two nights…

There’s no reception here, in fact it’s rather like popping into your slightly off beat relatives house. We were met by a very camp and very drunk proprietor, who said we should have rung 48 hours before to confirm. We showed him the reservation on which he’d agreed to provide two nights accomodation, breakfast and two evening meals. Sorry he said, the restaurant was closed Sunday and Monday. On closer inspection he noticed we’d booked in December last year, so that explained the mix up….ah, only in France.

The hotel initially reminded me of Fawlty Towers. We were shown a room without a key, but a bolt on the inside, the wiring is from the 1970’s and it looks as though their interior designer had swatches from Laura Ashley, Harrods, Burberry and Selfriges and decided to use them all. Jean (the owner) offered us two coffees by way of compensation for no evening meal and phoned his cousin in the village to reserve us a table for this evening. All this time a party was going on in the restaurant, a couple of steps down into another room. Jean was carrying a small wooden drinks tray which kept falling out his grasp to the floor. I expected Jean to follow it soon after..

But…the hotel is in a beautiful situation, the room is quaint but warm and cosy and we had a lovely meal in his cousins hotel restaurant…..Let’s see what breakfast is like…

Starck and Speedos…

Another wet and miserable day, which isn’t to say that’s typical of Bilbao, just this unseasonal weather. Luckily we had planned to spend time indoors today rather than walking around. We caught the tram away from the direction of the Guggenheim and, getting off near the San Mames soccer stadium, we walked to the Azkuna Zentroa which we’d paid a brief visit to last year. We took more time to explore on this occassion and I managed to find the space where you can ‘see’ the bottom of the swimming pool and the strange silhouetted figures bathing above your head. It’s a little strange…

We took in various art installations, all thought provoking. A large group of children were trying out various high tech toys (including some sophisicated robots) in the main ground floor area and we had a quick whispered tour of the two floors of library and study areas. It’s a wonderful space, all tied together with huge squat columns, each with a differing design. It’s a monument to designer Phillipe Starck’s concept and imagination and one of Bilbao’s hidden gems.

The rain hadn’t lessened any by the time we made our way to the Museo de Bellas Artes where as luck would have it, it was a free entry day. It’s an interestingly laid out museum, where, rather than theme rooms chronologically or by subject, they group works of art together around a word or emotion. We were rather fatigued by the time we’d walked round the ground floor, so had to leave the first floor till next time.

Getting slightly lost on exiting the museum, we managed to find the tram stop and made our way back to Persuade for a last minute shirt shop. After resting in our hotel room for a couple of hours, off we went to Porrue for our last meal in Bilbao.

Last meal? Oh yes, we drive back into France tomorrow, sad to leave Spain but not the weather….

 

Dress for winter, it’s summer…

Yesterday we went shopping, the lure of a boutique which stocks Issey Miyake proving too much for Susie. Though I must admit to joining in too and we are both now assured of having designer clothes for Tiffany and Amir’s wedding in July. Persuade , which we visited last year is one of the nicest places to be relieved of your pension and to be reaquainted with Andrea was a pleasure.

In the evening we dined at Porrue , which we’d called in to the night before and were so impressed we booked for the following night. Inventive and delicious food, with a touch of theatrics, a friendly and welcoming staff and a warm atmosphere. We decided to go along again on Saturday..

Then today began with rain and a cold wind. Spain, this is not what we expect!! Luckily, having the car allowed us to be prepared and we’d brought along some additional English outer wear. Entry to the Guggenheim was prebooked for 11am and we hopped on the tram for one stop and hurried into the museum along with a large group of French school children. We really enjoyed the Guggenheim last year and were a little underwhelmed this time. It seemed empty without the huge installations from last October and the featured exhibitions were mostly not to our liking..there are only so many still life paintings of the same rearranged pots and vases you can see before your eyes glaze over. I dubbed him the ‘Tupperware Painter’. We did find Jenny Holzer to be interesting, if challenging. She’s one angry woman going by her body of work. It was interesting to see large metallised reproductions of the Meuller report, complete with redactions.

We love the building, that’s without doubt. Every twist and turn reveals a new aspect and we found part of the atrium which reminded us of another Ghery building, The Dancing Towers in Prague.

Despite our lessened enthusiasm we found that over two hours had elapsed and we naturally went in search of sustanance. We couldn’t get in to the Guggenheim Bistro last year, but we were much luckier today, and the charming manager found us a table quite quickly. We were blown away by the food, the service and the lovely atmosphere. It’s really quite exceptional value as well. It’s on our list for next time…

The rain had eased when (slightly more rotund than some hours before) we exited the museum. It was still cold and blustery so, with a slight diversion to purchase snacks for this evening we were pleased to come back to our snug hotel room…More culture tomorrow, hopefully with some sunshine…

 

No smoking, vaping or McD..

One of the things we didn’t do last trip was to take the funicular up to Artxanda for a panoramic view of the city. The sun was shining strongly this morning so we decided to correct that error. It really is a spectacular view from up there. The city spread beneath you, to the left inland and the mountains, to the right you can just make out the coast and the Atlantic and behind you the airport with it’s attractive terminal. There’s an inevitable row of letters spelling out both Bilbao and Bilbo, just in case you’re on a ten day whistle stop tour of Europe and have forgotten where you are. There’s also a monument to the fallen of the Spanish Civil War, in the shape of a cast iron thumb print, silhouetted  against the sky line.

Descending in the funicular (and taking in the dire warnings about what wasn’t allowed) we made our way via tram to the old part of Bilbao and the covered market. Renovated quite recently it has some excellent stained glass. We wandered round the narrow streets and tiring quickly, we took the tram back to our nearest stop to the hotel.

After a sun induced siesta, we felt refreshed enough to find a restaurant for this evening’s meal and very good it was too. So good we’re returning tomorrow…

Back in Bilbo..

Today we left Onati for Bilbao but first we had a short walk round town and bought some little cakes for the long journey. Ok the journey was only about an hour but the cakes were essential. Though we like Onati, it’s not a place we find a need to return to. We loved the staff at the hotel and the restaurant was pretty good but again, we don’t feel drawn into staying there.

We put our trust in Charles to find a suitable route for us. After one short mountain transit, we were soon on a piece of newly completed autoroute. Unfortunately this sent Charles into somewhat of a spin, the map showing we were driving round a mountain pasture with herds of sheep rather than a three lane piece of tarmac. I began to worry that Charles would forget to pop along with my mid morning aperitif but luckily he found us shortly after we transferred to dual carriageway. Charles has had a stay of execution.

So here we are in NH Duesto, Bilbao. The duty manager remembered us from last year which is a nice thing and we have a sunlit room facing the road. We popped out to explore and wandered round the rejuvenated old docks area.

When we returned to our room, I searched for somewhere to eat and found a restaurant attached to a five star hotel, a short walk away, across the river. Five star hotel, three star food sadly. Frozen ingredients, poorly seasoned and not presented with any flair. The waitress asked if we’d enjoyed the food and Susie had to be honest and say no. I think the waitress really was a bit taken aback but the standard wasn’t what we expected.

Anyway, we strolled back across the river and are off to bed. No plan for tomorrow yet…