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Sipping in San Sebastian

We are now in Venice after 5 weeks in Spain. Additional wine posts will be much shorter since our wine drinking  in both San Sebastian and Bilbao often took place in Tapas (in Basque, Pintxos)  bars where we were drinking the house reds. About 1 to 2 Euros a “copa” (glass).  Some were better than others, but all surprisingly good. We drank mostly reds mixed in with an occasional Lambrusco and of course, Txakoli,??????????????????????????????? which is a Basque white wine poured from very high so it aerates as it hits the glass. It is slightly fizzy and very refreshing.

One bottle we ordered on our first night in San Sebastian(Donostia) was a2006 Vina Alberdi Crianza that was magnificient at 18 Euros in a restaurant near our apartment, Oliyos.IMG_0658

So far in Venice we have had some good house reds but the full bottles have been young and not particularly memorable. Also much more expensive than in Spain. We have found one wine shop that retail wines more reasonably but I don’t know any of the vineyards as I do in Spain. Will have to do much more research. Italy never used to list wines by grape varietal but they do now and it is kind of strange to see Italian Cabernets and Merlots. We had a Pinot Nero last night that was drinkable but overpriced for a 2011. I hope we will do better when we get to the country outside of Venice.

IBARRANGELU–Who says you can’t go home again?

Ibarrangelu, Bizkaia (Viscaya), Spain

I don’t expect anyone else to understand how moving it is to visit the place where your grandparents and great grandparents were born, to re-visit  old family and friends, and to feel that deep sense of personal history through the place and people.  A few of my American relatives have had the same experience, so they know. Ray seems to understand how I feel, amazingly.  I’m so fortunate to be able to share this with him!

PLEASE do click on the first image and toggle through – it is really special and worth the time.

Ibarrangelu, population 600, is one of the most beautiful places you will ever visit.   When I have been away a long time, I start to think that I’ve over-romanticized the memory, that the actual place will disappoint when next I see it.   However, it EXCEEDS my memory—its beauty is matched only by the warmth of the community.  We were both so moved to be able to be here again.

When we drove past Laida and Laga, the two enormous beaches for this tiny town (and yes, tourists, crowd them in July and August, crowd being a relative term to local Basques) I felt I’d forgotten how beautiful a beach could be. Rocky cliffs, green rolling hills, clear blue water, and soft pink sand, all here where mountains and sea meet.  Here are pictures of me overlooking the beaches of my youth.    In October, the weather has been warm and there were still surfers in the water, though the waves were only a meter or two.

In 1984, the entire Busturialdea-Urdaibai region, where this gorgeous area is located, was declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve.   So the beaches, hiking trails, coves, campgrounds, marshes and meadows, forests and rivers create a natural paradise.   If you are a birder or naturalist, you MUST spend some time here.

The family home is still there, although it was completely rebuilt about 20 years ago on the original foundation stones.   Here is a photo with family included – Tia Carmen, cousin Maria Dolores, her son Andoitz.   A couple of the “girls” I used to hang with in my teenage years stopped by to say hello as well.

Back to the personal—my cousin Joaquín has a restaurant at Laida beach, just next to the campgrounds.   After 33 years in business, he has built quite a following, and employs nine people, including his sister and nephews.   Of course, in true Basque tradition, we were invited to have a meal, and spent a few hours at table eating and drinking the wonderful locally produced food. Maria Dolores joined us, although her husband was working and couldn’t be with us—he’s in one of the photos at the house though.      They even can their own tuna for the salads!   Everything local, everything sustainable, everything house made.   The wine was produced nearby but not house made, and we made quite a dent in their cellar, as well as enjoying some traditional after-dinner beverages.   We told Joaquin he is a bad influence.    But boy, did we have fun!

One last thing—the Village Church was called “the Sistine Chapel of Basque Art” by the leader of the Sistine Chapel restoration team—see attached article.   I remember that when we attended Mass here, I marveled that such a magnificent 16th Century church was built in such a small village.   You may have seen other altars like San Andres’ but the polychrome oak ceiling is unique and marvelous, especially after restoration in the 1980’s.  Here is an article about it: