day 10 :
tuesday, 20 september
We had a very full day today, visiting lots of interesting places on our way back into Spain. St. Jean Pied-de-Port was an important town for pilgrims to stop in before their trek across the Pyrénées, on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Itxassou is famous for their cherries (which are used in making gateau basque, a regional pastry), while Espelette is famous for their peppers; in the fall, the whole town has huge strings of peppers hanging outside of their windows to dry. We were fortunate to be visiting at the right time of year to see these thousands of peppers, and brought home a strand for ourselves.
We had our best value meal of the whole trip at Auberge Iparla, in the small mountainside town of Bidarray near Itxassou. Everything here was wonderful, and the total bill couldn't have been much over 60 euros for the two of us for a filling, multi-course gourmet meal with a bottle of wine. We really enjoyed their house-prepared meats, so we brought home some tins of duck confit, pork rillette, and boudin noir (blood sausage).
Interestingly enough, much of our driving route coincided with the so-called "Route du Fromage," where every few kilometers we would see a sign an official sign pointing us to a local cheesemaker. The sign would even say what kind of cheese they specialized in!
We arrived in San Sebastián in the early evening, and once we got settled into Hostal Alemana, we took a walk up the street to a great tapas bar called Bar Iturrioz. Once we managed to secure a couple of seats, we had a couple of glasses of txakolí - a slightly fizzy white wine made only in the Spanish Basque region. The correct way to pour txakoli is to hold the bottle of wine a foot or two above from the glass tumbler, and pour from above to ensure that the wine is served with a good fizz; it's rather fun to watch the baristas do this with glass after glass throughout the evening. We ordered some tomato and jambon toast, and thanks to a tip from Chefs Joseba and Carolin at The Harvest Vine, the foie gras toasts (delicious and cheap!). Since the traditional thing to do is to move onto another tapas bar after a dish or two, we did just that, and wandered over to Gambarra and had more great food: croissants with jambon and salmon, honchos planchos (sautéed wild mushrooms), guindillas (peppers), and boquerones (anchovies). We decided we could easily get used to this routine.