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Gastronomic Honeymoon thru SW France + N Spain

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hello - getting married late August and heading to Spain and SW France for a 3 week honeymoon. We are flying in to Barcelona, but so far have no plans to spend time there. Looking for advice/tips/suggestions on how best to spend our 3 weeks. We will unwind from the wedding madness/jet lag for a few days in Begur, Costa Brava before heading North by car which we'll have the entire trip.

We want to fit in a cooking class or two, wine tour, and possibly meet with local cheese and olive oil makers for tours+ tastings. Have looked at a ton of tour companies, but most don't have exactly what we want to do and are 5-7 days in length. Costs are also prohibitive. We are now looking to create our own tour and hire knowledgeable people to provide classes/instruction in English.

Definite stops include San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Rioja region for wine. Everything else is up in the air: Bordeaux, Cahors, Toulouse area for Cassoulet, Gallicia, Asturias/Cantabria, and possibly back to Barcelona if it's really worth it. Can we do it all? What would you leave out or definitely include? We already have a long list of restaurants from previous post suggestions. But more than just eating out, we want to really be immersed in this amazing food and wine culture, stay in some of the beautiful old farm houses, and see some of the lesser known areas of Spain/France. Your suggestions are greatly appreciated!

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  1. I wudn't dream of being in northern Spain w/o spending time in Barcelona...if only to go back to La Boqueria and Jamonissimo. Clearly pintxos hopping in San Sebastien is a must and I'd go back and do that again. We went thru Rioja and thought Laguardia charming - it's just beautiful wine country. Ate thru lots of Michelin stars, too...

    1. You can fit a lot into three weeks. Definitely spend at least a couple of days in Barcelona, one of the world's most beautiful and charming cities. Just do a search on this board and you will find many recs for restaurants at all price levels and with food varying from traditional to cutting-edge. San Sebastian has a high concentration of major restaurants, and a wonderful assortment of tapas/pintxos bars. It's a great base for visiting Bilbao and Pamplona too. The scenery is spectacular. You should also post a question on the France board, and do some searches there too. I would skip Bordeaux. We found it rather inhospitable, and not all that attractive. Definitely go to Toulouse, it is a beautiful city, and take a side trip to Carcassonne. Also, as you drive from Spain into France, see the area around Biarritz. Espalette is a charming village famous for its red peppers. There is a wonderful Michelin-starred restaurant just outside of Biarritz, La Table des Freres Ibarboure. They also rent rooms. Pau is also an interesting city somewhat off the tourist radar. It is smaller than Toulouse, and not as spectacular architecturally, but it makea a nice base for drives in the Pyrenees, and there are some very good restaurants. Pau castle was one of the highlights of our tour of this area.

      2 Replies
      1. re: rrems

        hello everyone - just an update on our honeymoon and a last bid for help on where we should stop to eat and drink along the way! got married over the weekend and take off in 3 days for a 3 wk honeymoon. Here is our latest itinerary:
        We have only made a few reservations, and have yet to figure out where all we want to stop and eat along the way. Any further/new suggestions would be greatly appreciated by all you Chow Hounders.
        Day 1-4 - Costa Brava. mostly relaxing and recovering from post-wedding stress here...
        Day 5-6 Carcassonne.
        Day 7-11 Toulouse/Albi area.
        Day 12-15 St Jean De Luz/Biarritz/Bayonne/Pau (hopefully)
        Day 16-17 San Sebastian. Dinner at Mugaritz, lunch at Extebarri followed Tapas tasting late that night.
        Day 18-20 Guggenheim in Bilbao on the way to La Rioja for 2 days of wine tasting.
        Then, train to Barcelona for the last 3 days. It's going to be a whirlwind, but we can't wait!

        1. re: PDXbride

          It's a bit "touristy" by now after Bourdain and "Spain...On the Road Again" but I loved my lunch at Rafa's in Roses. Wonderfully fresh seafood cooked simply. Not cheap though since he knows people look for him after all the celeb endorsements.

          I would definitely do Akelarre in San Sebastian for lunch. View is absolutely beautiful and the food is great, too.

      2. I will also be heading to Spain for a culinary honeymoon in late-June. We are only staying about about two weeks so will not be able to fit in many cities. We are landing in Madrid and headed south (Seville, Granada and Ronda) for the first week and SS, Bilboa and Roija) for the second. If I had to choose two high stops where/which eateries do you suggest? Thanks in advance...

        3 Replies
        1. re: burgertime83

          If you want to sample some of the best of modern Spanish cooking then: "La Alqueria" at the El Bulli hotel just outside Seville, serves El Bulli's "greatest hits". In San Sebastian head to "Mugaritz".

          1. re: burgertime83

            Etxebarri in Axpe between Bilbao and San Sebastian-sublime. Ate there a week ago and did the tasting menu. Among the ten or so courses were excellent baby octopus, squid, eel, and of course, chuleta. Half the price of Mugaritz, which we found dismally disappointing.

            1. re: slsharp

              Been to Mugaritz twice and had great meals both times - we obviously have different tastes.

          2. Hi there - I'm planning on taking a trip with my sister and two friends to Biarritz/San Sebastien in late May. I have noted Mugaritz and Etxebarri for San Sebastian, and the only definite place on my list for Biarritz is Olhabidea (actually in Sare, near Biarritz). I'd love to try Hegia but I'm not sure we can fund it. I know this is a website about food, but can anyone recommend a good place to stay in both cities?

            Near Biarritz, I'd like to spend one night at the Chateau d'Urtubie, which offers fantastic prices and looks amazing. The only thing is, it's a little out of the way and I'd like something closer to the beach.

            Other than this I'm stumped - I've found really great places to stay on other ChowHound threads, and I'm wondering if anyone can help me out.

            Thanks very much in advance!

            9 Replies
            1. re: cookfromparis

              Mugaritz is currently closed (kitchen fire) and Etxebarri is a LONG drive from San Sebastian (maybe 45mins-1 hour south of Bilbao), so not sure if you really want to stay in San Sebastian. I stayed up in the mountains on the border and drove to both of your destinations (1/2 hr +). But I'm not a beach person. So I stay outside the cities, where it's much cheaper (except on the beach).

              1. re: estufarian

                Isn't Etxebarri between SS and Bilbao, it is approx 45 mins south of SS and 30 mins north of Bilbao?

                1. re: PhilD

                  It's SW of San Sebastian and South of Bilbao - took me about 90 minutes from San Sebastian. But definitely closer to Bilbao. (Or perhaps I went from my mountaintop retreat, which would indeed add another 30 mins - don't accurately recall where I stayed on that visit).

                  1. re: estufarian

                    I had my mental model of the A-8 running up and down the coast, but in reality it runs along the coast so has more of an east/west orientation. So to me driving on the A-8 it is Eastish from Bilbao and Westish from SS.

                    I found driving times on the A-8 depend on the time of day and traffic, there can be lots of trucks which makes it slow and a bit scary with all the bends. Best to leave lots of time if heading to restaurants.

              2. re: cookfromparis

                Outside Biarritz in the Basque hills, check out L'auberge B'asque, to eat for sure and possibly to stay for the night. Write up at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6552...

                1. re: cookfromparis

                  San Sé
                  My fave pintxo bars in the old town of San Sé: Astelena, San Telmo, Gambara.

                  Olhabidea is the stuff a honeymoon dream is made on. Yes definitely Olhabidea.
                  You're on your honeymoon? Then stay at one of Olhabidea's 4 rooms ! Otherwise Ciboure is an enchanting fishing village right next to St Jean de Luz. Both have lots of good eats.
                  You need a car for those places of course. You can base yourselves in Sare or Ciboure, then easily visit Bayonne, Biarritz, Sare and the Basque Pyrenees, San Sé (but trying to park there would ruin any honeymoon).

                  My answer here about Cahors does not belong to the Spain forum really: instead of staying in the town of Cahors, you can stay in one of the villages on the Lot river. Cahors is pleasant but the river towns on the Lot are enchantment itself.

                  cookfrmparis,
                  Chateau d'Urtubie is nearer St Jean de Luz/Ciboure and further from Biarritz. Ciboure besides being a lovely fishing village has a very nice beach on Socoa, about 30 minute walk from town, but you can also take a bus there if you don't drive. That coast line is breathtaking.

                  1. re: cookfromparis

                    I can recommend Hotel L' Hacienda Tel.no: + 33 (0) 559 225150. It's in Bidart & near 3 very good beaches: Bidart, Ilbarritz & Biarritz. I've stayed here a few times & it's a good base. Villa Goeland Tel: 0559 242576. Both have their web sites using their names. For food you won't be disappointed to eat in Chez Phillip Tel: 0559 231312 , Sissinou Tel: 0559 225150 both in Biarritz.. Le Moulin d' Alotz in Arcanques Tel: 0559 430454. Les Freres Ibarboure in Bidart Tel: 0559 475830. We've eaten in both Arzak & Kursaal Martin Berasategui both in San Sebastian highly recommend it. San Sebastian is only about 30mins. from Bidart/Biarritz. Good luck.

                    1. re: cookfromparis

                      We just returned from visiting French and Spanish Basque country. Can definitely vouch for Olhabidea in Sare. What a surprise - lovely, lovely gracious house, terrific dinners (although can get repetitive if you stay multiple nights). Luc, the son who is the chef allowed me to watch the dinner preparations and adjusted the nightly menu so my partner and I would not have to eat the same food during our three night stay. You will need to arrive during the day so you can ask directions from the tourist office how to get there (not on any GPS system) and email access is difficult to book reservations or ask directions. Best to call them, Jean speaks English. In San Sebastien we stayed at the Pension Bellas Artes which was scrupulously clean, had many extra amenities like a loaner laptop, and the two most amazing women (Leira and her mother Carmen) who will envelope you in hospitality and direct you to the best pintxos in SS. I especially liked the hongos a la plancha at La Cepa and the foie gras and beef cheeks at La Cuchara, and anything at Goiz-Argui.

                      1. re: cyssf

                        I too vouch for Olhabidea. Wonderful dining experience. Food incredibly well done, fresh and delicious.

                        We went in the evening and got hopelessly lost. Best to go during the day or do a test run for a better idea where you have to go.

                        More on Pays Basque

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6863...

                    2. Begur is very close to one of my favourite restaurants in the world, Restaurant Iberic in Ullastret. this is about 20 minutes away by car, go past Pals towards Torroella, turn left towards Peratallada (beautiful medieval village to visit), turn right at roundabout just past Peratallada and it´s another 3 km on the left. Walled medieval village. The Restaurant Iberic is on the left. Just before it there is Nuri´s farm shop which sells the best goat´s cheese in Spain.

                      It specializes in fish from the nearby port of Palamos, beautifuly and simply grilled, juicy fat prawns, pulpo, little squid, snails etc. but it depends on the day. they also do a mean wild boar stew and their killer fish is the suquet de peix, a wonderfully aromatic fish stew or lobster paella broth. The owner will put a bib on you before you eat it. this restuarant is one of the Costa Brava´s best kept secrets.