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May 31, 2010 12:31 PM

Dining in the Pyrenees, please?

Hello, in the early fall we will drive through the Pyrenees, starting near (tentatively) Collioure, and ending about two weeks later near Biarritz. We'll pass through lots of valleys in between, staying mostly in France. Our itinerary is quite open -- I'd like to plan our route around good hiking areas and good restaurants, mostly of the Bib Gourmand-type category (preferably attached to small hotels, but that's not necessary). We'll include a couple special dining places as well (Souphie has already suggested to us Hegia, -- out near the western coast -- it looks quite great, but at Euros 650 per night it's beyond our range). Suggestions will be appreciated. Jake

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  1. Our several nights at Hotel Arce in Saint-Etienne-de-Baigorry are among our favorite memories. Locally sourced produce lovingly prepared and served, very simple but comfortable rooms. Lovely people. A family run place for generations, friends of local (SF) chef Gerald Hirigoyen.

    Do you know about the border trading post village Dantxarinea (Dancharia) due south of Aihnoa? Kind of a self-styled duty free zone where local French go for all Spanish products; several enormous and amazing "supermarkets".

    I hope you will have time, one day, to dip over the border for lunch at Etchebari in Axpe, so very worth the time. And better yet, if you can stretch your time to spend the night, some 200 yards up the hill is Mendi Goikoa, a hotel made of two 19th Century farms.

    1. Try the enchanting Olhabidea outside the village of Sare. It is run by chef Fagoaga. The food is great and not expensive (menu 35 euro, outrageously good value). The lovely farm house has about 3 chambres d'hôte. It is one of 2 most romantic b&b's I know.

      St Jean Pied de Port, St Etienne de Baigorry (Mangeur, only you and I go to these land's end places), Espelette and the whole Irouleguy wine region have good charcuterie.
      St Jean de Luz has one of my fave restos: Kaiku.

      Those border villages south of Ainhoa are très funky. My fave is Zugarramurdi.

      The region is one of my faves. You'll have a great time.

      1. Also in Pay Basque, we very much enjoyed Hotel Ithurria in Ainhoa, again well prepared food, simple rooms.

        2 Replies
        1. re: mangeur

          Hello mangeur and Parigi, these are all excellent suggestions -- exactly what we have in mind, thanks very much. (And yes, we know of Gerald Hirigoyen -- we have his 1999 "Basque Kitchen" cookbook -- signed, at that; we'll have to crack it open it to get ourselves ready for this trip.)

          Now we need to find a similar stopping point between the med coast and the Basque region. (We've been planning to visit the Basque country for the past five years, but it's always been knocked off our list for another -- no more! I've been very confident that we will enjoy it, and your enthusiasm reinforces that.) -- Jake

          1. re: Jake Dear

            Jake, do get out Hirigoyen's book soon. It is, in fact, a travelogue of the area.
            As Parigi says, this is very endearing country. You will love it.

            Here are a couple of chambre d'hotes from "Maisons d'Hotes de Charme France 2009" that offer evening meals:
            This one does not:

        2. I have very fond memories of "Pain, Adour et Fantaisie" in Grenade sur l' Adour. The best cheese trolley I have ever seen!
          And in Jurançon (next to Pau) "Chez Ruffet" an amazing selection of local wines.

          3 Replies
          1. re: monchique

            I remember reading good things about Pain, Adour et Fantaisie but I can't recall my source. Would you tell us more about it and your experience there? Thanks.

            1. re: mangeur

              Stayed for a night 3 or 4 years ago on our way between the Algarve and Austria, having overindulged in Michelin starred restaurants all across Spain. Lunch that day we ended at the restaurant of "Les freres Ibarbouret" near Biarritz and had to ask for a simple consommé as we felt slightly liverish... However, arrived at PA & F early afternoon. The hotel is on the town's main square, and our room was facing that way, but very quiet. The reception of the hotel was charming, although the hotel was packed with a Xmas function, and all the rooms on teh river had been booked long ahead of us.
              Dinner, we were sat in a separate room from the ongoing Xmas party, and enjoyed perfect service, and a very good meal (in spite of it!). I regret I don't really recall what we ate and drunk, but the quality was there (but I remember the Bas Armagnac to finish the evening). The cheese trolley sticks out as a girl in her late teens appeared, looking like an unmade bed, pushing this trolley with at least 30 different cheeses on it, and suddenly woke up to describe every one of these cheeses by name, region, name of the producer (!), only missing the name of the cow or sheep the milk came from... May be she knew it too, but this was quite an experience, even for a blasé French man like me! Overall a fantastic experience, comfortable stay and a great dinner.

              1. re: monchique

                monchique -- Thanks, that will go onto our growing list. I like your description of the well-versed cheese trolley girl -- we've had more than a few similar experiences at various and far-flung countryside restaurants, and this is, for us, is one of the charms of countryside dining in France. Jake

          2. Pyrenees update: Based on these recommendations, we’ve booked for multiple nights at (1) Hotel Arce in Saint-Etienne-de-Baigorry ( and (2) Hotel Ithurria in Ainhoa ( -- we’ll try some of the other recommended places for lunch. And as I mention back in June, thanks to this thread, we rediscovered Gerald Hirigoyen’s "Basque Kitchen" cookbook -- we’ve been making dishes from it at least weekly since then, including tonight. We’ll report back in the fall about our dining experiences in this region . . . . Thanks again for these recommendations. – Jake

            4 Replies
            1. re: Jake Dear

              Here's a post-trip report -- set out roughly from west to east:

              Hotel Ithurria, in Ainhoa, is, so far, our favorite Hotel/Restaurant in the Basque Pyrénées; we dined here two nights, demi-pension — and when we mentioned to the genial proprietor that the second night’s main course was similar to what we’d had elsewhere for lunch, he quickly said, “no problem, we’ll change that for you, what would your like?” On the morning we departed, we had a nice tour of the kitchen and the 10,000-bottle wine cellar. Nearby for lunch -- over on the coast -- we enjoyed Le Kaiku, 17 rue de la République, Saint Jean de Luz; and on another day, in the midst of a severe storm, we had a great lunch in Biarritz, at the Rotonde, Hotel du Palais, — directly overlooking the raging Gulf of Gascone.

              Hotel Arcé, in St. Etienne de Baigorry: We can’t wait to return to this beautiful and classy riverside hotel with an excellent restaurant. We dined one night in the interior dining room, and one night (this was early Oct) outside beside the gently flowing river, under pollarded 100-year old plane trees. Nearby for lunch in the little berg of Bidarray we enjoyed the terrace at the small and simple Hotel Restaurant Barberaenea, About two hours west (and over a couple cols), we had a nice "on the road lunch" in Bielle, at L’ayguelade, .

              This Basque area of the Pyrénées is indeed a beautiful and special place, and we look forward to our return. Thanks all again for your helpful suggestions.

              I'll add briefly a few notes about a couple other places that we enjoyed in the middle of the Pyrénées, and toward the east:

              Hotel le Viscos, 1, rue Lamarque, Saint Savin. We dined here two nights, enjoying first the menu découverte, and then the menu dégustation. Chef Jean-Pierre St. Martin -- a "slow food" advocate (we had a long chat about that -- he was headed to Italy for a conference) -- came to the table each night and proudly described each dish in beautifully accented English, and he gave us a kitchen tour and a bottle of local wine when we departed. What a classy and delightful place. Nearby, we had a great lunch beside a roaring cascade at the stylish L’Abre du Benques, in La Raillère, Cauterets. Two hours and some major cols away, in Saint-Mamet de Luchon (southern Haute-Garonne), we had a nice lunch at Hotel Restaurant La Rencluse, (Here and elsewhere, we used viamichelin on my iPhone to find most of our our unscheduled "on the road" lunches.)

              Pushing even farther east and over yet more cols (boy did we see lots of sheep on the roads -- and a few wild pigs and horses) -- we had a nice lunch at Auberge des Deux Rivieres, Pont de la Taule, (and will return to the little hotel some day). On the other side of Foix, still heading east, we stopped in Quillan (Aude) to have fine wild cèpes and local trout for lunch at Hotel Restaurant Cartier, 31 Boulevard Charles de Gaulle, (The trout could have been cooked less, but the mushrooms were great.).

              I'll post about dining in Toulose and Collioure later/ separately. -- Jake

              1. re: Jake Dear

                I've been waiting for this report. Thanks so much for the detail and the links. Your report goes directly into my docs.

                1. re: mangeur

                  Mine too. One of the best things about this CH Is this mutual update. Thanx Dears.

                  1. re: Parigi

                    Hello mangeur and Paragi (and others): We are happy to contribute back to this site, which has been so helpful. By the way, Parigi -- re your post above: ("Try the enchanting Olhabidea outside the village of Sare. It is run by chef Fagoaga. The food is great and not expensive (menu 35 euro, outrageously good value). The lovely farm house has about 3 chambres d'hôte. It is one of 2 most romantic b&b's I know.")

                    Now we can understand why you wrote that. We stopped in for lunch (it was a bit of an effort to find -- it's nicely isolated) -- but unfortunately they were booked that day. Still, the friendly proprietors showed us around the place -- and wow. Cozy in the extreme; we'd have loved to both dine and stay there.