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Nov 28, 2010 08:29 AM

An addition to a Basque honeymoon (post-Etxebarri)

Hi all, I wondered if anyone could give us advice about somewhere to stay for a night or two on our honeymoon -- in the Basque Country or possibly in Navarra?

We're spending most of the time in the French side of the Basque but will be in Spain for a few nights in the middle, driving over to San Sebastian and then Axpe (to go to Etxebarri, hopefully). But we can't work out where to go next!

As it's our honeymoon we're feeling a little fussier about staying somewhere comfortable, preferably not in a city, near good food, no more than two hours drive away from Axpe and not too much in the wrong direction for heading back towards France immediately afterwards. If we're missing somewhere obvious and people have any recommendations (or warnings!), many thanks!

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  1. Olhabidea
    - 1h50 minute drive from Axpe, according to Google
    - an enchanting b&b run by the chef Fagoaga. Great food.
    - has only 3 rooms
    - beautiful grounds, outside the listed beautiful village of Sare.
    It is on the French side very near the border.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Parigi

      Thanks for that rec Parigi -- although we would still prefer to learn about somewhere on the Spanish side. That is really what we're interested in. Outside San Sebastian and Bilbao, the Spanish side of the Basque country seems considerably less well documented in travel articles etc so we decided to ask the Chowhounders.

      However, perhaps the French side simply has more options! We'll be spending at least a week there (we intend to stay near Sare and will definitely look into Olhabidea) hence the preference for somewhere Spanish for our couple of unplanned nights.

      1. re: johannabanana

        Your program sounds like a great one.
        In my experience, I find Bilbao stunning but San Sé offers better living.
        On Olhabidea, it is booked up 2, 3 months in advance for the restaurant part. As for the rooms, with only 3 rooms, it must be just as in demand if not more so.
        If it is booked up, try hotel Araya in Sare, run by the same family. Serves good food too.
        You will have a great honeymoon.

    2. I'm assuming your reservation at Etxebarri will be for lunch since they only serve dinner on Saturdays.

      On the French side, I enthusiastically second the recommendation of the 3 flower village of Sare and the Olhabidea (with reservations made far in advance).

      Another wonderful spot in the same area for a honeymoon night or two (best before Etxebarri) would be the lovely, more contemporary style

      Auberge Basque,

      in the countryside between Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle and St.-Jean-de-Luz.

      Via Michelin estimates a driving time of around 1 hr. 30 minutes to Saint Pée.

      The Auberge Basque does have a two-night minimum stay in high season.
      Folks flock from all over just to dine here.
      The Auberge Basque's really talented chef trained under Alain Ducasse and has earned a Michelin star, and he lives at his inn.
      Very attractive, extremely comfortable rooms in this reconverted farmhouse on very pretty grounds. This is my favorite deluxe dining and relaxing spot in the inland Pays Basque. Very high end dining and a wonderful overall experience.

      If you prefer to stay on the Spanish side (after a meal at Etxebarri I wouldn't want to drive very far),
      I can highly recommend the deluxe, boutique style

      Hotel Iturregi

      which sits above the ocean amidst txakolí vineyards in the attractive fishing village of Getaria (Gipuzkoa), just 24 km. east of San Sebastián.
      Very peaceful, relaxing, private, romantic. This would be a quicker drive as well.

      The 4-star Iturregi is more similar in style to the Auberge Basque, and the 8 rooms feel even a bit more luxurious because of the plush fabrics, and it has a very pretty pool. It's a member of Rusticae.

      No restaurant on the premises, but you have the terrific grilled fish restaurants,
      Elkano and Kai-Kaipe (they're cousins) just down the road and a highly atmospheric place for chuletón, Asador Bedua, in Zumaia, one of the Basque Country's top asadores.

      The Iturregi would be my number one choice for a romantic night or two on the Spanish side.
      It's run by the same management group as San Sebastián's Villa Soro and the Viura in the Rioja.

      Or if you want something even closer to Etxebarri in Aspe, there's the Hotel Zubieta in Lekeitio on the Vizcaya side.

      The romantic little country inns of Navarra Pirineos like the

      Hotel Kuko

      (chef trained at Ostau Baumanière in Les Baux de Provence) would constitute a half hour detour south down the N 121 A from Irún at the border.
      The rooms here are much more modest but the dining is quite impressive, not only the dinners but the breakfasts as well, and it's a very short drive to the Señorío de Bértiz forest.

      Hope this helps.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Maribel

        Maribel--Thanks so much for all of your recommendations. We are going to the Basque region in May and staying at Hotel Iturregi. We were wondering if there were casual places to eat at night in Getaria near the hotel. We were planning to eat at Elkano one night, but wanted to know where we should have a light, casual dinner after having lunch at Extebarri.

        Thanks so much.

      2. Another thought, although Iturregi is my favorite inn on the coast west of Donostia,
        one of the new renovated Basque farmhouse-turned-inns in the beautiful, tranquil and pristine Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, like the

        Hotel Aldori
        another member of Rusticae

        It's a short drive from there to some great restaurants including the new 2 star Michelin Azurmendi in Larrabetzu, just east of Bilbao (which is attached to a txakolí bodega).

        1. correction to my original post-the Iturregia in Getaria sits WEST of San Sebastián. Sorry.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Maribel

            Thank you for all that wonderful advice Maribel! You are too kind and that's very helpful. Yes we are eating lunch (if we get a reservation) at Etxebarri (staying in the village afterwards, so very little distance to waddle) and then we already planned to stay at l'Auberge Basque two days later, at the very end of our trip (at the beginning we'll probably stay at l'Arcé, in Saint-Etienne-de-Baigorry, and definitely Hegia).

            For the in-between period, Iturregi combined with Elkano sounds lovely although perhaps Kuko is more charming (in a more modest manner)? Judging purely from the websites, Kuko certainly looks appealing. And we can always stop off at Elkano for lunch en route from Axpe! If you have any more thoughts about the kind of cooking at Kuko, we'd love to hear them, as well as on the Senorio de Bertiz forest, which I imagine is very beautiful?

            As an aside, eating-wise we're not after anything too complicated. Our honeymoon is actually framed by a few nights in Paris where we'll be able to eat plenty of complicated food (as well as at l'Auberge Basque, I imagine). If you have any other great simple food, dining recommendations, or a hotel recommendation for San Sebastian, please say!

            1. re: johannabanana

              "As an aside, eating-wise we're not after anything too complicated. Our honeymoon is actually framed by a few nights in Paris where we'll be able to eat plenty of complicated food"

              As much as I love my city - Paris - as my name indicates, I must remind you that you will eat much better in the Basque country, in both the French and Spanish sides. Take a look at the per-capita number of starred restos in San Sé as well on the French stretch of the coast from Bayonne to Ciboure.
              If I were going to both Paris and the Basque country, I would concentrate the serious eating in the Basque country.
              And Maribel's recs are my bible…

              1. re: Parigi

                I guess I agree and disagree with you Parigi! And it depends what you mean by serious eating. Surely one can eat well in Paris? And if you mean fine-dining, we haven't done so much, but the little experience we've had of it in Paris has given us the sense that a great meal in an amazing city has an appeal that can at least match "better" food eaten elsewhere. There's also the matter, when travelling, of getting back to your hotel after a big meal and that's more easily done in a city. Whereas in the Basque country, we like the idea of staying in places with less "serious" cuisine, perhaps, but that are pleasant to both lodge at and eat in.

                For example, we were planning on a meal at l'Ambroisie in Paris given it's our honeymoon and I wonder if dinner there would be "worse" than at anywhere in the Basque. No doubt more expensive, however.

                1. re: johannabanana

                  I did not mean to give you the idea that dining in Paris is bad; it isn't. If dining in San Sé is A, then Paris is B+.

                  The dining experience in Paris is indeed a unique experience. So many things go into it to make it unique: besides the food, service at its best means you never notice any waiters around you - no breathing-down-your-neck feeling, - but when you reach out for your bottle, before you arm is even stretched out, someone behind you steps up to bring the bottle to you. Plus the setting. Plus the walk home by the Seine.
                  But on the strict consideration of food, - by which I mean food-food, esp inventive food, - San Sé is definitely - not slightly - a step up.

              2. re: johannabanana

                Hi Johanna,
                I'm so glad you've chosen the Auberge Basque two days later. You'll love it.
                The food isn't so complicated, but we stick to the degustation menu, which offers traditional Pays Basque dishes presented with a very updated touch. And Cedric's acclaimed sommelier can suggest the perfect Irouléguy to accompany your meal. The sunsets on the terrace are beautiful! Try the local brew, Bob's Beer.

                I also love the peace, tranquility and fine food at l'Arcé-another hidden away treasure. I haven't dined or stayed at Hegia (beyond the budget).

                I've also spent the night at the Mendi Goikoa in Axpe so that I didn't have to drive after an Etxeberri grill feast. Smart move.

                I think that Iturregi and Elkano (one of the finest seafood grill restaurants on the Basque coast) would be perfect if you prefer the coast. When I stop for lunch at Elkano, I don't venture far to spend the night.

                The cuisine at Kuko is very much French influenced from his training at Baumanière, with delicious sauces, but not at all complicated. Kuko the chef is from southern Navarra. His wife is the hostess and pastry chef and is Italian (speaks very good English). Food is straight forward but impeccably prepared.

                It's a tiny hideaway for couples only and works only by reservation. It's at the top of a tiny village, and you really do need faith that the winding, narrow road up one kilometer off the N 121 A is going to lead you to somewhere serene and lovely.

                (The road to the Iturregi is also winding but open with ocean views and surrounded by vineyards, which you can visit-the bodegas Urki is next door).

                If you prefer mountain scenery-
                The Kuko lunch and dinner menus are the same, all a la carte, with some Italian dessert items. All quite simple but refined. Fine stemware and linens, classical music, handsome oil paintings, very inviting, terrace with mountain views.

                The rooms are immaculate but much more modest in their décor than the Iturregi-more similar to those at l'Arce but more sophisticated than those at Mendi Goikoa in Axpe. No lavish fabrics or designer decorator touches, just four poster beds with nets and antique furniture, pretty baths with power showers but no hair dryer (although I didn't request one-they were probably available) and no a/c (but it's really not needed).

                I've made the drive from Kuko to the Auberge Basque via the "smuggler's route", the D 406 that leads into Sare, France from Bera (Vera de Bidasoa), then the D3 up to St. Pée. It's quite an interesting back roads drive.

                As for dining in San Sebastián, your choices are limitless, as you know-from the Michelin stars (but you'll have that in Paris),

                to the "rising stars-new generation" (Kokotxa, Agorregi, Xarma, Mirador de Ulía)

                to traditional Basque cuisine-
                Rekondo for carnivores and wine lovers-red meats/game/ fabulous wine list
                Urepel for more old-school classic fare (now that Casa Nicolasa has closed)
                Aldanondo for chuletón de buey

                to casual, lively, innovative pintxos places with small dining rooms attached-
                Ni Neu, Viento Sur, A Fuego Negro, Mil Catas
                (my favorite, Narru, has just closed)

                simply but impeccably grilled fish down at the port-La Rampa or La Fábrica (same owner)

                romantic but contemporary spots with amazing panoramic views-
                Branka or Bokado, facing each other at opposite ends of the stunning bay

                My favorite hotels in San Sebastián are both run by the MHM group (who run Iturregi)-

                Villa Soro-wonderfully romantic 19th century villa on manicured grounds just a pleasant walk from Zurriola beach (bikes provided)-ask for a room in the original villa-ample outdoor parking-just a pleasant walk from Arzak.

                Astoria 7-a contemporary inn with a movie theme, housed in the shell of the former Astoria cinema-each room named for a star who has attended the International Film Festival. Very well run with all the 4-star amenities, and also extremely popular, especially during festivals.

                The Señorío de Bértiz Nature Park is very pretty during all seasons but is spectacular in late October. It has plenty of nature walks, some short, and bike trails.

                Hope this helps you to decide.

                1. re: Maribel

                  Thank you again (so much) Maribel. We're only staying one or possibly two nights in San Sebastian; likely having to choose between two nights there or two at l'Arce. When in San Sebastian, I think we'll stick to casual pintxos (A Fuego Negro looks especially appealing) as the majority of our eating looks to be relatively more formal. The rest of your list makes me yearn for another trip where we can do the city justice. We'll save the other recommendations until then.

                  The extra information on Kuko is very useful. It makes me think we'll try to stay there even though the handiness and luxury of Iturregi, and the coast, are alluring. In fact, for our whole trip, we're slightly torn about focussing on the coast or inland. Initially the plan was to enjoy the beach a little, as per typical honeymoon protocol, but there seems to be so much going on away from the sea! Also, the inland hotels generally excite us more in terms of ambiance (what little can be gleaned from online) especially on the French side of the border.

                  1. re: johannabanana

                    Personally (and this is just me), I would choose two nights in lively, vibrant, food obsessed San Sebastián (it will hook you in and make you long to return!) and one night at l'Arce, since l'Arce is more "remote", unless you plan on a return trip for several days to San Se.
                    I guarantee that once you visit San Sebastián you'll plan a repeat visit!

                    And I do totally agree with Parigi (and thanks for her very kind confidence in me!).

                    I guarantee that once in San Se, you'll want to return again and again! The dining just can't be beat, especially for the price, virtually anywhere, even maybe Paris (but I'm very biased....)

                    The L'Arce, in the Irouléguy appellation, is a little treasure, but it's suited more for enjoying the deep Pays Basque countryside and for total relaxation.
                    It sits only about 20 kilometers from the Navarra border and the Baztán valley. Very bucolic but again, somewhat remote. But it depends on what you want from your honeymoon!

                    It just depends on whether you want a bucolic, countryside *retreat* for a complete getaway and silence or a vibrant, exciting capital of haute cuisine.

                    In San Sebastián, along with A Fuego Negro, in the same area, the Old Quarter, (Parte Vieja), for casual pintxos, don't miss La Cuchara de San Telmo and its "off shoot", Borda Berri. Innovative and fun.

                    The Auberge Basque, sits in the countryside but is hardly remote-it's a very easy drive from St.-Jean-de Luz and its wonderful Tuesday and Friday outdoor markets, a feast for the eyes and the senses.

                    It sounds like you have a wonderful honeymoon planned!

                    1. re: Maribel

                      Two nights in San Sebastian it may well have to be!

                      (I also realise that l'Arce and Kuko are relatively close to each other and that a night at each might work well.)

                      The extra eateries in SS (thank you) have been noted down. You've confirmed what I suspected about l'Auberge Basque, that it's both great to stay at and conveniently located.

                      I'm very glad to encounter so much helpful discussion!

            2. Correction to last post-
              The San Sebastián restaurant down at the old port is LA RAMPA.

              La Muralla (at Embeltrán, 3) and La Fábrica (at Puerto 17) are under the same ownerhsip and both in the old quarter.

              2 Replies
              1. Thanks both! I'll keep the Saiaz in mind.

                1. re: johannabanana

                  Thank you everyone for your help! The honeymoon was amazing. Written up here: