Sunday, April 24, 2016

Official Spain Recap

For this trip, we just tackled northern Spain (see route here), starting in Barcelona and ending up in Bilbao.

In Barcelona, we rambled the Ramblas, marveled at Gaudi's Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell, pored over hundreds of Picasso masterpieces in the best collection in Europe, and strolled the beach to Frank Gehry's fish sculpture. We ate, drank, walked and photographed. Our favorite restaurants in Barcelona were Arcano and Kaiku.

From there, we ventured to Montserrat (named for its "serrated mountains") to visit the monestary and hike the scenic mountain trails. Legend has it that in medieval times, shepherd children saw lights and heard songs coming from the mountain. They traced the activity to a cave, where they found a statue dubbed "La Moreneta" (the black Madonna).


The monastery quickly became a pilgrim magnet. The small wooden Mary is behind protective glass in the Montserrat basilica, but the royal orb she cradles in her hand is exposed, and pilgrims from all over the world line up to touch the orb hoping to receive a blessing.

After visiting the basilica, we hiked (4,000 feet!) to the top (about 1,000 feet above the monastery). Up top, the air is fresh and the views are spectacular, sweeping (on the clearest days) from the Mediterranean to the Pyrenees.

Once we got back down, we came across a small market set up selling wares from the monastery - yogurt, cheese and honey. We procured a small wheel of drunken goat cheese (our FAVE) and hit the road.



After a twisty, turny, spaghetti-like road trip, we arrived in Val d'Aran late that evening, and woke to find we'd #nailedit - incredible views in a picturesque inn in the most quaint town. We loved it so much we stayed an extra night to rest and recuperate, venturing out for walks and scenic drives and enjoying the beautiful snowcapped mountains all around us.

From there, we headed to Bagneres-de-Luchon to hike the Pyrenees. We made it about 3 miles along the trail we had chosen, but had to turn back due to avalanche(s)! We picnicked along the way and had perfect weather.


Since we were technically in France, we stayed for one night in a quaint French village called St. Jean Pied de Port (where we have vowed to return!) and enjoyed a home cooked meal by our wonderful hostess Nga while her husband Bernard delighted us with stories from around the globe, from his time in the French foreign legion to working oil fields in the Congo.



The next day, we drove to San Sebastian (foodie capital of the world!) and had an amazing gourmet lunch at Saltxipi (spider crab oh my!). We headed to Bilbao from there, and squeezed in a trip to the Guggenheim (we love Gehry!) before settling into the amazing condo we found on airbnb.


We capped off our trip with a hike to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. It was such a magical experience and we highly recommend it to anyone who will be within a few hours drive.

Gaztelugatxe is an islet on the coast of Biscayconnected to the mainland by a man-made bridge loosely resembling the Great Wall of China. On top of the island stands a hermitage (named Gaztelugatxeko Doniene in Basque; San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in Spanish - The word gaztelugatxe comes from the Basque gaztelu = "castle" and aitz = "rock" or "crag", forming "crag of the castle"), dedicated to John the Baptist, that dates from the 10th century, although discoveries indicate that the date might be the 9th century.


The Basque coast is rough in this area. The sea ceaselessly erodes the rocky coast creating tunnels, arches and caves. The island of Gaztelugatxe is in the center of this section of coast next to the small Aketze island (Island of Rabbits) a paradise for marine birds. Next to the hermitage there is a small shelter that lets people take refuge from the wind and picnic surrounded by the sea views. The hermitage is accessed by a narrow path, crossing the solid stone bridge, and going up 230-ish steps. According to legend, after the slightly strenuous climb to the top of the crag one should ring the bell three times and make a wish (so of course we did). The small church dates from the 10th century and seems to have come from the Knights Templar. The hermitage still houses votive offerings from sailors who survived shipwrecks.

And that's it! We ate, drank, walked, hiked, photographed ERRYTHING and even found Blerta. Speaking of DRANK, here are the wines we loved along the way:
  • 2011 Bodegas Marques del Atrio Crianza
  • 2015 Finca Ca n'Estella Petit Clot dels Oms Blanco
  • 2014 Marqués de Griñón Tempranillo
  • 2014 Legaris Rueda Verdejo
  • 2013 Cune Crianza Tempranillo
  • 2010 La CAlma CAn Rafols dels Caus
  • 2009 Felix Solis Vina Albali Gran Reserva

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