Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Espelette, Ainhoa & Ascain

This post rounds up my Basque country report. After the seaside towns, it was time to head inland to visit some of the Basque country villages. When I was looking at the map, one place stood out - Espelette. Of course we have to go there for their AOC Espelette piment.

It is a tiny village - I believe we walked through it in 10 mins. You just can't miss what they are famous for cos there are strings of chillis hanging everywhere. It actually makes quite a decorative statement - going really well with the white & red houses that you find in this region.

Village of Espelette

Don't they look cute

This is what we got - 2kg of Espelette sweet chillis I put the bottle of tabasco just to give some perspective on how huge this bottle is

Next stop, Ainhoa. One of 152 "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France" (the most beautiful villages in France of which 2 of them are in Ardeche). The village is tiny but they have some of the best examples of the houses you'll find in the Basque country.

Main street Ainhoa

Church & cemetary

Our final stop, Ascain where we spent the night before heading home the next day. Just outside the village, you can take a little train to the top of La Rhune. La Rhune, altitude 905m, is at the western end of the Pyrenees & is really popular for hiking & walks. Needless to say, we took the train. On the 30 min ride up to the observatory tower, we saw cows, horses, sheep grazing on the slopes & of course, hikers.

The view from the top is magnificent - even of San Sebastian & beyond. All I can say is I'm glad I didn't venture to hike up La Rhune. Then it was back to Ascain to search for a place to stay for the night. We wanted to stay at Chambre d'hote Arrayoa but unfortunately she had just rented out her last room. I was a little disappointed cos the farm looks nice & the owner was charming & helpful. Apparently they are also known for their confit & foie gras. Sigh next time.

But on our final night in the Basque Country, we had a very pleasant surprise. Ascain is another small village & apart from some bars & pizzarias, there weren't many dining options. We ended up in the restaurant of the Hotel de la Rhune. The hotel looked a little run down so we weren't expecting much. In fact, I didn't even bring my camera cos I didn't expect to write about it. But lo & behold, the meal was excellent.

For starters, we had the terrine de foie gras & chipirons (baby squid) which we both enjoyed. For main course, I ordered ttoro which is a Basque fish soup. I want to learn how to make this soup - it is that good. Full of flavor & again using Espelette chillis. X ordered confit de canard & it was excellent, I love the crispy skin. The only disappointment were the desserts - both of ours were drowning in chocolate sauce.

So that ended our 4 day trip to the Basque Country. I would like to go back again - next time staying on a farm, more time in St Jean de Luz & most definitely over the border to San Sebastian.

Le petite train de la Rhune & the views on the way

San Sebastian in the background
& that's where I want to go next

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