Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

Bright and early after breakfast on Thursday morning, we drove the 40 kilometers to the French pays Basque towards the seaside town of Biarritz. Surprisingly, there were loads of surfers walking around and enjoying the waves just like at Zurriola beach in San Sebastian. The day was bright and sunny and perfect for walking around to explore the city center.

We started out at the historic Hotel du Palais, originally the Villa Eugenie which was built in 1855 for the Spanish Eugenie de Montijo, Napoleon III’s wife. The facade of the building is impressive with the views of the crashing waves an arms length away. We toured the newly-opened Spa Guerlain which is for the exclusive use of hotel guests.
After that, we wandered around the town and went into Jean-Vier which specializes in traditional Basque linen originally woven by peasants need to protect their cattle from the harmful effects of the sun. A type of linen jacket called a Saal covered the shoulders, back and hindquarters of cows. The traditional seven stripes integrated into each Saal represent the seven Basque provinces and linen collections are named after provinces in the Pays Basque (e.g. St Jean de Luz, Espelette, Biarritz, Sara, Arnaga, Abadia, Bilbao etc.). Dish cloths feature specialties of the region like piment d’Espelette (the spicy red pepper from Espelette), le gateau Basque (a traditional Basque cake) or les sardines de St. Jean de Luz. We couldn’t resist the beautiful linen and ended up buying a red-striped beige tablecloth with matching napkins, several dish cloths and a stripey bread basket. It should look great with our outdoor table this summer.

We also stopped at Les Sandales d’Eugenie ( 18, rue Mazagran, Tel: +33 5 59 56 32 38), an espadrille shop recommended by the 2006 Louis Vuitton guide. After trying several styles, I settled for an open-toed sling back in linen perfect for the beach.

We then rushed off into the Basque countryside to make it to our 2:00 p.m. lunch booking at Auberge Ostape, an Alain Ducasse managed country hotel, in Bidarray which is about 40 kilometers from Biarritz. We headed inland towards Cambo-Les-Bains which should have led us directly to Bidarray at the foot of the Navarre hills. By the time we arrived, it was already 2:20 and the roads toward the auberge were very small. Somehow, we missed a turn and got lost so we called the hotel to ask for directions at which point we were told that the kitchen was closed and that lunch would no longer be served and only a salad and charcuterie (cold cuts) and cheese were available. Not wanting to eat just cold cuts at what should have been a gourmet lunch, we told them we would eat elsewhere. The lady didn’t seem sorry to have lost our custom. Crossing the border into France, we had forgotten how rigid the French meal times were as opposed to the late lunch schedule in Spain.

The problem was that we were in the middle of nowhere and there weren’t any shops or restaurants in the area. After driving several more kilometers, we stumbled on a small roadside hut called Le Fumoir de la Valee (rd 918, 64780 Bidarray – Tel: +33 06 64 80 84 40 or fumoirdelavallee@neuf.fr) where the owner, Jerome de Joantho, traditionally smokes all his own salamis, sausages and even salmon and offers free degustations (tasting) to those who stop by. After sampling a few of his smoked specialties, we bought a dried salami, some Coppa (pork shoulder) and a hunk of smoked cheese. Now all we needed was some bread. Luckily, a few more kilometers up the road was the village boulangerie (bakery) which opened at half past three. Starving, we sat outside waiting for the bakery to reopen and when it did, we bought a pain de campagne (country bread) to complete our impromptu picnic. The lunch turned out to be delicious and we didn’t regret missing our gastronomic lunch since we later found out that the Auberge Ostape is no longer managed by Alain Ducasse. The drive back was uneventful and as soon as we arrived at the Villa Soro, we relaxed in the lounge for some espressos and the papers.

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6 thoughts on “Biarritz and the Basque countryside

  1. Bonjour Severine, Too bad I didn't make it to Ostape – perhaps on our next visit to Biarritz. Thanks for following my blog!G.T.

  2. Séverine says:

    Hi, I've been to Ostape restaurant and you missed something ! It is delicious.But yes, in France, you can't eat in the middle of the afternoon. I am already surprised they agreed to book for 2 pm !But now you know, even if it's closed to Spain, it's still France !

  3. Thanks for cheking in Bea! Visiting the Basque country was worth it despite our missed lunch.

  4. ah yes the funny part of meal times, indeed. Nice area to visit!

  5. Living in Spain has mixed up our eating schedule. We usually have lunch at 2:30 so hearing that the restaurant was closed was a surprise especially since it didn’t seem that they were busy with lots of other customers.

  6. Yeah it can be quite frustrating eating in certain areas in France. If you are late, the restaurants don’t serve food anymore and they are not even worried about losing customers. It happened to us a few times.

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