Postcard from Pais Vasco

Despite the wet and windy weather we had a great time watching the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Typically, the weather was fine both before and after the race.

Fine weather in Pais Vasco
Fine weather in Pais Vasco

With this year’s race falling after Easter, I thought I’d have no problem booking our usual hotel in Getaria.

Getaria
Getaria

Sadly, there was no room at the inn and I had to look elsewhere. That’ll teach me to give it glowing reviews on booking.com! Instead, I decided to head for the hills and picked a hotel slap bang in the middle of the race’s parcours. My beloved said I’d found possibly the wettest spot in the entire Basque country – no mean feat! However, he also agreed it was a wonderfully relaxing place with a fabulous restaurant and great WiFi.

Home from home
Home from home

We typically go the start and finish of all the stages but this year there was no WiFi available in any of the press rooms which posed rather an issue for us. On the wetter stages, we watched the riders set off, found somewhere for lunch and then headed back to the hotel to work and watched the stage conclusion on the television. Usually, we eat lunch in the press room but the lavish pintxos buffets were much more modest this year. I like to think that savings made on the press pack were expended on better safety measures for the riders.

Lesaka
Lesaka

In any event, it gave us an opportunity to try out a number of restaurants’ midday menus which are typically 11-15 euros per head for three courses, including wine, water and coffee. I fared well, though I often had to skip dessert, with plenty of mixed vegetable platters, salads and assorted fish dishes. I even found a restaurant in Lesaka which served a quinoa salad!

This year’s race visited regular stage venues such as Etxebarria, Markina-Xemein, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Eibar with a couple we’ve not previously visited during the Vuelta such as Lesaka (in Navarre), Orio (a fishing village just outside of San Sebastian) and Gerrastatxu (a new summit finish). That said, we did spend a memorable vacation in Orio a couple of years ago and welcomed the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the town.

This year’s edition of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco seemed particularly tough and, of course, the biting cold weather and rain made it even more treacherous. Tension was maintained until the final stage, a hilly time-trial won by Alberto Contador who also took the overall. He’s a very popular figure in Spain even in the Basque country where they have plenty of their own riders to support. He delighted the crowd by saying he might not retire at the end of the year.

Tolosa
Tolosa
Basilica
Basilica

On our travels we also visited a couple of new places, such as Tolosa and, in particular, Azkoitia and Azpeitia with their magnificent churches and basilica, many honouring Inigo de Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

San Sebastian
San Sebastian

We also found time to have a quick wander around the old town of San Sebastian, to which we’ll return at the end of July for the Clasica San Sebastian. But that’s not all. We’ll have a third visit to the Basque country, to Bilbao, in early September during the Vuelta a Espana.

 

Season’s Greetings

The holiday season starts when I receive my first Christmas card. Most years it’s one from a couple who almost bought our house in Chiswick back in 1993. Their lovely cards typically showcase one of the photographs they’ve taken on their travels. I always think: “That’s such a good idea, I’ll do something similar next year.”

Well, this year I (finally) have! Of course, I couldn’t pick just one photograph, so I went for a montage to sum up our year.

1. Albi, a UNESCO World Heritage site

The rose coloured town of Albi on the banks of the river Tarn

I took this picture of the rose-coloured town of Albi, on the river Tarn, on my iPhone from the ramparts of the cathedral. It was taken during a magical week-end, returning to a place I’d only driven through during the 2013 Tour de France. My beloved had to visit a potential client in nearby Castres and, as we are wont to do, we turned a business trip into something special.

2. The view from our bedroom window

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This view is the main reason we bought our apartment and it’s one of which I never tire. I take a photograph most mornings but some, like this one taken last winter, are more spectacular than others.

3. Alassio, the Italian Riviera

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My beloved took this photograph, with his newly acquired Cannon camera, while we were waiting for the peloton to pass us by on stage two of this year’s Giro d’Italia. We spent the week-end in nearby Alassio and, not long after the peloton passed, I was greeted like a long-lost friend by the owner of the small family hotel I’d stayed in for the Trofeo Laigueglia in February. That’s just one of the things I love about cycling – you make friends everywhere.

4. Getaria, the Basque country

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Our card wouldn’t be complete without a photograph from the Basque country but which one to choose? We have so many. I love seascapes and I took this photograph on my iPhone from the promontory in Getaria looking back towards the coastline. The past couple of years, we’ve stayed in the same five-bedroomed, family-run hotel for both the Clasica and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Getaria is a lovely spot, famed for its Txakoli wine, with plenty of bars and restaurants just a short walk from the hotel.

5. Antwerp

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This shows the crowds waiting for the start of stage three of the Tour de France with the magnificent Het Steen Castle – the city’s oldest building – and the Cathedral of our Lady in the background. After the riders had set off, we had a delightful lunch in one of the many restaurants in the old town.

6. Sag Harbor, The Hamptons

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I adore US colonial style housing with gingerbread trims and this is a particularly fine example of the genre. I also loved that this business in Sag Harbor’s main street was selling French antiques. We witnessed many fine properties on our September trip to US.

7. Costa del Sol

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This was taken by my beloved from the road outside the restaurant where we’d stopped for a long, convivial and typically Spanish lunch. It was on the finishing circuit, not too far from the finish line, on stage two of the Vuelta which played out in the hills of Gualdahorce on the Costa del Sol. This year we were very fortunate to be able to visit the starts of all three Grand Tours, a feat we’re unlikely to repeat.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas

much happiness, good health, and every success in 2016