12 days of Christmas: day 3

Before spending two weeks vacation in San Sebastian, we had a couple of days in Rioja, specifically the old walled town of Laguardia. This is one of the many glorious views taken from the gardens surrounding the village, looking out over the vineyards, as the clouds rolled in.

With its beautiful rolling landscapes, medieval hamlets and exquisite wines, Rioja is Spain’s Tuscany. The wine country is subdivided into three regions: Rioja Alta (where most of the oldest vineyards are located in and around Haro), Rioja Alavesa (which also belongs geographically to the Basque Country, and is home to some of the prettiest towns such as Laguardia and Samaniego) and Rioja Baja (further southeast, a larger, more arid region whose main hub is Calahorra). Even though we were only there for a couple of days, we managed to try lots of its wines!

Holiday photos: day 32

I can’t remember where but at some point in the holiday my beloved said we were enjoying a Tour du Vin. For once, he was right. Pretty much everywhere we went, rows and rows of vines were omnipresent. As I wrap up our holiday, three days late, I’m focusing in on the highlights of our four plus week’s holiday. As an aside, don’t you find the first few weeks of a long holiday pass quite slowly, while the second half just whizzes past? A bit like life!

In no particular order, although it may be chronological, here’s our highlights:-

1. Chateau anyone?

Our second overnight stop was at the Chateau de Beauvois in the utterly charming village of Saint-Etienne-de-Chigny. We had received an apologetic email from the hotel before we arrived saying that we wouldn’t be able to eat in the restaurant because of a function. Said function was someone’s 18th birthday celebrations. The hotel upgraded us to a larger room as far as possible from the function which frankly provided us with an evening’s entertainment in an idyllic spot. The hotel threw in a cold supper with champagne and generally couldn’t do enough for us. The only fly in the ointment was our inability to access the internet but we surmised with all those youngsters constantly taking selfies and sending them to those who hadn’t been invited that there was no bandwidth left!

We’d previously enjoyed a short stay in the Loire and visited some of its glorious chateaux and plan to return to discover more. This hotel would make the perfect base.

2. La Baule but not as we remembered it!

My beloved and I had both holidayed in La Baule as teenagers and were interested to see its transformation. About the only thing either of us remembered was the lovely, wide sandy beach. Our base for the first few stages of this year’s Tour de France was Chateau des Tourelles in Pornichet in the bay of La Baule. The hotel was right on the beach and had an amazing thalassotherapy spa and a great restaurant. We had a sizeable room with a sea view and were reluctant to tear ourselves away to go and watch the Tour. It proved to be the perfect place to recharge our batteries and one we’d happily revisit.

3. Ooops!

We drove to Bordeaux and our delightful, highly rated B&B to discover no one was home! Booking.com kindly offered to cover any additional costs we might incur as a consequence, but we didn’t. Bordeaux exceeded our expectations and we’re planning a longer visit in either spring or autumn. However, the highlight of our trip was a happy coincidence. While walking round Bordeaux, I noticed an advert for a hotel and restaurant on a soon to be opened Lalique shop. When we got back to the hotel, I looked it up on the internet and made a booking for lunch the following day.

The hotel and restaurant Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey is slap bang in the middle of Sauternes’ vineyards. It had only opened three weeks ago and showcases Lalique’s huge range of products. The overall effect is magnificent. Lunch was sublime and I much enjoyed chatting afterwards to the chef Jerome Schilling who kindly adapted the day’s set luncheon to meet my exacting dietary requirements. We allowed the very knowledgable sommelier to choose the wines for each of our courses. We were reluctant to leave behind such perfection………next time.

4. I’ll have a glass of….

Our penultimate stop was in Rioja, a place we’ve visited from time to time with both the Tour of the Basque country and the Vuelta a Espana. This time we stayed in the delightful old town of Laguardia in a small, family run hotel, with an excellent restaurant and cellar. I may have mentioned that neither of us is particularly knowledgeable about wine, we just know what we like. We tasted a number of Riojan wines, red and white, and liked them all! Naturally, we bought some to bring back with us. I think a tour of this area would be lovely and it has gone onto our (ever-growing) bucket list.

5. Donostia

We first visited San Sebastian in 2010 and fell in love. Consequently, ever since, we’ve visited it at least once a year. This time though we rented an apartment in town for two weeks, close to the beach, so that we could visit all of our favourite haunts – too numerous to mention – and find some new ones. While my beloved popped back to London for a few days, I also enjoyed the San Sebastian Jazz Festival.

Most of our visits to the town have revolved around a bike race, usually La Clasica, held on the Saturday after the Tour de France has finished. We had friends riding in the race who both did their bit to animate the racing. This year’s trip had an added poignancy, we already know  that we won’t be able to visit next year because of other commitments. But we will be back!