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Archive for the ‘Navarre’ Category

Huge loaves of bread at the Vitoria market

Huge loaves of bread at the Vitoria market

Vitoria, capital of the Basque country, was about an hour’s drive from Azuelo. (The Basque language, Euskara, bears no resemblance to other European languages. It even has 5 major dialects. The names of towns are written in both Euskara and Spanish, for instance: Lizarra (pronounced Li-tha-ra) and Estella (Es-te-ya) is the same town!). The Basque people are believed to be direct descendants of Cro-Magnon man, an early form of Homo sapiens. We went through an interesting Basque archeology museum before stopping for tea. The herbal tea selection was unusual: we shared a Rooibos tea flavoured with thyme and an aniseed infusion. We came across a lovely cosy chocolate shop (Chokoreeto on C/ Cuchillería 90) selling predominantly very dark vegan chocolate, starting from 72% dark. The 85% coffee, as well as the orange flavour were incredibly smooth and delicious; their 100% was sold out.

Salad at La Tagliatelle, Pamplona

Salad at La Tagliatelle, Pamplona

Our day in Pamplona started with an almost half an hour search for parking. The town centre is pretty with brightly coloured buildings and decorative enclosed balconies in glass and wood. The town is famous for their bull-runs, which started a week after our visit – not the time we want to be there! I was in 7th heaven when we found a large organic supermarket (called: Ekodenda Ekia, on the tree-lined Calle de la Fuente del Hierro 4), where I spent over an hour browsing interesting products that were new to me. I walked out with a mountain-load trolley! Even just their vegan milks were amazing: quinoa; kamut; tiger nut; spelt; sesame seed; barley and various flavours of rice, soy, oat and nut milks. We went for lunch on the square at La Tagliatelle restaurant, where, on recommendation from the waitress, I put together a monster-size salad from the ingredients of 3 other salads – delicious!

Grilled and blanched vegetable course

Grilled and blanched vegetable course

Doing yet another piece of the Camino cycle path, was a lovely route we did through Estella. The ancient bridges, villages that seems locked in time and small patches of wheat and olives or vineyards were just charming. I had a lovely 3 course vegan lunch in Estella, which I could order straight off the menu at a regular restaurant: Gazpachio followed by a plate of grilled and blanched vegetables, then a huge slice of super-sweet deep red watermelon.

Returning home to Azuelo, we made a detour to Monasterio de Leyre. Founded as a Benedictine monastery, but it came later in the hands of Cisterian monks. Monks are still residing there and part of the original complex built the 11-12th C has been restored into a hotel. It’s quite moving to listen to the monks performing Gregorian chants, which one can follow in Latin hymn books. (Chanting times: Mon-Fri 7:30am, 9:00am, 7:00pm; Sat-Sun 8:00am, 12 noon, 7:00pm.)

directions on cycle lanes- near AzueloIn a few weeks we’d be cycling a large part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route, so in order to do some part also on foot, we drove about 2 hours east of Azuelo to Roncesvalles,

Roncesvalles road marker

Roncesvalles road marker

an Alpine-looking town situated high in the misty, enchanting forest of the Pyrenees mountains. The little town was postcard pretty with its stone houses, flower-covered balconies and red roofs. Walking here is very tough!

My partner had a typical local Basque dessert, called “Cuajada con miel” which is basically sheeps’milk cheese with honey drizzled over. I devised a vegan version for it made with silken tofu, (made with strained pear juice as the liquid), blended with agar-agar to set. Pour over maple syrup or coconut nectar and serve with walnuts rolled in date paste and dehydrated. “On enerrin!” (bon appetit!, in Basque). Just for fun, we drove the 17 km over the mountain into France to see what the villages look like there.

Vegan lunch of grilled bell peppers served Carpacho-style

Vegan lunch of grilled bell peppers served Carpacho-style

We scouted out another town called Laguardia: an extremely neat town with clipped topiaries, park-like walkways around the hilltop town, impressive walls surrounding the car-free town with fortress-like gates, marble-paved pedestrianised lanes, noble houses and quaint restaurants. The town is in the middle of wine country and looks down on a patchwork of vineyards and ‘bodegas’ (wine estates).

Fun statues in Laguardia

Fun statues in Laguardia

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Our 3 storey home in Azuelo

Our 3 storey home in Azuelo

Our drive north from Tossa de Mar was rather pleasant: fast interlinking motorways exiting big cities and quiet country roads winding past almond orchards and artichoke fields. We saw large birds of prey hovering in the air and storks making high nests on telephone poles. The many motorway restaurants offer good vegan choices, either at the restaurant, their informal café or supplementing your meal from various items sold at the shop. After 6 hours we arrived in the mountains, in the small town of Azuelo – a village with only 30 inhabitants and an 11th C monastery. The streets are so narrow, I was afraid our car will get stuck between the buildings. The quiet village has no shops, but it has a library and a bread van coming past every morning, ringing his bell. Out of pure curiosity, we bought a loaf of bread from him. The bread was so bad, by the time we returned to our house, about 1 minute’s walk, we had already fed half of it to the old village dog that sleeps on our doorstep.

The place we rented in Azuelo was a beautiful 3 storey upright house that was convertedRaspberry strawberry gift from a fish shop. It’s completely modern but with traditionally Spanish touches: wooden floors, thick dark beams in the ceilings and a stone feature wall. The house had 3 twin bedrooms, a lounge on the ground floor as well as on the top floor where the small but adequate kitchen was, dining area and 2 bathrooms. Our views were across the red, mossy tiles of the tiny village towards a mountain ridge on which a large number of wind turbines silently generate electricity with wind power – a strangely futuristic look from the ancient village.

Sourdough cherry flat cake with chopped almonds

Sourdough cherry flat cake with chopped almonds

As a welcome gift, the owner of our town house brought us a big bowl of strawberries and raspberries freshly picked from their family plot; the second day the father, all wrinkled in the face from the sun, brought us a large square bowl of sweet, black cherries from his tree and a few days later he brought us a basketful of more cherries! That afternoon I baked various biscuits, a cherry flat cake (unable to eat the fruit fast enough, I thought of baking them to last a little longer) and sourdough walnut breadsticks (the dough which I luckily had been preparing over the last couple of days). We happily adopted the Spanish way of having thick, dark hot chocolate at 5pm: I found a ceramic pot of dark 70% vegan chocolate, orange flavour, in a tea shop. So we turned it into a home-styled affair with our breadsticks as an alternative for dipping, to the traditional deep-fried “churros”.

Molten chocolate and home-baked walnut breadsticks

Molten chocolate and home-baked walnut breadsticks

Tiger nut ("chuff") yoghurt

Tiger nut (“chuff”) yoghurt

I also made my own yoghurt from Horcharta di Chufa milk (made from tiger nuts – I’ll be writing about this in a later post). I opened the box of milk, poured the contents into a bowl, added some probiotic powder and covered with a damp cloth for 4 days. It was incredibly delicious – like thick custard. My version of the popular cheese-stuffed baby vegetables of the area, was to use red bell peppers that I stuffed with home-made almond cheese (thick mixture of blended almonds and water, fermented with some probiotic powder), steamed, mashed cauliflower and lots of herbs. This I baked in the oven.

Navarra Green cycle way

Navarra Green cycle way

Cycling the Green routes (called Via Verde) is a lot of fun: the paths are flat because these used to be train lines (disused or levelled for train lines that were never built). The erstwhile train stations had been converted into cafés. There is usually at least one tunnel one has to pass through: no need for bicycle lights, since sensors at the entrances switch the lights on automatically. These Green routes are all over Spain, so when we are in an area with such a network we simply have to do the fun cycle ride (the routes are between 15 and 40 km each way). We did the Vasco-Navarro Railway Greenway near Azuelo. The routes go through ancient villages, old forests, along bridges, through tunnels or next to cultivated fields.

Navarra Green cycle way

Navarra Green cycle way

We also cycled part of the Camino de Compostella in stretches, before we’d do the last 300km in earnest in about a week’s time.

Burgos Plaza de la Verdura

Burgos Plaza de la Verdura

Pretty towns we cycled through, was Puente de la Reina, where the queen of Spain, Isabella, had an impressive stone bridge built over the river in the 11th C specifically to help pilgrims cross it more safely.

Burgos Cathedral Square

Burgos Cathedral Square


Cycling across the white stonework of the decorated bridge in the beautiful town of Burgos was yet another completely different experience. The Cathedral was breathtaking. We stopped for tea on the “Plaza de la Verdura” (Vegetable Square); had lunch at a café on the Cathedral Square where most of the dishes were vegan; then for another tea (and cake for my partner) on yet another square with colourful upright houses. Burgos also has an incredible good network of cycle paths that are clearly painted and well-laid out.

Burgos - a square with colourful houses

Burgos – a square with colourful houses

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