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Posts Tagged ‘chocolate’

León- start of our CaminoWe departed León at 8, after a hearty buffet breakfast at our Parador. On the outskirts of the city we passed a troglodyte village: houses were dug into the hillside and fitted with small wooden doors and shutters. This almost looked like a film set for ‘The Hobbit’. Our first day cycling the Camino de Santiago was an easy one: even though the ride was in strong wind, it was only 50 km long, with few and relatively short up and down hills.

Hospital de Órbigo stork nests

Hospital de Órbigo stork nests

We stopped along the way in the small village of Hospital de Órbigo where a group of storks made their nests on top of every ledge of the church’s bell tower. We pushed our bicycles over the smoothly worn round cobbles of the well-preserved (with modern extension) Roman bridge that connects the church with the rest of the town. We sat outside at the first café one encounters coming off the bridge. I ordered herbal tea (most of the time you get 2 choices of herbal tea: camomile and mint. A good tip is to bring your own tea bags to add to the pot to combat the boredom, such as 5 spice chai, berry or licorice), while enjoying my snacks of 2 home-made bliss balls (blended cashew nuts, cacao powder and dates), a few almonds and some goji berries. We sat looking across to the bridge, thinking of the passage of time, the thousands of feet that tread over those cobbles and reading on our iPhones about historical events that took place in this town.
Roman bridge in Hospital de Órbigo

Roman bridge in Hospital de Órbigo

The area around Astorga has some interesting inhabitants, called the Maragatos – an ethnic group of unknown origin. It is thought they descended from 8th C Berber invaders. By marrying only among themselves, they managed to preserve their customs (language and unique building style) through the centuries. Their traditional trade was mule-driving and their clothes closely resemble that of Ukraine with embroidered flowers, head scarf and huge jewellery pieces for the women and the men wear balloon knee-length pants, boots and box hats.

AstorgaWe entered Astorga, our first overnight town, when the various bells of the churches and the Town Hall rang out at noon. Absolutely magical. We slowly drifted past Roman ruins and saw groups of nuns in different colours of habit, reflecting their different denominations. The Renaissance exterior of the Santa María church was utterly amazing: I’ve never before feasted my eyes on such magnificent architectural embellishments – even the buttresses were gabled. The statuary at the entrance, the meters’ high figurine engraved wooden double doors and sculpted alcove entrance in beige truly take one’s breath away.

Astorga cathedral

Astorga cathedral

Astorga lunch: 1st course

Astorga lunch: 1st course

For lunch, my parter chose a cosy restaurant where he could have a ‘menu del dia’, I ordered only the vegetable soup and supplemented with my own German-style bread slices from previous town, spread with Marmite (rich in B-vitamins) and a 1 tablespoon-sized tofu-and-artichoke spread I brought along (bought way back at an organic shop for this purpose).

Our accommodation for the night was in a pretty 3 star hotel with only a handful of rooms. Ours, upstairs, opened out to the neat courtyard garden of white roses, clipped box and a fountain. Sitting on the bed, I have a close-up view of one of the towers of

Astorga lunch, 2nd course

Astorga lunch, 2nd course

that beautiful church. Conveniently, the Chocolate Museum was only 2 minute’s walk away. There we learned that Astorga was a pioneering town in Spain in the chocolate making process from the 17th C. In 1924 there were 51 chocolate factories in the town (population of 12 000 today). I had of course chocolate as an afternoon snack: typical from the various chocolate shops are thick, dark chocolate disks, into which a walnut, 3 toasted hazelnuts and orange zest were pressed. Delicious. The shops also sell slabs of 75, 80, 85, 90 and 99% dark vegan chocolate.
Inner courtyard of our accommodation

Inner courtyard of our accommodation

We still have to get used to the late serving time of dinner (8:30 or even 9pm) – too late for a tired pilgrim! So we had our own dinner in our room: a jar of corn, mixed nuts, whole grain bread, soy milk and a jar of chickpeas and tomatoes. The left-over soy milk I left to ferment for yoghurt the next day, by adding the contents of a capsule of probiotic (specifically ones that need not be refrigerated).

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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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