This year we decided to start a trip by ship from Plymouth to Santander. We had never made this crossing before, but it seemed to make sense as we wanted to visit various suppliers in Rioja. The crossing was fantastic with the infamous Bay of Biscay as smooth as the proverbial mill pond. The Brittany Ferry ship was large and comfortable with good facilities and food. We left Plymouth at 15.45 and reached Santander at 12.15 the following day.

etxeganaWe had been recommended a hotel in the middle of nowhere, but on our way to Rioja and it turned out to be a real gem. The Hotel Etxegana, Ipiñaburu Auzoa 38, near Zeanuri was about an hour and a half from Santander and an hour from Bilbao. Lovely little hotel with friendly staff and excellent restaurant.

jardins-de-bakeaThe next day we visited Briones and our friend Miguel Merino whom some of you will have met at our Rioja Wine Tasting dinner. We had a good time with him and moved on to Martinez Bujanda near Oyon. A superb winery set amidst their vineyards overlooking the river. We were taken to a restaurant called Méson Chuchi in Fuenmayor for a splendid lunch. Highly recommended if you’re ever in that area, with wonderful melt in the mouth barbequed suckling pig and milk-fed lamb. From there we travelled the short distance to Olite where we visited the Bodegas Ochoa where Adriana Ochoa, the brilliant young winemaker, took us through some of their recent vintages. Then it was over the border near St Jean de Luz and in to France. We stayed in Les Jardins de Bakea just over the border and ate a brilliant meal in Mattin in Ciboure as well as very good meals in Zoko Moko and in Les Jardins de Bakea.
chateau_pierrailThen it was up to Bordeaux visiting a few of our suppliers there, notably Château Pierrail, staying in St Emilion before heading north via Tremolat and Brantome. We visited our friends in Quincy, did our tourist bit by visiting the stunning Chateau de Chenonceau before heading for the tunnel. Good stops on the way notably at the Villa Fol Avril in Moutiers-au-Perche. Stunning location in a quiet village and lovely hotel with super friendly husband and wife team and excellent food and our last night at a place new to us La Ferme du Vert in Wierre Effroy, which was all right without setting the world on fire. The advantage being that it was only 20 minutes from the channel tunnel. (Do any of you have a really nice recommendation about an hour or less from Calais?) Do ask us for details of any of these places.