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Restaurants & Bars

Five nights in Pays Basque: Restaurant (and Bistro) at Hotel Ithurria; Restaurant Arce; Arraya; Olhabidea; Beau Marché; and cheeses from Beñat Moity

Jake Dear | Oct 28, 201803:52 PM     13

We stayed five lovely nights in the Pays Basque, sandwiching a longer dip over the border. (The highlights of the Spanish part of this trip are described here: https://www.chowhound.com/post/dining... — and note, two of those places, "Kaia Kaipe," and "Gastroteka Danontzat," are only a short lunch drive from these French locations . . . .)

After a TGV ride from Paris to Biarritz and picking up our car, we drove to Sare/Sara, which, we knew, was in the second day of a five day fete that completely overwhelms the village. What an experience, complete with traditionally-attired horse riders vying to pull the neck off a dead chicken suspended from a rope; costumed figures on stilts; sheepdog trials; local traditional dancing; and just a bit of drunken singing. Oh, and amplified music of all kinds from a bandstand until just past 2 AM.

We were given a stylish and newly remodeled room (the proprietors very nicely upgraded us to a high-end back room with somewhat less direct noise) at “Hôtel Arraya,” https://www.arraya.com/en/hotel-of-ch.... The dining room is charming; the cooking is good, if not great. Dining with friends one night at “Olhabidea,” owned by relatives of the Arraya, and just a few kilometers outside the village, was very good (and they have nice rooms there, too).

Lunches nearby: Driving an hour inland via the Spanish route, we returned after a few years to have local trout under the 100+ years old plane trees next to the gurgling river at “Hotel Restaurant Arce,” http://hotel-arce.com/, in St Etienne de Baigorry. We will return yet again some day.

From here we ventured for nine nights into Spain, which we loved, but where we felt a bit lost linguistically. (Our French is quite bad; but at least we can communicate beyond hola and gracias.)

Back in France we stopped for cheese at the St Jean de Luz covered market stall of “Beñat Moity,” http://www.benat-fromager.com. Note: he also has a bright new stand-alone shop right across the street and next to Brasserie Beau Marché, where, by the way, we had a good lunch.) Beñat, a very nice fellow, separately vacuum-packed three cheeses for us, and we still have two to open and enjoy . . . . (Thanks again, ptipois, for recommending Beñat to us.)

We then returned after a few years to “Hotel-Restaurant Ithurria” in Ainhoa, http://www.ithurria.com/, where we had dinner two nights, lunch outside at the bistro twice, and lovely breakfasts all three days. This family-run gem (two Ithurria brothers married two sisters) has been a hotel since 1962, when it was converted from a farmhouse. It’s had a Michelin star 50 years, since 1968. Standouts: Roasted Cepes; house cured (for 2+years) anchovies; local lamb and pork; pigeon and cheeses from Beñat. Oh, and 10,000 bottles in the cellar, including Sauternes at excellent prices. We will certainly return . . . .

Nearby, while driving back from visiting Zugarramurdi (just over the border in Spain) and its “witch museum” (surprisingly well presented, with interesting and informative historical context), we stopped to see, but could not dine at, the rustic and wooded “Urtxola,” https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran... . As Parnassian has mentioned, its parking lot is in France, and the restaurant is over the invisible border, in Spain. Next time . . . .

This is lovely and intriguing country indeed.

— Jake

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