Sunday, 6 August 2017

France, visiting Charente Maritime

La Rochelle in Charente Maritime
La Rochelle in Charente Maritime

Are you doing your holiday planning? Looking for a spot with peace and quiet? Then opt for Charente Maritime in France – named after the Charente River, it's a famous summer destination that can rejuvenate you big time!

Charente Maritime

You can find Charente-Maritime on the Atlantic coast of western France, in the Poitou-Charentes region. The department runs from just north of La Rochelle to the Gironde estuary (north of Bordeaux) to the south. La Rochelle is a beautiful town centred on a harbour, while the Ile-de-Ré and Ile d'Aix islands are also popular among families. The climate is usually warm in summer with loads of sun, and it's much nicer then you would expect on the Atlantic coast.  Venturing away from the beach and coastline, you'll find flat French countryside dotted with fields of sunflowers and maize amongst small woodlands. If you'd rather stay by the sea, Fort Boyard, built by Napoleon and on an island just off the coast, is open to tourists.

 Visiting Charente Maritime video:

La Rochelle

La Rochelle by Hot&Chilli Blog
La Rochelle
Did you know La Rochelle is famous for its luminous limestone façades that glow when sunlight falls on them? That is why it is known as La Ville Blanche (the White City). It was one of France’s leading seaports from the 14th to 17th centuries. You can find arcaded walkways, as well as half-timbered houses that are covered in slate tiles, the tiles protecting them from the salty air, decorated with ghoulish gargoyles. You can also find a fabulous collection of lighthouses – all opulent reminders of its magnificent seafaring heritage.

This is a lovely city to spend time in with lush greenery, stunning views from the port and lots of open spaces. Recreation-wise everyone will be pretty happy with the activities and attractions in store.

Activities and Attractions in La Rochelle

La Rochelle in Charente maritime

La Rochelle in Charente maritime
La Rochelle
La Rochelle Farmers Market
La Rochelle Farmers Market just opposite the Cathedral

The old quarter is an area of cobblestoned streets behind the Old Port, worn down by the elements as well as walkers!  A brisk stroll along these picturesque streets,  which lets you take in the sights and the vibrant atmosphere, are a must!

The square in the old quarter has a statue of Jean Guiton, the Huguenot mayor of La Rochelle during the siege of the city by Louis XIII the 1620s. You can check out the marble table he chipped with his dagger at the town hall.

Don’t forget to take a peek at the 16th-century renaissance Hôtel de Ville. The streets around City Hall, like Rue du Palais and Rue des Merciers, have rows of gorgeous 17th-century houses with turrets on the corners and long arcades on the lower floors.


La Rochelle Cathedral in Charente Maritime
La Rochelle Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church

La Rochelle Aquarium

La Rochelle Aquarium by Hot&Chilli Blog
La Rochelle Aquarium
This is one of its most talked about attractions. It immerses you in the underwater world. There are more than 600 species in 9 different time zones. The centre of attraction is the enormous shark tank, it's filled with 1.5 million litres of seawater and features terraced seating which gives everyone a chance to view these animals. Don’t miss the 360° see-through underwater tunnel with thousands of jellyfish floating overhead and around you. The aquarium breeds 20 species on display in an effort to lessen it's impact on the natural world. They also cultivate their own coral in 150 quarantine tanks.
Highly recommended!
Quai Louis Prunier, 17002 La Rochelle
Adults €19 / children from free to €15

Sunset Sailing

La Rochelle in Charente maritime

A beautiful way to end the day is a two-hour voyage on a 16 m catamaran which can accommodate 28 passengers.

Sunset catamaran
Adults from €27 / children from €17
More info:
18 rue de la Trinquette
t: (+33)


Île-d'Aix  in Charente Maritime

The Île-d'Aix (Island of Aix), used to be known as Island Dais or Island of Ay way back. It has long stretches of sandy beaches, meandering creeks, and rocks – I was told that it takes about two hours to walk around the island. Instead, we opted for a leisurely bike ride, what a treat!

You can go the village via the drawbridge over the harbour, which is reminiscent of the country’s military architecture. The Saint-Martin church and its crypt are reminders of the islands 11th-century history. The church and its crypt were restored in 1970. After restoration, they were re-opened to the public. The nearby National Napoleonic Museum where Napoleon spent his last days on French soil in 1815 is also a lovely visit. It was opened to the public in 1928.

Cost of return ferry to Ile d’Aix from Fouras
Adults from €9.40 / children from €7 – free for under 4s

Cycling in Île-d'Aix  in Charente Maritime
Île-d'Aix  in Charente Maritime

Île-d'Aix  in Charente Maritime
Île-d'Aix  in Charente Maritime

Watersport in Île-d'Aix

Île-d'Aix  in Charente Maritime
Île-d'Aix  in Charente Maritime

beaches in Île-d'Aix
hidden beaches in Île-d'Aix 

National Napoleonic Museum in Ile d'aix
National Napoleonic Museum

Île de Ré

In the Roman era, the Île de Ré was an archipelago consisting of three small islands, but the space was filled over time due to silting and sediment.

When Eleanor (Alienor) d'Aquitaine became Queen of England through her marriage to Henry Plantagenet, the island became an English possession. However, it reverted to France a few decades later via a treaty signed by Henry III of England. During the 17th century, the Ile de Ré endured turbulent times because it was coveted by world powers, due to its militarily strategic position, and its production of salt and wine.

Nowadays, the island consists of photogenic villages, old ports and sandy beaches.  As the sun sinks towards the sea, you can wander around; do some shopping, check out the restaurants and bars, have an ice cream from one of the cute ice cream parlours, or just stroll along the old ports.

Les Baleines Lighthouse

Les  Baleines Lighthouse
Les  Baleines Lighthouse

Les  Baleines Lighthouse
Les  Baleines Lighthouse
Saint Clément des Baleines Lighthouse
view from Saint Clément des Baleines Lighthouse

Staircase Le Baleines Lighthouse
Situated to the west of Ile de Ré is the Saint Clément des Baleines Lighthouse. The name stems from the fact that several whales washed up on this very spot many years ago. Built in 1849, it replaced the one built by Vaubam. The lighthouse is 57 metres tall and has 257 steps.  Its beacon can be seen as far away as 50 kilometres away. It is open for visits all year round, as is the museum located in the old lighthouse.

Cost: For both light houses and the museum - €10 for adults and €5 for children 

For more info:

Oyster Farm

L’Huitrière de Ré
L’Huitrière de Ré - Oyster Farm
L’Huitrière de Ré
Oyster vending machine  at L’Huitrière de Ré

We also made a stop at an Oyster Farm. Oyster farming is integral to the local maritime culture. The raising of shellfish to the rhythm of the sea is there to be seen. Classified as a ‘Ferme de découverte’ (Discovery Farm) and part of the ‘Bienvenue à la Ferme’ label, this is a typical oyster farm on one of the narrowest parts of the Island of Ré which itself is a ‘Classé et Remarquable’ site of France.

L’Huitrière de Ré
La Maison Neuve, Ars-en-Ré, France

Activities in Île de Ré

sailing in Ile de Ré
wind sailing in Ile de Ré

canoeing in Ile de Ré
Kayaking  in Marais Poitevin
Water Sports
On the Atlantic coast, just minutes from Maison de L'Ange is a delightful beach looking out onto the Bay of Biscay. You can go kayaking, swimming, windsurfing, boat trips, kite-surfing, sailing, canoeing, paddle-boarding, jet skiing – the choice is yours!

This is one of the best ways to get around the island. There is a multitude of bicycling paths that link all the main points of interest on the island. Bicycling is a splendid way to soak up the feel of the Ile de Ré.

Saint Martin
Saint-Martin-de-Ré is a port town on the Île de Ré
Saint-Martin-de-Ré port town
Pretty houses of Saint-Martin-de-Ré
Pretty houses of Saint-Martin-de-Ré

Pretty houses of Saint-Martin-de-Ré
Pretty houses of Saint-Martin-de-Ré

The view of the town and island from atop the bell tower at sunset is magical. Saint Martin in Île of Ré has a bustling town centre with houses steeped in history, and cafés with charming terraces where you can chat or daydream the afternoon away.  It has retained its old world charm despite its turbulent past; its star-shaped ramparts steeped in history, including resistance to assaults launched by the English Navy in the 17th century.

Intrigued with Charente Maritime? Plan your visit without further delay – you won’t be disappointed!

Until next time why not join me on  InstagramTwitter and Facebook…X 

How to get  to Charente Maritime

By air to La Rochelle from London - Stansted, Gatwick - Southampton, Birmingham, Manchester, East Midlands, Bristol & Cork. 

By rail from London via Paris to La Rochelle. This takes two hours 20 minutes from Paris to La Rochelle by TGV.

By road – three hours from St.Malo.
A10 Paris: 430 km
A10 Bordeaux: 70 km
A83 N137 Nantes: 120 km

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Charente Maritime by Hot&Chilli Blog

I was a guest of Charente Maritime Tourism for review purposes. All views are my own.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Hondarribia, Alameda Michelin Star restaurant in The Basque Country

Hondarribia, Basque Country, hotandchilli food and travel blog

  Hondarribia, or Fuenterrabía in the local language, is a charming and vibrant fishing village renowned for its phenomenal culinary choices, as well as its remarkable architectural sights. The gastronomy in Hondarribia offers both the taste and looks to impress, and is sure to satisfy even the harshest of critics. The memories you form filling your stomach with quality cuisine and breathing in the fresh coastal air will make Hondarribia your favourite holiday spot in the area.

The gastronomical world in this little town has witnessed an enormous transformation recently, and it’s noticeable in the cuisine. The quality matches, if not surpasses, the finesse and tastes found in San Sebastian, which is considered by most as the Basque hub for culinary enjoyment. 

Only recently has Hondarribia become a must-see attraction for visitors to the area so that you won’t find many touristy elements such as a street full of monotonous souvenir shops. Tourists trying to enjoy an authentic experience have access to plenty of different restaurants and pintxo bars all across the town, all of which produce only the best food and drinks.  Not only is the quality of these establishments something to look forward to, but the incredible prices. The value is fantastic and makes this fishing village a hotspot you can’t miss.

The cuisine of Hondarribia isn’t the only aspect of the town that’ll impress tourists. The village is enclosed in a beautiful, fortified wall, the only one of its kind in the entire Guipuzcoa province. Basque architecture ornaments the entirety of the Old Town, with homes decorated with vibrantly coloured wooden balconies. Architecture enthusiasts will also be delighted to see some baroque-style buildings interspersed between them. The intimate, cobbled streets of the area are truly inviting, and you’ll find yourself strolling through them for hours.

The Marina neighbourhood is also a must-see attraction in the town. It’s adorned with a multitude of restaurants and bars, and you’ll find Hondarribia’s most popular establishments here. The main pedestrian road crosses through Marina neighbourhood, so you can search for a place to enjoy some Basque cuisine while walking alongside a lovely tree line and homes.

If, for some reason, you get tired of the myriad of eateries and cultural sights, venture onto the sandy beach. This long, 800-metre attraction offers quiet waters and space for tourists and locals alike to enjoy the sun and relax throughout the day.
Hondarribia, Basque Country, hotandchilli food and travel blog

Hondarribia, Basque Country, hotandchilli food and travel blog

Hondarribia, Basque Country, hotandchilli food and travel blog
Hondarribia, Basque Country, hotandchilli food and travel blog

Hondarribia, Basque Country, hotandchilli food and travel blog

Alameda Michellin star restaurant, Hondarribia, Basque Country, hotandchilli food and travel blog

 Gastronomical Wonder:  Restaurant Alameda

Originally a local snack bar known only to select locals, Restaurant Alameda has become Hondarribia’s premier, Michelin star establishment. It’s family-run by the Txapartegi brothers, called Gorka, Kepa, and Mikel.

Using raw ingredients is the staple of this restaurant, as well as the locally sourced product. The brothers offer irresistible dishes that are both high in quality and just stunning, and perhaps the most fetching aspect is that the food pays homage to its Basque roots while accommodating modern trends.

If you’re walking towards Old Town, you’ll notice Restaurant Alameda instantly, as it lies merely a few steps away from the Santa María Gate. The ambience is cosy and trendy, minimalist design, as well as a collection of stunning art done by local Hondarribia artists. 

It's a Michelin star restaurant so expect stunning presentation and fantastic colours and textures delivered in every single plate! And  yes, they do!

Fantastic service and setting at Alameda.  First of all, let me tell you how easy it was to book, a single phone call two weeks before and Bianca, who speaks perfect English booked me in, no hassle.

 I visited on a Saturday winter's day in February. The sun was out, but the air was cold and crisp.  I arrived one hour earlier to the little fishing Village of Hondarribia, Basque Country, about 30 minutes by car or bus from Centre of San Sebastian. I must say it was worth all the travelling and a walk around the village is a must!

 The walk before and after lunch was entirely different before lunch was a leisurely stroll by the seashore and after lunch as a walk around the old town. It's like walking into an old fairytale book. Breathtaking!

Once I arrived, I was welcomed by Bianca who was the perfect hostess.  She introduces me to the local wine in their beautiful bar frequented by locals for small snacks and excellent wines.
After my drink, I settled at my table that overlooked their garden.
The waiter and sommelier explained all dishes, ingredients and drinks as the lunch progressed.

At the moment, they have two tasting menus. I was set to have the six dishes tasting menu, but when I got there I decided that after all the travelling I should have the ten dishes menu -  It would be rude not to!

 Here is my 4 hours tasting menu  - Epic!

Lunch at Alameda -  Michelin Tasting Menu

Alameda Michelin star restaurant by Hot&Chill blog
Appetiser : Chocolate & Foie gras  and carrot cream

Appetiser : Chocolate & Foie gras  and carrot cream
It looks like a bonbon, Chocolate and Foie gras is a combination from heaven, topped with hazelnut -  the way forward! The carrot cream and cod foam (at the back)  was  light and simply delicious

Alameda Michelin star restaurant by Hot&Chilli blog
Gillardeau oyster with Txakoli
Parsley air, oyster, sparkling wine, apple and citrus cream 
I ate air, and it is very palatable. The plump oyster was of a splendid size and so fresh! Perfect match to the high acidity of the local dry sparkling wine (Txakoli ) in the recipe and my glass.

Alameda Michelin star restaurant by Hot&Chilli blog
Scallop carpaccio
Scallop carpaccio on a bed of tomato tartare almond cream - scallop Topped with ovas de truta (trout eggs)  bursting with flavours and textures - brilliant dish
Alameda Michelin star restaurant in San Sebastian by Hot&Chilli Blog
Mushrooms with truffled yolk

Roasted local mushrooms truffled mash and white truffle cream  with sous vide yolk  matched with  Castell de Raimat Chardonnay 2015 wine with hint of tropical fruits sweet note of  pineapple  pale yellow with hints of light green hue

Alameda Michelin star restaurant in San Sebastian by Hot&Chilli Blog
Roasted foie

Foie gras beetroot orange and grapefruit - seared foie with creamers beets and grapefruit cutting through the fat beautifully matched with Ximénez Spínola Exceptional Harvest, not officially a sherry, but a kind of vendange tardive white wine, made with grapes that are picked overripe after 21 days on the vine. Then the wine is aged on its lees (with light batonnage) in used American oak barrels over a four-month period. It was first made in 2010 (designed by the winemaker Ramiro Ibañez Espinar) with subsequent versions each year.
Alameda Michelin star restaurant in San Sebastian by Hot&Chilli Blog
Sea bass - fish of the day

Sea bass , olive sand and curry carrot orange cream leeks purée, this dish was light and very fresh, this dish changes according to what is in season and fresh from the boat in the morning.
Alameda Michelin star restaurant in San Sebastian by Hot&Chilli Blog

Butakaku pork Jawl (braised) rich and scullent,  black beans, cabbage and leeks  - this dish remind me of Brazil, beans, pork and cabbage (greens)  - I love the gravy (sauce)

Alameda Michelin star restaurant in San Sebastian by Hot&CHilli Blog

Mandarin Mousse, Rosemary Snow, Orange Granita - very light citrus and refreshing - great palate cleanser.  PS: I though it was the dessert! Look how; pretty is that?

Gartzinea tribute

Tribute to the building where the restaurant is located. Cider sorbet apple jelly apple granita, cream cheese and nuts, edible flowers tribute to house/ building that used to be a cider house, where the restaurant was being since 1940 
Alameda Michelin star restaurant in San Sebastian by Hot&Chilli Blog
Petit fours

Petit fours - by now I was gasping for air - It was an outstanding and very long meal.  The care, the quality and techniques are all there. Best meal of 2017, outside the UK  so far!  Still a way to go...

It's one of the prettiest places I've travelled to!  I am contemplating going back to spend some time there. Worth every single minute of the trip and every single penny/euros.

Menu a la carte and tasting menus:
6 dishes menu 60euros  + flight of wine 27 euros (optional)
10 dishes menu 98 euros + flight of wine 39euros (optional)
(June 2017)

Read more about San Sebastian :  Hot&Chilli, A long weekend in San Sebastian
Until next time why not join me on  InstagramTwitter and Facebook…X 
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