France and Spain … That’s casting a big net. However, this recent trip had a different dining theme than we’re used to when traveling. Usually, we want to experience everything we can, culinary-wise, so we will go to a different place for each meal, each day. But this time, quite by accident; it wasn’t premeditated, we ended up going to the same place over and over. In Paris we ate at the same restaurant the entire 3 nights of our stay … In Paris! I know, right?! I could pay a therapist to try and analyze the psychological reasons for this but being thrifty I’ll just go ahead and make my own conclusions. Traveling for longer periods of time is engaging in so many ways, your mind constantly taking in new and different visuals, sights and sounds, which is all very exciting but can also wear you down. Eating at the same place, taking in the same food, establishing connections with the staff, gives a sense of belonging. Everything in life is a balance. Too much one way or the other can be disruptive. I guess on this adventure this is how we, not even knowingly or on purpose, cultivated that sense of belonging that is essential to maintaining sanity.
Starting at Chateau Des Vigiers, a beautiful yet quite isolated chateau in Bordeaux, the decision to revisit the same place was really more about logistics than anything else. This property is breathtakingly beautiful but it is out in the boonies. You need a car to explore the french countryside which we ocassionally did, however, for the most part we ate our meals at Vigiers. Breakfast was my favorite, a perfectly set table, each with our own coffee pot and creamer, stirring slowly, enjoying the freshly made pastisseries and taking in the beautiful scenery. After the intense scurry of planes, trains and automobiles to get here, you have to almost willfully shift gears to slow down and fully appreciate. For dinner, the on-site Michelin restaurant, Les Fresques, was magnifique in every way from service to cuisine. A lively exchange of ideas and slightly differing opinions with a couple at a nearby table continued out to the veranda for fireworks, cigars and a lovely travel friendship that is sure to continue with yearly Christmas card updates.
Next stop, Paris. Situated in middle of everything, however a connector side-street, Flottes on Rue Cambon had 3 big reasons for being our preferred brasserie: 1) right down from our hotel, 2) a more local, neighborhoody feel not being on a main street, and 3) OMG! The Food! I’ve never actually experienced a bad meal in Paris, but why take the chance. We were all perfectly content with the ease and quality of our nightly choice. The pre-dining martini at the hotel was a winner too.
From Paris, we took the train to San Sebastian, Spain. It’s no longer necessary to show passports crossing borders within the EU; however you do have to change trains upon entering a new country. We actually could have Ubered from the end of the line in France, Hendaye, but with the ease of the train system, literally stepping off one train, turning a corner and getting on another, there was no reason not to continue. Especially since the station in San Sebastion is right around the corner from our hotel … unless you miss your stop :/ (you have 2 minutes, TWO, to board or exit … that’s it, so make sure you’re prepared). Maria-Christina, how I loved our time together. I cannot say enough praise about our favorite hotel of the trip … Excellence in every way. Beautiful design, plush and comfortable rooms, and another outstanding breakfast experience, no need to look any further. San Sebastian is famous for it’s pintxos (peenchos) their form of tapas in The Old Town, but our lunch, or sustenance-stops, usually consisted of sitting at an outdoor cafe seaside enjoying the light breeze and people watching. Dinner was reserved for a sweet little establishment, again off the beaten path and very local in it’s patrons. Jatetxea Aldanondo Restaurante was a heartwarming and delicious taste of the city. Exchanging stories and humorous anecdotes of the day with our waitress, Maria Victoria, was a lovely added plus and yet another travel connection to hold dear.
Next up, Madrid. After a horrendous Renfe (the Spain train) experience, we settled into our accommodations at The Westin Palace, beautiful accommodations and even better location (right at Neptune Fountain and Paseo de Prado, 3 blocks to Retiro Park, 4 or 5 blocks to Sol). Again, in trips past, we would venture out to sample various breakfast menus but with the beautiful setting accompanied by fresh and local choices, we saved our energy for a full day of exploring and continued to make the hotel buffet our first stop. El Corte Ingles is The Only place to get helado, and only the El Corte Ingles on Gran Via, not any of the other locations. The Mercados did not live up to our previous visits years ago but there was a little cafe, El Soportal, in Plaza Mayor we adored. The undisputed winner of fine dining, however, could be found at The Four Seasons rooftop restaurant, Dani. Food, Wine, Martinis, Deserts … check, check, check, check. The service … on point. The views at night … incredible. We enjoyed a meal there often, walking back satisfied and sometimes a bit tipsy.
Last but certainly not least, Santiago de Compostela continued our love affair with the food of this trip. Breakfast, I’m sure you can guess by now, was enjoyed at our hotel. Long ago a convent, now turned hotel, it has a quaint atmosphere and once again, delicious local and fresh items to start things off. We would frequent several different “sustenance stops” during our day but the Ultimate Dining Experience goes to Paradores. I don’t even know where to begin. A century’s old monastery with it’s massive stone courtyards in the same plaza as the Cathedral of St. James is the setting. Impeccable service and entrees I will dream about, added with the history of the very spot where you are dining made this the trip’s winner overall and took the Number 1 spot.
I would be remiss not to add the Delta Sky Lounge … … What? Ok, look, travel is hard … real hard … damn hard … but, it is worth it in every way for every reason, and a comfortable break in the rigors of travel, even at the airport is a welcomed respite. Hell, at the Air France lounge, they just leave the alcohol out on the counter for you to make your drinks as strong as you want. And believe it or not, Air France first class meals are an unexpected pleasure.
The moral of this story … Take the Trip
And most importantly … Eat Well #EveryExperienceHasValue 🙂