Why I love the Basque Gastronomy?

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It is Love with a capital L and Gastronomy with a capital G. Pincho calamar, pincho champinion en salsa, croquetas, pulpo, jamón Iberico, tortilla de patatas and a glass of quality Verdejo or sparkly Txakoli (a young light white wine). The list goes on. The cuisine of the Basque country is rich and unique. The food can be so good that I think I almost shed a tear or two the last time we were there. Which by the way was way too long a go if you ask me (in June, says my calendar).

The ground is fertile for vineyards, the land good for the livestock and the sea offers its best fruits. Why do I like the Basque cuisine so much? Well here’s why.

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It’s fun. Vamos a tapear! Meaning let’s go and eat tapas. Or pinchos when up in the North. I really like the culture and the way of popping in one restaurant and having a drink, one or two delicious tapas, enjoying the lively mood of the place plus great company and then heading to the next pincho bar. You get to see and experience many different places and also do an energizing (or something) walk in between. To sum it up, it’s tavern hopping with an exciting twist, with quality food and fun socializing.  So, off you go, enjoy and make a night of it!

Pinchos. Small tasty portions, snacks or appetizers, the Basque version on tapas. They can be very varied – there’s probably a thousand different kinds – from a slice of bread covered with hake or chorizo to a small bowl of juicy pulpo á la Gallega or a small glass of fresh gazpacho decorated with flowers. And the choosing is of course the most fun, tempting and tricky part. I guess you could say that it’s far more than a snack, it’s a way of life (without trying to sound all too exaggerative): fun, fast, informal, a gastronomic venture.

Pure quality. The food we tried was made of quality ingredients. It’s fresh, colorful, tasty and in many places very local. All things that I really value on my plate. And, what’s great about it is that…

It is very affordable. The price value relationship is excellent.  Two pinchos and a glass of wine for each can be around ten euros. Gotta love it.

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Great food is very attainable. Our family members are going on a trip to San Sebastian and they were wondering that is it a bit too much to eat in two three Michelin star restaurants in one day. But when in San Sebastian it is almost difficult not to; the city has more Michelin star restaurants per square kilometer than any other city in the world!  One of the most favorable areas to find a concentration of tasty places in San Sebastian is the Casco Viejo.

And, two peculiarities: often it is completely ok to throw napkins, olive stones and toothpicks (used as the spikes in the pinchos) to the floor in the bar. Do as the locals do. And head where the locals head. In the best places the people spread from the inside of the bar onto the streets. And the second curiosity, the local delicacy Percebe is shellfish despite of its name that refers to goose.

Spain_food3Mmmm, revuelto, very delish.

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Basque cuisine, definitely worth the taste tour!  It’s a culinary delight. ¡Que approveche!  And if you are heading over there I’m more than happy to give you a tupperware case:  you can thank me for these tips in the form of something small, yummy and spiked with a skewer. 

Gorgeous beach surprise: Playa de Itzurun

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The title pretty much sums up the ingredients of a successful day trip for me: something beautiful, the sea and the option to spend the entire day swimming and the surprise element. The 32-year-old me and the 6-year-old version rejoice of many of the same things and water activities and ice cream are high up on that list.

Playa de Itzurun is spectacular. A hidden gem, really. It’s located on the coast of Zumaia, around half an hour car ride from San Sebastian. My travel companion (the best one) planned this excursion and promised that the destination would be nice. And was it ever. It was gorgeous (hence the awstruck surprise factor).

We discovered the beach by first climbing up to the chapel of San Telmo, the patron saint of sailors. From the cliff opens the breathtaking view to the beach and to the Bay of Bizcay. About the chapel by the way: if you are looking for a truly unique and purely visual place to get married in, well then here’s a strong alternative.

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We marvelled at the long vertical cliffs and the limestone walls that led down to the beach. The beach is long and the sand is soft. If you’re a water sports enthusiast, you can go surfing, windsurfing or bodyboarding. And if geology is your thing the beach is very likely of interest to you because of the rock strata formations that rise vertically from the sea. Flysch, they call it, part of the longest continuous rock formations in the world.
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There definitely was something magical in this place. A day trip of ten points. And what is a day trip without something delicious. We lunched in the fishing village of Getaria, a convenient pitstop to enjoy something fresh from the sea.

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Cava Travels: Visiting the Cava Capital and Cavas Codorníu

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Fancy a glass of cava on a Sunday morning? Well yes please. A glass of sparkling wine is actually quite an appropriate way to start a Sunday; especially if you’re visiting a cava production house.

A visit to a cava winery was something we wanted to include in our Spain road trip. Around 95 % of all cava is produced in the Penedès area in Catalonia. We stayed in the town of Sant Sadurní d’anoia, the home of several of the biggest cava production houses in Spain, and visited the Codorníu winery.

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Before I’ll take you to the cava house I’ll say a few words about Sant Sadurní. It’s a small town around 50 kilometers Northwest of Barcelona. There is a train station if you are travelling by train and the autopista A-7 takes to Barcelona. The town itself is very peaceful and the most remarkable thing about it is that it’s at the center of the production of cava. The slightly odd thing is that there aren’t many hostels or hotels at all, despite the fact that there must be quite a lot of cava tourism in the area. We stayed at Hostal Sant Sadurni D’anoia (Calle de San Antoni, 99): it was very comfortable and the receptionist was friendly but the accommodation was quite pricy.

Our restaurant choice for dinner on that Saturday night was La Cava D’en Sergi (Valencia 17). The food was excelente, the service rather formal. They have a cava list three pages long.  A very recommendable place to sip some excellent cavas and to have a delicious meal.

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And then, let’s go to Cavas Codorníu. We had booked a guided tour in advance from the website. The place has a history dating back more than 450 years. After visiting the smallest winery of the Bardolino wine area last year in Italy we wanted to see a big production house now. And the Codorníu estate really is big. They used to make their own electricity for the winery and for the nearby village as well, and there are 30 kilometers of tunnels in the wine cellars. It’s a real underground maze. They’ve built a professional tourism institution to acquaint the visitors to the world of cava.

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We took the Codorníu visit, which included a quick tour in the winery garden, a visit to the Celler Gran museum and winery, a descent into the underground cellars and tasting of two cavas. The winery architecture is very elaborate and beautiful. I would have liked to learn more about the history of the Codorníu family and hence it was a pity that the speakers of our train (yes, they had trains) weren’t functioning. Our guide was friendly, well-prepared and efficient: quickly, come everyone, she led us forward. We learned for example, how cava is bottled and aged. The tour was in English, it lasted an hour and a half and the cost was 12 € per person. On weekends and on holidays the English tour starts at 10 am. A cava breakfast it is. It was worth the money and I enjoyed the visit. The tour is both about the premises and about cava itself. The grounds are beautiful and really well kept.

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A few tips for the visit. Be on time. A walk to the winery from the village takes 20 minutes. The tour starts exactly according to the timetable: first there’s a film in the movie theatre (yes, they have their own cinema) and then the group continues with a quick pace and takes the train. If you arrive late, you won’t be able to find the bunch on your own and you most likely wouldn’t be allowed to. Secondly, the restaurant/bar by the gift shop doesn’t really serve a proper lunch (there are small salty snacks) so if you haven’t booked the cava lunch package you have to head back to town for lunch.

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And that’s what we did. We spent a relaxed and sunshine filled Sunday strolling the streets of the town, enjoying a lunch at Cava Canals & Munne and espressos at the plaza.  And even spotted one cava factory being for sale, hmmm, shopping decisions / turning points of life…

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