Bask in the Glory of Northern Spain

Rolling vineyards in Elciego, Spain. Photo by Mira Temkin.
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Basque Country is a land of contrasts, boasting rolling vineyards, wind-swept beaches, and snow-covered mountains, all set against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean.

Covering over 8,000 miles and three provinces, Basque Country, is very different from the rest of Spain. The Basque people are honored for their culture, traditions, and history. From a different language, unique culinary specialties, and unparalleled beauty, Basque Country will simply take your breath away at every turn.

The area is easy to navigate between the small towns and will offer you a range of bucket list memories. Come see what I experienced.   

Discover Michelin-Star Dining

Basque gastronomy has become an international benchmark for innovation. Some people come to Basque Country to savor its culinary delights. Yes, they really come just to eat.  Talk of “Michelin Stars” dominates the conversation as Spain is known to have more than 200 Michelin-Star restaurants and Basque Country comes in second with the most.

Throughout Spain, the most popular food is tapas, small bites filled with savory and sometimes, spicy ingredients. In Basque, they’re called pintxos, and they’re definitely more intricate and complex than their Spanish counterparts. Traditionally, they start with small pieces of bread, topped with local cheeses, figs, ham, fried green peppers, fish, or eggs; then held together with a toothpick. The cultural standard is pintxos-bar hopping, where you enjoy a few pintxos at one bar and then move to another bar for a few more. 

Pintxos combine delectable ingredients in Basque Country. Photo by Mira Temkin.

Bilbao Rising

Once an industrial city, the Guggenheim Museum, built in 1997 has changed the face of Bilbao, bringing it international acclaim as a world-class arts center. Last year alone, the museum counted more than one million visitors. The exterior of the museum was designed by world-famous architect Frank Gehry, who took the elements of titanium, steel, and the curves of the water to create this impressive structure, itself a work of art. Inside, visitors stand in awe of the three stories, with contemporary works by both Spanish and international artists with exhibits that were truly “experiential.”

The whimsical “Puppy,” 40 feet tall highland terrier, made up of thousands of begonias, stands firm on the city side of the museum. His flowers are changed seasonally. “The Spider” launched in 1999 invites visitors into a web of strength and mothering.

Poppy “Puppy” in front of Guggenheim Museum, Bilboa. Photo by Mira Temkin.

The coolest thing I saw in Bilboa was the hanging Bizkaia Bridge that crosses the Nervion River for both passengers and cars. You can climb to the top, walk on  the bridge or ride across this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Crossing the Nervion River from the hanging bridge. Photo by Mira Temkin.

Gran Hotel Domine

If the Guggenheim has become a symbol of Bilbao, the Gran Hotel Domine mirrors its image. Just opposite the museum, the hotel features luxury accommodations, great restaurants and a perfect location. “El Domine”, as it is known in Bilbao, represents the city’s luxury with suites, two upscale restaurants, lobby bar and wellness area.

Interior of Gran Hotel Domine. Photo courtesy of Gran Hotel Domine.

Highly recommended dining is Zortziko by Chef Daniel García whose restaurant boasts one Michelin Star. His cuisine blends fresh ingredients with innovative and distinctive techniques. Hake in green sauce, black pudding cannelloni on roasted apple and Grilled mango gazpacho are some of his specialties.

San Sebastian Delights

Hotel Maria Christina – Luxury to the Max

Since the hotel opened in 1912, the 136-room Maria Cristina has played host to royalty and high society in San Sebastian. Opulent design, coupled with a gracious atmosphere, outstanding service and excellent cuisine make this a memorable  stay. Did I mention the cushy linens that made that bed so welcoming after a day of touring? With a variety of suites and guestrooms to choose from, the hotel will more than exceed your expectations.

Staircase at Hotel Maria Cristina Hotel in San Sebastian. Photo by Mira Temkin

Mimo Cooking School – “Bite the Experience”

Discover the secrets of traditional Basque cuisine with a demonstration or hands-on experience at Mimo’s Cooking School, right next to the hotel. Our group watched as the two chefs prepared a fabulous 6-course menu. They talked about the ingredients, recipes and techniques …and then we got to savor it for ourselves.  Check out their other cooking classes and tours.

A Cider Bar Awaits

Catch the cider as you position your glass in just the right spot. Photo by Mira Temkin.

Check out Alorrenea Cider House, near San Sebastian. This traditional Basque drink is just the beginning of a fabulous gastronomical experience. Cider is still, without carbonation with a tart, vinegary taste and 4% alcohol. Made from several varieties of apples, production has been taking place for more than 600 years. See how this traditional drink is made, then enjoy a typical cider house menu of cod omelet, premium steak, nuts, quince and cheese, and unlimited cider from the gigantic wood barrels. Have a ball trying to position your glass at just the right angle to catch the cider as it falls from the spigot.

Luxury at Hotel Marques de Riscal in Elciego

Marques de Riscal Hotel in Elciego, the only hotel designed by architect Frank Gehry.

If you ever wanted to sleep in a lush vineyard, and lookout at rows of grapes growing, you must indulge in the 5-star Hotel Marques de Riscal for a total sensory experience. Designed by Frank Gehry whose vision was to create a 21st century chateau, this hotel blends the old world with the new to create a magnificent experience in this medieval “city of wine.”  With dominant views of the St. Andrews Church and the Sierra de Cantabria Mountains, this is the oldest and largest winery in Basque Country. With a rich history of winemaking in the region, since 1860, Hotel Marques de Riscal stands out by offering a wine-lovers package that includes a tour of the winery, and chef-inspired meals in 1860 Tradicion. 

Delicious beef at Restaurant 1860 Tradicion. Photo by Mira Temkin

This is the only hotel designed by Gehry and you’ll notice his influences both inside and out. With only 61 guestrooms and suites, you’ll enjoy the royal treatment throughout your stay. It’s the sheer beauty of the grapes that will enchant you, make you feel at one with the land.

The hotel is also famous for incorporating wine in their spa treatments like a wine massage or facial. With the SPA Vinothérapie® Caudalie Marqués de Riscal, specialists in vinotherapy employ both wet and dry treatments based on the essence of the grape to cleanse, soothe and invigorate the skin. A unique Barrel Bath allows guests to soak in a bubbly mix of grape pomace. 

La Guardia

This region boasts 300 wineries, along with a walled city that’s one of the most beautiful in La Rioja Alavesa. See historic churches, archeological sites, and medieval artifacts. Just outside the Church of Santa Maria de los Reyes stands a collection of silver metalized shoes that represent all the travelers who’ve made this journey.

Shoes of the traveler to La Guardia. Photo by Mira Temkin.

Enjoy lunch at Hospederia Los Parajes, which offers several gourmet restaurants and a hotel. Set menu items include: creamy croquettes, salmon tartar, cod with olive oil, and dessert souffle.

Dessert souffle at Hospederia Los Parajes. Photo by Mira Temkin.

Loaded down with bottles of olive oil, Torrons Vincens artisan candies, and cider, I came home with visions of vineyards etched in my mind forever. Visit Basque Country.

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