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On Tour with José Pizarro – Basque Country

Basque Gastronomy Tour with Chef José Pizarro

A couple of years back now, Spanish chef José Pizarro decided to write a book about the gastronomy of the Basque region. Fast forward to Autumn 2018 and the book was made into a tour!

Our 7 guests discovered the gastronomy of the Basque Country on a four night tour. Visits to small farms and producers, tastings of  indigenous varieties, sampling great wines, dining like locals, and learning the best of what this country has to offer. All under Jose’s guidance in a series of dedicated cookery courses and visits.

Bilbao

Principal city of the Basque Country, the formerly polluted, industrial and conflictive city has shed its grimy and rusty coating and transformed itself into a shiny, cosmopolitan, modern, dynamic metropolis. Busy, dense, and diverse, the city is now home to the world-famous Guggenheim Bilbao. Boasting the largest indoor covered food market in Europe, dining is never far from you here. Excellent pintxos, bars, restaurants and a lively old quarter, ensure that you will have no time to stand still.

Pintxos are a classic here, the idea being to have a drink and a pintxo in one establishment and then move on. The number of bars means you are never short of options. We took advantage of a busy Thursday evening to discover this tradition and ended up sampling gildas, jamon, croquetas, asparagus, spider crab, salt cod, txakoli, cider, crianzas and a few local beers too! A great way to break the ice and for José to set the scene for the next 4 days….

Indigenous varieties

A day dedicated to discover the other Basque Country, the province of Alava. Much less visited than its two coastal neighbours of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, but more steeped in history and a variety of produce one wouldn’t perhaps expect.

Salt is an often forgotten, sometimes maligned yet absolutely fundamental element when it comes to gastronomy. Our day started at a truly remarkable place, Salinas de Añana. For thousands of years salt has been extracted from this hidden spot close to Vitoria, an hour’s drive from Bilbao. Learning about and sampling this base resource was fascinating. We had a super informative private tour of the whole extraction and processing area, its history literally springing out from the ground. Salt tasting isn’t something many folk have done, but here, we learned so much about its chemical make-up, texture, flavour and uses. A perfect start to a gastronomic tour I would say.

Txakoli!

Back to the 21st Century, and we visited the modern and innovative wine-maker Astobiza to sample what is only found here in the Basque Country, Txakoli. The drizzle didn’t deter us and we learned from the owner Jon and the husband and wife team of Bittor and Lorena all about this minerally, fresh wine before retiring to the superb on-site kitchen… Here, aprons on we commenced our classes. Assisted ably by Jon and the team, we all created pintxos under José’s expert eye. His friendly way, was so helpful, and his infectious attitude and care made even the less experienced of those among us really comfortable. Gildas, squid, roasted peppers, black pudding, gernika peppers, were all made easily by all of us together. The txakoli helped as well as you can imagine!!

Next visit was to discover another of the Basque Country’s most famous exports, that of Idiazabal Cheese. One of the three ‘Denominacion de Origen’ products seen today, Leire Ibarrola and her family have won international prizes for the family-made produce Izoria Cheese and Honey and they opened their doors for us to learn about, taste and enjoy this very Basque cheese. It was not only cheese here however, as Leire, who is such a great character, took us on a gastronomic trip of the area with some surprises! Our bus driver Javi also enjoyed chatting to Leire’s Mum! 😉 The roasted lamb served up straight out of the brick oven will not be forgotten quickly either I can assure you!

Back in Bilbao and we managed to get a few Gin ‘n’ Tonics in us before we called it a day at the truly great Hotel Miro, Basque Experiences’ favourite hotel in all of Bilbao…

Provenance

Heading east along the coast on Friday morning, we made a made a visit to the small fishing village of Getaria. Famous for whaling and ship-building in the middle-ages, this maritime culture is reflected in its cuisine and society. Our first visit took us to Ezkurtxerri, a family run pig farm run by Agurtxane and her Dad, Patxi. Learning about the indigenous Basque pig (massive floppy ears) its meat and the processes used to make some of the tastiest sausages, chorizos, black puddings etc and all km 0 and organic, got the juices going. Tasting was superb, the flavours were great, they jumped out in the mouth! Thanks guys!!

Just around the corner (after about 45 bends in the road) we stopped for another informative visit with Jaime of Aroa, a small rare-variety vegetable producer. Sampling his exotic flowers, leaves and of course the famous tear-shaped peas was an eye-opener for all of us!

Lunch was meant to be short affair… But with José onboard the plans adapt!! We stopped by the fabulous restaurant Elkano in the heart of Getaria… The owner Aitor an old friend of José’s was so pleased by our surprise visit that he gave us the best seats on the terrace and proceeded to serve up some of the finest fish you will eat anywhere in the world…. It takes weeks to get a reservation here normally… Such a great surprise for all of us, and believe me, the Turbot is simply the best I have tried after many years of tasting!!!! Thanks again José Pizarro!!

Donostia/San Sebastián

After such a great lunch, our planned ‘rest-time’ vanished! so after arriving at the unique Hotel Villa Soro we freshened up and made the walk along past Zurriola beach towards the old town and the Sociedad Gastronomica La Artesana. Over 150 years old , with members including artists, writers, politicians and the odd famous chef, our friend Txuno treated us to a course in traditional Basque cooking in this private dining club. Aprons on with José Pizarro and we were making Hake throats and clams in green sauce, roasted cod, asparagus, grilled languostines…. and txakoli!! Dessert was a surprise as we weren’t expecting one of our group to strike up a conversation with one of the locals who happily donated half their tart to us! A home-made Pantxineta, and the local turned out to be the owner of the oldest patisserie in town… you can’t imagine how good it was!!

Such a feast needed a digestif so we headed into the old town for some entertainment…. The Whiskeria in Donostia has never seen the likes…. and what goes on on tour, stays on tour 😉

José Pizarro Cooking Masterclass

San Sebastián, is without doubt one of the gastronomic capitals of the world. Compact, charming and aristocratic, this city, hemmed in by mountains and beaches was our base for two nights. A rich history comprising elements of Basque, Spanish and French cultures has enabled this city to develop a very unique culinary profile. Internationally famous for its array of Michelin Star restaurants, it is the local culture which is held up by many as the reason for this success. Abundant local produce, a former summer resort for the French and Spanish aristocracy and the competitive nature of the Basques ensures that procuring, preparing and dining well are always high on the list here.

Saturday morning after a serious(ly-needed)  breakfast, we met with Imanol from the Basque Culinary Center at the Mercado de San Martín in San Sebastián, the venue where the serious chefs source their produce.

The Basque Culinary Center is a world-leading Faculty of Gastronomic Science, the first in Spain and the second in Europe, part of Mondragon University here in the Basque Country. It is also an internationally acclaimed Research and Innovation Centre in the field of Food and Gastronomy founded by the Basque Government alongside the Basque Chefs; Arzak, Berasategui, Subijana, Aduriz and Atxa among others. The Basque Culinary Center also has an International Advisory Committee, chaired by Ferran Adrià  and made up of some prominent international chefs including; Yukio Hattori, Massimo Bottura, Michel Bras, Dan Barber, Heston Blumenthal and René Redzepi.

The market saw us select some of the day’s best produce; squid cleaned in front of us, red zalla onions, tiny carrots, lettuce, green peppers, parsley, all from smallholders. Amazing fresh Boletus Edulis (cep mushrooms), live spider crabs, even special bread for thickening stocks and sauces!

Aprons on!

Up to the fantastic kitchens where we had world-class facilities and our own bespoke cookery course in our own private lecture theatre/kitchen.  José Pizarro and Imanol personally gave one-to-one instruction throughout the day’s course. We prepared a beautiful San Sebastián style freshly dressed spider crab salad, the very typical Basque dish of baby squid cooked in a black ink sauce, and firm wild mushrooms with a slow-cooked egg and jamon… and for dessert we ourselves made Pantxineta from scratch (instead of ‘borrowing’ it)

All this learning and and tasting and preparing is thirsty work, as I am sure you will agree. So, to help us re-hydrate we invited Mikel from the superb Bodegas Gomez Cruzado to assist. Mikel selected 4 of their Rioja Alta wines; Blanco 2016, Honorable 2014, Pancrudo 2016 and Reserva 2011 the tasting notes are available on their website.

Six O’clock and we headed back to the old town to go over the great day’s class and to sample some more of Donostia’s early evening social scene.. A great day!

Guggenheim and a 3*

Our final day in the Basque Country saw us visit two world famous destinations; The Guggenheim Bilbao and Azurmendi restaurant.

The Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, famous the world over for its ground-breaking architectural design is an icon for us ‘Bilbainos’. Our final morning saw us expertly guided by Susana, our own English-speaking art expert who introduced us to the permanent and temporary exhibits of the Guggenheim Foundation collection. Busy as it was she really shed light on the simple amazing Joana Vasconcelos exhibition and the Serra permanent exhibits.

Azurmendi is a short drive from Bilbao city centre and our visit to the restaurant, accompanied by José and one of the Azurmendi staff, saw us embark upon a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchens, the allotments, and the ‘research and development’ being undertaken here. It was a real eye-opener for us to see the amount of work, and staff, that were present, and so young!

Lunch though was the star… A huge round table for our group, looking out over the green hills of Bizkaia set the scene. The 2018 Autumn menu had just been presented the day before so we were some of the first to try the incredible menu. The Welcome Picnic, 4 delicate morsels: Dry asparagus, smoked fish brioche, tartar of iberico, and hibiscus. The Kitchen where we were able to taste the truffled egg and a unique vermouth. The greenhouse: Fermented apple, spices cornetto, herb quark and kaipiritxa.. All simply incredible and no words can really do them justice!

Menu

Seated now and we were treated to:

Mushroom praline,/beans/limon grass/sea txakoli.

Oyster, essence of herbs and fino.

Shrimp, vegetable juice and frozen old tomato.

Sea Urchin, emulsion, air, fritter and caviar.

Roasted and peeled lobster, juice coffee butter and purple onion from Zalla.

Garlic soup.

Red Mullet in 2 services: Flame roasted red mullet and grilled red mullet, red pepper juice on charcoal and parsley.

Iberian Pork castañeta, Idiazabal cheese bonbon and shaken mushroom broth.

Stewed piglet tail and anchovies from Bermeo….

Not finshed yet, we had dessert to follow!!!

Avocado and Mango.

Yoghurt honey and five spice.

Black olives, sheep’s milk and cocoa.

Wow…. Its was unique. A truly magnificent with an autumnal feel and colour running through the whole menu. The blog will never do it justice and as I am not a fan of taking photos of food on the plate, there is no photographic evidence.. But who needs it!! We all loved it, so much so we stayed too long and nearly missed our flights!!!!

2019

I think, know we all had an amazing time. José was a star, he really made the whole trip into something superb. His enthusiasm, passion and knowledge was perfect and so infectious. He really put his all into the tour, and was really more like one of us!

We met up in José’s restaurant in early November, another great meal, a chance to laugh about our 5 days together, and to put the wheels in motion for a repeat tour in 2019!!

Watch this space as thay say!!!

  • Cooking with the Chef

    Cooking at BCC with Pizarro

    Part of the day's cooking course at the world-renowned Basque Culinary Center with Jose Pizarro
  • Basque Experiences & Jose Pizarro 2018

    Basque Experiences & Jose Pizarro 2018

    Tour 2018
  • José Pizarro & Basque Experiences

    Cooking Course

    Basque Experiences cooking course with José Pizarro at the Basque Culinary Center
  • Astobiza Kitchen

    Pintxo prep in the kitchen at Bodega Astobiza
  • Patxi and Jose Pizarro

    Tasting the wonderful Basque Pork products at Eskurtxerri
  • SAlinas de Añana

    Fascinating Tour at the Salinas de Añana

Biking from Nottingham to Gernika? Are you crazy?

Biking in the Basque Country…….

Eight friends, all with a Nottingham connection, and all biking fans. Some of them had been here before for work and holidays and knew that cycling was big news here. How were they going to get together for a long weekend trip to discover some more of the mythical roads and hills that the Basque Country had hidden away? They had seen the stages in the Pyrenees in the Tour de France, and the Tour of the Basque Country, but how to get it off the ground? And just as importantly, they wanted it to be more than just cycling, they wanted food, drink and a few laughs….

So it was with interest that in Autumn 2017 I received an email regarding putting together a unique tour here. I am not a biker, but arrange all manner of bespoke trips, and the thought of of curating a made-to-measure tour for 8 keen cyclists from the UK got me excited. However, it wasn’t just the biking, the clients wanted me to create something that combined time in the saddle with beautiful places & local traditions. A chance to show off our cuisine, our landscape and our hospitality. A true Tour of the Basque Country.

Cycling, biking, riding, however you call it, it always been big here in the Basque Country. Tour de France winners? Check. Stages of the Tour de France? Check. Long tradition of biking? Check. Varied terrain and excellent surfaces? Check…

Four night tour

Accommodation was organised months in advance. This level or preparedness is essential to ensure a smooth running tour, always! A mix of locations, and styles of beds just adds to the experience. From Camino de Santiago hostels to 4* hotels, we had it all covered. What about my bike? I hear you ask. Well, all spots were chosen with secure storage for your pride and joy uppermost in our selection criteria. Its the little details see…

On the road

Tour design and profile is essential, especially for a mixed group such as this. Routes were chosen in combination with the accommodation, distances, elevation, and activities post-biking. We decided on a post-to-post style tour to give variety and a different feel to everyday. A single base is also an option of course. It allows for less morning prep time, but doesn’t have the feel of a tour. In terms of bikes, it was a mix of own-bikes and rented. We used our good friends at Bizkairoute for the excellent hire bikes, and the GPS/Garmin/Strava apps to enable our riders to see where they were going! In addition we had a ‘Broom Wagon’ to carry all the bike boxes, luggage, spares, drinks etc. Essential on a biking tour in a new location.

The Tour

A long weekend starting on Thursday saw our group of 8 enthusiasts visit a Txoko, a members-only dining club if you will, in the famous town of Gernika. The ritual of preparing food and dining together in the txoko here is a almost a religious thing, so as a visitor it rarely gets seen… It also meant the riders would be fully loaded for the days ahead….

Friday saw us embark from the hostel with San Sebastián as our destination. The route of saw us cover 115km along gorgeous coastal roads with little or no traffic. A couple of decent climbs and elevation of 1,900m, that included Itziar and Mendizorrotz. Passing through the Urdaibai Nature reserve, the villages of Lekeitio, Ondarroa, Deba and into San Sebastian was as one of the riders said afterwards. The best day’s riding I have ever done….

San Sebastian was a welcome respite from the long day in the saddle. Ice-cold beers, a beautiful beach and cool sea to soothe weary legs… Dinner was taken up in a Cider House another great Basque tradition, off-limits to all but the most ‘in-the-know’ travellers. Cider; free flowing, steaks, salt cod all delicious and served on long tables.. the tired legs were a memory…

Heading Inland

A spritely start saw us head east and inland into the interior of the green Basque Country. Sunny start, but the weather soon became Basque with a couple of heavy downpours, adding to the biking experience! A day of 90km, and 1,800m elevation into the the charming Basque village of Elizondo, nestled in the lush Pyrenean foothills. Climbs included Cat 2s Aritxulegi and Agiña. A great traditional lunch followed by an evening of laughs, Gin Tonics and a carb-laden dinner saw everyone happy to bed.

Pyrenees

Riders from the world over know these mountains. Harsh, rugged and with very unpredictable weather, they play a major part in the Tour de France every year. Cyclists such as 5-time Tour winner Indurain hailed from here. The Sky Team were spotted on the road here on another of our tours only days later…. Its big country.

Our final day saw us leave the threatening skies over Elizondo and head east up and over the Cat 2 Col de Izpegi and into France! Some incredible mountain views were taken in before we rolled down into Baigorri, St Jean Pied de Port, and the Camino de Santiago. The border into Spain took us up to the Cat 1 Alto de Ibañeta at 1,062m, and the lovely ride down into Pamplona, city of the Running of the Bulls and Ernest Hemingway! Overall a leg of 113km and climbs totalling 2,100m, the riders were over the moon!! A short biking tour of the Basque Country, into Navarra and the Pyrenees, all rounded off in the great 4* Hotel Maisonnave in Pamplona!!

Next Year.. 2019

Well of course!! We are early in the planning stagess for Basque Country Biking Tour II. Its something that was so successful that we feel we can make this into an event for every year. Great locations, great riding, super meals and the beautiful Basque Country to appreciate.

Speak to me if you fancy organising a similar biking and bike tour across the Basque country, it so much more than just riding here!!

Trip Advisor

Just take a look at the comments left by our clients if you need more convincing….

 

 

  • Biking in the Basque Country
  • basque bike tour

Eneko – Michelin Star Restaurant

Eneko Restaurant

Hidden away up in the hills close to Bilbao sits a restaurant that has been gaining international acclaim. The Azurmendi is a Three Michelin Star restaurant that was named as 38th best restaurant in the Worlds’ 50 Best awards in 2017  However, it has a little brother, called Eneko

This off-shoot has been created by the Azurmendi’s main chef and owner, Eneko Atxa with the intention of making the restaurant more accesible. A holder of one Michelin Star by itself, the menu is focused on local provenance.

We at Basque Experiences were delighted to be invited in early March to sample the magnificent dishes…  The visit also included a tour and tastings of txakoli wines produced at their own Bodega!

Menu

Local produce is fundamental here and the principle runs through the Menu. Wines were their own; Gorka Izagirre, G22, 42, and Arima as well as a Campillo from Rioja Alavesa. Seven courses of which some of which you can see n the photos! Can you guess what was used though? The variety of methods, ingredients and presentation was great, and everything was delicious!! I had a couple of favourites but I am not going to give the game away… You will have to come with us and try or let us reserve a table for you and your group…

Pizarro

Talking groups, we have our Pizarro ‘Basque’ Gastronomy Tour in late 2018. For our final day with Jose Pizarro we will be visiting the Azurmendi Restaurant and kitchens, a unique chance to dine and discover this superb restaurant!

  • Basque Hake
  • Egg.... and peppers and corn....
  • Foie or Chestnut
  • Olives
  • Rich beef
  • Eneko's Team
  • Eneko restaurant
  • Dessert

Sailing with us along the Basque Coast!

Basque Coast Sailing

Come join us sailing for a fantastic perspective on our beautiful country. Rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, fishing villages, flysch and the odd film set…   Game of Thrones style

Basque Experiences and their partner arrange superb, tailored sailing trips from the port of Santurtzi, one of the historic fishing towns on the Bilbao estuary. Fully insured and using expert skippers and the best vessels you are in safe hands! Whether you are experiences sailors or beginners, the trips are special.

Bilbao and the River

Embarking from Santurtzi we can cruise inland towards Bilbao. Past the UNESCO Industrial Heritage Site of the Hanging Bridge. Incidentally the first of its kind in the world and the only such listed site in Spain. Up-river and past old steel-works and shipyards, upto San Mames stadium and the incredible Guggenheim Museum. Or cruise around the Abra, the entry to Bilbao. See Getxo Algorta, Las Arenas and Portugalete on a morning cruise.

Weekends on the Coast

Alternatively take a weekend trip along this gorgeous and rarely seen coast. Head towards Castro Urdiales for lunch or east past Plentzia, Bermeo, Lekeitio and onto the fishing villages of Zumaia and finally San Sebastián. The French coast is also close,with gorgeous harbours at Hendaye and St Jean de Luz. Want to learn? Well we can arrange courses for you with a fully qualified sail school, skippers and instructors. Is fishing your thing? Well we can put lines out for Tuna, feather for Mackerel and jig for squid... depends on your taste! Combine a morning onboard a yacht with a cycling tour on electric bikes with our friends at www.deskonecta.com… Just drop Basque Experiences a line!!

  • Sailing Bilbao
  • Hanging Bridge
  • Sailing Basque
  • Basque Experiences

A Wine Tour from Bordeaux to Bilbao

New Wine Tour….

Bordeaux to Bilbao! That was the idea we came up with back in spring 2016, for some clients who visited us in 2015 on a private wine tour from Bilbao to Barcelona! They loved it so much we agreed to create a new tour for them. This time to take in the SW of France, the world’s most famous wine producing region along with the French Basque Country and the wines and gastronomy of the Spanish Basque Country…

 

Chateau and Cite du Vin

Bordeaux is the city of wine par excellence. Historic, traditional yet modern, regenerated and home to truly spectacular wines. The Cite du Vin, family owned Chateau Lamothe du Haux and the magnificent Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte all combined with our own excellent private guide. Visits to the charming and stunning St Emilion, fine dining in superb restaurants. Not a bad way to start the tour…

Biarritz and San Sebastian

The French Basque Country is sometimes passed by… It’s more recognised neighbour, San Sebastian gets the limelight these days. But Biarritz with its aristocratic past, belle-epoque architecture beautiful beach and elegant residents means a visit is always a must. Lunch at a riverside restaurant in Bayonne was followed by a visit to a D.O. Espelette red pepper farm before heading to San Sebastian for what was a long yet fascinating day. The Hotel Villa Soro certainly makes up for it though!! Visits to Getaria to learn and sample our indigenous Txakoli wine before an evening experiencing the Sagardotegi… The Basque Cider House!

Urdaibai and Bilbao

Ernest Hemingway was a frequent visitor to the Basque Country, writing, making friends and generally enjoying the finer things in life that we have to offer here! There is no better way to learn about his exploits than taking a slow boat along the Oka River in the stunning Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. Sampling local cheeses and preserves, tasting local Txakoli and sing sea-shanties and whaler’s songs is a great way to spend a day before heading into Bilbao and the chic Hotel Miro

Our week of wine and Basque Culture was rounded off with visits to two superb wine-makers. Torre de Oña in Laguardia and the stunningly located Bodega Contino. Here our farewell visit was rounded off with a delicious lunch… The swaying trees provided the shade as as a warm breeze blew through the vines…