BASQUE COUNTRY – THE GASTRONOMIC KINGDOM
Bilbao, San Sebastian, Hondarribia, Biarritz
Starting in Bilbao, Spain and finishing in Biarritz, France this tour showcases the Basque gastronomic scene which boasts of more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than anywhere in the world.
Gastronomic highlights include: a visit to a small Basque farm to see their way of life and the production of sagardo (apple cider), a regional specialty. Joining the locals at a Basque cider house where the sagardo is paired with delicious tavern foods. Dining at one of the famous Basque gastronomic societies where the love of food brings together friends to cook top quality ingredients with loving care. Enjoying pintxos (tapas) in the beautiful Casco Viejo (old quarters) of Bilbao and San Sebastian and dining on traditional Basque dishes and the nueva cocina vasque (new Basque cooking) at some amazing restaurants.
In Bilbao you’ll visit the Guggenheim Museum, one of the most celebrated architectural works of the modern era, and take a cruise to the Bizkaia Bridge, a unique World Heritage site. In the green Basque countryside are charming walled towns, small fishing villages, castles, and a picturesque church set on a rugged coast. You’ll visit fashionable San Sebastian, set on a lovely shell shaped bay with an elegant beach promenade and charming old town famed for great shopping and restaurants. You’ll visit the medieval walled city and gastronomic center of Hondarribia on the French border and then on the French side you’ll visit elegant Biarritz, the epitome of joie de vivre. You can sip apertifs at the seaside villa of Empress Eugenie and Napoleon III, and walk the famous beach promenade. You’ll take a day trip to the lovely port of St. Jean de Luz for a visit to La Maison de Louis XIV, the famous house of Marie Therese. The mix of Basque, Spanish and French culture, world class architecture, beautiful landscapes, and great food make the Basque country a remarkable destination.
Day 1 (Friday): The tour starts in Bilbao, a city of sharp contrasts between the old and the modern. The medieval area, or Casco Viejo, is famous for its narrow streets with myriad bars and some of the finest pintxos (tapas) to be found. In contrast is the nearby modern area with buildings and monuments designed by prestigious architects like Calatrava, Frank Ghery, Norman Foster, and others. The afternoon begins with a visit to the Casco Viejo and our guide will explain the origin of this amazing city. We will follow the Spanish custom of going on a tapas crawl, known as the Txiquiteo in Basque country, (named after the squat cylindrical glasses used in these parts). Taking pintxos with locals is a great way to get you closer to this incredible culture, and we’ll hear an original Basque concert during this route. BD
Day 2 (Saturday): (Breakfast in hotel.) In the morning is a guided tour of the mind blowing Guggenheim Museum, a titanium sheathed jewel of modern architecture and home to intriguing modern and contemporary art including the “Puppy” by Jeff Koons . Lunch is at the Bistro Guggenheim. After lunch you’re free to siesta or explore on your own, wander the Casco Viejo, go shopping on Calle Correo or if you’ld like a challenge visit the Virgin of the Basilica of Begoña by climbing the 311 steps of the Calzadas de Mallona (or take the lift if you prefer not to walk). In the evening is a visit by boat to the manufacturing part of Bilbao, and the Bizkaia Bridge, the unique World Heritage monument that represents the Basque country’s industrial past and present. Tonight prepare yourself for a fabulous dinner in a Michelin starred restaurant! BLD
Day 3 (Sunday ): Off to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a church situated on a rocky island with an incredible view over the Bay of Biscay. A moderate hike is needed to reach the island and climb the 241 zigzag steps for the rewarding view of the rugged Basque coast. Lunch is in a beautifully located traditional Basque restaurant. In the way to Bilbao we’ll visit Butron Castle, a medieval castle and witness to many battles between noble families in the middle ages. Butron Castle was reconstructed in the 19th century with a romantic, almost fairy tale appearance and is a symbol of the history of the Basque people. Evening and dinner free. BL
Day 4 (Monday ): The fresh produce markets of Basque Country are fabulous in color and variety and we’ll visit one of the most important Basque markets in Guernica, a town rooted in Basque history as the location of the Biscay parliament and made famous by the Picasso painting of the horrific bombing of the city in the Spanish Civil War. We’ll lunch together and visit a Caserío or traditional Basque farm to get a sense of the traditional Basque way of life and see how they produce sagardo, or hard apple cider. We will share the Txotx which consists of sampling and enjoying the different ciders from the barrels before it is bottled. In the evening its to San Sebastián, an incredibly beautiful and romantic city with great beaches, great food and a lively old town. So enjoy some free time and walk along the promenade of the Concha beach and take a few pintxos. BL
Day 5 (Tuesday): We explore San Sebastián starting with a walking tour of the Casco Viejo, which holds the main sanctuaries of the city like Constitution Plaza, San Vicente Church, Santa Maria Church, Old Port, Town Hall, Gipuzkoa Plaza and Victoria Eugenia Theatre. San Sebastian is famous across Spain for the quality of its pintxos (tapas) and you will hav a guided exploration to a variety of the best places in the city for these tasty morsels. In the evening we participate in a Gastronomic Society where Basques share their passion for cooking, conversation and friendship. For Basques, not only is it important to eat good food, it is also is important to know how to prepare it, and to share it with others. In the past, gastronomic clubs were only for men, but now many are mixed and for this occasion we will also be preparing delicious Basque dishes to share with the rest of the group. BLD
Day 6 (Wednesday): Today we will head to the coast, to discover some colorful fishing villages. First is Zumaia, a natural park with two scenic beaches that contain a geologic treasure. Next is Guetaria, where the famous couturier Balenciaga was born and visit his remarkable museum. We dine in Getaria at a restaurant where the method of cooking fresh fish with Txakoli wine is masterful. In the afternoon we visit a txakoli winery, which makes a slightly sparkling, very dry white wine from a grape native to the Basque region. Your evening is free in San Sebastian. We suggest you visit Mont Igueldo by funicular for a great view of the city. BL
Day 7 ( Thursday): Today it’s off to Spain’s border with France to the walled city of Hondarribia which has developed an international reputation for outstanding gastronomy. Its charming old streets, the Castle of Carlos V, and a view of the bay looking towards France make it a great stop for lunch. Then we visit Chateau Abbadie in Hendaye on the French side to walk around the beautiful grounds over-looking the sea. It’s a wonderful blend of French, Spanish and Basque cultures. In the evening its back to San Sebastién. BL
Day 8 (Friday) After breakfast we depart for Biarritz, a town noted for its prestige and elegance nestled in between the sea and the Pyrenees. The European royalty of the Belle Epoque were drawn to the seaside resort and the famed thalassotherapy (seawater cures). Biarritz today is a dynamic town with casinos, festivals, surfing, theatre, sports like Basque pelote and more ongoing throughout the year. After hotel check-in and lunch on your own you’ll take a guided orientation tour of the city. Dinner is at a lovely Michelin starred restaurant. Afterwards, follow in the footsteps of royalty and the elite with a leisurely stroll along the lovely Grand Plage, the Great Beach. BD
Day 9 ( Saturday)– Breakfast at the hotel and the morning to visit Biarritz on your own. Suggestions: Take the Grand Stroll towards the Pointe Atalaye and Le Rocher Vierge and walk across the pedestrian bridge which Napoleon III had built by Gustave Eiffel and see the statue of the Madonna. We’ll lunch together on the terrace of the Casino Barriere while watching the waves break on the beautiful beach. After lunch continue your stroll along the beach, or take the little train ride if you don’t want to walk, and take in the architectural beauty of the grand old hotels. Visit the Grand Hotel which Napoleon III had built for his wife Eugenie as a royal holiday home. Shop in the small boutiques or visit Le Musée de Chocolat where chocolate is an art form. In the afternoon we meet at the hotel to drive to St Jean de Luz for a guided visit to La Maison de Louis XIV, the house of Marie Thérèse and the Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste where Louis XIV and Marie Thérèse were married. After dinner take time to amble along the boardwalk along the beach, go shopping, or just sit in one of the bistros in the Plaza Louis XIV and sip a cidre and people watch, the great European pastime. Afterwards we’ll return to Biarritz. Dinner on your own. BL
Day 10 (Sunday) Enjoy a quiet morning in Biarritz and a short travel to lovely St Jean Pied-de-Port, the capital of the Basse-Navarre region. The name Pied-de-Port means “foot of the pass” referring to the famous Pyrenees pass of Roncevaux where the Basque defeated Charlemagne, the Frank emperor who took control of western Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire in 800. The pass has long been used by the French on the St. James Way pilgrimage to the holy site of Santiago de Compostella in Galicia. Look for the “scallop shell”, the iconic symbol of the pilgrimage as carved decorations on many of the houses, as we will walk the hilly town’s narrow streets. The rose-tinted granite houses, some dating from 1510, have inscriptions above their doorways relating their histories. Lunch will be along the banks of the Nive River. Afterwards its back to Bilbao. Farewell dinner and then the evening on your own to make the Agur (Goodbye) special. BLD
Day 11 ( Monday ) : Breakfast at the hotel and transfer to the airport. ¡Agur!! Adios! Join us again for another CultureConnectTour!