The first thing to know about the Basque country is that it is nothing like the rest of Spain. This is a fiercely independent region with their own language, their own customs and their own food culture. The Basque Country is mountainous, almost alpine-like, with dramatic scenery and dramatic weather. This terrain is perfect for agriculture and cattle rearing. As such, the Basque Country has become synonymous with quality produce. It is also the homeland of the Spanish cooking renaissance, with more Michelin stars than any other Spanish region. If you’re looking for an insider guide to Basque Country food and wine travel, here are the top three things to know about pintxo culture, drinking Txakoli wine and grilling over charcoal.
Where to Stay in the Basque Country
Bilbao makes a perfect base for exploring the bountiful Basque Country. When it comes to food and wine, it’s a hive of activity. There’s its famous 2 story indoor market, pintxo scene and thousands of bars specializing in Basque wine and food. There are many great places to stay from our hotels in Bilbao. Special mention must be made for the Gran Hotel Domine which overlooks the famous Guggenheim museum. Its location also means you’ll be centrally located in the city. Pintxo bars will be on your doorstep. The Bilbao Fine Arts museum is just moments away. Everything that Bilbao has to offer is within your reach.
Txakoli is the Basque’s Country flagship wine. Although red examples do exist, it’s usually a white wine largely made from an unusual, unknown grape called Hondarrabi Zuri. The wines are light – both in body and alcohol – and often have a spritz. Traditionally, Txakoli is poured from a height into a tumbler, rather than a wine glass. This aerates the wine, further accentuating the spritz. A perfect aperitif drink.
Find out for yourself how this wine is made on a Txakoli wine tasting tour. Under the tutelage of an experienced oenologist, you’ll visit the vineyards and wine cellars and be treated to a tasting of Txakoli wine paired with traditional pintxos. The vineyards are all within an hour or so of Bilbao, making this a truly local wine.
The small bites of food, similar to tapas found in the Basque Country are called Pintxos. They’re famous in the Basque Country and you’ll often find hundreds of them covering the bar tops of the bars and restaurants. Most pintxos are very small – just one or two bites big. They’re often something delicious on a slice of bread, held together with a cocktail stick. You could find some of the finest jamon, skewered on a piece of bread. Or something more elaborate like sukalki, the local stew made from beef and onions, simmered for hours into an unctuous sauce.
The bars of Bilbao old town are a fantastic place to learn about pintxo culture, even better on our Bilbao old city tour. It takes the hassle out of choosing which of the hundreds of bars you’re going to visit. Plus you’ll get the experience of bar hopping with someone who knows where hides the best pintxos. See more of the city with our tours of Bilbao.
Grilling Over Charcoal
The world has fallen in love with grilling over charcoal – top restaurants across the world have adopted the cooking method. It originally became popular in the Basque Country, most notably at Extebarri, the world’s top restaurant. Txuleton is probably the Basque Country’s most famous dish. A T-bone of aged dairy cow, grilled on charcoal and served rare. Quite often the steak arrives on a sizzling plate, so you can finish the meat to your liking.
But the Basques don’t stop at beef. All manner of vegetables and seafood land up on the grills from spicy guindilla peppers to lobsters and prawns locally caught from the Basque Country coast. Restaurants all over the Basque Country are famous for this style of cooking, including Kaia Kaipe and Elkano in Getaria and Bar Nestor in San Sebastian. You’ll also get occasional seasonal vegetable treats such as baby leeks and asparagus in the Spring or grilled tomatoes in the Summer.
Food and Wine Travel in the Basque Country
The Basque Country is on the bucket list for many food and wine aficionados and with good reason. It’s one of the culinary hotspots of the world. If you’re planning to base yourself in Bilbao, be sure to check out our guide to the best things to do in Bilbao. This is a city full of history, culture and tradition beyond culinary excellence. It’s also a haven for alternative design aficionados, as our design guide to Bilbao shows. But never forget, food and wine will always come first. It is the Basque Country, after all.