Food of the Basque Country

Tucked beneath France, and sandwiched between mountains and sea, Spain’s Basque region has a distinctive culture and geography, and its unique cuisine reflects this.
Basque dishes are influenced by mountain and sea – think lamb stews and sheep’s cheese, but also grilled fish and salt cod. The region is home to numerous liquid specialities, too, including smooth Rioja wine, Basque sparkling wine called Txakoli (pronounced ‘chakoli’) and Basque cider. It’s also at the forefront of creative cooking in Spain, with all its delicious local fare given the 21st century treatment by today’s inspired Basque chefs, who are reinventing traditional goodies for modern palates. As a result, there are 22 Michelin starred restaurants in the Basque Country, but wherever you go in the region, good food is at the centre of any social occasion.

Travellers to the Basque Country – Euskal Herria in the Basque language – can’t fail to appreciate the amazing food here. In the main cities of Bilbao or San Sebastián, markets heaving with fresh produce and seafood beg to be explored and atmospheric streets are crammed with cafes and restaurants. You’ll find the Basque version of tapas, known as pintxos, everywhere. Pintxo translates as ‘toothpick’ food, after the tiny wooden picks used to keep the tasty layers of food and bread in place. Park yourself next to the bar, where plates piled high with tempting pintxos are lined up, to enjoy a nibble and a small glass of beer, known as a zurito.

For dedicated foodies, a food-centric tour of the region takes you that little bit deeper. You can visit a vineyard in Rioja to spend a day learning how wine is produced here and you might take a tour of Bilbao’s best food outlets and markets with a local culinary guide who can explain the products and customs. There’s the chance to join a cooking class with a top chef, enjoy a pintxos crawl or visit a cider house. For anyone who believes the way to a country’s heart is through its stomach, this is the holiday to choose.

Food highlights in the Basque Country

Bilbao

Home to the renowned Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, Bilbao is also well known for its traditional cod shops, bacaladerías, where bacalao (dried cod) and Iberian ham are sold. Discover its food markets, too, such as the Mercado de la Ribera. You might also enjoy a cookery class in the kitchen of a Michelin recommended restaurant, picking up some expert tips from the chef.

Logroño

On the banks of the Ebro River, Logroño is the capital of La Rioja wine region, and a stop for pilgrims on the Camino Francés which leads to Santiago de Compostela. It’s also foodie heaven, home to some of the best tapas bars in the whole of Spain, all crammed into its small medieval centre – only here, they’re serving Basque pintxos. Culinary tours often include time at a vineyard where Rioja wine is made, learning about fermentation and enjoying tastings.

San Sebastián

Often referred to as the Basque country’s culinary capital, San Sebastián – also called Donostia – is a city obsessed with food and stuffed with cider hours, pintxos bars and high end restaurants. Culinary tours will get you into one of San Sebastián’s private eating clubs, founded in the 1930s as a place for men to meet, eat, drink and cook together. You can also tour a traditional Basque cider house to learn more about this local brew. The food served here is culinary heaven, too. A traditional cider house menu might include chorizo cooked in cider, salt cod omelette, salt cod with peppers, Basque cheese, quince jelly, walnuts and almonds, all washed down with cider served directly from the kupela or barrel. Expect to hear the word ‘txotx’ (pronounced ‘chotch’) said, almost like a toast, to let everyone know the barrel’s open and they should get their glasses ready.

Our top Basque Country Holiday

Basque country walking holiday

Basque country walking holiday

Be part of the Basque story. Walk, wine & dine in paradise.

From €1500 8 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2020: 29 May, 8 Jun, 18 Jun, 9 Jul, 11 Aug, 14 Sep, 28 Sep, 8 Oct
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Basque Country or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Practicalities

Small group foodie holidays of the Basque country typically start and end in Bilbao and last a week, a good amount of time to tour the food hotspots of the region, tasting, exploring and cooking, and also have some downtime to explore independently. Your tasting and learning experience will be enhanced by specialist culinary guides, winemakers or chefs who can show you around vineyards and lead you through cooking classes, to expand your understanding and enjoyment of the foodie traditions and local ingredients of this region. Come hungry, that’s really the only requirement; these are leisurely tours, with the focus on gastronomy.
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Varaine] [Intro: Tamorlan] [Bilbao: katjasv] [Practicalities: Treefort Music Fest]
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