Reflecting on a tour I’ve designed is something I do a lot in the moment and after I return home. Our tour to the Basque Country of Spain & France and the Rioja winemaking region of Spain will be on my mind for months to come. We had a wonderful group of women from California, North Carolina and Colorado. As I often say, this is more like a group of friends traveling together than the standard ‘canned’ tour. Some were friends who had signed up together. All became friends through this kind of travel and its shared experiences. Seeing people learn through immersive cultural experiences and sharing in that joy with newly-made friends is the greatest reward I could ask for! Thank you to everyone who joined us on this adventure ~
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is not only an amazing work of architecture but hosts a wonderful collection of modern art. We learned about this Frank Gehry masterpiece and its exterior sculptures including ‘Puppy’ and “Mamam’. We enjoyed the permanent exhibits as well as the current exhibit on view: Chagall – The Breakthrough Years, 1911-1917.
This is our group at the first night’s Welcome Dinner in Bilbao. Ad Hoc Cascanueces is a well-regarded restaurant in Bilbao. We were treated to a presentation by its owner/chef who prefers to ‘guide’ guests to a more personalized experience. Explaining his take on Basque cuisine, he features the local ingredients ‘of the day’. The meal was outstanding and the creative presentation of the dishes was truly memorable!
No visit to San Sebastian is complete without a lively ‘Pintxo Hunt’. Pintxos are the Basque version of tapas. The pintxo bars are filled with locals conversing, cozying up to the bar, eating, drinking and just being social. The idea is to never stop moving from one pintxo bar to the next, taking a drink and eating the specialties of the house. We ended at La Viña, well known for their creamy cheesecake enjoyed a with a glass of sherry. If the bar is too full, you just move it outside!
Cooking at Mimo San Sebastian was a favorite for everyone. Executive Chef Patricio presented an outstanding experience. We learned how to cook the Basque way – with painstaking attention to detail and presentation. It was such a lovely evening with exceptional food paired with outstanding wines. Many thanks to Patricio for sharing his expertise, patience and hospitality!
We visited two French Basque seaside towns: San-Jean-de-Luz and Biarritz.The time spent walking along the ocean promenade was a nice change of pace. Of course, a little shopping and a marketplace visit were also necessary! Our guides bought local specialties for our picnic the next day in the Pyrenees!
Off to the French Basque Pyrenees…what do you get when you combine a remote French country inn, incredibly beautiful scenery, sheets of rain, a wet hike and an onsite Porche museum? The answer: an adventure! First the rain: it never stopped for very long but also made everything so green! It wasn’t a bad thing, just a challenge. We tried to hike but headed back early because the sky was ready to ‘open up’ again. And, it did! What better way to entertain ourselves than with a handy onsite Porsche museum full of exquisite cars? (The owner houses his own plus others.) Due to the rain, we improvised by holding the picnic in one of our suites complete with a roaring fire, wine and gourmet food. Everyone loved this beautiful inn and our short, but wet stay. An added bonus – we all had golf carts to get around the property!
Welcome to La Rioja – some call it Spain’s Tuscany. La Rioja has beautiful rolling hills, medieval hamlets and exquisite wines! The Vivanco Winery & Museum of Wine Culture was a great introduction to the history of winemaking in the region showcasing wine-related equipment, artifacts, artwork and the Vivanco Winery facilities. The museum is dedicated to the history of winemaking and man’s relationship with it over 5,000 years. We enjoyed a beautiful Rioja luncheon in their restaurant featuring traditional Riojan cuisine while overlooking their vineyards. We toured the winery from vineyard to cellar to production facilities. It was a great start to the next few day of our Rioja wine tour. Heaven!
Our day of touring architectural wineries/bodegas started at Bodega Ysios designed by architect Santiago Calatrava. Constructed of wood, titanium and glass, it is visually spectacular set against the Cantabrian Mountains. Wonderful wine tasting with a view!
Bodega El Fabulista is an old family winery set under the medieval town of Laguardia. The system of underground tunnels once used for protection from invaders are now utilized for wine production and storage. The caves provide the perfect humidity and temperature. We toured the caves with the winemaker, learned how to taste wine and sampled. She invited us to come back to stomp grapes during harvest this fall! Anyone interested?
Bodega Marques de Riscal Hotel which is part of the winery complex is simply breathtaking when you lay eyes on it! Designed by Frank Gehry of Guggenheim Museum fame, it is constructed of gold, silver and pink titanium with wood, stone and glass. The wines are amazing, as well! I am including photos of these wines because we can get them in the U.S. Do yourself a favor – they are divine.
We ended our tour at the lovely Bodega Vieja in Rioja. Known for their roasted sucking pig cooked for hours, the tradition is to cut it vertically with a plate – it’s that tender. We didn’t do this but we certainly enjoyed our Farewell Luncheon on the last day. ‘Salud’ to a great group and trip well-enjoyed!