Basque cuisine is world renowned and has been an important player in the transformation that the art of cooking is currently undergoing on a global level. The wealth of Basque cuisine encompasses aspects such as quality of the product, a great variety of flavors, and the knowhow of the masters of the kitchens.
We invite you to embark upon this journey through Biscay, Álava, and Gipuzkoa that will help you to get to know wineries, cheesemakers, “pintxos” or “tapas” bars, the most prestigious restaurants with Michelin stars, and a few more surprises that you might not expect to find. Bon appétit!
Eneko, Zarate, Andra Mari, Etxanobe, Mina, Boroa, Etxebarri, Nerua, and Zortziko are the nine exceptional restaurants that have earned a Michelin star in Biscay, but only one has received the honor of three stars: Azurmendi. The restaurant’s chef, Eneko Atxa, defines his cuisine as a journey from yesteryear to tomorrow: from a love for tradition, artisan style, and contemporariness towards the pleasure of a unique identity.
Beyond the starry culinary realm, Biscay surprises visitors with other original options, such as Crusoe Treasure, the first underwater winery in an artificial reef in the world. Located in the beautiful environment of the Bay of Plentzia, at a depth of 20 meters, the winery offers the chance to set sail to the exact place where the submerged bottles are located and enjoy a pairing of “pintxos” and underwater wine.
Culinary experiences aboard a boat are many, and they are quite varied in this historical region: in Bilbao, gastronomic tastings are offered aboard a sailboat, and in the Urdaibai Estuary, a Biosphere Reserve, visitors can enjoy the local products while sailing in a motorboat with a storyteller and a musician to liven up the private tour.
Craft beer is becoming increasingly more important in the Basque Country, and in Zamudio, the UrbanBeer Brewmaster reveals the secrets of how this drink is made on a factory tour that can even culminate in a brunch at the brewery.
Biscay additionally has its own designation of origin for txakoli, Bizkaiko Txakolina, and the available experiences related with said wine are numerous: the spectacular Berroja Winery in Muxika organizes tours in which they explain the entire winemaking process, and Doniene Gorrondona offers lunch paired with their famous red wine, something that is rare among txakoli wineries.
The only restaurant in Álava that has a Michelin star is Marqués de Riscal, run by Francis Paniego. Located in Elciego, it has its own winery – the oldest of Álava and a precursor to the current way of producing wine in the region.
Wine tourism is, undoubtedly, a great player in this province, especially in the Rioja Alavesa region. Some wineries propose tours that combine wine with music, others allow you to become a winemaker for a day or offer stellar food and wine pairing with a tasting experience under the starry sky that comes complete with legends about constellations. There are also wineries that have a restaurant where tasting menus paired with original wines from the winery itself are served, like at Baigorri, whose underground restaurant surprises visitors with a spectacular view of the vineyards. No trip to Rioja Alavesa would be complete without visiting Laguardia, the medieval town that is home to hundreds of underground wineries. In this village, visitors can also learn to make patxaran at the Villa Lucía Wine Center.
Just an hour from Laguardia is the Añana Salt Valley, a must for any dining connoisseur. Tours include learning how the salt is mined and salt tastings.
A few kilometers towards the north is Ayala Valley, where Txakoli de Álava is produced, which dates back to the ninth century; it’s an interesting contrast to the popular wine of the Rioja Alavesa region.
Arzak, Akelarre, and Martín Berasategui, the three best known restaurants, precursors to the new Basque cuisine, have been awarded three Michelin stars. Still, this province has even more stars: the Mugaritz restaurant has received two, and Eme Be Garrote, Amelia, Elkano, Zuberoa, Alameda, Kokotxa, and Mirador de Ulía all have one. They are the culinary pride of Gipuzkoa, but not the only exceptional dining experience available in the area: eating at a cider house, especially in Hernani or in Astigarraga, is another of the most rooted and pleasant traditions of the Basque Country. There are even tours that explain how the cider is made and culminate with a tasting experience paired with a traditional menu to accompany the cider.
The “pintxos” of San Sebastian are yet another highlight of Gipuzkoa. These miniature dishes are like small pieces of art by anonymous master chefs, but they also represent a social act that brings the city together every afternoon.
Outside of the capital, the Goierri region stands out, with its well-known Idiazabal cheese. In fact, the amount of €13,000 was paid for half a cheese in one of the auctions held annually. The Ordizia Market, which is five centuries old, the bread workshop, and the tours of cheesemakers are just some of the most noteworthy experiences in this region.
In Tolosa, a city located in the neighboring region of Tolosaldea, visitors will find Gorrotxategi, the well-known chocolate workshop which also makes the famous “tejas” (a crunchy, cookie-like almond snack). The nearby village of Ibarra is known for its guindilla peppers, which are present in many Basque dishes and also one of the ingredients of the most famous “pintxo” from San Sebastian: the Gilda (featuring guindilla peppers, olives, and a type of canned fish, normally anchovies).
Our culinary journey through the Basque Country finishes on the coast, more specifically in Getaria, the village that has brought about the Txakoli de Getaria Designation of Origin – a young, white wine with a fruity taste that is characterized by mild acidity. This drink accompanies many of the social events held in the Basque Country, where, let’s face it, the food is always the king.