So you’re considering a grape-themed visit to the Basque Country, but realised that you don’t really know where to start when exploring this fascinating province of Spain. Well, fear not, we have you covered! Here, we’ll point you in the direction of five fascinating things to see and do while you’re there – some you may have heard of, and some will hopefully be new and open your eyes to what this region has to offer…
Vitoria is a unique and often-overlooked gem just waiting to be discovered, with a beautifully well-preserved centre dating back to the 1500s – well worth a wander. Contrasting with this, Vitoria is also looking to the future both with its development and its environmental credentials, being named ‘European Green Capital 2012’, offering a green belt approaching 1000km2. Not to be missed are the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca (the old city square), beautiful and surrounded by multiple bars waiting to serve you up some delicious local wine, Calle Eduardo Dato for pintxos and people-watching and the striking Artium Museum of modern art, or try to make it there for one of the city’s festivals to really see it come alive!
Rioja Alavesa features more hectares of vineyard than inhabitants, making it simple to see what drives the local economy. There is now also a thriving wine tourism industry, with wine lovers from all over the world descending on the region, which is dotted with quaint towns and countless bodegas in which to break up your trip and sample the local nectar. While some of these wineries are in ancient caves, others are stunning avant-garde marvels and worth a visit not only for the wine but also for the striking architecture – for example, Bodegas Ysios features design by the renowned Calatrava, or from the Marqués de Riscal winery, you can see a hint of the Guggenheim design next door. For more visit ideas visit the Rioja Alavesa Wine Route
A town not to miss on your trip through Rioja Alavesa, Laguardia was known as the Guardian of the Navarre thanks to its hilltop location, and is now a great place to enjoy on its own merits as well as a handy base for wider exploration of the region’s wineries. The old town is picturesque, charming, car-free and compact, making it a wonderful spot for a stroll – or to witness bull running and dancing during the festivals of late June! The tourist office can provide you a list of all local wineries to help you plan your extended visit, and if you want to pick up some related gifts, there are plenty of delightful shops on the Calle Mayor catering to your needs.
As a region where food is the number one priority, it would be wrong to visit the Basque Country without letting your taste buds loose, and besides, you need something wholesome to go with all that lovely wine! The region is famous for its pintxos (pronounced “pinchos”), the mouth-watering bites available in virtually every bar, as well as myriad other dishes, big and small. Just a few specialities to get your mouth watering are chuletón, a beef chop freshly grilled and often priced by weight (it’s big!); txistorra is a Basque twist on the well-known chorizo, often served as a pintxo; txangurro is spider crab, again often found in pintxos in coastal towns and txipirones are baby squid, a popular part of coastal lunches. Every town and every café or restaurant will have its own specialities, so it’s well worth asking.
Don’t worry if you’ve not heard of it – Txakoli is traditionally a lightly sparkling white wine, and is rarely found outside the Basque region. These days, you can also find still Txakoli alongside the sparkling variety, and it is a common accompaniment to a pintxo or two in the evening. Made primarily from hondarribizuri and hondarribibeltza grape varieties, Txakoli is currently produced by 24 wineries, and you can even sometimes find a red version. If you’re visiting the Gipuzkoa or Biskaya areas, be sure to look out for this unique local wine!
Hopefully this has whet your appetite for some of the delights you can find in the Basque Country. Now, it’s over to you – all that remains is to pack your bags and start exploring for yourself!
The 2019 and 11th edition of the International Wine Tourism Conference will take place in the Basque Country at the Palacio de Congresos Europa, Vitoria-Gasteiz on the 12th and 13th March 2019. It’s the perfect setting to gain knowledge, improve business connections, network and discover Rioja Alavesa and Txakolí wines and the Basque Country as a grape escape destination.
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