Spain: A Culinary Wonder
Spain: A Culinary Wonder
Spain needs no introduction as a high-class touring destination. Famed worldwide for its magnificent beaches and beautiful historic cities, this corner of southern Europe has attracted travelers from across the globe for centuries.
What impresses many visitors to Spain most is its fascinating diversity. Spain should be thought of as a collection of regions, each carrying its own distinct culture, dialect, and cuisine. The soaring mountains and beautiful villages of Aragon; the independent spirit of the Basque and Catalonia; the flamenco, fiestas, and fine beaches of Andalusia and Valencia; the stark, arid landscapes of Castilla La Mancha…these are just a few flavors drawn from the wide palette that makes up Spain.
Natives of each of these regions – 17 in total across the country – wear their local color with pride, exhibiting their passion through festivals, fiercely contested sporting occasions, and – most alluringly for the intrepid traveler – food. Passing through Madrid, Barcelona, or Bilbao, you’ll find the local cuisine shifts dramatically, with a carousel of dishes, ingredients, and cooking techniques to discover. Locals you encounter will all put forward a convincing case that their cuisine is the best on the Peninsula.
Improbably, Spanish food does not have quite carry the same worldwide cache as their near neighbors. While Italians claim to have ‘taught the world to eat’, and the French boast of their haute cuisine, Spanish food flies under the radar. Here at UTC we believe Spain to be Europe’s most underrated foodie destination; anyone planning their next trip to Europe, for whom diving into local cuisine a key part of the experience (that’s all of us then…), should be licking their lips as the gastronomic opportunities on offer here.
The exciting Spanish capital Madrid boasts gorgeous parks, picturesque boulevards, and some of the world’s most famous works of art. In the Museo del Prado you’ll find many impressive Spanish, Flemish and Italian works with thousands of paintings and hundreds of sculptures. Madrid also hosts countless art galleries, theaters, live music venues, and many other options for delving into buzzing nightlife. The culinary scene here is world-class, with authentic Spanish tapas a must-try. Visitors can take an expert-led tapas tour for a fully authentic and immersive experience.
Located on Spain’s green northeastern coast, Bilbao is the de facto capital of the Basque Country. A thriving city, it is surrounded by lush rolling hills and spectacular coastline. Like the rest of the Basque it is renowned for its gastronomy: with traditional family-run eateries sitting next to Michelin-starred dining destinations; Pintxo bars – tiny wine bars specializing in spectacular ‘mini tapas’ – all offer their own take on Basque favorites. Bilbao’s impressive architecture includes the glittering titanium-clad Guggenheim museum and a series of historic treasures, including an art nouveau train station, neo-baroque theater, and some magnificent cathedrals.
One of the world’s most beautiful cities, Barcelona is home to magnificent architecture, vibrant and passionate Catalonian culture, and a food and drink scene that few cities can match. You’ll find history around nearly every corner, countless art museums, including one of the greatest collections of Pablo Picasso’s works, and outstanding shopping. Another key associate of the city is Antoni Gaudi, whose works are littered across the city, notably at the still-incomplete Sagrada Familia which fuses art nouveau, gothic, and modernism style The Catalonia region is also renowned for its cuisine, with dishes often prepared in unusual combinations like poultry with fruit or meat and seafood.
La Rioja is a mecca for wine lovers in Spain. A postcard-perfect scene of lush vineyards and Medieval villages. The people of La Rioja share a history of winemaking going back centuries, exhibited in a series of atmospheric underground wine cellars, and backed up by highly modern wineries which are bringing Riojan culture right up to the contemporary. The region is easily explored as a day trip from San Sebastian, taking in a series of gorgeous vineyards and passing through impossibly beautiful villages such as hilltop Laguardia, with its medieval streets spilling out onto viewpoints that act as a natural balcony across the surrounding countryside.
San Sebastian on Spain’s northern coast, part of the Basque Autonomous Community, may be one of the country’s most underrated destinations. Named one of Europe’s two cities of culture for 2016, it sees a fraction of visitors compared to Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville. Those who do venture here will find one of the world’s greatest gastronomic scenes: the city boasts the second highest Michelin stars per capita (behind only Kyoto), and was recently named by The Telegraph as the ‘World’s Best Gastronomic Destination’. San Sebastian’s tapas culture is strong, best enjoyed with the local fizzy txakoli wine, and the nightlife scene is hopping with scores of excellent bars to explore.
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This article was first published in issue four of the Unforgettable Travel Magazine.