From the world’s largest gothic cathedral, Santa Maria de la Sede, to the to the magnificent Alhambra Palace in Granada, I didn’t think I could possibly love Spain more after exploring its southern regions on more than one occasion…until I recently returned to Madrid and headed north.
We started our trip in from this beach resort just next to the French border with a promenade that runs the length of the bay. For a city with under 200,000 people, it has astonishing 22 Michelin-starred restaurants, making it a must stop for foodies like me. We chose to dine at starred Zuberoa. Set in a 650 year old farmhouse, the atmosphere is sublime. The restaurant has been open for 65 years and their chef has been there for 45 of those years. The service was exceptional and the food outstanding. It was a highlight of our trip. The excellent food in San Sebastian stretches well beyond their iconic restaurants, but this little beach town is also known for is its incredibly colorful tapas bars. Here these snacks are called pintxos (PEEN-chohs). Twice a day, people pour into the old cobblestoned streets for a traditional “pintxos crawl,” moving from bar to bar… tasting, drinking and socializing. I took to it like a bee to honey and wished we had planned more days in this beautiful seaside paradise.
Staying at the Astoria 7 Hotel was a perfect choice. Once a large theatre, each of the rooms is named after a star who has won an award at the International San Sebastian Film Festival.
Silent movies are permanently on show with a figure of Alfred Hitchcock sitting in one of the cinema chairs placed in the lobby. Their continental breakfast is the best I have had in Europe with a great cup of café con leche and a generous buffet offering various types of Spanish jamon, cheese, fruits and pastries.
As we left San Sebastian, we rented a car and made our way along the Bay of Biscay coastline to Bilbao. As you get into the downtown area it’s impossible to miss the titanium clad Guggenheim shimmering in the sun. One of modern architecture’s most iconic buildings, it is a sight to behold. It was a beautiful day so we strolled over the Calatrava Bridge along-side residents walking their dogs, jogging and cycling. As we meandered the banks of the River Nervion we stopped to ride the Artzanda Funicular to take in a great view of the city and harbor in the distance.
Later we headed out on Spain’s immaculately kept roads to the epicenter of the wine trade in La Rioja. Breathtaking vineyards as far as the eye can see and medieval villages come to life at the foothills of the mountains beyond in the Basque County Barrio de la Estacion, in Haro, is where most of these great reds are clustered around the old railroad station. We visited the contemporary Muga Winery, packed with fans waiting to sample their prized tempranillo. The region is also world famous for the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage that cuts across Spain from France.
After a wonderful lunch at La Bodega de Rivas, we headed to a country house we rented for a few days. Located in the province of Burgos, the family-owned property is one of three that can be rented at Te Cuento 3 (tecuento3. com). The home is centuries old and full of antiques and art. Sheltered by stone walls and grapevines, it was the ideal place to unwind, complete with bicycles and fresh bread delivered each morning. During our stay we toured the magnificent Burgos Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and enjoyed the many restaurants in the area famous for their grilled meats.
As we began to make our way back towards Madrid, we decided to stop in Segovia, another World Heritage site. We found last minute reservations at the new Eurostar Convento Capuchinos Hotel, once an old convent. It is a stunning hotel and it gave us an opportunity to enjoy a wonderful evening. We marveled at Segovia’s soaring aqueduct, cathedral, and Alcazar Fortress, said to be Walt Disney’s main inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland.
Spain is truly one of my favorite destinations. The people are warm and friendly, the food incredibly delicious, and the scenery full of breathtaking views. With its various regions as diverse as the different parts of Texas, all of Spain seems in competition with itself, each province trying to be the best it can be!