Northern Spain Notes
“Get out of here! This is not for tourists.” –was the brusque reaction from the cook, as he saw me trying to sneak a look into the old dining room, all set for lunch. I wouldn't let him whisk me away, for to learn that this was not for tourists worked magnetically. And it went on for a while, he whooshing me and me trying to engage him in a conversation. Suddenly, he stopped and asked: “Where are you from?” And then everything changed, as he learned that I was from Chile, “I know of Basques living there, and yes, they are good people, the Chileans —please sit down, have a drink”. That was our first encounter with the Sociedades Gastronómicas of Euzkadi, the traditional Basque social-clubs offering its members with facilities to cook and share good meals. Well, to describe the sociedades in these terms is surely superficial and numb, as prospect members have to often wait years in line before they can enjoy full membership and we heard of cases where the membership is inherited by the son from the father. Did I mention that these are traditionally male-only clubs?
“Once in Donosti, you have to go out and try pintxos!” –said my Basque friend from The Hague. Pintxos are the Basque version of tapas, even richer in variety, especially for the fish lover. Trying out pintxos consist of walking through the city, stopping here and there, let yourself seduce by this or that and accompany the tour with some good red wine. Every bar will sample pintxos, but each of them will focus on some specialities and you will hardly find the same pintxo in more than one place. My favourite? A canapé of artichoke heart crowned by an anchovy filet —an explosion of flavours in your mouth.
The trip took us a long way from Burgos in the South and San Sebastián in the North to Girona and Costa Brava in the East. Northern Spain is divided among such tradition rich and independent cultures such as Basque, Navarra and Catalan, in fact it is difficult to describe it as one trip and not three.
We got a special moment when approaching the medieval town of Santa Pau, not far from Girona. The ruins of an old monastery are located atop of a hill and are not easily approachable. There was fog hanging from the hills over valleys, the skies were getting red —an unrealistic atmosphere.
A more comprehensive image compendium of this trip, including images from Bilbao, Donosti, Burgos, Pamplona and other northern Spain cities is available as a hardcover photo album here. You may want to also have a look at the other books I have made.