Bilbao baggings: the ultimate barbecue road trip

Its no surprise that a region with so many Michelin-starred restaurants is also home to world-class food producers. Hour to fill up the picnic basket for a Basque country food odyssey

Price aside, eating at a one of the Basque country’s many Michelin-starred restaurants and sitting on a ocean wall with a picnic have more in common than you’d imagine. The region’s greatest chefs- including Eneko Atxa, Elena Arzak, Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz, and Victor Arguinzoniz of Asador Etxebarri- all say the fertile land and seas, fresh create, independent artisans( cheesemakers, winemakers, bakers ), plus a culture with food at its heart, make for a transcendent gastronomic experience. It’s this holistic convergence that attained Bilbao the destination of option for the World’s 50 Best Eatery event this summer.

You’ll recollect a meal in one of the Basque country’s restaurants for a lifetime. But visit the region’s artisan producers yourself and you’ll get the ultimate barbecue- and a lot more euros left in your pocket. I set off on my epicurean treasure hunt from Bilbao, visiting shops, food producers, and wine and brew manufacturers, to enjoy the tastiest treats and finest drink in the most scenic picnic places.

Bilbao

Where to buy

Produce
Mercado de la Ribera. Photograph: Alamy

Mercado de la Ribera is the first time stop for salads and cheese ( idiazabal sheep’s varieties, and obscure instances from Navarra ). One stall sells a perplex variety of marinaded olives, charcuterie from acorn-fed animals( sausage, cured loin and chorizo bellota ). Asier Beato at stall 21 sources crusty wood-oven-baked bread from small producers. Don’t ask for butter: these are bread for mopping olive oil or sliding under slicings of juicy tomato and anchovy.

Outside in the narrow streets of Casco Viejo( old township ), Ultramarinos( c/ Artekale, 22) sells wine, petroleum and tins of anchovies. If you really want to look the part, Cesteria Alonso( c/ Belostikale 15) will sell you a chestnut timber basket to carry your plunder in( they’re actually built for collecting mushrooms ). Sophisticates should browse the aromatic deli at La Vina del Ensanche( c/ Diputacion ), while the sweet-toothed will enjoy old-fashioned cake shop Arrese( Gran Via 24) for vast cream buns they’ll pack in a box. For the lazy alternative, Bar Eme( c/ General Concha 5) near Plaza Moyua sells tasty sandwiches with its own salsa secreta .

Where to picnic

Parque
Dona Casilda park. Photograph: Alamy

A leafy example of regeneration, Bilbao is both grittily urban areas and amazingly bucolic, with plenty of option places. Choose a low wall overlooking the Nervion River and eat while watching passing rowers and pleasure craft; sprawl on the immaculate shaded and landscaped lawns of Dona Casilda park; or take the funicular to the Artxanda viewpoint for panoramic views of the city( the station is just across the Zubizuri bridge ).

Seaside near Bilbao

Where to buy

Crusoe
Bodega Crusoe Treasure

Stock up in the city, but add a seaside note with canned Cantabrian anchovies, tuna and berberechos ( cockles) from traditional canneries Zallo and Serrats( available across the region and from the canneries in coastal Bermeo, half an hour to the north-east ). Pair it with wine from the underwater winery, Crusoe Treasure, at beachside Plentzia( on the Bilbao metro ). Its interesting bottles are on the wine listings of several Michelin restaurants. There are tastings by boat, if your constitution is up to it.

Where to picnic

Gorliz
Gorliz beach. Photo: Alamy

Bilbao can’t compete with San Sebastian’s lovely La Concha beach, but the sea is just a 30 -minute metro ride away from downtown. Take line 1 and get off at Neguri station for wealthy Getxo, Sopela for surfbeaches, or stay on to Plentzia for family-friendly sandsand, if you walk on a bit, Gorliz, with petrified dunes and a lighthouse. Detailed information at metrobilbao.eus.

Alternatively take the develop further east from Bilbao-Atxuri station to quaint Mundaka- popular with surfers as it’s home to one of Europe’s best left-breaking waves- and the gorgeous sandy beaches of the Oka estuary( home to spoonbills and fish eagles, and part of the picturesque Urdaibai reserve ). Those with a automobile( Mundaka is a 50 km drive) might consider stopping before Bermeo and picnicking near the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe island hermitage( Dragonstone in Game of Thrones ). But Mundaka has its own clifftop hermitage: Santa Catalina, less dramatic, but without the 241 steps and waves of coach party guests.
* More info from bizibermeo.eus

Urkiola mountains

Where to buy

Pressed
Pressed idiazabal cheese, made from sheep’s milk, a Basque country speciality. Photograph: Alamy

Take the BI-6 23 south from Durango and look out for a caserio or baserri ( farmhouse ). Caserio Manondo, only beyond Izurtza, is a veritable one-stop picnic supply shop. This farm, owned by the Garate family, induces mugarra , an idiazabal cheese, from its own ewes, and sells it in kilo and half-kilo slab. There’s also fresh-picked fruit and veg from their garden and orchards, and in the room behind the counter, bread is shoved into wood-fired ovens on long paddles, destined for neighbours in all regions of the valley and the three-star Asador Etxebarri eatery nearby. Their pan de maiz is solid as a brick and best sliced finely and dipped into a hot drink, and the local honey and cider.

The Urkiola area is the home of cuajada , curdled ewe’s milk, defined like blancmange and, unlikely as it audios, delicious.

The traditional Basque wine, txakoli , is produced by small wineries in three very different denominated areas- Getaria, Alava and Biscay. Bodega Elizalde, 10 minutes’ drive north of Elorrio, constructs fine Biscay txakoli, and a crisp, acidic, bubbly. Visit the winery( call in advance) and try it with chorizo and anchovies outside the old farmhouse, or keep an eye out for it in local shops.

Where to picnic

Wild
Wild ponies in the hills of Urkiola national park. Photo: Alamy

There are nine natural parks in the Basque region, and Urkiola( 58 km sq and three mountain ranges) is half-an-hour’s drive south-east of Bilbao. Close to Durango and Guernica- still defined by the bombings of the civil war- this is a timeless, mistybut cheery place of lush fields, jagged peaks, stone farmhouses trailing vines and roses growing beside apple orchards. Hiking options are plentiful, and maps, advice and parking are likely to be had at the Toki Alaiinformation centre on Puerto de Urkiola, the steep pass that cuts north-south through the park. On a hot day, a picnic by the crystal river in the limestone Atxarte ravine is perfect. If it rains, visit the villages of the Durango valley which flourished in medieval periods as the crossroads of two trading routes, as the palaces, crests, crossings and Elorrio’s ginormous church attest.
* More info from urkiola.net and basquemountains.com

Gorbeia natural park

Where to buy

Craft
Craft beer from Garagardotegia Baias microbrewery

The whole park is a larder. If passing the Alava town of Aramaio, collect jam, chocolate or cream-filled pastel Vasco and a crunchy loaf from Panaderia Ibarra( c/ Nardeaga, 23) and apple juice and cider from the Iturrieta cider house( Arraga Auzoa, 2 ). Idiazabal cheese, smoothly fresh or ripened to tingle the roof of your mouth, is widely available direct from the cheesemakers. Local tourist boards maintain lists, and there is a cheese road. Try including the makers of Atxeta cheese in the idyllic place of Otxandio and the hamlet of Oleta( appointment necessitated ). And for the sweetest of treats, visit the bees and buy their honey at Milalore Aldeko Eztia in the distinctly Swiss-looking Aramaio valley( May-end of October, EUR5, book ahead, aldekoeztia.blogspot.com)

To drink, opt for beer. Microbrewery Baias– named after the Baias river that flows through Gorbeia, from which the water is sourced- makes a range of natural brews. You’re welcome to buy direct, enjoy one in their garden or, if you can join a group, take a tour( c/ La Escuela, 6, Urkabustaiz ). Available in local bars and hotels, but also in bottles at Panaderia Echebarria in Murgia and fruteria Luis Mari in Izarra.

Where to picnic

Gorbeia
Gorbeia natural park. Photograph: Alamy

Drive south 20 km, and pine and eucalyptus forest planted to render the shipbuilding, iron and paper industries gives way to native oak and beech. Gorbeia is the region’s largest natural park, 200 sq km of canyons, limestone caves and crags. It is wild- home to wolves, deer and boars- but accessible with well-signposted roads for mountaineers and dilettante hikers alike. The nominal heart is a cross, a 12 km upward hoof from the Pagomakurre information centre, but many attractions are virtually drive in: the 100 -metre Gujuli waterfall can be viewed from the carpark at the top( merely west of the A68 ).
* More info:
gorbeiaeuskadi.com

Rioja Alavesa

Where to buy

Frank
Frank Gehry’s Marques de Riscal winery. Photograph: Getty Images

Fill your basket in Laguardia, 112 km south of Bilbao. The butcher’s on Plaza Mayor sells jamon , chorizo and tins of white asparagus from Navarra. Virtually opposite there’s a deli, Enoteca Arburi, stocking rioja and artisan chocolate, and up the narrow street to the church, Panaderia Torres( c/ Samaniego) sells hefty loaves, sweet bizcocho and magdalenas. With a coffeehouse called Como VinoPara Chocolate, this is a town dedicated to the best things in life.

To drink, try before you buy with a tasting at one of the 50 or so wineries offering tours. For family-run, try the prestigious Remirez de Ganuza winery in Sabaneigo. And a trip-up to Elceigo and Frank Gehry’s wonky titanium masterpiece at the Marques de Riscal winery is obligatory. On a budget? Collect a Marques de Riscal Limousin for a modest EUR1 2. Feeling indulgent? Splash out on a Rioja Baron de Chirel( EUR5 6 ).

A wine tour at Bodegas Baigorri( EUR1 4) is worth it only to see inside the futuristic build, and the shop sells great wines from under EUR1 0. Once inside, however, merely the most resolute picnicker are enabled to defy the three-course EUR5 0 savor lunch( sample menu: watermelon gazpacho with basil ice-cream, artichoke hearts with cockles, candied cod loin with shrimp sauce paired with superb wines, which are included in the cost ). You have been warned.

Where to picnic

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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