As a provider of handcrafted, epicurean travel programs, I am often asked to reveal my favorite epicurean destination. Spain gets my top nod due its great diversity, creativity and vibrancy. A world-class epicurean destination starts with superb ingredients and Spain is well known for its cured meats such as chorizo and the world-famous Jabugo ham, fine cheeses such as Cabrales, Manchego, and Garrotxa as well as olives and olive oil.
Fish and shellfish are plentiful thanks to 3,000 miles of Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline, while roasted meats are more common inland.
The Moors, who occupied Spain for several centuries, introduced spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and saffron, fruits, rice and nuts as well as techniques and food combinations that are prevalent in Spanish cuisine today and form the core of dishes such as paella. To showcase the great bounty of Spain, we regularly include private guided market tours in client programs. The Boqueria market in Barcelona is our favorite food market in our portfolio of destinations.
Spain, too, has wonderful culinary traditions. My favorite is the tapas tradition, which originated in the southern province of Andalusia in the late 19th century. For the locals, tapas bars are less about the culinary experience and more about the opportunity to meet friends after work for a drink and conversation along with a small bite. But, for visitors, the tapas experience is essential and our client programs include private tapas walks with culinary guides in various Spanish cities from Seville and Granada in Andalusia to Logrono in La Rioja, Madrid, Barcelona and San Sebastian, where the Pintxos, the Basque version of tapas, are simply incredible. I’ll never forget my first tapas experience – crispy, bite-size patatas (potatoes) bravas with aioli at a tiny tapas bar in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. Yum!
Another tradition we enjoy sharing with clients is the Gastronomic Societies of San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque Country. These unique organizations are best described as informal dining clubs comprised mostly of men. The members jointly own a small space where groups gather on a weekly basis, and they share the shopping and cooking responsibilities. For small group of 10 or so, we arrange culinary demonstrations, lessons and lunches at one of the leading gastronomic societies.
And if you enjoy wine country experiences, we highly recommend Spain. As you may know, the caliber of Spanish wines has increased dramatically in the last 20 years. Our favorite regions for client travel include La Rioja, part of which is located in the southern Basque region, and Priorat, located in southwestern Catalonia, two hours from Barcelona. Rioja, where the Tempranillo grape reaches its zenith, is grand, majestic and relatively undiscovered. Given its large size, the region features a broad assortment of bodegas (wineries) including those that are traditional, cutting-edge and boutique in nature, as well as charming towns such as the hilltop wine village of Laguardia.
Tiny Priorat is an impossibly beautiful and relatively remote region featuring rugged terrain and steep vineyards, requiring hand cultivation. The region only recently has gained the attention of the international wine community for the exceptional Rhone-style wines based principally on the Garnacha (Grenache) and Carinena (Carignan) grapes. Other noteworthy wine regions in Spain include Ribera del Duero, north of Madrid and the vast Jimenez Sherry region in Andalusia.
Other epicurean experiences that are client favorites include: customized dining programs; private culinary lessons with top chefs; customized Epicurean Walking Tours; and artisan food producers visits whether to a Basque cheese maker or an olive oil estate near the white town of Ronda.
Of course, Spain is a large and diverse country, so we appreciate that selecting an itinerary can be daunting. Working with The Travel Agency, we would be delighted to handcraft a Epicurean Spain travel program for your group of two or more individuals.
By Jim Dondero
Principal, CORK & FORK Epicurean Travel