A visit to the Spanish Sherry Region

21 11 2016

This time, a post for those visitors that would like to have a better idea of other wine regions during their visit to Spain. And what better than the Sherry (Jerez) wine region in southern Andalusia…

Spaniards believe that Phoenicians where the first traders that planted wine in southern Spain. In the ancient city of Gadir the oldest of Europe founded more than 3000 years ago and now called Cadiz, there’s a neighborhood called La Viña (The Wineyard). Few miles from Cadiz, the wine growing region of Jerez has unique oenological traditions which go back three thousands years and is the perfect destination for experiencing a big range of sensations.

The brandy and sherry frame is a small area of Cadiz province called El  Marco de Jerez: imagine a triangle which edges are the towns El Puerto de Santa Maria, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Jerez de la Frontera, blessed by 3200 sunlight hours per year and with a minimum winter temperature of 52 ºF (11 ºC). Jerez was called Sherish during the muslim times of Al Andalus. When Sir Francis Drake took the first sherry barrels to queen  Elizabeth I, they gave that wine the old muslim-spanish name of the city of Jerez: sherry.

Unlike other regions of the world, cellars couldn’t be found in the countryside, but surprisingly right downtown, so imagine how the scent invades the streets… Some brands: Cardenal Mendoza, Lepanto, Gran Duque de Alba, Tradición, Matusalém, Sibarita; then some fino and Manzanilla table sherry wine brands: La Guita, La Gitana, Gabriela, Romate, Lustau, Tio Pepe.

The top experience is of course the guided visit including tasting session by one or two of the bi or sometimes tri-centennial wineries, where you may enjoy a description and the history of vintage brandymaking process. Some of the bodegas are a compulsory visit, for they are authentic temples where caldos mature into wine in silence.

As well as being the cradle of one of the most celebrated and international of Spanish wines and a mecca for coneisseurs, the region offers so many attractions like white sand long beaches with dunes, the view of Africa from the coast, the famous Andalusian mare farms and dancing horses shows. Horses and flamenco mark the life of the people from Jerez and southern Cadiz province. This peculiar stamp of identity is evident in the town traditions and fairs. On the occasion of the Horse Fair in May, the town and its inhabitants show their most festive side: you have to experience the horses parade yourself! More equestrian events are included in the Autumn festival.

You may contact one of the best tour guide teams of Andalusia to plan your trip: The Magic of Seville Tours (link to: https://www.themagicofseville.com) and his founder Francesco Soriquez.

sherry-land

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Why Bilbao is the PERFECT place for a FOODIE weekend getaway

23 02 2015

Barra Irrintzi 1http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2955811/Basque-brilliance-Bilbao-perfect-city-Spanish-foodie-weekend-convince-wife-eat-fish-is.html Everything at hand, a very convenient city, medium-sized, excellent public transport, great food, extremely safe, beautiful surroundings….what else can you ask for? 101_7484 The Transporter Bridgepintxos counter





Small family Wineries in Rioja—A Different Approach to Wine Culture

3 07 2014

Marqués de Riscal winerySo you love wine and therefore you´re coming to the best wine region in the world, Rioja. It belongs to three political regions (La Rioja, Basque Country and Navarre) and has three distinctive wine areas (Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja), each one produces wine with different characteristics and personality. Rioja Alavesa is the region where top quality wines are produced, and here you can visit many worldwide famous wineries, such as Marqués de Riscal (with its famous Frank Gehry´s building) in Elciego, Muga, CVNE and Rioja Alta in Haro, , Viña Real, Remelluri in Labastida, Ysios in Laguardia, Baigorri, etc….

 

Francisco extracting his wine from the barrelBut there are hundreds of small family wineries that are not visited by massive tourism. Places that welcome visitors and offer also a guided visit to show their family business and their traditional wine making processes.

 

In a town like Villabuena de Alava, for example, there are more wineries than inhabitants (300 people live there), and it´s a similar thing in most towns in the area. Most families own a small private winery where they produce wine for friends or a reduced number of visitors. It´s also true that many are semi-abandoned or falling apart due to not being used anymore. It´s a real pity, but I guess sometimes it´s hard work to keep this business going. So if you have the chance when visiting Rioja, don´t miss the opportunity to visit at least a small family winery to see how wine has been produced throughout several family generations. (Pictures here belong to a 17th century winery, no name outside, that produces an excellent wine and it´s still running by the retired owner)Old wine bottles in the cellarEntrance to the cellar





St Ignatius of Loyola, the Basque founder of the Jesuits

17 06 2014

You have surely heard of the Catholic order of the Jesuits, as they are present all over the world. But I´m sure you didn´t know that the founder was born in 1491 in Azpeitia, in the heart of the Basque CountryIñigo de Loyola (born Iñigo, a Basque name, that he changed later to Ignacio), of a noble family, received a good education and soon became a soldier serving the King of Castile. In 1521 he was injured while battling in Pamplona, and retired to heal his wounds to his fortress in the valley of Loiola, near Azpeitia and Azkoitia. During his long recovery he started reading religious books, that made him rethink his whole life. Once recovered, he started a life of sanctity that led him to the foundation of the Jesuit order, probably the most influential in the history of the Catholic church.

The 18th century basilica is located in a beautiful valley, surrounded by a park full of trees and the Urola river that flows through the mountainous scenery. As you can see by the pictures, it´s a magnificent but at the same time a modest building, with a great dome covered in baroque paintings and designs. On its left hand side you can visit the birthplace of San Ignacio de Loyola (a medieval tower) that has been beautifully restored to its original state. You can visit both buildings, the Loiola tower shows most rooms as they originally were on the 16th century.

Right by the Basilica (or Sanctuary) there´s a nice, cozy hotel and some rural lodgings, as well as fine restaurants, in an atmosphere surprisingly tourist free. The valley offers very interesting visits, like the Ferrería de Mirandaola (Ironmongery) in the Iron Valley or the town of Idiazabal, where the world famous Idiazabal sheep cheese is made (also, the Cheese Museum deserves a visit). The Railway Museum in Azpeitia offers the possibility to ride in a steam locomotive train…a great experience for kids!!

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Medieval Towns in Basque Rioja…it´s more than just wine

9 06 2014

Rioja wine region is divided into Rioja Alavesa (Basque Country), Rioja Alta (La Rioja) and Rioja Baja (La Rioja and Navarre). It´s mostly small family wineries, but of course there are also some big ones among them too. A visit to a winery in Rioja is always a delightful experiences, as you spend at least a couple of hours learning how they´ve been making wine during centuries. No wine bars like in Napa valley…it´s a much more enriching experience.

Medieval tower in Labraza, where time passes slowly

Medieval tower in Labraza, where time passes slowly

But there´s more to Basque Rioja than wine. When you drive along the roads surrounded by vineyards, you will for sure find a beautiful medieval town on your way. Or several prehistoric monuments, like dolmens and funerary burial sites. Or incredible churches that keep inside amazing altarpieces. Or a walled town, just where lied the borders of the ancient kingdoms of Castile and Navarre. Or maybe  just a town with nothing special on it but full of flavor and a particular relaxing atmosphere, where one of its neighbors may invite you to his place for a homemade meal.

Dolmen of the Sorceress, in Elvillar

Dolmen of the Sorceress, in Elvillar

Next time you´re there, don´t forget to visit walled Laguardia and the façade of Santa María de los Reyes (a must), Labastida and its fortressed church, medieval Labraza surrounded by nothing but vineyards, Samaniego, Lapuebla de Labarca, Baños de Ebro, Kripán, Elvillar, Elciego and the Marqués de Riscal winery (designed by Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim arquitect)…you´ll find a lovely atmosphere in places where the path of time seems to be slower than in the rest of the world…

Fortress church in Labastida, Basque Rioja

Fortress church in Labastida, Basque Rioja

Elciego, Marqués de Riscal winery

Elciego, Marqués de Riscal winery





EA, The Shortest Name for a Quaint Basque Fishing Town

2 06 2014

Ea is the short name of the small river that crosses this picturesque little town located just 50kms from Bilbao, on the coastal road that leads to the Gernika estuary from Lekeitio. Ea was founded on the XVI century by fishermen from the neighbouring hamlets, that sought a permanent port for their fishing boats. They found this little natural harbour and established there. The town consists mainly of a single street and a river crossing it from beginning to end, sided by fishermen houses and ending in a natural harbor and a small beach that disappears on high tide. There´s a little chapel and also two or three small bars, where you can enjoy a drink and something to eat while enjoying the unspoilt landscape.

Not far, and on the same road, the villages of Natxitua and Bedarona, with breathtaking views over the ocean, and excellent restaurants serving real homemade food. Off the beaten path, but a must on your visit to the Basque Country.





Santa María de la Antigua, the “Cathedral” of Basque hermitages

22 05 2014

Absolutely off the beaten path, and hardly visited by any foreign tourists, near Zumarraga lies the“cathedral” of Basque hermitages. It´s believed that this amazing church was built on the remains of a XII century fortress. While the outside walls and façade are austere and without much interest, the interior is surprisingly outstanding, completely covered in oak wood coffering. There´s a complex wooden framework all over the ceiling, that makes the interior of this big hermitage a beautiful, relaxing sight. If there´s someone singing on the choir, as it happened during my visit, the effect is simply breathtaking.

Together with the sanctuaries of Loiola and Arantzazu, it is part of the Route of the Three Temples (Arantzazu, Loiola and Santa María) in the Ignatian Land (St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, was born in Loiola in the Basque Country). The legend says that the church is made of the stones thrown by the Giants that inhabited the Basque Country before the arrival of Christianism, who wanted to destroy it, as churches were a menace for their survival.

 

 

 

If you really want to see a different church, in a non touristy part of the Basque Country, but close to eveywhere you may stay…this is the place.