10 Day Food Tour in Spain
I can't believe how wholly obsessed I am planning for a trip that is not going to take place until May 2009, but I have fallen in love with Spain, and this is only through reading online travel guides.
My sister, her fiancee, my boyfriend, and I are taking a 10 day vacation in Spain. We have decided that food will dictate our travels. We think we will have time to go to 3 cities at most. So the question is: What are the three best cities for food in Spain? Where should we go? Which restaurants? What should we order?
Criteria: We would prefer places where the locals actually eat, whether they turn out to be hole in the walls or places for more special occasions. And I'm turning to Chowhounds hoping to discover some gems not listed in the various travel guides.
Time to revive this thread, as the May trip of the OP, Chubbybunny, is coming closer. Have you decided which 2 or 3 cities you are going to hit, now that you've heard the advice of others? My wife and I did a largely food-dominated 10-day trip to Spain a few years ago and split the time between Barcelona and San Sebastian, with a side trip to Bilbao. You will find many great recs on this site for many of the places, both swanky and hole-in-the-wallish, that are well known to c'hounds. One place that doesn't get mentioned, but was perhaps the greatest food-associated memory from that trip [even though its food alone doesn't warrant the acclaim like what we had at Alkimia, Zuberoa, Cal Pep, etc.] was Casa Julian in Tolosa, about a 45 minute drive from S.S. Spending a Sunday afternoon, sitting with locals on the picnic benches in the windowless basement, surrounded by wine rack filled with dusty bottles, with a rustic brazier in the corner on which immensely thick veal chops coated with sea salt were grilled, and preceded by amazing red peppers and jamon iberico, was an indelible food experience.
Happily we are going back to Spain, also in mid May, for another 10 trip. This time, though, we're staying in Spain for only 6 days and 4 in Morocco. The Spanish cities we're hitting this time will be Madrid, Seville and Granada, two days and nights in each. I'm looking forward to more great eating and am getting plenty excited, as I'm sure you are too.
Personally I would stick to northern Spain. San Sebastian is pretty much the undisputed capital of food in Spain - not cheap but extraordinary. So that or Bilbao are obvious choices.
However, if it were me I'd do the following. I should say that I run an Anglo/Spanish travel company so there's some some background to this. Start in Santiago de Compostela in the far northwest of the country. Fantastic seafoods and wines in the Rias Baixas area.
Continue through some of the most remote and untouched mountain/rural scenery in Spain. Oscos mountains and then into the Picos de Europa which have already been mentioned. You are essentially travelling through mountains close to the sea so on the one hand you have really good game and meats, on the other fish and seafood.
From the Picos I might head to Bilbao (it's about 3 hours' driving) at least to visit the Guggenheim. Their set lunch is very good by the way.
From there I personally would not go to San Sebastian but instead drop an hour south into La Rioja. Three things to do here, eat in Casa Toni near Haro. Stunning food, really well done. Go the central market in Logrono to look at the quality of the raw materials these guys use. There is a wine shop on the corner in front of the market which, as of October this year, had some red wine for 2 euros a bottle. No label. In fact it was a semi crianza and fantastic - well it would have been a first rate bottle for 10 euros, at 2 it was fantastic. Carry onto Calle Laurel which is famous for its tapas - follow your nose and mouth.
Finally, and this is where I would end my trip, in a small village in the south of Rioja is a restaurant called Venta de Moncalvillo. They offer a 'maridage' menu whereby they serve a distinct and distinctive wine with each course of the meal (there are at least 6 courses). The place is run by 2 brothers - one a self taught but now very well known somelier. The other a self taught chef. This place is one of the best places to eat that I know of - not pretentious, just brilliant, imaginative food.
So, I hope you're still awake but that would be my opening gambit. This way you have seen some of the most significant cultural regions of Spain (travelling along the Camino de Santiago), certainly its most beautiful scenery and you have a great variety of foods and wines as you travel too. May should be gorgeous - may be rainy but there will be snow on the top of peaks, flowers in the meadows, everything green. Perfect.
You just can't do it all. If you have never been to Spain, at all, I would think you should go to the biggies, Barca and Madrid, or at least one. I will also recommend Bilbao, I really like it. Guggenheim lunch is a great deal and if I could remember the name of the place with, literally, the best lamb kebabs ever, I will give it to you. I know where it is if I had to find it, perhaps I will map it for you or find the name.
Also, you are close to San Sebastian which is cool but a bit overrated. Not that there isn't good or great stuff there but to say it is clearly and easily the best place on Earth for food is wrong. Probably, not even the best in Spain but I will try not to start something up here.
If you are in San Seb, choose your tapas joints wisely, do some research, they aren't all great. Granted, there are many other areas of Spain that are great and I have not been to all of them but I am sure of it. Hard to go wrong in Espana.
Also, obsession in planning is a great thing. Doing it on the fly with limited time is sure to be a waste and will lead to more missteps. Believe me, I am fanatical but in the end, others get on my program because they know it will be good or great.
Just think, if you have every meal planned or at least a few choices for each meal by neighborhood or whatever you know where you are going, as opposed to, LET"S JUST GO HERE BECAUSE WE ARE LAZY and don't know the difference, anyhow.
I have travelled through Spain a fair bit over the years, and I think you would get more out of your trip if you were to not just limit yourself to a series of city breaks. I don't know where you're planning to fly to, but it is worth exploring different regions, as other posters have already said, but to hire a car and discover some of the beautiful interior of the country, away from the cities and coasts.
Places which are worth a look at are:
The Picos de Europa mountains in the North and Galicia in the NW - these areas could be combined with a visit to San Sebastianand/or Bilbao.
The Pyrenees - again, this could be combined with a trip to San Sebastian or Barcelona, and even southern France.
La Mancha and down to Andalucia - great variety of scenery and cuisines, and can incorporate a visit to Seville or Cordoba or both. La Mancha was great for Tapas - usually free and often quite adventurous.
Las Alpujarras - beautiful mountain range - and the province of Jaen, which could also include a visit to Granada. Jaen is one of the best provinces for tapas - usually free, and pretty substantial.
I've managed to drive from Madrid down to the SE of the country in a week, staying at different places, some rural, some urban and getting a really good feel for the country and it's food - you may wish to stay in places for more than one night, but you can still see a fair bit if you are willing to hit the road.
You will need more Spanish this way - however, I don't speak Spanish, but was able to teach myself enough to book hotel rooms and order food and drinks. Some of my best experiences were stopping for lunch in a cafe/restaurant at the side of the road in the mountains and having an amazing spread for just 6-10 Euros.
Agreeing with everyone else. You'll find good stuff everywhere.
Three cities is a good number. Or even two with a lot of side trips.
If you're not renting a car, the intercity bus system can be deeply
confusing but it's very fast, reliable, and cheap.
For just getting a sense of the food scene, I'd recommend having
a look at The Foods and Wines of Spain by Penelope Casas. It's
a cookbook primarily but designed as a general, and not at all superficial,
introduction to the way and what people eat there. She's written a bunch
of books but this was the first and best (and absolutely *avoid* her
book Discovering Spain; every time it has the chance to be wrong, it is).
Madrid should definitely be on your list. Barcelona isn't really Spain so no
need to go there :). What do you like?
I agree with the above that your post is very broad and requires a whole guidebook. Just about every region of Spain have wonderful food. 10 days is not a lot of time to cover a large area, therefore, your mode of travel might dictate where you choose. Before checking out the blogs and get bogged down with recommendations, I would get a good general guide of Spain and get familiar with the food of the different regions. If it is your first trip to Spain, it has to start with Madrid and/or Barcelona...great cities for food and just about everything else. After that, my favorite is Seville, small enough to get to know well and everything about it just comes together to make it a wonderful place. San Sebastian and it's surrounding areas are great for food, from very high end restaurants to the best local food.
That is a very big question, and I'm sure you'll get good answers. For starters, though, you can't do better than browse this forum. There are many posters who know the cities of Spain well, and their advice is worth taking: I've benefited especially from posts by Butterfly, PBSF, and KathinMadrid, amongst others.