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Agriturismos in Spain?

A question for those in the know. Two summers ago, we took an incredible trip through Italy structured entirely around food. We based ourselves at three different agriturismos (farm/inn/b&b) where we had heard good reports on the food. In the day, we explored, snacked, etc. At night we returned to amazing home cooked meals.

My question is whether anything like this exists in Spain. I don't remember anything like it when I lived in Bilbao ten years ago - but I was just out of college and more inclined to be seeking out burgers and calimotxo than I was to be seeking out a perfect hilltop inn.

I ask because we are thinking of coming to northern Spain next summer (probably driving from Bilbao, through the picos, to Galicia) and we'd love to be able to structure our trip the same way we did it in Italy. Any thoughts?

Thanks so much in advance.

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  1. Hi,

    I live in Italy and I had the same desires going to rural Spain, but then discovered that the real joy of touring small-town Spain, especially in northern Spain, is staying in small towns and joining in the evening tapas blow-outs. It is really something not to miss. I can't say I've looked high and low but I did do a fair amount of research looking around Spain for agriturismo-type accommodations. Lodgings-with-owner-cooks is a bit more common around Barcelona, whose urbanites head out for a relaxing or romantic long weekend. But the classic Italian agriturismo serving nonna's recipes -- which was partly governmentally subsidized to enable small farmers to hang on to their miniscule family farms -- isn't a common style in Spain.

    For Galicia, I can highly recommend you not miss Pontevedra for its food scene, and I also enjoyed Ourense, which claims to be the home of pulpo gallegos. I was not in Lugo for the tapas/dinner hours, but it is also a terrific foodie town and has lovely sights. A Coruna is trickier (it's more of a restaurant town as far as I can tell, but you can track down some tapas scenes). You can find great seafood everywhere you go along the Costa del Muerte (Muros is terrific, and I also had wonderfully fresh fish and seafood at a beach shack, which are open all over the coast in summer). I didn't go to Santiago de Compostela or Vigo. I didn't eat in Tuy, but I probably should have! It is a fine destination.

    I've yet to visit Asturias or Cantabria, or too much beyond San Sebastian of the Basque country, so I can't offer any help there.

    You can always check out the scene in paradores, which serve dinner. They have varying reputations for food. There are some high-end lodgings attached to wineries that have restaurants. The Michelin-starred restaurant As Garzas (near A Coruna, on the sea) has rooms, I believe. (I know it has delicious food.) It is quite remote, however. (Even with a GPS I ended up lost and driving through a field with a bull grazing in it trying to find the restaurant), and you might find that a lot of destination-countryside inns that offer great gastronomy and wine are not well situated for the kind of fun high-density cultural sightseeing that Italy has, although there is plenty of natural landscape that is stunning.

    Anyway, the eating and cultural compensations of staying in the smaller towns and cities are really rewarding, and get you much closer to the rhythm and unique culture of Spain. The food and wine can be absolutely outstanding as well, especially on the Basque coast.

    Have yourself a huge lunch and then graze on tapas in the evening. The scene goes on until late at night.

    1. PS: I wish you would write a report on your Italian experiences over on the Italy board. I clicked on your name to see where you went and ate, and didn't find a report, although I did find your planned itinerary. If you wrote a report about Italy, please put a link to it here. And if you didn't, I hope you will at least write up a few words for that board. I'm quite curious about where you stayed around Pontremoli (a favorite eating town of mine), and what you ate and drank, as well as other agriturismi where you stayed. I'm sure others would benefit from knowing about your experiences as well.

      5 Replies
      1. re: barberinibee

        Sigh - I began writing a report and it just got too big. I promise that I'll get back to it though.

        Thanks so much for the thoughts. I had a sense that small towns might be the best option. When I lived in Bilbao I was actually in Algorta (in Gexto) and the tapas scene was local and great. So to was it in Lekeitio. Now just to choose those little food towns...

        1. re: badschiraldi

          Ourense is known as the gastronomic capital of Galicia, although how this gets decided, I don't know. You might want to peruse Gerry Dawes's blog:

          http://www.gerrydawesspain.com/

          I hope other Chowhounders who are yearly travelers spot this thread and contribute. I haven't spent enough time in Spain to give you any sort of definitive answers on countryside accommodations. I seem to recall one time tracking down on the internet a few places deep in the picos where people can spend nights and have meals. Unfortunately, I lost a hard drive since then, bookmarks gone!

          If nothing else, naming the agriturismi where you stayed in Italy as an update to your old threads on the Italy board would be great.

          1. re: barberinibee

            PS: I just plucked this place in Asturias off of Gerry Dawes's blog:

            http://www.lacueste.com/la-casa/por-q...

            If you dig around, you might come up with more. If you use the link below, the website has a search feature that allows you to check "dinner service." Some places will probably only cook dinners for a guest on request or in high season, but that is true of many agriturismi in Italy too:

            http://www.toprural.co.uk/

            1. re: barberinibee

              We spent 2 night in Ourense 4 years ago and loved it. Nice small/quick tapas scene. Had lots of tasty things, grelos, revoltos, excellent pulpo....I hadn't heard it was the capitol of anything but a Provence where people were still leaving. That said, it's the gateway to the Ribera sacra/Sil Valley which is worth a detour.

              1. re: MOREKASHA

                I misspoke. Or misposted.

                I took my octopus-obssessed husband to Galicia, and the province of Ourense claims to be ground zero for pulpo a la gallega (the town of O Carballiño near Ourense holds a pulpo festival every August).

                http://www.gerrydawesspain.com/2011/1...

                However, apparently Galicians consider Lugo the "Gastronomic Capital of Galicia" --- and truth be told, we did like the octopus better at Restuurante Verruga in Lugo than we did at Casa do Pulpo in Ourense

                http://www.mydestination.com/galicia/...

                http://www.verruga.es/

                However, I ate and drank wonderfully in Ourense. I was especially happy in a somewhat trendy "vinoteca" in the old quarter called Acio, whose wine selections I particularly enjoyed.

        2. I have spent quite a bit of time in northwest Spain and I agree with barberinibee - I haven't seen too many agriturismo types of places around. The advice to stay in towns and small cities and do the tapas thing is spot on - you could alternate this with a couple of rural stays in apartments where you shop at local markets and cook for yourself at home. In the Picos they have fantastic beef and of course the cabrales cheese and all you need to do is pan fry some beef and melt some cabrales on it at the end and.. well, I can tell you, it is pretty awesome.

          In addition to the recommendation for Pontevedra I would add Oviedo, it has the same vibrant feeling though it is quite a bit different in the general feel of the town. I have had great tapas in La Coruna too though I was with a friend so I can't remember where. If you decide to go there, I will write to him and post here - there was one street with a lot of bars and we ate and drank for hours there.

          In my opinion the food at the paradors has become so iffy I am not willing to take a chance on them anymore. Love staying at them, but the food... yuck. It wasn't always this way, I think they have been cost cutting in the wrong areas, just in order to stay afloat.

          Northern Spain is such a glorious place and I am sure you will have a fantastic time. Happy planning!

          1. Hi, we travel a lot in Northern Spain, especially Asturias where we have family. Rural tourism is huge in Spain. Although places exist like those you described in Italy, the way it usually works is that each little town has a few gastronomic spots and the place where you stay (hotel or house rental) will usually offer breakfast, but anything beyond that usually has to be arranged. In general, people on vacation here tend to like to walk around and go out, rather than eat where they are staying. If you go on the weekend, during one of the many holidays, or during August, things will be going full steam and everything will be open. If you go during an off time, things may be quiet and the nicer spots (geared toward escapees from the big cities and weekenders) may even be closed. In Asturias, along the coast, you can expect to find a sidrería/chigre serving hyper-local seafood/crustaceans within walking distance of wherever you are staying, even in the smallest towns. And usually a better, higher end seafood spot and maybe an elevated-country-food kind of place (El Molín de Mingo and El Llar de Viri, for example). Small towns in Spain pride themselves on offering local specialties of the triumvirate: 1. heavy-duty meat/cured pork product/sea creature; 2. special pastry/cheese, 3. alcoholic beverage. Aside from being a tradition, it's kind of a marketing thing and you can count on finding this configuration in almost any corner of Spain. When we go to Asturias, we usually spend a week or so exploring the culinary options within a 10km radius (with maybe one or two bigger excursions) and come back very, very happy.

            There are also seaside towns that are sort of gastronomically oriented like Tazones or Cudillero (or bigger towns like Llanes or Ribadesella) with lots of little seafood spots.

            And you'll find a lot of "casas rurales" that have restaurants attached, often good ones. Here's one:

            http://www.tresgrandas.com/

            If you have a decent amount of time, I think a fun itinerary would be to rent a car and stay at a farm in the interior of the País Vasco. There are family-run cheese farms that do agritourism. Then move on to the coast of Asturias (around Ribadesella if you want to be close to the Picos de Europa or on the wilder western coast if you are looking for something more remote--or the interior if you want to visit a real-world hobbitland. And then hit a small town in Galicia or La Rioja. Just dreaming for you...

            2 Replies
            1. re: butterfly

              Fabulous info, butterfly. Any first-rate eateries from your experience you'd care to name within your 10km radius, or of note anywhere, or seafood spots especially, or anything having to do with food in the region would be great for the database.

              For places like El Molín de Mingo and El Llar de Viri, does it make sense to go for lunch? If so, any particular day?

              Do you know of any cheese producing farms that have restaurants? One thing i've noticed about the rural inns is that driving back to them at night does seem a challenge, so having the opportunity to eat dinner there, if only by pre-arrangement, would be welcome in some of the pristine scenic areas that are not close to towns.

              1. re: butterfly

                I second the suggestion of looking at casas rurales - while they are not agriturismos in the Italian tradition, many of them provide home cooked food and they are great for exploring some of the more remote areas.

                They vary from being a room in a small B&B type place (we went to one with three bedrooms and the owner cooked us a great five course meal in the evening - fantastic value), through to having a whole house to yourselves.

                Try these two websites:

                www.casasrurales.com
                www.toprural.com

                Many places don't have website and you may need to book in Spanish over the phone, but if you can do this, you won't be disappointed - it's a lovely way to see the country and meet the people.

              2. I don't have extensive experience to offer but I did stay outside Santiago de Compostela last May for a couple of nights at a really nice house about 15 minutes drive outside of the city in a beautiful valley.

                The rooms were lovely and reasonably priced we thought. We loved that it was set so rurally. The house is surround by grape vines. They make their own wine there and do an evening meal. It's not fancy but felt authentic. In fact that whole area felt so authentic and was so beautiful that I'm headed back to Galicia this May to spend some more time there.

                You can check them out on tripadvisor: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Revi...

                2 Replies
                1. re: Capersarebest

                  Never believe reviews on Trip advisor do you?

                  1. re: Lugosur

                    I have generally found that it's a useful resource. I don't use it as my only resource but it can help confirm what others are saying; or it can point me towards something really interesting that I didn't know existed.

                    As I posted photos and a review of that specific pazo on tripadvisor I felt pretty confident that I was offering an accurate link in this case.