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Tagline: Culture. Cuisine. Discovery.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Cobblestone Small Group Tours
757 St. Charles Ave. Suite 203
New Orleans, LA 70130



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Cobblestone’s Well-fed Traveler

The following was re-printed from The Cultured Traveler, an online travel newsletter.

by Marilyn Wilson

Eating My Way Through Northern Spain
What are the culinary delights of northern Spain? Among them, lamb roasted to perfection, succulent with only simple spices that enhance its natural flavor. Or monkfish caught before dawn’s light and brought to the restaurant—a delicate lump of white fish that flakes with a fork and delights with a richness like lobster. Or crisp, young vegetables, purchased directly from the farmer to be used in the chef’s creations of the day. Those are just a few of the delicacies that come to mind. But half the fun is the journey through country and culture that leads to the discovery of the cuisine.

Let us not forget the wine! My most recent tour began in the village of Haro, which is capital of the Rioja Alta wines, and also home of the Rioja Wine Museum. A walk-through tour of the museum provided a foundation for visiting and tasting at the vineyards and bodegas, and understanding the variety of wines served with late lunches and dinners.

A visit to the Bodegas Fernando Remirez de Ganuza, in the heart of a quaint village of Samaniego, provided an opportunity to see the gently rolling landscape of the La Rioja region, which is divided into a patchwork of crops. The Remirez de Ganuza bodega harvests its own grapes from its 50 hectares of vineyards. After initial fermentation, the wine goes into large oak barrels to mature. The best of the barrels are selected for bottling and the final aging process. The Reserva and Grand Reserva red wines are full-bodied and reflect the care taken in the process to provide an elegant wine.

Lunch in Laguardia (kind of a sequel to Breakfast at Tiffany’s?) was in the middle of the medieval city, surrounded by walls and built on a mountain. No traffic is allowed within the city walls because the mountains were tunneled out for wine cellars long ago. Mayor de Migueloa restaurant served crisp, white asparagus—another delicacy of the region, with a light savory sauce. The lamb was roasted crisp on the outside and served with plenty of crusty, white bread to sop up the natural juices. The red wines complimented the lamb. They were light with aroma of the countryside, their bodies drawn from the depths of the soil; a bit of a tannic bite, yet smooth and rich.

The Restaurante Tubal in Navarra served a multi-course feast of fresh cuisine—local foods with creative twists: pâté with sauternes sauce, sautéed artichokes with wild mushrooms and pâté, soft-cooked egg in a crust of fried potatoes; seasoned peppers and little garlic bread toasts, squid lasagne with chive oil, and delicate monk fish or tender beef medallions; all finished with a combination of pineapple, ice cream, cheese and coconut light mousse with fresh coffee. The wines accompanying the meal were a Tinto Gran Feudo Civite Cr 98 and a Blanco Castillo de Monjardin chardonnay.

Of course, with such large meals served as a midday meal, one could only hope for something light at the end of the day. Thank goodness the people of Spain already thought of that and created Tapas—which is a whole area of cooking unto itself. Tapas are appetizers taken to an art form. Delicacies can include red peppers stuffed with cod or hake in a béchamel sauce; cold portions of fresh-mixed seafood salad; tasty cheese or ham croquettes; fresh cheese and anchovies; calamari salad with peppers and onion; fried merluza (a local fish delicacy) with sweet baby peppers; stuffed spider crab; a unique and rare barnacle called percebes; squid sautéed in garlic and saffron; fresh anchovies; clams in marinara sauce; and a variety of fresh marinated seasonal mushrooms. Every bar in every city in Northern Spain serves tapas. They are more than just an appetizer because you can’t eat just one. Tapas, with a little wine and conversation, are the fabric of the community.

In San Sebastian, excellent food can be found at the stalls of the La Brecha market—exotic cheeses, cured Bayonne ham sliced paper thin, fresh baguettes and an array of fruits and vegetables. For an ultimate dining experience, you can’t surpass a meal at Arzak’s, a renowned 3-star restaurant named for its celebrated chef. Every course was a new experience!: Cream of fresh mushroom soup, a plate of five different soft cheeses, a delicate puff pastry stuffed with shrimp and served with slivers of pumpkin crisps, fresh local fish with delicate sauce, tender loins of beef in a brown glaze, baskets of hearty white rolls, and sweets that evaporated as they were savored. Wines were selected to compliment each course—chilled, clear chardonnays, bold but delicate reds. It was a memorable meal.

Our Wine & Gastronomy Tour also offers a dinner at a Gastronomic Society, a fraternal club where men cook and entertain without female companionship. Guests may include women, and our hosts serenaded us throughout a bountiful meal that started with small local fish in a crisp batter, followed by a hearty stew made of fresh vegetables, roasted duckling and baskets of fresh bread. As the sun slid into the ocean across the bay, red wine and rich male voices retained the warmth of the inner sanctum.

I have so many good memories of the abundance of food, both simply and elegantly prepared, with a variety of exciting wines—all of them enjoyed in a region rich in history, art and architecture. It was a gastronomic experience for the soul!

Marilyn Wilson works at New Orleans-based Cobblestone Tours, which offers culinary-based visits to northern Spain, Portugal and Sicily.

Dates: May 24-June 1, 2003; October 4-12, 2003
Price: $2,995 per person, based on double occupancy.
Single supplement: $290
Terms: Price includes: seven nights accommodations, two full-time guides and driver; entrance fees to museums and sites; breakfast and one multi-course meal with wines each day. Price does not include round-trip air to and from Bilbao.

Phone: Toll-free: 800-227-7889 or 504-522-7888
Fax: 504-525-1273

(end re-print)

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