Exciting news, cheese friends! If you’d like to spend 10 days tasting your way through the Basque Country of France and Spain, it just so happens that I’m organizing a custom-made, 20-person tour that highlights the ancient cheese making traditions of the Basque Country in the French Pyrenees and northern Spain.
From September 21-30 this fall, we’ll visit and tour six Basque Country cheese factories, a Txakoli winery, the Asturias Coast, stay in boutique hotels and spend an entire day exploring San Sebastian, the most popular foodie city in the world. I’m excited to be your host for this tour, and am partnering with some amazing tour operators in Europe to visit off-the-beaten-path farms and creameries.
Here’s a glance at the itinerary:
Day 1 – Thursday, Sept. 21 – Arrive Biarritz, Ainhoa
Upon everyon’es arrival in Biarritz, France, we depart in our own private coach bus for the French Basque cheese country of Ossau-Iraty in the French Pyrenees. We’ll stop in the main hamlet of St. Jean Pied de Port, a delightful historic village on the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrim route. Then enjoy a cheese themed lunch and an afternoon visit to a small cheese factory producing Ossau Iraty. We’ll settle into the picture postcard little village of Ainhoa for a free evening on our own. Overnight at Hotel Ithurria in Ainhoa. Meals: LUNCH
Day 2 – Friday, Sept. 22 – Ainhoa
We start right away with a visit to a farm and French Pyrenees Basque cheesemaker of sheep’s cheese, Ardi Gasna, in the Nive valley. Ardi Gasna is a semi-hard cheese aged between four and six months. We’ll enjoy this scenic visit to the French countryside, see the farm’s animals, enjoy a fabulous tasting of all cheeses, and then spend the afternoon sightseeing to cheese shops and quaint villages. Dinner this evening is at the Michelen-starred restaurant of Hotel Ithurria and features a rustic French Basque experience. Overnight at Hotel Ithurria. Meals: BREAKFAST, DINNER
Day 3 – Saturday, Sept. 23 – Asturias
After breakfast, we’ll pick up and hit the road for Spain, crossing the border and traveling on to Asturias, known as the land of cheeses. We’ll arrive in Vidiago, a stunning Llanes province and enjoy a tasting and tour at the tiny artisan producer, Queso Vidiago Collera. These cheeses are made from cow, goat and sheep milk, and are cured and macerated in olive oil for at least 90 days before being cut into wedges. A wonderful cider house lunch will follow at Casa Poli on the coast. In the afternoon, we’ll visit the seafront and see the Bufon de Arenillas (natural sea geysers). Then travel to our Asturias hotel, which features a beautiful, cave-like spa. Overnight at Maria Manuela Hotel & Spa. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.
Day 4 – Sunday, Sept. 24 – Asturias
Engage in local culture with a visit to the delightful small country weekly market in Cangas de Onis, featuring local cheeses, foods and wares. Enjoy a walk up to the Roman bridge in Cangas. Lunch at a rustic, fun tapas restaurant, followed by a panoramic drive to Covadonga and its ethereal lakes. There is an easy and relaxed walking path along the lakes, featuring views of the Picos de Europa mountain range. You’ll have a free evening to relax or spend in the spa. Overnight at Maria Manuela Hotel & Spa. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.
Day 5 – Monday, Sept. 25 – Asturias
In the morning, enjoy a visit to a Gamoneu cheesemaker, a Protected Designation of Origin cheese made in Asturias. Then the rest of the afternoon is devoted to Cabrales, a Spanish blue cheese. We’ll visit the CuevaMuseo of Cabrales to get an overview of the traditions of the area, and then follow with a full Cabrales experience from pasture to plate, experiencing a family run dairy making this famous blue cheese and visit the famous Cabrales caves. We’ll stop for sightseeing in Sotres and Tielves and enjoy an afternoon panoramic drive in the absolutely gorgeous Picos de Europa mountain range. Dinner tonight is at a wonderful, quaint, local restaurant in Cangas de Onis. Overnight at Maria Manuela Hotel & Spa. Meals: BREAKFAST, DINNER.
Day 6 – Tuesday, Sept. 26 – San Antolin, Pais Vasco
Pick up and head back towards the coast of Llanes and visit an artisan cheese producer near San Antolin, a famous surfer beach. Tour and taste mixed milk cheeses. Carry on to the amusingly named hamlet of Poo. Poo de Llanes, that is, and pronounced “Po”. Stop at the gorgeous Poo beach for coffee on the terrace, overlooking the sea and enjoy free time to get in a beach walk. This afternoon, we’ll enjoy a unique Cider experience at El Romano, where on a beautiful Atlantic stretch of northern Spain, the production and consumption of cider has a history that stretches back to the first century B.C. Visit a plantation with more than 200 apple trees and learn the cider making process. Enjoy a lovely lunch. In the afternoon, carry on to Pais Vasco and enjoy coastal scenery. Overnight at Villa Soro in San Sebastian, with a free evening to explore this famous city. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.
Day 7 – Wednesday, Sept. 27 – Ordizia, San Sebastian
After breakfast, we’ll visit an open air food market in Ordizia. This bustling market is located in a handsome columned marketplace and has operated every Wednesday since Queen Juana granted permission in 1512. We’ll have an hour to immerse ourselves in local culture before leaving to enjoy a full Idiazabal cheese experience on the “Idiazabal Gaztaren Ibilbidea” (cheese route). Nestled in the valleys of the lush green mountain ranges that rise up from the Aralar and Aizkorri Natural Parks, the area of Goierri is known for its shepherding tradition that has remained largely unchanged for thousands of years. Many farmers still practice transhumance, following ancient grazing routes up the mountains with their flocks in early summer, and retreating down to the valleys in winter. Lunch will be in a cozy Basque “Caserio” farm house where roast beef is usually the star of the day, served with rich Riojan wines. The afternoon will include stops at one or two medieval hamlets for photos and exploring, and then head back to San Sebastian in early evening for free time. Overnight at Villa Soro in San Sebastian. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.
Day 8 – Thursday, Sept. 28 – San Sebastian
We’ll start off our experience in the most famous foodie city in the world with lunch at a traditional secret gastronomic society, including a visit beforehand to the local market to buy ingredients. Then our guides will give us options on exploring this fabulous city on our own for the afternoon. San Sebastian is one of Spain’s most attractive, charming and popular cities, and this sophisticated coastal gem, situated in the north of Spain, has much to offer. Lying on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, surrounded by hills, and offering a lively beach front means San Sebastian is a city that boasts a range of natural beauty. Its fabulous architecture, plazas and parks dotted throughout the city adds to its well-deserved label as the “pearl” of the North of Spain. At 7 pm, we’ll meet up as a group for a walking, eating and drinking tour of the beautiful old town of San Sebastian. Overnight at Villa Soro in San Sebastian. Meals: BREAKFAST, DINNER.
Day 9 – Friday, Sept. 29 – Hondarribia, San Sebastian
This morning, we’ll visit Talai Berri, a Txakoli winery making one of the world’s greatest novelty wines. Produced in the breathtakingly beautiful Basque coast, the Txakoli winemakers have to fight the elements to make this famous white wine to supply the restaurants of San Sebastian. Txakoli is a genuine Basque product, unique in that it is only made in three main villages, and Basque Country is literally the only place on earth where you can find it. The owner, Bixente Eiagirre Aginaga, is the 4th generation of winemakers in his family, and is the head winemaker with his daughter, Itziar, second in command. In the afternoon, our guide will take us on a walk around the charming village of Hondarribia, one of the prettiest in Northern Spain. Twisted cobblestone alleys are lined with ornate churches, shady plazas and stately manor houses with balconies overflowing with flowers. We’ll celebrate with a farewell lunch at the best seafood restaurant in Northern Spain, Elkano, with Idiazabal cheese ice cream for dessert. The last evening of the trip is on your own to relax, enjoy a drink in San Sebastian and start packing for departure. Overnight at Villa Soro in San Sebastian. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.
Day 10 – Saturday, Sept. 30 – Departure
At our preferred time, ouor coach will transfer us to Biarritz airport for the journey home.
Price: $3,995 per person, (single travelers $599 extra), includes hotel accommodations in 3- and 4-star boutique hotels, eight private cheese experiences with tastings, visits and educational presentations, a cider experience, two local farmer market visits and numerous walking tours of medieval hamlets and villages, nine full breakfasts, six lunches with wines/cider, and three dinners with wines/cider, and private transportation via coach bus while in-country. We’ll enjoy the services of a professional bilingual guide for the duration of the trip, as well as a detailed keepsake itinerary book with tour info, maps, shopping tips and more. Travelers must be 18 years of age or older.
Airfare is additional. You may reserve your spot with a $1,100 deposit by clicking here. I hope you’ll consider joining me on this trip of a lifetime! To view the full brochure, please visit my website by clicking here.