There are a lot of small villages in the Basque Country, but there is only one that was on the New York Times’ Places To Visit in 2013 list which we so happened to visit back in 2011 with Gabriella from Tenedor. Getaria is just a 20 minute drive from San Sebastian and is bordered by the Catabrian Sea. For many years it was merely known as a fishing village and the home of Juan Sebastián Elcano, the first man to circumvent the globe. More recently though, it has become known internationally for a number of items it has produced.
As a fishing village it houses one of the best artisanal anchovy suppliers, Maisor Anchoas, and their retail store, Itsas Mendi. Before our initial visit to the Basque Country in 2010, anchovies were untouchable. Overfishing caused a significant decline in anchovy stock and was subsequently banned. Luckily by 2010, the ban had recently been lifted. The people at Maisor are responsible for every aspect of the extremely tedious and manually driven anchovy producing process, from fishing all the way to packaging. After catching the anchovies in the Catabrian Sea, they are cleaned, salted and cured by hand. After a number of months in salt barrels they are cleaned again before being prepared and packaged as filetts. Although most North Americans are used to a very salty and fishy taste, anchovies here are quite the contrary. The preparation and curing processes produce a very smooth almost butter-like texture and a very refined flavour.
Balenciaga is a name that probably resonates with a number of people. Getaria is the birthplace and former home of the world famous designer, Cristóbal Balenciaga. Today, Queen Fabiola of Belgium’s former summer home in Getaria is now the Balenciaga Museum. It houses many of the designer’s pieces throughout the years and is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the town.
A two minute walk from the Balenciaga Museum is the Denominación de Origen for txakoli (pronounced cha-ko-lee), the regulators of the wine coming from the Hondarrabi vines. Txakoli in the Basque Country is as ubiquitous as cava is to Catalonia. Upon any visit to the area there is no doubt in my mind that you will leave with a drop of txakoli in your blood stream. It is a dry, fizzy, light and somewhat citrus-flavoured white wine that has low alcohol content. It is normally served chilled, from the height of your arm into a flat-bottomed glass which helps bring out the fizz and as an aperitif or alongside pintxos, seafood or anchovies drenched in olive oil.
We visited one of the txakoli wineries, Txomin Etxaniz, located on the edge of the rolling hills of Getaria and bordered by the Cantabrian Sea. The business is currently run by the three Txueka Etxaniz brothers and had been passed down from previous generations of the family. The Txomin Etxaniz winery produces some of the best txakoli I know of and is also served in various restaurants around the world.
Ernesto, one of the owners of winery, said that it pains him to hear stories of friends seeing older vintages of their txakoli in high end restaurants in other countries selling for significantly more than their original price. Because not only does the quality of the txakoli suffer with age, but he also never made txakoli to be sold for exorbitant prices. This frame of mind is a true representation of the numerous producers we have met throughout the Basque Country – never compromising quality for price and always producing for the people. Another example of their dedication to quality occurred as we were chatting with Ernesto over some of their txakoli and anchovies. The height we poured the txakoli into my glass was apparently not high enough. So Ernesto took my used glass, drank the remainder of my txakoli and poured me a new glass the right way, all for the sake of giving me the optimum flavour experience.
Our visit to the winery was followed by a lunch at a restaurant called Iribar, located right by the Gothic Church of San Salvador in the old part of town. It is currently run by the third generation of the family and has preserved its classic look and feel. Like most restaurants in the area, the grill is their primary means of cooking and is situated right by the entrance of the restaurant. Before eating, I actually thought the grill outside was simply just for show. Only during our meal, when the Chef brought out the raw items we were having for lunch through our table, did I realise that the grill was actually in use.
Food at Iribar is comprised of freshly caught seafood and seasonal ingredients from the surrounding Catabrian Sea. Our meal here started with a dish made of a couple of spring Basque staples, squid and baby peas. This was followed by phallic-looking white asparagus and a massive sea bream caught only hours earlier. Both were grilled by Chef just as we ordered them. The meal was completed with vanilla ice cream. The desert was very similar to the ice cream at Asador Etxebarri as both were prepared almost the same way. The milk was smoked beforehand which gave the final product a very subtle but obvious smokey flavour.
For its size (the population is around 3000), what Getaria is able to produce along with the quality of what it produces is nothing short of remarkable. All the acclaim this town receives is well deserved and is a great place to visit if you are ever in the Basque region.
To view pictures of our trip to Getaria in its entirety, click through the photo set below. If you are using a mobile device, please click here for compatibility.
Thanks for reading,
C & S