Saturday in the Basque Country began like this: I stepped into the shower, turned on the water, and looked out the window. Just beyond the glass, a cow was grazing. He had one eye on his breakfast and one eye on me washing my hair.
After my own breakfast, I headed out for a drive along the rocky Basque coast. The morning had its pleasures–tasting both Idiazabal cheese and txakoli wine from the source–but it was Saturday afternoon that left a firm impression. In the coastal fishing village of Getaria, the giddiness of a sunny weekend afternoon was in full swing. Narrow streets lined with bars were full of locals holding glasses of icy white wine while children ran in circles around them. The streets were also lined with grills, locally called an asador, where whole fish in wire baskets were roasting over smoky coals. Down by the waterfront, the locals who weren’t seated at an outdoor table were stretched out on the beach. In early September, the temperature was still warm enough to spread a blanket in the sand and top up a summer sun tan.
I walked up an appetite, then settled into a table with a view of the water. There was only one thing to order: one of those fish I saw on the outdoor grills throughout town. It was served whole, then expertly filleted at the table. Roasted potatoes were the only simple accompaniment.
Soon every table in the restaurant was taken, and every table was covered in plates piled high with seafood. There was nothing else to be done at this time of day, on this day of the week, then to gather with family and friends at a big round table and watch the sun descend in the sky. The restaurant did not expect to turn the tables or squeeze in another seating. Patrons were the opposite of in a rush. Saturday was part of a sacred ritual, a food- and drink-fueled, time-honored tradition. This is the type of ritual I can heartily get behind.
I covered “Basque Country Off the Beaten Path: How to Eat and Drink Like a Local” with three fun itineraries in this story for AFAR.
- There are approximately 7 million bottles of wine aging in the cellars of Marques de Riscal.
- Wine was once transported in the skin of a goat (men could hold the legs over their shoulders and carry the wine-filled-skin on their backs through narrow streets).
- One farm owner in the coastal hills told me she keeps a few sheep, “just to mow the lawn”.
- The Basque Country is home to delightfully weird sports, often rooted in farm life, including rock lifting, tree sawing, wood chopping, and tug of war.