España Verde is perhaps one of Spain’s most underrated area. Sitting on the north coast and running from the French border to the Portuguese border, España Verde (or simply Green Spain) is one of the country’s most diverse regions both in terms of things to see (whether that’s traditional monasteries right through to the Guggenheim) and also in its culinary history. Made up of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country, the region has developed a name for itself as one of the world’s greatest sources of everything from jamon and sardines right through to seasonal vegetables and olives.
While many will know Spain for it’s more traditionally Mediterranean landscapes of rolling mountains and drier orange tinted soils, Green Spain is exactly as the name suggests, a luscious region of the country that is dominated by more traditionally northern-European countryside. The food also takes influence from more traditional Spanish dishes such as tapas and seafood, and blends it with local specialties such as hearty stews and cured pork dishes.
To celebrate the culinary variance and breathtaking landscapes of España Verde, Elite Traveler has put together the ultimate seven day guide to the most of the region.
Day One – Fly Into Bilbao
Located nine miles to the north of the city is Bilbao Airport. The largest facility in the area, the Santiago Calatrava designed airport, known as ‘The Dove’, offers private jet users the chance to fly directly into the heart of España Verde.
Once you’ve landed, you will be able to travel to the city centre via private transfer before checking into Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao. With views out across the city, the Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao is the city’s most luxurious hotel and sits a stones throw from the Guggenheim.
Elite Traveler would then recommend a booking at Mina, a Michelin-starred restaurant sitting on the bank of Bilbao’s estuary. The restaurant focuses on serving traditional Basque country tapas, including dishes such as smoked txtixarro with cauliflower and cider, as well as a series of fantastic pork dishes inspired by the regions love of jamon and the rare breeds of pig found in the local area.
Day Two – A Private Tour of Rioja Vineyards
What would a trip to the Basque Country be without a tour of one of the world’s most famous wine regions – Rioja. Offering one of the most comprehensive and luxurious tours of the region is Wine Tourism Spain, who offer an eight hour journey around three of the region’s most prestigious wineries as well as a chance to take in the views of the historic towns of Laguardia and Rioja Alavesa. To offer guests the most in-depth tour possible, Wine Tourism Spain also offer guests their own private wine expert who will talk you through why the region is such a well-established wine producer.
Once you’ve travelled back to Bilbao, we would recommend going to Zortziko for dinner. Run by the world-famous Daniel Garcia, Zortziko is widely regarded as one of the city’s best restaurants. With three different dining rooms, one offering the feeling of a Versailles-esque dining room, another offering a more traditional English-styling, and the final room, a more contemporary and laid back vibe. The menu focuses on offering local favorites such as roast baby squid with peppers, and scallops on a bed of tomato carpaccio. A quintessential Basque country meal.
Day Three – Drive To Cantabria
Situated just over 100 kilometers from Bilbao is the capital of Cantabria – Santander. Perhaps most well known for its anchovies (which are widely regarded as the best in the world), Cantabria has an abundance of fresh seafood and is well known for serving some of the best fish dishes in all of Spain.
Once you arrive in Santander, Elite Traveler would recommend checking into either the Eurostars Hotel Real, a 1917 palatial hotel which sits in the centre of the city and overlooks the city’s famous bay. Alternatively, for those seeking refuge from the city, we would recommend the Hotel Palacio de la Peña, a quaint five-star hotel that sits just outside the city centre on the north shores of the region and has the feeling of a traditional Spanish estate mixed with that of a grand church.
When visiting Santander, the best restaurant by a long way is Cenador de Amós. Set within a beautiful 18th Century palatial building, the two-Michelin starred restaurant offers three menus – Memoria, Esencia and Experiencia. Run by Jesús Sánchez, the winner of numerous awards including The 100 Best Restaurants award for ‘Best Contemporary Classic Restaurant’, Sánchez focuses on serving the best produce from the surrounding regions, with an emphasis on pairing traditional techniques with modern forms of cooking. Some of the dishes you can expect include the likes of supreme poached cod sirloin with leeks, and Carico montañés, a traditional Cantabrian dish made using beans only found in the local area.
Day Four – Travel To ‘The Land of Cheese’
A short drive from Cantabria is Asturias, the penultimate region in our seven day tour of España Verde. Known as ‘The Land of Cheese’, Asturias is one of Spain’s most prestigious cheese producers and has long established itself as a culinary hotspot.
To get the most of Asturias, Elite Traveler recommends staying in Parador de Cangas de Onís, a four-star hotel situated just outside of the small town of Cangas de Onís. Not only is the property one of the regions most luxurious hotels, with the rooms set within the grounds of a medieval monastery, but it is also a short drive from the area’s most luxurious restaurant – the two Michelin-starred, Casa Marcial.
Parador de Cangas de Onís is perfect for those looking for the chance to unwind in the lush greenery of España Verde. While the hotel doesn’t have a spa, a series of Thai massages and other treatments are available at the hotel’s relaxation spot situated next to a 17th century well. The hotel also offers a number of free yoga classes several times a week, as well as the opportunity for guests to explore the area via bike rental. For those looking for even more adventure, the hotel can also arrange fishing, kayaking, hiding and horse riding.
Once you’ve explored the area, guests will need to visit the aforementioned Casa Marcial, the region’s only two Michelin-starred restaurant. Hidden among the Asturian mountains, Casa Marcial is a beautiful mansion where the restaurant’s head chef, Nacho Manzano grew up.
Focusing on serving food from his childhood, Manzano’s restaurant offers a mix of traditional Asturian food alongside more innovative and original dishes. Expect dishes such as clam and frozen water, red mullet soup and hake with a liquid salad and Hollandaise sauce.
Day Five – Visit The Cheese Caves
As Asturias is most well-known for its cheese, it would be a huge mistake to not visit some of the region’s most well established manufacturers. Cabrales, Gamonéu, Afuega’l pitu and Casín are four of the region’s most renowned cheeses, with all four variants awarded protected status by the Spanish government.
To sample these and many more, it is worth visiting the region’s largest national park – Picos de Europa. Amongst the park’s lush greenery sit thousands of limestone caves where local cheese manufacturers store their produce for anywhere between two to four months. As you travel around the park you will be able to sample some of the region’s most spectacular cheeses, with the Asturian government estimating the area is home to well over 100 different types of cheese.
Day Six – Travel To Vigo
The final region left in our ultimate seven day guide to España Verde is Galicia. Situated just north of the Portuguese border, it is obvious how the close proximity to Portugal has influenced the area in both its food and culture.
Vigo is a particularly great destination to visit in Galicia. A quaint city which is perhaps most well known for its wildlife and extensive series of archaeological sites, it is the perfect place to round off your trip.
While the city itself is relatively small, with an area of just 109.1 km², Vigo can offer even the most elite traveler plenty to see and eat. The city’s most luxurious hotel is the five-star Gran Hotel Nagari Boutique & Spa. The chic hotel offers one of the city’s finest views, with the rooftop pool giving an impressive panoramic view across Vigo’s bay.
One of the two hotel restaurants serves of mix of traditional and modern Galician cuisine and modern cuisine, while the other serves more casual fare, centred around bar snacks and small plates.
However, for those looking for something a little bit more special, Vigo is also home to Maruja Limón, the city’s only Michelin-starred restaurant. Situated opposite the city’s sailing club, Real Club Náutico, Maruja Limón is a relaxed space where guests are treated to innovative dishes made using only traditional and seasonal Galician produce. Run by self-taught chef, Rafael Centeno Móyer, Maruja Limón serves up dishes such as fish marinated in berries, and veal gizzards with braised cherries.
Day Seven – Fly Home
Situated just over 10 kilometers outside of the city-centre, Vigo Airport has a series of private runways capable of accommodating most jets, making it the perfect place to round off your trip to España Verde.