CULINARY EXPERIENCES

A PINCH OF SALT IN THE SALT VALLEY

In the Añana Salt Valley, with more than three thousand years of history, the white terraces of salt spread out before you like an albino mining complex.

Añana Valley Salt Flats

Men and women have known how to exploit the abundant springs to obtain an extraordinary high-quality salt, appreciated by gourmets all over the world. The scenery is exceptional, so unique, that it is a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site candidate. Our experience begins with a guided tour of the Salt Valley in which we learn about the history and the geological and biological peculiarities. But there is nothing like actually tasting the brine, the salt water that flows through the intricate network of canals and supplies the valley, to begin to understand the process. We see and touch the tools used by the salt producers.

Harvesting salt

Next, we move on to the Saline Spa, to experience the medicinal properties of the brine on our hands and feet. Your skin is left as soft as a peach! We then reach the Salt Room, where you can sample the range of gourmet salts. To finish the tour, you can choose to sample a unique menu seasoned with Añana Salt.

Harvesting salt

There are several options depending on distances and budgets. The closest is La Era restaurant, just 7 km away, in Escota. Or make your way to Bizkaia or Guipuzkoa to a Michelin-starred restaurant: Chef Pedro Subijana's Akelarre, Andoni Luis Aduriz's Mugaritz, Martín Berasategui, or Eneko Atxa's Azurmendi; all great chefs who have ‘adopted’ a salt bed in Salt Valley. I purchased a small souvenir packet containing a sample of all the salts produced here to take home with me. From now on, whenever I add salt to my food, I’ll remember this magical place.

CHEESE MAKING

One of the best delicacies produced in the Basque Country bears the Designation of Origin certificate and is perfect with a glass of Rioja Alavesa wine: Idiazabal D.O. cheese. And you can find out how it is made by visiting a farmhouse and, even learn how to do it yourself through the ancient wisdom of the shepherds. But, to understand it fully, what could be better than to start off with a visit to a shepherd's hut, designed to provide refuge to the shepherds and their flock. Here you find out about the shepherd's work.

Milking sheep

The Guipuzcoan countryside has strong ties to shepherding and is the home of Idiazabal cheese, of international fame thanks to its quality and flavour. When you visit the cheese farm, you discover that each cheese bears the mark of its maker, turning it into a unique product.

Making cheese

The best time to visit is between May and July when the cheese-making process is at its height and activity is vibrant. I watched the love and care that goes into the process. The talk with the shepherd went on. While I listened and contemplated the meadows of the Natural Parks of Aralar and Aizkorri-Aratz, dotted with sheep, I thought about how lucky it is that this unique legacy in the form of cheese has been maintained. Then it was time to move on because the Ordizia festival was on. This is where the oldest market in the province takes place, and it is highly recommended if you want to buy Idiazabal cheese.

Making cheese

What's more, in September a competition is held in this town to select the best Idiazabal of the year. The chefs on the jury are among the best, Juan Mari Arzak, Karlos Arguiñano, Martín Berasategui, Pedro Subijana... I had no intention of leaving without tasting the best cheese from last year.