Monday, February 12, 2007

Cider In San Sebastián

If you mention the word cider to most people in Spain it's likely that the conversation will soon turn to Asturias, the region of the country that seems to be most associated with this drink. However, this weekend I have been enjoying the cider season in a different area, the Basque Country. It was a few years ago that I first became aware of the existence of cider houses in this region. The majority are only open for a short season that tends to run between January and April, for consumption of cider and, usually, a fixed menu consisting of cod tortilla, followed by cod fillets prepared in different styles, chuleton (t-bone steak), cheese and walnuts. The centre of this tradition is the province of Guipuzcoa, and specifically the area around Astigarraga, not too far inland from San Sebastián.

The first time I went it was to a cider house in the countryside that was the nearest thing I have seen in Spain to a German beerhall; long trestle tables where everyone sat to eat their menu, while the cider was poured straight from the barrel. The atmosphere was great, when people were not eating they were congregating around the cider barrels. This time around the place was nearer to San Sebastián and possibly because of this it was a bit more sophisticated but lacking a bit the atmosphere of the first time. The compensation is that San Sebastián is a great city to spend time in.

Outside of the city in the villages are some of the best casas rurales you can find, run by very hospitable owners; and much more reasonably priced than the expensive hotels of San Sebastián. Forget the negative image of the region that you can get from reading about politics and terrorism, the people are welcoming, the countryside is beautiful, the cider is really good, the weather can be a bit English and the Basques know how to do a good chuleton better than anyone else in the country! Find out more here.

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