Bizipozatours is an insiders guide to the curious country and culture that is Euskal Herria (The Basque Country). It is about connecting visitors to the wealth of unspoilt, often undiscovered, country and culture which exists here.
It is not about the well trod tourist trail where you choose your meal from a menu with photos, shuffle [...]
There is a strong tradition of cider making here in the Basque Country. Sagardotegies (cider houses) are very typical in the province of Guipuzkoa but cider is also made here in Araba and the “Sagardotegia Iturrieta” was inaugurated in 1998 with a view to reviving that tradition.
This is a very small family run cider house. It has it’s own orchard with around 600 apple trees which they hope to double in the next few years. Any additional apples are sourced locally in the valley of Aramaio and nearby. The trees are all traditional Basque and Asturian varieties. These are trees which would simply have vanished if it wasn’t for initiatives such as “Sagardotegia Iturrieta” We have lived for too long by an economic system whose principal philosophy is, “business is business and business must grow”. This has created a perilous situation where we have literally placed all our eggs in one basket. The brewing industry is a perfect example. Only fifty years ago there were thousands of little breweries and cider houses all over the world brewing all sorts of delights. Now there are just a handful. We have moved from a situation where there was lots of choice to one where there is no choice at all.
At “Sagardotegia Iturrieta” there is lots of choice and I was tremendously lucky to be invited to an event to mark the inauguration of this years cider. I tried five different organically-produced ciders each with their own particular characteristics. These ciders must be “broken” before drinking. To break the cider it is poured from a height into the glass. The glass is only filled with a little cider. To fill it up to the top would be very bad form.
Glasses are chinked with a shout of “Txotx!” /chotch/ (Cheers!)
The cider was accompanied with tortilla (Spanish omelette), morcilla (black pudding) and sopa de ajo (garlic soup).
A typical menu at “Sagardotegia Iturrieta” starts at 12€ and includes three courses and a bottle of cider. Traditionally people eat cod omelet, T bone steak, cheese and quince jam, washing it all down with copious amounts of cider direct from the barrel.
This is what Bizipozatours is all about, connecting you with the authentic Basque experience and promoting a sustainable future for all of us!
You can sample the atmosphere at Sagardotegia Iturrieta in this short video
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The first time I crossed the mountain pass of Urkiola and saw the parched white lime-stone peaks of the Duranguesado I figured, “yup, this is a place I could happily spend some time”. That gut feeling lead to a decision and today almost fifteen years later, my passion for this singular land known as Euskal Herria has only deepened.
Euskal Herria (The Basque Country) is a jumble of craggy peaks forming the western edge of the Pyrenees. The Basque mountains are around 1000m in height, the ideal size for a day trip and there are enough to keep any hill-walker or Munro bagger happy for many life times.
Of all the Basque mountains the three best known are Gorbea (1481m) Anboto (1331m) and Aitzkori (1550m). I’ve climbed them all many times but with little else to do this Christmas figured on doing all three in as many days.
As you might expect there are those who do all three in a day. The itinerary covers just over 100km, 5000m of ascent and 5000m of descent. This year was the eighteenth edition and 1560 runners set out at midnight on a Friday. The fastest ones were crossing the finishing line at 10.30am the next morning.
But that’s just being silly really. I climb mountains because I love them. Other than climbing the only thing I do that would come close to training would be standing as opposed to sitting at my local bar.
Our expedition started on December 23 with an easy ascent of Anboto from Urkiola. It’s a five hour round trip with 700m of ascent. Beautiful day although the wind was blowing at well over 100km per hour. Made for some hair raising moments on the ridge and I had to rope up with Tximis.
Met Eder at the start of the ridge and within five paces we’d identified that we knew all the same folk. The Basque Country’s like that.
Two figures struggling with the wind on a steep descent
The “Buzon” (letter box). Mountaineers leave cards here which others then send back to the club to vouch for the ascent. This one has the form of an axe.
Christmas day on Gorbea and a turn in the weather. I ventured out nonetheless enjoyed deserted roads and a festive tin of sardines on the summit with Tximis
Also visited this curious feature, The Cornisa de Atxuri. Anboto is visible in the distance.
A reasonable day though. Five hour round trip and 900m of ascent.
Day 3 Aitzkori I chose a less frequented route here up the east face ascending 1000m in a very short distance and was seven hours on the hill.
Tximista on the summit eager for more
Here’s a 360º panorama of Euskal Herria from the summit of Aitzkori. If you want to leave a comment or want more information please visit Bizipozatours on facebook
The first frosts arrived with October and the garden is entering a new phase. The plants are dying back but at the same time in peak production. It’s just not possible to eat it all so you have to find some way of preserving it. Some things you can freeze but the result is often a bit of a let down. To my mind one of the best ways to lock all the summer’s vitamins, nutrients and flavours away for the winter ahead is by pickling.
The word “chutney” is derived from the Sanskirit word caṭnī, a term for a class of spicy preparations used as an accompaniment for a main dish. Like so many Indian recipes it has been absorbed into British culinary-culture and has evolved into something quintessentially British. It is unheard of in Euskal Herria but hugely popular among my Basque friends. At least they appreciate that British food goes beyond egg ‘n chips!
There are millions of recipes with all sorts of peculiarities. Over the years I have reduced it to the essentials. Weigh your ingredients and calculate on adding 10% weight/volume of sugar (brown is best) and vinegar. I try to balance sweet fruits such as apples and plums with the other ingredients.
The recipe you can see in this video contains;
Ripe tomatoes 4Kg
Tie a selection of spices into a piece of cloth. This chutney has black pepper, ginger, chile flakes, mustard seeds, cardamon and ginger. Chuck your spice bag in with the rest of the ingredients and boil gently till you get a jam like consistency. Jar in sterilised jars and store until around December.
Having completed the task of “chutneying” such a large quantity of veg I found myself reflecting on a process which required; the planting and maintenance of a garden, the felling, cutting and transporting of wood for the fire, the chopping of the veg and the jarring of the chutney. I also had to build a new stove which you can see here.
It’s always a good exercise to reflect on the origins of what we find in our surroundings. I can say that we are 100%self sufficient in chutney. But as someone once said, “man does not live by chutney alone”. Neither is this an exercise in self sufficiency, survival-ism or any of that individualist doctrine. It is a collaboration with nature and a bunch of other folk who live near by or happen through.
Is it worth it? If I apply the economics of money to it, probably not. If I apply the economics of “bienestar”, well being or Bizipoza. It is beyond doubt, sustaining and sustainable.
Late september and we’re in pepper season. I’d love to be able to say that these peppers are from our “huerta“. They’re not. Fact is they grow better 17km down the road in the neighbouring province of Navarra. Picked up a crate for 12€ and set too with some folks to jar ‘em.
They’re not the spicy kind either. They offer a hint of hot but are otherwise the sweetest and simply pepperiest peppers you’re ever likely to taste.
The best way to preserve and enjoy these peppers is “asado” roasted over a slow flame. The roasted flesh is then jarred and sterilised in bain marie.
The process goes something like this…
Crank up the barbie
gently toast your peppers. The smell is intoxicating.
Let the hot peppers rest a while under a damp tea towel. This allows the skin to detach from the flesh.
Peel of the skin, pack into jars and sterilise.
Thirteen jars of pimientos asados that will accompany many dishes through the coming winter.
The pleasure of working with friends to jar produce is recompense enough. However, if you want the hard economics a small jar of this delicacy costs nearly 4€. We got thirteen large jars for 12€
Times are tight and if you’re waiting for a handout to launch your next big project you’d better not hold your breath. Better to just get on with it and do it anyway. That seems to be the spirit that lies behind Atauri Art.
This event, organised by Bapatean Zirko who are based in Atauri, along with the help of Atauri’s Junta Administrativa and Arratiandi Cultural-Association brought together eight extraordinary acts over three days. The event was not publicly funded and all acts volunteered their services.
Events kicked of with Los Pardos a hilarious and highly original double act mixing clowning and improvisational music to remind us that really, nothing is as it appears…
Odei of Bapatean Zirko takes an eccentric look at domestic life in “Tenderete”
Full of surprises
The crowd went wild!
Atauri art concluded with a bold, thought provoking and darkly comic stroll in “King Kong Theory”. This monologue by the controversial feminist author Virginie Despentes begins;
“I speak as an ugly one for the ugly ones: the old hags, the dykes, the frigid, the unfucked, the unfuckable, the neurotics, the psychos, for all those girls that don’t get a look-in in the universal market of the consumable chick.”
La Chica King Kong with her entourage of caged Barbie Dolls.
Those Bizipozatourists who have passed through Leorza this summer have little choice but to get involved in life here. That it would seem, is part of the charm. We manage an organic garden and the very least that you will be expected to do is water it. Watering the garden on a warm summers evening is always time well spent. Other travellers who have happened by this summer have sometimes found themselves involved in trickier tasks though.
Where do lentils come from?
A friend with an organic farm supplied us with eight sacks of lentil plants. I knew that the lentil belongs to the pea family and that the lentils presumably come in a pod. I was rather more surprised to discover that each pod contains one or sometimes two lentils. This poses a bit of a problem when it comes to shelling them. We tried everything and in the end came up with something approaching a system.
First trample the plants to release the lentils…
Pick out all the stalks…
Sieve and let the wind blow away the chaff
Lentils for dinner. The best you ever tasted!
I guess that looks easy. It wasn’t! It was however, a pleasant way to spend an afternoon amongst friends with the common intention of eating well. We got around 25kg of lentils out of the eight sacks of plant material. I guess we won’t be buying lentils for a while!
Other mental lentil facts…
With about 30% of their calories from protein, lentils have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any legume or nut, after soybeans and hemp. Proteins include the essential amino acids isoleucine and lysine, and lentils are an essential source of inexpensive protein in many parts of the world, especially in West Asia and the Indian subcontinent, which have large vegetarian populations. Lentils are deficient in two essential amino acids, methionine and cysteine. However, sprouted lentils contain sufficient levels of all essential amino acids, including methionine and cysteine.
Lentils contain dietary inhibitors but soaking the lentils over night reduces the concentration considerably. On egin!
A curious feature in these parts is the presence of “asphalt mines”. We’re all fairly familiar with the idea of oil and gas wells but there are all manner of hydrocarbons under the earth ranging from light gasses such as methane, through heavier oils to the extremely heavy and sticky tars and asphalts. You may never have stopped to think about it but all those roads we are so used to driving about on are made of hydrocarbon namely, asphalt.
In this region there has been a long history of asphalt extraction going back over 150 years. Mining stopped in the 1980′s and nature has pretty much reclaimed the mines. Now they are a haven for bats and the occasional Bizipoza tourist that happens that way.
Our adventure began with a bit of a scramble up to the entrance of the mine. It was a hot day and the going was sweaty so we were glad to arrive in the refreshingly cool air that blew softly out of the mine shaft.
Entrance to the asphalt mine
This mine was probably abandoned around forty years ago. There is one entrance point which runs horizontally and leads to a large gallery.
Our resident Bizipozatours Geologist, Ibabe Urzelai was on hand to explain the geology. She tells us that this region was at the bottom of a tropical sea around about 50 million years ago. Plankton and mineral sediments that drifted to the bottom of that sea became compacted and over the millennia the minerals formed the characteristic white limestone which we see today. Within that limestone some of the dead organic material became trapped and remains there today as hydrocarbons.
I should imagine that as the price of oil fell these mines became economically un workable. Now that the price of oil is increasing oil companies are once again investigating the possibility of extracting “tight gas” in this region by “hydraulic fracturing”. This is highly controversial due to concerns about contamination of underground water quite apart from the dubious economics of extracting such small quantities of a non renewable energy source. For more information see frackingezaraba.org
Apart from all that the mines are a great opportunity to experiment with the camera…
Here you can see some video footage of the area (in Spanish)
The Montaña Alavesa is a mountainous and sparsely populated region in the southern reaches of Alava. It is home to a couple of thousand people scattered around the numerous little villages. These villages have changed little in the last few hundred years and you might think that not much happens in these parts. But where there’s folk there’s an opportunity for a fiesta…
Kabredo can be found the edge of the Sierra De Cantabria just below Leon Dormido (935m). Over the last three years we have been celebrating a day of Basque rural sports, Herri Kirolak or Highland Games. Kabredo won last year and hosted this years event.
We anticipated around one hundred people for the popular lunch. Quite a task but this is an event where everyone is expected to take part and many hands make light work
In no time at all the table was set and the festivities began
Basque food is second to none and today’s spread was no exception. All food locally supplied and washed down with quantities of Rioja and Patxaran for good measure.
The mood was relaxed and lead to a long period of “sobre mesa” (The chat and banter that follows a good feed) I began to wonder if we would be in any fit state to take part in the Herri Kirolak.
So with a belly full of food and a head full of Patxaran the competition began.
Basque sports are brutal and generally involve shifting heavy things from one place to another as fast as possible.
Events such as these are priceless in any community. There was an element of competition in the Herri Kirolak but to be honest I don’t even know who won. This is about including everyone and cementing friendships. It was also an opportunity for us to show our support for Txiki Antia who stands accused of having belonged to D3M (Democracia 3 Millones). D3M was declared illegal on February 8, 2009, as the Spanish Supreme Court considered that it was linked with the separatist organisation ETA. A more gentle giant than Txiki you are unlikely to find.
The Herri Kirolak Fiesta in Cabredo was organised with the intention of having a good time and promoting Euskera (Basque language) by Amezti Euskera Elkartea, XVII Mendea Kultur Elkartea, Mendialdeko Mintzalagan Taldea and people of the various villages
In the small, sleepy, Alaves village of Otazu you can occasionally hear the curiously mournful sound of the Alboka. The Alboka is a uniquely Basque instrument which sounds a little like a sharper version of the Scottish pipes.
In the shade of some chestnut trees you can find Osses’s Alboka workshop. Osses has dedicated the last twenty years to researching and making Albokas. He now gives classes and is without doubt responsible for the revival of interest in this instrument.
The Group “No Hay Prisa” (There’s no hurry) comprising Trikitixa (Squeeze box) Bodhran and five Albokaris
Osses’s work shop is immaculately tidy. The home of a craftsman and artist. He built it with the help of friends and neighbours. It’s one of those places where the good vibes of many a jam session seem to have infused the very walls.
The name Alboka comes from Arabic “al-bûq” (البوق) meaning simply, the trumpet. The instrument certainly dates from the twelfth century when the Iberian Peninsula was under Arab rule. Today similar instruments can be found in Tulun in Turkey and Chivoni in South Georgia.
The Alboka comprises a cows horn connected to twin pipes made of “granedillo” or “cocbolo” both extremely hard woods, harder even than ebony.
The handle is made of “yugo”
The twin pipes connect to the mouth piece which houses two aluminium tubes. These tubes are fitted with reeds prepared from a standard Clarinet reed.