When you hear chatter about the world’s best restaurants, Spain and Catalunya are invariably heard among the mentions, and for good reason. Regions like Costa Brava, San Sebastian, Madrid, and Barcelona are home to some of the best eats on the planet, especially when you start looking at accolades like Michelin stars and top spots on S. Pellegrino’s annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
If you’ve ever considered planning a culinary-themed road trip across Spain, I highly recommend it! Last spring, we spoke about adding beer and wine content to your travel blog at TBEX, the world’s largest travel blogging conference, held in the Costa Brava region of Catalunya. We opted to follow this up by taking a foodie-themed road trip through Spain and a few other neighboring countries, and exploring Spain’s culinary scene by car is magical.
Aside from stumbling on interesting scenery throughout the journey, you’ll be free to visit some of the more remote destinations that are home to some of the lesser-known greats.
Costa Brava and Catalunya
Map out your route and plan to spend some considerable time in Catalunya. The Costa Brava region may already be on your radar if you’re a fan of Ferran Adria. Adria helped put Costa Brava on the culinary map with his now closed elBulli restaurant, but there are plenty of other shining stars here.
El Celler de Can Roca has the honor of being named #1 Restaurant in the World for 2015 by S. Pellegrino (2016 awards are in May). And, if you have a year or so to plan in advance and are very lucky, you might just snag a reservation. We had the “meal of a lifetime” at el Celler de Can Roca so we can attest it’s worth the effort to get a reservation! If you can’t get in, at least stop by Rocambolesc in Girona — Jordi Roca’s incredible ice cream shop, inspired by his signature petit-four trolley from the restaurant.
You could easily spend a month or two driving through Costa Brava learning about signature foods and important culinary cities. There is the Emporda wine trail, and towns like Pals, where the rice in the region is grown, or L’Escala, home to some of the world’s tastiest anchovies. Many of the small towns are home to a number of lesser-known award-winning restaurants that are some of the best meals I’ve had to date. Don’t bypass a small spot just because you haven’t heard of it or it’s not as well-known — these are where the real gems are.
And, if you’re interested in checking out where some of the elBulli stars wound up, head to the stunning seaside town of Cadaques. Here, you’ll find Compartir, an informal restaurant built inside a 300-year-old home, run by three of Adria’s right-hand chefs. Then head down to the water and have an evening cocktail at Boia*Nit, where you’ll find Manel Vehí, one of elBulli’s award-winning bartenders.
Barcelona needs no introduction when it comes to food accolades, with over 20 restaurants currently holding one or two Michelin stars in Barcelona.
From Catalunya, you can make your way across the country to another mega-culinary hub in the city of Madrid. Stuff your face with tapas as you explore the historic area by day, and settle in for one of the best churros y chocolate at Chocolateria San Gines in the evening.
One MUST DO in Madrid is a tapas tour with Devour Madrid Food Tours. This is the best food tour in Madrid, and they also run tours in other regions like Barcelona, Malaga, and Seville. These small, local-led tours will take you to some of the best tapas spots, places off the beaten path, and give you some background on interesting history and food culture in Madrid.
Madrid is also home to a number of highly-praised and award-winning restaurants. Like Catalunya, you’ll need some patience and time if you want to score a reservation at some of the best in town.
San Sebastian and Basque Country
Basque Country is where you’ll want to head after Madrid. Here, you’ll find restaurants serving some of the best pinxtos, the Basque Country’s answer to Spanish tapas. San Sebastian is also home to one of the highest, if not THE highest, concentration of three Michelin-starred restaurants in all of Spain. Don’t miss Arzak, run by Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena, who was named best female chef in the world back in 2012. We have the pleasure of knowing Xabi, Arzak’s creative director, who puts some of the most intriguing spins on the cuisine and plating. Lunch at Arzak was definitely unforgettable and has us wanting to come back again soon. Other top restaurants in the area include Berasategui and Mugaritz.
If you want to learn more about Basque style cuisine, sign up for a class at the San Sebastian Cooking School. They offer half-day sessions, demos, multi-day courses, and more. Soon, they will be offering sommelier-led wine courses as well – invaluable if you want to understand more about local Spanish wine.
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