"This was by far the most amazing trip we have ever had and thanks to Tenedor Tours, we are already planning a return next year."
When Julia and Steve, seasoned pros in the hospitality industry, decided last season to take a break from their fast-paced Manhattan life, they chose to visit the Basque Country, a place they’d never been. As a couple well-versed in the world of haute cuisine, they wanted their trip to focus on the food and wine of the region, but also to take in the fresh air and explore the stunning landscape outdoors with active pursuits. Their demand for the best led them to a well-known travel company, but, as Julia says, “They said that what we were looking for was more than what they could deliver and referred us to Tenedor Tours.”
When Gabriella founded Tenedor Tours and began bringing high-end diners and wine enthusiasts to the region in the mid-1990s, her company was the first of its kind. Since then, she’s inspired a number of fine new travel companies to start up in the north of Spain, but with 25 years of experience, Tenedor Tours is in a unique position. Our long-standing relationships with top chefs, winemakers, artisan producers, and farmers run deep, so we can offer guests special access, behind-the-scenes and face-to-face, to the lifeblood of the Basque Country.
Julia and Steve’s trip began in the center of San Sebastian, with a terrace suite overlooking the river and dinner at Michelin 3* Restaurante Arzak. Before being seated in the elegant dining room, they got an exclusive visit to the kitchen, laboratory, and wine cellar of the restaurant that put San Sebastian on the culinary map. “From the beginning until the end, Gabriella and Katharine from Tenedor took care of every detail of our custom-made itinerary which included making dining reservations at all the best and famous Michelin restaurants and booking our private guides for cycling and hiking along the Pyrenees,” Julia says.
An important aspect of planning every couple’s trip is finding that perfect balance between the scheduled, guided activities and personal time--for a romantic dinner, an evening stroll, or just getting a little lost in the local culture. Julia and Steve’s evenings were filled with dinners at restaurants that dot the World’s 50 Best list, including Azurmendi, Martín Berasategui, Akelarre, and Mugaritz. We even secured an oh-so-coveted table for them at Asador Etxebarri, where wisps of wood smoke elevate caviar, shellfish, and even the most humble ingredients to extraordinary heights. As industry pros, they could chalk up all their fine dining to research as well as pleasure!
Michelin stars aside, the Basque Country is brimming with runners, rowers, cyclists, and swimmers popping out around every corner and river-bend. There are gorgeous seaside cliffs, Pyrenean foothills, and fishing spots deep in the Cantabrian Sea. The couple wanted to be physically challenged during the days.
With our warm and affable cycling guide Gorka, they set off on e-bikes and rode through small villages and along winding country roads, under brilliant sunshine. A hard day’s ride deserves a feast as reward, so we like to arrange a quick stop to shower and change at a charming local hotel or guesthouse, before taking our guests to lunch at off-the-beaten-path restaurants in small country towns.
Walking could be named the national activity in the Basque Country. San Sebastian is surrounded by the edges of the Pyrenees and Cantabrian mountain ranges, and families, groups of friends, hiking clubs, and individuals head for the hills every weekend or holiday for fresh air, good exercise, and picnic lunches. There are trails that leave straight from the city, which allowed Julia and Steve to head out from their hotel and find themselves on a trailhead in just a quarter of an hour. (Our hiking guide is an expert on the local trekking routes and has even written a book on the subject!) The walks chosen for this couple were perfectly matched to their fitness level and gave them a variety of landscapes, from forests that hug the ocean to wide open pastures with mountains in the distance. A support vehicle was always on hand, all the better to keep the wine chilled and flowers fresh for the picnic.
As natural hosts at heart, we know each of our guests is unique, and we welcome them as we would the dearest of friends. The team is available 24/7, to make the trip seamless, down to the smallest detail. During Julia and Steve’s two intense weeks in San Sebastian, we were there to make last-minute restaurant changes, track down bubble wrap to send items a set of old-fashioned txikito glasses home, and find a laundromat to spare them the cost of the hotel laundry service. (Sorry, hotels, it’s simply too much for anyone to bear.)
The highlight of their trip, according to Julia, was definitely the insider access: There was an early morning fishing trip with Captain Iñaki, a former professional fisherman scouring the Cantabrian Sea like countless generations of Basque fishermen before him, who then welcomed us as guests to his members-only cooking club--a sociedade gastronómica bursting with camaraderie--and served up plates of the delicately pan-fried rockfish that we’d caught. They loved the intimate cooking class in our chic Old Town flat with Chef Josetxo, a force to be reckoned with, both for his students at the local cooking school and for our guests, many of whom cite his friendly, riotous classes as their favorite part of a trip. And a visit to a black pig farm, where we saw the creatures who give us amazing charcuterie in their natural acorn-eating habitat, which surrounds a farmhouse that dates back at least to 1550.
“This was by far the most amazing trip we have ever had, so well-organized and exciting,” says Julia. “Thanks to Tenedor Tours, we are already planning a return next year with the help of Katharine.”
The understated luxury and warm hospitality of the Basque Country is what lures travellers back, time and again. Tenedor Tours gives them the entrée, or as we say in the Basque Country, ongi etorri!