VITORIA: THE BASQUE IS A DIFFERENT COUNTRY
And, it really is. They do things differently here.
You notice it the moment you leave the tranquil gentility of Haro and head from rolling vineyards of La Rioja to the tough uncompromising landscape of the approach to Vitoria.
It is not just the landscape, everything seems different.
You may as well not be in Spain. The architecture is different, the language changes from Castelano to the gruff unfathomable language of The Basques, the people are tough as old boots and look as if they could kill you with a flick of their eyelashes (that’s just the women) and of course, the food where the pintxo holds sway particularly in the form of Montadito, in other words “stuff on top of bread”
This can range from the simple, in the form of bits of cheese or ham, to the incredibly elaborate with slabs of foie, quail’s eggs, local asparagus and fried fish.
Vitoria is probably the least fashionable city in Basque country and it may surprise many that this small town of 200,000 people is, in fact, the capital of the region. It may not be Bilbao with its tourists heading to The Guggenheim and it may not be San Sebastian filled with people swayed by the silliness of the UK and US media who claim it as the best place for food in Spain (undoubtedly after visiting nowhere else in Spain) but it has its own quiet charm that makes it well worth a detour from the tourist trail.
Unlike many towns, in Vitoria, the old town is best left alone, filled as it is with bars catering to the students at the large university and the best places to eat are to be found in the “tapa triangle” of Calle Rioja, Datto and Florida where there are enough places to pass an agreeable few hours.
It is better at lunchtime when the selection put out is fresh and appetising and we hopped from bar to bar pointing hopefully, while HP practiced his nascent Basque, at different samples which we sank with the help of beer (here the small measure changes from a cortos and becomes a zoritos) wine and Asturian cider.
By supper, the turnover is low enough that the remnants of the afternoon can remain on display looking slightly dispirited. Mind you, that was fair enough because, by then, after four days on the road, so were me and HP.
So, after a short hop around and a few average bites to eat, we finished early and headed back to our small, cheerful hostel to get some sleep. Of course, the rest of Vitoria had other ideas and our little room, overlooking Calle Datto, which had seemed so welcoming before, became an echoing box for a nightmare of night time sounds from late revellers to early morning street cleaners.
It is little surprise that we both slept soundly on the bus to Bilbao and, as I write this, HP is making unpleasant noises from the neighbouring bed
Perhaps tonight’s planned excursion to a local asador will gee us both up