Viñátigo winery: quest for distinct climas of volcanic Tenerife

Viñátigo enchants you. Naturally and architecturally. Lush terraces wind upwards around a sunlight-hued chapel to the heavens. Today, like a scarf the frame is caped and wrapped with soft clouds around the cone of what might mythologically become the Olympus of Tenerife. My with bounty stud head turns around, descending around a circular aquifer to the rasta banana plantations scattered through the rocky land to the hanging gorges of Atlantic cliffs. A vista unique to only a few vineyards on the green planet spelled over my well-trod mind. Cacti mingle with verdant bush, cypress, dragon, laurel and pine trees, lichen, wild dandelions and lilies specked with sunrise palette bell flowers — on Tenerife the high desert meets the lower pockets of humidity and a fertile soil. Literally, a heart and mind twisting setting.

Canary island vineyards

Tenerife’s eternal spring is paradise above the hell of a volcano

There are over 400 years old vines on Tenerife. Never plundered by the vicious phylloxera like the European mainland, this island on latitude bordering Morocco and Western Sahara, rather unexpectedly promises climate-resistant wine production. Facing global warming if you want to grow new vines on Tenerife, you need to go high in altitude about 400 m and a bit more where the climate conditions are still freshly assisted by the trade winds.

Tenerife's biodiversityTenerife vineyards

Together with just a handful of other local wineries, Viñátigo helms the mast in exploring the broad potential of the diverse terroir on the volcanic island. The Spanish keyboard calling name comes from the ancient trees in the Laurisilva native forests on Tenerife. This evergreen laurel thrives in humid conditions with mild climate. Like their northern neighbour Madeira, the Canaries nest in the eternal spring conditions. The naturally diverse landscape on Tenerife can stretch almost a 20 degrees celsius difference in temperatures between the sun basking southern shores and the soaring northern forests.

Tenerife's biodiversityTenerife's biodiversity

El Teide, the mighty volcano reaches through the clouds almost to 4.000 m above the Atlantic shores. The giant crowns the jagged landscape of the largest of the Canary Islands. Spain’s loftiest peak, its desert-like, almost extra-terrestrial surrounding landscape was shaped by the eruptions, last over a century ago in 1909. The volcanic setting blessed the challenging island with a fascinating geology (map bellow).

Tenerife, Canary Islands

Save the vines and find the balance: biodiversity and sustainability

The island’s distinct microclimates battered by the Atlantic trade winds from subtropical through Mediterranean to pre-alpine in the altitude stir the agriculturally curious to plant anything from avocados, bananas, papaya, passion fruit to a broad assortment of potatoes, including the ugly little spurts of volcanic rock resembling local black potatoes.

Many old vines in private hands are being replaced by avocado and banana plantings because of economical advantage and EU subsides. These crops require 150 l of water weekly. On an island with no river and a scarce supply of rain over recent years this unsustainable replanting needs to be addressed urgently. In comparison a grapevine needs around 600 l per year! The only sources of water being either desalination, underground or collected rain water in the omnipresent aquifiers on Tenerife, therefore viticulture seems like the most suitable option to keep going.

Viñátigo’s  identity is about working only with the local grape varietals regeneratively and defending the typicity of the north face of Tenerife.

Tenerife's biodiversity

Natural and manmade challenges

The humidity up to 85% practically every day complicates viticulture on Tenerife so biodynamic approach exposes the vines vulnerably to the spread of mildew. It is possible to make biodynamic wines as our tasting at Bodega Marzagana in Orotava approved in their reds (the whites were a bit funky), yet it requires very small holdings where precise attention can be maintained.

Viñátigo uses biodynamic compost. Its man in charge of the viticulture confides “I am feeling myself more comfortable working with organic and regenerative methods. First regenerating the soils worked by herbicides and pesticides during a long time. If this works, we can start to understand better our place.” On their own vineyards as well as the vine growers they work with farm organically always on the north face of the island.

best wineries on Tenerife

Vines are grown all over the island, but mainly on the Northern shore the cooling trade winds and altitude support freshness in the wine. Most of the vineyards have been in the hands of families for generations and the wine was made only for at home consumption. The quality has shot up and the growing export numbers confirm global competitiveness of Tenerife wine. Thumbs up to the recent swell of well educated youths from the island, who passionately pour their hearts and savvy minds into the local soil.

Northern Tenerife vineyards tended by Viñátigo

One Family’s Imprints on and Above the Soil

One of them is Jorge Méndez from Viñátigo (the map above shows the winery’s current vineyards). The Spaniard with genealogy spanning half of the Western Hemisphere (the Canaries were an important trading centre between the Americas, Europe and Africa) is the third generation of his vine growing family who now directs the viticulture operations. He makes all the single vineyard wines, plus experiments with some techniques not as typical locally, but as our tasting revealed, oxidative style can delightfully highlight the nuances of the local saline white varietals such as Vijariego Blanco. Not part of the Viñátigo portfolio, he has made Xercos by himself since 2020. I hope he perseveres.

Jorge’s grandfather planted the pergolas perching on the steep, terraced slopes under a chapel’s protection from the titan towering behind, the Teide. The marks of three generations are rather distinct. His father Juan Jesús Méndez had built the winery cut into the hillside at the end of 1980’s, naturally endowing it with gravity winemaking and cooling. Local rocks were used in the construction. Jungle-like, sprawling greenery accompanies you while descending the helix-shaped staircase inside.

Vinatigo winery on Tenerife

Being a small-medium family winery is not easy or as romantic as it may seem. Jorge credits the Méndezes success to “a fluent communication so you can work in the right way with your family. Now we are running together in the different departments.” He also used to travel representing the winery in the export markets, mainly to Canada, Belgium, and even the Maldives. They also export to the UK, ever expanding their reach.

canary wines

Survival of the Fittest Tested Wines by Viñátigo

There are at least 24, but potentially over 80-100 indigenous ungrafted vitis vinifera varietals on the Canary Islands. According to Jorge, Vijariego Blanco has the greatest potential because of the great, elegant and beautiful acidity. Probably the ideal white varietal for climate change on Tenerife. Negramoll in the reds because of the elegance and juiciness of the grape.

Viñátigo now makes about 27 different wines. Jorge intends to narrow it down. The wise know the importance of focus. The other most popular white wines are Listán Blanco (also known as Palomino), aromatic Malvasía and Moscatel, Gual, Albillo Criollo, Marmajuelo and Verdello. To me and my sommelier sister, the most interesting were the mineral salinity showing wines made from the single varietals and vineyards. Such as Maipé de Taganana (from a marvellous rocky Taganana village vineyard in the Anaga Park where we hiked) and Laderas de Teno (mountain region called also the Machu Picchu of Tenerife) single vineyard wines.

Jorge shared an incredible story: “The word Maipé comes from malpaís, which refers to a lifeless piece of land covered by lava after a volcanic eruption. This specific place was covered by a landslide. The vineyard was buried by a landslide of El Monte de las Vueltas around 1920, leaving the once bountiful vineyard worthless. Over the decades, the old vines of Listán Blanco have emerged writhing from beneath the voluminous rocks that buried the vineyard a century before.” Survival of the fittest once again proves how struggle can make the most intriguing wines. At an altitude of 350 meters above sea level, this vineyard is protected from the direct influence of the Atlantic Ocean, but it still receives the north-eastern breeze of the Trade Winds. Blessed.

Our trained taste buds were onto something. The soils in the Anaga and Teno’s Massif are one of the oldest geological soils on the island. The high degree of erosion here adds structure to the wines.

rose and sparkling wine from Tenerifewhite wine from Tenerife

They also make a few rosés and wonderfully light reds from the juicy Listán Negro, Vijariego Negro, Baboso Negro, Negramoll and Tintilla grapes. These are like the whites also blended. We spotted also sparkling pet-nat bottlings in white and red at Sibaris gourmet wine shop in La Laguna where we bought our first bottle of Viñátigo from the Lomo de la Era vineyard.

While viticulture arrived with the colonising Spaniards and the Portuguese in the 15th century, the most distinct vineyard feature — the braided vine called cordón trenzado — is unique to Tenerife. This traditional training of the stem and branches in the Orotava Valley protects from the whimsy winds and the soil’s absorption of the summer heat.

Old vineyards on Tenerife

In the winery we tasted with Jorge straight from the cement vats, clay eggs and neutral oak barriques used for the maturation of the wines. New seedlings were just being planted on the side of the winery facing the ocean.

winery visit in Tenerife

Jorge Méndez studied Agricultural Engineering, later he obtained a master degree in Viticulture and Enology at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, where he also worked in the Viticulture Departament studying the effects that climate change can have on the wines in Spain across viticulture decisions. A very useful experience facing today’s challenges. He made harvests in ArgentinaBurgundy and Chile before returning to his family’s winery.

Tenerife's biodiversityTenerife's biodiversity

I further asked him what are the most unique qualities of Tenerife vineyards beyond the diversity of altitude and the generally volcanic soil?

There is a marked smallholding culture on the island where the mix of plots and soils is key in the search for identity. Thus, the different plots where we grow the grapes have different types of volcanic soil depending on the type of eruption and the geological era. From very young soils, that can be 20-25.000 years, that geologically it means nothing, to very old soils, like Anaga and Teno parts, that emerged from the deep ocean and are more than ten million years old.

In terms of climate, the north face of all the Canary archipélago islands enjoy the influence of the trade winds from the north pole being caught by our big volcanoes and hills, creating a cloudy and fresh north face conditions that give us the possibility to have thriving agriculture next to Sahara dessert. At the same time these winds can give to the wines this salty and savoury part.

All these attributes and the resulting wines whetted my palate for more Tenerife wine. Certainly, I will keep my eyes open seeking them more on the wine lists. The Northern side of the island is so wildly beautiful, and I recommend anyone loving hiking, surfing, wine to visit.

Valencia: Awakened Synchronicity in the Mediterranean City of Joy and Valour

Valencia is like the Beauty and the Beast. Stunning painterly Roman and Moorish architecture mingle with Calatrava’s spacial luminescence, the utilitarian port (busiest in the Mediterranean), eclectic street art, athletic prowess of its attractive youth and the impoverished multi-ethnic population which amassed in this coastal metropolis over the past two millennia. Livy wrote that the founding of latin Valentia in the 2nd century BC was due to the settling of the Roman soldiers who fought against rebel Viriatus. This historic Roman city of “valour”, later by its Muslim rulers known as “City of Joy” constantly strives to improve itself and the better way to a closeup is by running, stopping and walking through.

mythical beastsfountain at night

According to the Swiss psychologist C.G.Jung Synchronicity happens when we perceive “two separate—and seemingly unrelated—experiences as being meaningfully intertwined, even though there is no evidence that one led to the other or that the two events are linked in any other causal way”. [Psychology Today]. This is personal you may conclude, yet it is rather interpersonal, and I show you why Valencia is more than just another tick on your bucket list.


Why I bring Jung to the equation? The most worldly famous Valencia native today, the multi-awarded architect, engineer and sculptor Santiago Calatrava Valls was further educated in and is a resident of Zurich (where his practice is based), Jung’s own home turf. Swiss resident myself, after just a couple of days back from Spain, I praise the Italianate cum Arabic beauty of the coastal Catalan metropolis to a startled, friendly lady joining in the aqua fitness class at my Zurich health club. She turns to be the architect’s wife, with quite a mixed opinion on Valencia, preferring New York aesthetic. So, I challenge her to put her grey lenses aside, tinted by her past experience of the city cleaning itself up as it poetically seems to me. For everything changes and evolves.

architecture by Santiago CalatravaValencia lifestyle

Rather a coincidence you may assume, but I have never seen her after that week, so the seed inside me eager to burst into a beautiful flower swelled with a redemptive force. Drawing the distinction between the meaningful synchronicity and cause-effect convening of events in a short span of time, I was torn in between. There is a logical connection, and anyone who studied Jungian psychology as I did during the pandemic is familiar with the term, but a certain level of higher awareness is necessary for synchronicity to kick in. Reason can also play events up, cooking a delectable experience from seemingly incompatible ingredients. In Valencia the spirit is awakened audibly (listen to my video at the glorious Mercado Colon bellow), visually (the amusing video and photo gallery further down), as well as through the olfactory bliss of flowering and ripe sweet oranges (for that you need to travel as virtual reality still falls short on scented transmission).

Beauty and the grip of the first sight

I was smitten by Valencia ever since my plane circled above the expanding Mediterranean autonomous metropolis. With just under 800 000 inhabitants stretching to 1.6 million in its urban sprawl, the South-eastern port city scales third in terms of population in Spain. Not uniform like Seville, more a patched costume of ancestry and millennial bright scale. When I visited in January, its legendary orange trees graced the gardens, some residential shopping avenidas with ripe brightness that in winter felt warm on the heart. I felt something potent — as if ripped from the time’s linear arrangement, but also as if seemingly unconnected places merged here in front of my eyes. The contemporary city would not be as striking without its exotically lush Jardi del Túria, a dried up Turia River bed with eerie ancient bridges mashed up with steel modernity. Similarly, the catholic, moorish and romantic architecture in the old town would not feel as alive without the scant droppings of edible flora.


Calatrava’s “sculptural forms often resemble living organisms” further “bridging the division between structural engineering and architecture”. This blending of disciplines is striking in Valencia’s City of Arts and Science. The Reine Sofia Palace of the Arts, where during my visit sculptures by the Japanese artist Leiko Ikemura floated on the water basin surrounding the futuristic centre (set in the former river bed that emptied into the sea where today Calatrava next to Félix Candela built also the Aquarium and Planetarium) enhanced the buildings themselves with the unmissable signature Calatrava bending bridge form. The contemporary bridge maestro connected the banks from Berlin (Kronprinzen Bridge, Oberbaumbrücke), Bilbao (Zubizuri; Basque for “white bridge”), Jerusalem (Jerusalem Chords Bridge) to Venice (Ponte della Costituzione), and there is something beyond the utilitarian service in each of them, they are sculptures made of steel.

Art in Valencia architecture by Santiago Calatrava

As with the World Trade Centre Transportation Hub structure in the space of the catastrophically burned-down Twin Towers of New York, the ribbed skeleton felt alive with open incisions into its skin-like form meeting in natural light. A giant bird in flight, its liberty reflects the animal movement as do most of his other wonder works. In Valencia, the Agora like a dinosaur startles our minuscule humanity, while the Opera House resembles a helmed soldier. Architecture in the profane hands of Santiago Calatrava is work of art used publicly to stir the mind into deep reflection. Like his Catalan predecessor Gaudí “Calatrava avoids the apathetic acceptance of established forms” and in that the cross-reaching, spiritual dimension emerges.

 architecture by Santiago CalatravaOpera House architecture

We have lived in a globalised world for over two millennia, where concurrent influences create a more homogenised, cross-border imprint anywhere. Local now means only being locally grown, not necessarily originating from like vegetables or oranges (on their origins later), but culturally this site-specific term has blended into common ground. Architecture has often sourced ideas and techniques from elsewhere, but beyond cultural references in the visions of Santiago Calatrava giant visual installations merge with purpose. As Italian Renaissance once haloed across the catholic Europe and now unifies Western city scapes in their common past, today architecture is cross-pollinated with individualism.

Catalan architecture

Valencia is the expo of bridges from various periods, much more striking than anything above the Seine in Paris. From medieval gems like Puente del Real through concrete Pont de Montolivet to the Calatrava’s steel airiness in the Centre for Arts and Sciences, most do not cross any river now at all. Reflecting water basins, pavement and the sandy surface of the Túria Park, runners, strollers, soccer players move bellow these bridging arches.

histories stone bridges in EuropeArchitecture engineeringhistoric Valencia

Valencia does not feel just Spanish, the catholic and muslim references in its architectural make-up inject Roman and Arab nuances. The sizeable old town is a charming cobbled maze towered with churches, a Gothic Cathedral and Basilica of the Virgin (Basílica De La Mare de Déu dels Desamparats) that halo the most charming plaza where the locals meet for coffee and late night drinks. With its bell tower El Miguelete these are primarily of Valencian Gothic style with elements of Baroque and Romanesque architecture. The Virgin Mary square is an entertaining hub of old Valencia. On its blushed marble-clad carpet mimes and singers perform, while a small green park offers free for all benches and oranges under the trees shade.

While the medieval city walls disappeared, two 14th century gates into the stone core remain: Torres de Serranos to the north, and Torres de Quart to the west.

gates of ValenciaCatholic architecture


The contemporary megaliths of glass and steel cultural edifices erected in the dried up riverbed conclude what now serves to the public as a lush park hiving with sporty activity. Next to the signature naranjas, exotic plants and Mediterranean staples like carob trees fill the sunken gardens of the former Túria river.

Valencia running spotscacao replacement

The sun shines on Costa Blanca strongly throughout the winter, climbing higher than in most of Europe and tinting the citruses into bright ripeness, so the landscape looks joyous with the abundant harvest. In Valencia the olfactory bliss of flowering and ripe sweet oranges is potent.

If there is only one healthy activity one must succumb to in Valencia, it is eating a ripe orange or gulping its vibrant juice. The experience here just feels more in tune with there place. If you tasted oranges in Seville, the surprise will change your facial expression sweetly. The European capital of citrus sinensis dulcis varietal prolongs the festive Christmas season in the early winter by a natural spectacle, but it is also the only orange varietal ripe in summer. A colour was named after this saffron dipped in water tint in the ripe fruit’s peel. What is fascinating is that this hybrid of pomelo and mandarin originated in the region around Southern China. While today Brazil, China and India grow most orange trees in the world, Valencia is most known for the sweetness of its varietal. Today, there are dozens of types of Valencia orange grown anywhere from Florida to Bali. Wikipedia broadened my orange vocabulary geographically.

valencia specialtyorange orchard

Gazing at the baubles of oranges hanging from the verdant branches, I had sliced skin-less orange locally dusted with cinnamon with breakfast at Casa Orxata inside the semi-open gastronomic cathedral Mercado Colon. Alongside sweeten-it-as-you-like-it horchata (traditional plant-based milk from tiger nuts is a proof that Europe was not always just about dairy) I felt perfectly in tune with the local taste. Mexico blended cacao into its own horchata, probably inspired by the Spanish colonists.

Spanish food marketValencian architecturemarket area of Valencia


One chef rules in Valencia and its region with rice (like orange originating in Southern China), seafood and citruses. Quique DaCosta, the multi-Michelin stared culinary prodigy opened sister restaurants, more casual than his three star icon about an hour drive South. I went to Llisa Negra where luxurious ingredients schmoozed on the (ideally) sharing menu, so dining solo proved a tad too much. Tuna and pork rule, in one case the two merged into smoked cured tuna belly sliced like ham and served with pickles and almonds, no bread! Prawns are boiled with their guts, the Spanish feel it adds flavour. Spanish grilled red piquillo pepper tart was so thin that the pastry tasted like paper. Sadly, the grilled octopus tentacles with skin-on young potatoes was rather average. The carbs-shunning touch of expertimentation at Lissa Negra restaurant is not for everyone. 

Spanish cuisineSpanish prawnSpanish tunaValencia's cuisine

Paella Valencianna of course is the most famous recipe to be tasted, but must be shared. This Spanish version of a risotto relies more on the range and sweetness of tomatoes than richness of parmesan or other cheese. And most importantly, no seafood, but more often chicken and rabbit accompany the tomatoes, green and white beans sticking perfectly to the cooked short grain, round rice, locally titled “arroz bomba”. Recently, the local government in the Valencia region even declared paella an “Asset of Intangible Cultural Interest”.

On a Satuday morning while strolling from the Saracen gate a Lebanese dulce y salado pasteleria seduced me in. Two twin daughters eagerly offered falafel sandwiches and pastries baked daily by their immigration parents. From honeyed baklava to cookies laced with distinct spices like saffron, nigella seeds, sesame. While chatting in their tight take-away family business El Libanés tasting multiple delights, I was also welcomed with a cup of strong black tea. The next morning, upon the nippy, late wintery sunrise, I brewed some tea and brought the booty up to privately breakfast on the rooftop of my hotel. The sky was the limit in my elevated vista.

lifestyle in ValenciaLebanese pastry


Your first time anywhere is probably preceded by preconceived ideas as of what not to miss and what to do. Well, mine had to be uprooted once the car wound through the orchard waving landscape dotted in Kusama-like frames where pumpkins were generously replaced by baubles of oranges. My precisely researched plan of to do and see items in Valencia had to be reshuffled, lines scratched over and filled in once I witnessed the vastness of the metropolis beyond the old town walls. I had only a weekend. Plus, after a healing retreat the nearby SHA Wellness Clinic I was ready to ingest only small morsels of city life and my back too.

Moorish architecture in Valenciabest hotel in Valenciasky view of Valencia

As I discharged my bags in my contemporary designed, refreshing room at the new Palacio Vallier (photos above), filling the gap in the local lodging lacking state of the art amenities, I felt like a drink. At the hotel’s cosy bar I inspired the cocktail masters to do anything free-reign, just not sweet with local gin. Up in my room landed a frothy wonder topped with flower petals and berry powder served with a bowl of superb Spanish olives. After this magic potion (mind me, I had only one glass!), I experienced my first night in town with an elevated sense of being a part of, not separated from it.

What Valencia ultimately taught me about SYNCHRONICITY is that we seek patterns and structure to understand reality. What is the current, yet soon changing reality of this South-eastern Spanish metropolis? Visually it reflects its social diversity, youthful population, and attempt to integrate the past within the new by adapting to climate change, emotionally the impression is entirely up to your state of mind.

Costa Blanca: calming white-washed photo story

Costa Blanca stretches South of Valencia from Denia through the province of Alicante taking some 200 km of the pebble beaches and dramatically rocky Mediterranean coast of Spain. Some visually stunning parts are accessible only by a steep hike or unmarked paths towards the rare, still unbuilt beaches, but there is also the locally typical white-washed architecture that awes and calms the eye at the same glance. Reminding of Greece and Portugal (like Monsaraz for example) and unlike the Islamic touches of the more Southern Andalusia by the coast of Marbella. Some aspects of this stunning region even feel Italian, others whiff off Southern California‘s wild beauty.

Costa Blanca walks

As with the freshness of San Sebastian and the green-washed Asturias and most of the Basque Coast in the North, this particular stretch of Costa Blanca touched the naturalist in my soul. One is nudged to pick a brush and paint a canvas with this blissful slowness of winter, off season calm.

A balmy sunrise beach walk through Altea magnetized me uphill to the white-washed old village. As with the most charming coastal villages along the Mediterranean, you better stroll through early before the tourist shops, cafés and restaurants lure in crowds. The cafe chairs on the church square were still stacked up, only cats and old ladies wandered around.

Spanish coast

With an analog Leica over my shoulder, the warm peach hues of early morning Costa Blanca magnetised my lens. Passing by an empty pebble beach, a small yacht port, a brick sandy beach framed with palms around 8am the world seemed magic to me.

Snapping mind-catching photographs where only local residents woke their presence as early as I did in this winter morning. The soft palette as if infused the colors with a deep, comforting sensation on the live canvas slowly awakening in front of me.

Be calmed and wonder virtually by my morning photo story here:

Altea Vieja

Altea Vieja


Altea Vieja

Whitewashed walls with the sun’s peach blush on the houses

Altea Vieja Costa Blanca

Climbing up, ancient architecture was not barrier-free

Altea Vieja

The blushing church of Old Altea

Altea Vieja

Wabi sabi beauty before a new house goes in

Altea Vieja

Mountain backdrop

Altea Vieja

Down to the sea

Mediterranean life

Space with the swan and his phone, not the sea

Altea town

California or?

bob marley quotes

Bob Marley nailed it on the beach wall

Returning another day later in the afternoon to a very different scene, a touristy buzzing hilltop church square, sealed the worth of an early rise. Costa Blanca certainly pleases the eye and has this wonderfully relaxing effect on the mood that just being here makes you feel healthier. Still, you can add on and check into the SHA wellness clinic nearby. The wealthy, health and balance seekers stroll by the beaches and the paved natural park trail to the lighthouse daily. The summers are too hot in this sun-scorched region, therefore anytime between mid September until June is best for visiting.

If your inner gourmand rebels, then you better venture further North along the coast to Denia, where one of the most awarded Spanish chefs, Quique Dacosta hosts a three Michelin starred feast from the local bounty. Rice, oranges and seafood count as the most Valencian of ingredients (my orange story coming soon), therefore expect creative edible works of art with either. He has a number of more casual restaurants in Valencia next to his two star concept in this Spain’s third largest metropolis, so you have plenty of delectable choices at hand.

SHA wellness: inspire balance on Costa Blanca

Inhaling with the whole self the tender hues of moist air, indulge in a rejuvenating journey at SHA, where you will daily learn how to balance yourself for an enhanced well-being. If it is just for the Mediterranean bliss and the calm in your bones, come for the healthy balm over your heart, the mind and the changing body in need for a treat. Next to physical, plenty of energetic therapies and experiences await for your immersion nesting between the best European beaches and dramatic mountainscapes. Who would not want to wake up at this peach-hued sunrise?

valencia health

SHA is a holistic wellness clinic at the foothills of a protected park along the radiantly rocky Costa Blanca in Spain. Less than an hour from Alicante and about 80 minutes drive from the larger Valencia airport, the balmy Mediterranean microclimate over this blessed strip of lush land lures in health and balance seeking well-off. With over 300 days of sunshine, the curving Albir beach backed by the rolling hills of L’Alfas del Pi feels like Menton on the border of France with Italy, yet lower and more open to the sea.

Wealthy Egyptians, hard working Germans, European royalty, models, professional athletes, creative elite and Middle Eastern nouveau riche mingle in their efforts to improve whatever is needed physically, mentally, even spiritually. You can even tie the knot at the SHApel. Often, I  wandered to this dimly-lit art meets nature chapel to savor chamber music. The tunes calm my mind more than the occasional mass there would.

spiritual nourishment

Therapies, treatments and experiences offered at SHA wellness

The medical clinic meets a holistic retreat concept has been growing steadily in and beyond Europe (Middle Eastern branches of established European brands are on the rise). With help of professionals you get a chance to implement healthier habits into your regular lifestyle. For me that meant more mindful exercise and gentle stretching to better balance my strong large muscles with the small muscular groups necessary for balanced posture and to prevent incurring pain. As my physiotherapist disclosed, next to the sedentary work malware, many yoga injuries need attention these days. Some remedies, like the electric current dry needling I underwent are quite painful, but immediately improved the condition. An attentive osteopath first cracked some vertebrae, then on another visit gently pulled the fascia, thus releasing accumulated tension. After the week I left equipped with advice, taylored exercise, and most importantly without pain in my back and neck.

While there are excellent doctors at hand, from a dentist, GP to heart experts, I would not advise the overpriced testing at SHA. Even in the world’s most expensive cities, you can get these done more affordably. Also, do not fall into the SHA VIP genetic test trap as I did. When I received the results weeks later, myself and my own doctor could only lift eyebrows at the nonsense. Much of it did not reflect my health condition and the rest was just the general lifestyle advice one can give to anyone. Breathe mindfully, eat less sugar and processed foods, move enough and rest effectively.

Eastern practices like acupuncture and energy balancing (reflexology, energy field measuring) complement your healing process (the intravenous ozone therapy had questionable effects, but the Hydroenergetic detox cure of oil jet bath, warm wrap and cold jet shower energizing effect cannot be underestimated). Group meditation sessions should have been included daily as they used to be, but added mindfulness body and mind release class balanced me. Private yoga sessions additionally to the twice to three times weekly hatha and yin yoga are popular. Underwater manual massages are praised by many guests.

Costa Blanca walks

Enhance your beauty

I have checked-in twice at SHA. I needed a mid-winter reset and no other European escape sounded better to my body and my sun-seeking soul than flying to the Southern coast of Spain. My first stay was brief, a welcome into the contemporary-built facility and its stunning surroundings. The discovery program included many consultations to lure you into more pricey high tech improvements of your aging body. A dermatologist will likely suggest overpriced face and body lifts and non-surgical shape-ups, but also listens to your personal limits. In my initial package was included the pleasant radiofrequency with Indiba, which stimulates your own bodily collagen production. I tried it for both body and face and felt only great. Of course one needs a few sessions for lasting visible effects. For facials you have choice with more pampering or painful results-driven techniques. I was not keen on the skin drying BDR which after a strong glycolic peel vibrated in a collagen mask, but I enjoyed the massage-focused signature SHA facial. I am not at the point yet to suffer for beauty. I prefer joy in enhancing my natural bliss.

Wellness designWellness design

In and out bliss in fresh room, on the coast or in the hills

The rooms are all spacious suites (four levels). Some partially face the sea and the sunrise and the rest close to the privately owned SHA residences (part of the architectural complex built as hanging terraces) offer stunning sunsets and mountain views. A sizeable cityscape in the background mysteriously calms, while being away in a residential area guarantees low level of motorised noise. I love the proximity of the mountains and the beach town of Albir as they offer diverse walking and hiking opportunities, particularly off the summer heat and crowds flooding in for holidays.

In fact, there are more memorable outdoor activities in the area, even a horse riding center. I joined the group walks, but once I learned where to go, I savored solitude and more mindfully focused on the surrounding nature during the intense hike up to Alt del Governador. The stunning cliffs only seen from the mountaintop reward your effort, unmissable and a perfect spot for meditation (see photos bellow). In the seaside Parc Natural de Serra Gelada, I prefered to run back from the mildly inclining lighthouse. Maximising my sunrise beach walk through Altea (on the scheduled days a bus conveniently drops you off and picks you up saving about an hour walk down and up to SHA) I sped up ahead the group with my analog Leica. Snapping mind-catching photographs in the white-washed old village where only local residents woke their presence as early as I did. Check my photo story. Returning another day later in the afternoon to a very different scene, seeing the touristy, buzzing hilltop church square, I realised how much more memorable and worthwhile my earlier visit was.


SHA diet at the core of the change

The alkaline macrobiotic cuisine steps up from the smallest Kushi, balanced Biolight to the energizing SHA diet. The most restrictive is the intense cleanse of Kushi, when the most pronounced weight loss is guaranteed. Based on seaweed, broths and vegetable soups, this diet is only prescribed by the in-house nutritionist. Supervised fasting can also be followed, yet this would be a loss of joy since the food by the Shamadi restaurant team is very good and of the highest quality locally available. For fasting rather try the by decades-tested Lanserhof or if sunshine helps than the Andalusian branch of Buchinger Wilhelmi.

Flexibility is my halo, so I followed the healthful, with lunch dessert (artificial and blood sugar rising sweeteners are taboo here) including medium path. This Biolight menu includes more local fish and pasta, and more generous breakfast. Starting with a choice from there juices, miso soup (for amino acids, enzymes, protein and wholesome energy all in one bowl), and daily changing trio of a chia pudding, fruits (in a Buddha bowl or with porridge) and hummus or avocado dip with crudites just feels so joyful. An afternoon snack of a fruit puree or non-dairy pudding keep your blood sugar in check so you do not doze off before the dinner is served in either 7 or 8:30pm slots (the later Spanish dinner time is suitable for UK travellers sticking to local timezone). Some evenings live music accompanies the meal. I very much enjoyed the Spanish guitar and the jazzy singer duo.

My goal was an inflammation-reducing alcohol and caffeine break with balanced energy intake for the wonderful outdoor activities. Therefore, I was able to switch to the more gourmet SHA menu when the daily offer did not meet my taste buds or dietary restrictions (winter is pear season and they seemed to crop up too frequently to my belly’s unhappy squeals). Here, low GI dessert follows the two course lunch as well as dinner. My favourite sweet treats were the GF hot chocolate fondant and a vanilla tapioca pudding (with rice milk). Animal protein (meet, dairy and fat) and gluten are excluded. Instead, whole foods including seeds are added. Next to daily activities, cooking classes in superbly equipped studio are the pillar of the SHA wellness concept. If you have a sweet tooth, I highly advise the healthy pastry class. Bellow, I share a recipe for easy cookies a fellow, kind guest showed me after my vain attempts to lure the fondant secrete from the chef.

SHA gf pastry

Any change in diet, may induce some unwelcome sensations such as bloating (from whole grains and pulses, so chew slowly and do not drink while eating, a friend who stayed at SHA complained about such discomfort so beware) and mild headaches (due to elimination of caffeine and sugar) can arise, yet the nursing station has a remedy daily from 7:30am.

Medicinal tisanes complement you daily intake. The nutritionist (without seeing your blood work!?) after a necessary paid consultation assigns you these brews either before, after or/and between your meals. The nutrients from these liquid foods more easily absorb into the body than supplements in pills. Before larger meals apple cider vinegar may be served to ease digestion, for headache and pain ume plum with kuzu root starch, adzuki or barley infusions for iron and B-vitamins, the less tasty shiitake mushroom or kombu seaweed broths enhance detox, but many of the guests’ favourite is the warm apple juice thickened with kuzu after dinner that soothes any sweet cravings before bed. The 10 herbs and spices Mu macrobiotic blend reinstates harmony in your body and mind by its sweet ginseng, licorice and blood sugar lowering cinnamon bark, while orange peel, ginger and cloves bring calming warmth. You can buy most of these as well as healthy snack for the road and home cooking at the boutique. Beware, most of the doctors and estheticians at SHA will prey by their “efficient” supplements, all in abundance sold at the store, but this contradicts the nutritionist claiming that you best get all from whole foods.

State of the art facilities at SHA wellness

The indoor water and saunas facilities with women-only daily afternoon slot are sublime. Stunning mountain and garden views relax the mind, but also lure you in for the aqua gym class there times per week. Some guests find the free workout classes offer limited, yet the focus here is not to overburden but rather taylor to your personal needs. Therefore, the gym is busy with personal training, the morning walks hive with early birds and the wet indoor circuit is being used as you consider suitable.

There is a luxurious cinema screening documentaries and blockbusters in two nightly sessions, yet the small second hand multilingual library diverts from solitude or nurtures your intellectual cravings without the burden of the screen. Time to read that Breakfast at Tiffany’s!

Some rumour that singles won’t find social engagement at SHA (a Russian London-based guest confessed her concern), but I felt that the collective activities, the dining setup and the architecture encourage interpersonal encounters more than at any other health spa in Europe. I met a French architect, Egyptian real estate magnate, German businesswoman and a female Russian film director. The meals at the Shamadi restaurant are a rainbow of shapes – from super-skinny models and ladies in ripe age, chunky businessmen, fit athletes to healthy lifestyle addicts.

On your first visit I advise the SHA discovery program which allows you trying various activities and therapies. Note, what you liked, and what was not worthwhile for your next stay as I did and then choose a la carte the treatments most beneficial to you.

I did a digital detox during my stay, but the efficiency of the SHA app turned my phone on. At least I ignored any social media and emails for the whole week, my mind felt weighless! Such reduction of unnecessary distractions I recommend regularly.

SHA is not some sort of a bootcamp or weight-sweating programme, neither it is a meditation and yoga zone off. Instead, the clinically equipped offers it all, including medical fasting. Yet, what SHA is best is in offering a holistic retreat to balance a stressful period of your life. Currently, a minimum of one week is required for the stay and that is all that some of us busy minds could afford. Do something good for you soon.

Gastronomic design ceramics chosen by El Celler de Can Roca

Morphing the shapes of the sea and the Catalan coast for the tables at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona are many Spaniards who design and handcraft plates so diverse that the only way to describe them is unique. While most of the gastronomic design ceramics at the greatest restaurant in Spain (and also voted the Best Restaurant in the World by the San Pellegrino Guide) recall nature, a set of aluminum plates looking like the Catalan bread was crafted exclusively for the restaurant by Andreu Carulla studio. Titled as Plat Viu it is a plate that seems to have a life of its own, that moves as if it was capable of breathing. The Roca brothers are not afraid to cross established boundaries nit just in their cuisine, but also their choice of tableware.

Gastronomic design ceramics El Celler de Can Roca gastronomic plates

This young product designer has also collaborated during the Pandemic closure on the reinvention of some signature dishes at the world-famous Catalan restaurant where innovation never rests on its laurels. Timeline is one of them. Read his article here.

gastronomic ceramics gastronomic ceramics El Celler de Can Rocagastronomic ceramics

I pictured all of the craftwork that captivated me most during my birthday meal at El Celler de Can Roca here. A duo of tea cups in a sea shell meets white chalk metamorphosis mesmerised me so profoundly that they wrapped them for me as a gift. These are very special gastronomic design ceramics also in their non-static buoyancy on the organically uneven saucers. One musts pay attention to that moment when the tea is poured in and sipped with a delicate care. I appreciate this subconscious push into mindfulness.

gastronomic ceramics at El Celler de Can Roca

In my Gastronomic design ceramics series, check further out what talent the great French chefs support, how the Japanese tableware changes with the seasons, or who in America employed an architect of his building to insert some vessels into the restaurant’s repertoire.

Etxebarri: transforming the Iberian seas and mountains through fire, live coal and ember wood into a gourmet escapade worth a detour

Etxebarri invites you to its “new house” for simple, perfectly grilled produce from the Spanish marine waters and sustainable mountain farms. In a contemporary rustic, rural Basque stone housing with small windows yet unrivalled views, your taste buds will journey through “fire, live coal, ember” entering the signature dishes.

Asador Etxebarri

Over the three decades since the stone house was bought by the chef Victor Arguinzoniz, his impeccable, locally sourced food has evolved from its humble yumminess to an elevated purist perfection. His mastery of the grill is lauded by seasoned foodies, and Michelin has awarded one star for the “high quality cooking, worth a stop!“. Tradition and perfection do not chime in the contemporary guide’s ranks in Europe (in Asia, simplicity scores with the Michelin inspectors), yet the food at Etxebarri is better than at most two and three star restaurants.

The taste experience is worth more than the visually rewarding detour, but a trip with its own mission – the superbly prepared local gastronomy. My most recent birthday was ideally set on the paved San Juan square in the naturally breath-grasping Axpe Valley. A half an hour journey from Bilbao to the Atxondo village leads through lush meadows waving gently upwards, sharing the land with dense forests and spiking rocky peaks dusted with snow in winter. You can drive (or take a taxi) from San Sebastian, but reserve at least two hours cruising on highways and rural roads. Once you exit the motored disgrace to natural landscapes to a smaller road, passing stone farmhouses with horses, buffalos or cows grazing in tranquility on the pastures, you will tune into the culinary mindset of “the new house” (well, old by now), in the Basque dialect Etxebarri.

Etxebarri restaurant designrural Basque region of Spain
While the stone church bells facing Etxebarri nodded to our timely arrival, the afternoon sun tickled our hands as we were eagerly forking out the sublime morsels. Peaking out through the window to the azure tinted day, the snow-capped Mount Anboto painted the fairy rural canvas with a surreal wintery mood. Being seated by the window for the five-hours lasting lunch, I was in a different mood than during the typical festive family gatherings, so loud and gluttonous, I was in a calm state of being in the moment, amused by the pristine beauty surrounding me.

Food at Etxebarri:

Perfect texture, intense balanced flavour between the produce and the grill, peak seasonality and simplicity

A generous slice of crumbly rustic white bread landed with a goat’s milk butter sprinkled with black lava flaky Hawaiian salt, and lips-licking slightly char-grilled fresh buffalo cheese (from their farm) with a sweet streak of Txacoli wine reduction. Followed by seasonal foraged chanterelle mushrooms sensibly sautéed served on a cracker patted with fresh cheese and a shot of an intense clear broth to warm you up for the endless string of edible local pride, that slowly coiled into a wildfire of gastronomic gluttony. I like to challenge my palate, and being extremely picky with charcuterie, the house-cured sliced smoky chorizo was a serious mind opener, in fact, the deepest and smoothest morsels of chorizo I have had to date! The only pork I occasionally enjoy is the impeccably humanely raised Jamon Iberico de Bellota, now joined by this chorizo from the black pig breed. Spoiled taste buds I have!
breadEtxebarri chorizo
The series of pintxo bites continued with Salted anchovies stretched atop toasted bread generously bronzed with olive oil and minced herbs. Their balanced saltiness allowed for the small fish steal the show. In winter, sea shells glow, yet the Cockles boiled in local beans jus were casually served in a tin. Tweezing them out with a generous dipping in the succulent jus they were gems to us. A rare, local firm scallop Chlamys varia was not our favourite since it tasted very marine briny. Bulking out as an interesting discovery, yet I much preferred the cockles.
The bounty of the Bay of Biscay is not the only source of culinary marvelling at Etxebarri. The Prawns of Palamós, caught in the Mediterranean waters on Costa Brava but renown across Spain, were served simply buttered but cooked perfectly to show their unique finesse, firm flesh and natural deep coral tint. The Spanish believe that keeping the guts in adds flavour, but I am more inclined to the Japanese cleanliness, therefore I did not love the gutsy black streaks inside.
Mediterranean Prawns of Palamós
More seafood rolled in. The utmost tender grilled Baby squid and it’s ink with chopped caramelised onion is another superb staple on the menu. Cod kokotxa is the Basque speciality. At Etxebarri the delicate Atlantic cod cheeks were wrapped like a tempura in an egg, the two pair wonderfully, and served atop a herbed cracker. The finest execution of kokotxa I have had to date (Martin Beratasegui near San Sebastian was a close tie).
An intermezzo of Scrambled egg yolks, ceps and tartufo bianco (in season between November and December) was just too rich as we started to feel full. More wine! Still, the truffles lost themselves in the dense yolk sauce. Before that we got wrong, but better dish from the menu day earlier: charred smoky eggplants were peeled so not to overshadow the superb cep mushrooms.
Back to fish with a small serving of Swim bladder cooked in olive oil and butter, served on house preserved red pepper sheet. Eating the bladder of cod fish en premiere, perhaps not as hotly anticipated, but try and enjoy the delicately tender texture.
Baby eels (50g) served in a can for an extra €70 charge are worth the splurge, even more than the truffles. The marvellous, squid-like spaghetti bites cooked al dente, were chargrilled with butter that further polished the creatures into pearl soft mouthfeel. Exquisite!

At this point, our bellies felt like there is no more storage left, but the tasting menu reminded us of the main courses in the degustation (€176 person). More wine, please! Red cork was pulled out. The former à la carte switched into the lengthy tasting menu only recently. They will adapt your dietary restrictions like crossing off “pears” for me.

The main servings were presented to the whole table and then portioned. A whole grilled Red sea bream accompanied by simmered leeks with potatoes in their juice with olive oil melted in your mouth like a piece of chocolate. Very well prepared.

Freely grazing cows from Galicia provided the most generous serving, the Beef chop. The sizeable intensely charred protein was medium done reminding me of the best cuts I had in Argentina. Sliced by the table and served with a side of simply dressed crisp salad and cooked onions as if to balance the feast. Too full, yet too good – the final frame would include my husband licking the succulent charred bone (I save you of this personal carnivorous display). Extra charged dishes further include the local cheese plate, small or large, but it could not fit our overfilled bellies. My birthday puff cake with a burning candle filled with generous vanilla cream just arrived! Thank you very much.
Basque countrysideAssador Etxebarri
Asador Etxebarri
Pre-dessert icy granita transferred our palates further into the sweet realm. The desserts at Etxebarri include Reduced milk ice cream with beetroot juice, traditionally served before the seasonal dessert, which was Pear baba in the winter. In the gluttonous delirium, my husband liked it. I got the most elegantly airy cheese flan instead (I do not digest pears well). The grand finale approached. Almost not sweet, the ultra condensed dark chocolate cream sticking to your spoon and happy palate came with a charred muffin to accompany coffee (good global selection) or herbal tisane. We went for the later, a blend of anise, linden and verbena to aid with digestion of the gargantuan meal. The brown cane sugar is organic like most of the sustainably planted or raised ingredients served at Etxebarri. Cryo filtered tap water keeps thirst at bay (the mountains above whisper about the vanity of shipping bottled water from Fiji and the like).
palate cleanserchocolate cake

Milk ice cream with red beet

The wine list highlights biodynamic, organic as well as the bottles coming straight from the respective winery. The later guarantee the best condition of the wine due to minimum traveling. Spain grows some fascinating indigenous grape varietals and the savvy young Spanish sommelier was helpful, so I went for a native discovery. First, a bottle of the biodynamic Selma de Nin by Família Nin-Ortiz from Catalunya. The deep, dried fruit and resinous bomb or aromas is an uncommon white blend of barrel aged Spanish indigenous grape varietal Parellada montonega and Rhone whites – Roussanne, Marsanne, and Chenin Blanc. Later, the single vineyard organic blend of luscious Mencia Falcoeira A Capilla from Valdeoras in Galicia by one of the greatest wine makers in Spain Telmo Rodriguez accompanied our main courses. Both wines were produced in tiny quantities. With the steak the Artadi Rioja could be marvellous, said the sommelier, next time.
wine from GaliciaSpanish wine from Catalunya
Leaving by dusk slightly after the wintery sunset, we did not fancy a dinner, but walked off the afternoon of eating inside the Bilbao’s Gugenheim museum. Do not plan much else for the evening. We slept like the sheep grazing the surrounding mountains. The Spanish style siesta merged with the food at Etxebarri!
The reservation policy is adamant that minimum two and maximum six people can reserved. A €100 “ticket” per person must be purchased ahead to guarantee your table (deduced from the final bill), children from the age of six can join. Cancellation without charge min 15 days prior to your confirmed reservation. Additional requests are communicated via email at
Lunch on Tue-Sat from 1pm; dinner on Saturdays only from 8:30pm. Closed August & December 24-January 9th
 +34 9465 83042
 Plaza San Juan, 1 Axpe-Marzana, Atxondo- Bizkaia, 48291, Spain

Monvínic: the place to wine in Barcelona

Monvínic is the place to indulge in a broad international parade of wines in Barcelona. This wine bar cum contemporary Spanish restaurant is so popular locally that even parents do not hesitate to bring their buggies in and imbibe in some vino. So what draws these inter-generational bacchanalian symposia and why was Monvínic often included in the best wine bars in the world by many publications and wine critics, including the reputable Jancis Robinson, MW? They do things differently, and here is why it works.

When you swing through the glass door, you will be ushered into an elegant, sleek space that could dub as a bar of a boutique design hotel. Very distinct from either, the ubiquitous crowded and  tapas eateries and the intimidating or too touristy hotel lounges all over Barcelona, this is a serious, yet comfortable space for wine lovers where even families feel at ease bringing their little offsprings. The first time we wined and dined at Monvínic was on my birthday trip to Barcelona when next to us an entire Japanese family was enjoying a meal seated just next to the open kitchen set in the larger restaurant part. There is a semi-private room (sound-wise), that being sandwiched between an outdoor garden area and the main restaurant space by a see-through sliding door includes it more into the entire place. The design is above all focused on connecting and offering different options for customers coming here for varied occasions. Narrow bar seats lining the entrance hall feel chic even for the most demanding after-work meet-ups. Facing them is a private library where the staff can mingle over the accountancy of the business or a small-scale private event can be staged. The reference library is open to the Friends of Monvínic (members) and shelves an “extensive and discerning” collection of wine books, trade magazines, annual guides and recent auction catalogues. Monthly wine tastings enlighten the professionals and anyone eager to learn more about wine. Subscribe to their newsletter for updated info on these.
I like to sit high on one of the chairs lining the bar counter popping my gaze towards the fish tank resembling cooler where the opened sparkling, white and rosé bottles bathe in ice water behind the sommeliers’ work area. Now, let the muse entertain my vinous whims!
Radka Beach at Monvínic
Tablet wine list at MonvínicCheese plate

Monvínic on the global wine bar scene

Monvínic ruminates the Corkbuzz on Manhattan and Vinograf in Prague, but more design-driven, comfortable and offering a broader food menu. It can be dubbed as a subdued version of the excellent Taillevent 110 in Paris that further opened in London, the European capital of wine. There, also the Wine Workshop and Kitchen 28-50 spread its vinous legs, but the affluent city is set to change with the Brexit, so the position of the EU wine epicentre might move elsewhere. Heading East, the House of Roosevelt in Shanghai, with its wow effect would beat it, but again the food is so so. The Sohm Bar of Le Bernardin long-time head sommelier Aldo Sohm currently shakes New York wine-wise, but the food plays a minor note there. Barcelona is on to something.
Isabelle Brunet, the co-founder of the Monvínic project leads her team of sommeliers in a new adventure for wine lovers that she opened together with Sergi Ferrer-Salat in 2008. Flexibility, accent on high local cuisine next to simple tapas and snacks with wide wine scope is the core of their Barcelona .
Spanish croquettes at MonvínicBread and wine at Monvínic
The generous wine list is all digital and the half and full-glass listings change constantly making it fun almost each time you peak when sipping in. Between forty and fifty wines are opened daily. The tablet shows an image of the vineyards or winemaker(s), who made it into the current openings. You can browse by country, type of wine or region. My penchant for biodiversity pushes me to try any new grape varietal that I have not tasted yet, so each time I discover something exciting at Monvínic. Spain, like Italy and Greece has a long history of wine making and the diversity of the grape varietals grown there is mesmerising. Here, I tasted the Spanish Albillo from the Madrid region, Mencía and Godello from Galicia or Listán negro from the Canary Islands.
Spanish rice at Monvínic in Barcelon

The kitchen at Monvínic

The bar nibbles include traditional high quality tapas including the Spanish classics like croquettes, patatas bravas, salted Marcona almonds and of course sliced Jamon Iberico de Bellota. Many plates have been modified, adding a pinch of culinary adventure to the experience. The patatas bravas are served as a potato waffle with the aioli dripped in the hollow chess board pattern with tomato sauce. As fun as this looks though, the classic recipe is better. The single plated croquette was excellent though as was the top ranking acorn-fed Iberic ham served upon request with the house bread with an organic goat’s cheese baked in. Irresistible! The ingredients are sourced mainly from “local producers and harvesters who care for and respect their natural environment and are an essential part of the culture of our country”, writes  Monvínic. Even international favourites like the guac and chips served here are made from the local avocados.
Mediterranean scallops at MonvínicSpanish shrimps
The food at the restaurant is more elaborate, gastronomic style. Three tasting menus or a la carte pickings, weekly specials and large sharing plates prepared by a female chef and “gastronomic director” Ariadna Julian. In winter, sea urchin risotto was bathing in seafood juices, the scallops were cooked to tenderness and the spiced up prawn carpaccio highlighted the famous Catalonian seafood, while in spring courgettes grow into the menu. Sea urchin and the Pullet “brasa“, charcoal grilled blackened chicken are the vices of the chef. Seafood and the Pyrenées produce accompany the daily changing side dishes and vegetables. It is good food, but we prefer the simpler fare served at the bar. This is Barcelona, and great food winks at you everywhere, so I would think twice before coming back to dine here. Before or after dinner glass of wine or tapas at Monvínic is ideal.
Mencia Spanish wine
Rioja wineindigenous Spanish grape varietals
Back to wine, biased locally wherever we travel to, some of our favourite wines there were Spanish since we focused on the Iberian wines but also the Canary islands’ volcanic bottlings of Listan negro from Tenerife were great finds! Mencia from Galicia is more soft, earthy and savoury than its more gripping expression in the Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra regions. The old Bierzo vines farmed bidynamically at Villa de Corullón for top range Moncerbal by Descendientes de J Palacios, while being rather a special birthday treat is a great bet, as was the perfectly decanted 1991 vintage Viña Real Rioja Reserva by CVNE. Monvínic is the best place to enjoy wine in Barcelona. Whether the off the beaten path glass seduces you or betting on a well-known bottle from the world’s best wine regions, you will find something here that Dionysus could only dream about – an ever changing supply of artfully fermented grape juice. Each bottle is unique, so savour it mindfully with pleasure, salut!
Mon & Sat: evening only: 7-10:30pm, Tue-Fri: lunch 1:30-3:30pm; 8-10:30pm; Sun closed
 Diputació 249, Barcelona
+34 93 272 61 87

The Green Spot Barcelona: vegetarian dining designed cool in the Catalan capital

The Green Spot is shielded from the gazes of major thoroughfares in Barcelona and the kinky street vendors around Port Vell. As a peaceful sanctuary this eco-minded contemporary vegetarian restaurant does not veer at tourist crowds, but for the green lifestyle seekers the calming and warm hues of the oak meets terracotta is the best what Barcelona has got so far. As you enter through the long, oak-clad corridor split from the kitchen by a verdant inner garden, you will tune yourself into its green mood.
The Green Spot vegetarian restaurant in BarcelonaThe Green Spot chef
The Green Spot elevated the ladder of vegetarian dining in Barcelona. The Mediterranean city of seafood paellas and meat-loaded tapas lacks in a scale of quality, plant-based eateries. There are other good vegetarian, some vegan, raw, locally sourced, farm-to-table eateries around the Catalan capital, yet none does the feel good concept better than En Compañía de Lobos. The founder Tomas Tarruella creates “spaces with personality, cared for design and gastronomy, quality in the produce used in avant-garde ambiences, well priced.” The restaurant group manages eight very popular design-driven cafés and restaurants in Spain so far (the newest is coming in Mallorca soon). Bosco de Lobos in Barcelona and Ana la Santa in Madrid are its stars, but The Green Spot is more than that.
The Green Spot is the first purely vegetarian and plants-mainly focused restaurant by the intrepid group, although it does not blink at you as such. Its message is discreet attracting non-vegetarians dining next to the strict veggies. This trend opens a question box – is eco-responsible dining out with focus on health and sustainability becoming mainstream in Europe? Boosted by the cool veggie lifestyle aura of LA, San Francisco, and New York, now Berlin, LondonMilan, PragueVienna as well as Barcelona offer plenty of top quality local, grains, nuts and vegetables highlighting restaurants. In the latest Flax & Kale pioneered the flexiterian diet, juicing and other health centric eating out, yet using organic vegetarian ingredients hit its streets only recently.
Spanish earthenwareeco design by En Compañía de Lobos

The Green Spot vegetarian lifestyle designed cool

No need to dress up, like almost anywhere in Barcelona, you can wear shorts during the weekend brunch and the weekly lunch hours. For dinner, some nights are sparked up through live music sessions (Tue & Thurs) and the mood gets reportedly more jazzed up. We only came for brunch and lunch, but as the inviting character of the long, copper coated low chair bar, the tables nesting along the walls and under the arched ceilings assembled with the En Compañía de Lobos entertaining through food experience, we knew it was doing something right on the Iberian peninsula. A Brazil-based designer Isay Weinfeld masterminded my favourite hotels in South America, the Fasano in São Paulo and in Punta del Este, Uruguay. The oak, sleek curves and natural feel characteristic of his design fill any space with grace and purity. Located in a historic neoclassical building dating back to 1840 on the same compound where the Picasso family moved to in Barcelona, the space roared for respect. The Green Spot tamed it.
vegetarian pizza

Food: Global culinary ideas meet local creativity

Far from tapas size portions, sharing is the best approach at The Green Spot. The chef Marcelino Jimenez paired with a vegetarian food specialist Julia Kleist to offer a finer experience than any of the Teresa Carles local casual eateries (Flax & Kale, Teresa’s Juicery, …). Although a simple Muhammara – Red pepper dip with walnuts, pita bread, carrot and celery crudités and pizza pop to the seasonal menu, their presentation is more sophisticated, and the portions smaller than at Flax & Kale. We had to try the charcoal dough pizza. The Activated carbon black pizza with a blackish thin crust had an ash-like bite, but the generous toppings of goat’s cheese, pumpkin, caramelized onions and parsnip moistened it. A sprinkle of pistachios on top made the difference from your regular slice. Order some salad with it for the perfect main course to share. The Japanese seaweed salad with umeboshi, black and white sesame vinaigrette makes for a funky pair, but there are enough greens to temper the intensity of the black noodle-shaped hijiki algae, with red radish and edamame freshen it all up.
vegetarian mezzevegetarian Barcelona
From the starters our favourites were the Beet Tartare with Avocado, grapefruit and horseradish and the fine Carpaccio of kohlrabi, spirulina, pistachios and tamarind vinaigrette. Some plates like the Macrobiotic bowl, Pizza Margarita and the four cheese topped with the seasonal (May-June) zucchini flower and jerusalem artichoke are organic.
The rustic clay ware plates recall Hearth Ceramics of San Francisco, the trendy East London eateries, but are locally made by Aguade potters studio in Barcelona. The world meets the Mediterranean in the fusion cuisine served on them. The Green Spot may disappoint the purists but to any adventurer admiring the world’s culinary diversity, who wants to eat more responsibly in a beautiful environment this is the place to eat in Barcelona. The Greek Dolmadas are stuffed not with rice but quinoa wrapped in grape leaves. “From the World” come the Quesadillas with kimchi and avocado, some curries, Korean and Austrian inspired dishes next to the popular vegan burgers. More healthful Whole wheat spätzle with raclette cheese and caramelised onion propped from the Alps, while the fresh Pea dip with dukkah touches on the Middle Eastern tradition.
The menu colourfully highlights the allergens (sulphites inclusive), raw, vegan and gluten-free items. There are vegan soups, Green hemp pizza with vegan cashew “cheese”, gluten-free Sweet potato tagliatelle with macadamia nut sauce luxuriates on freshly shaved black truffles. Something safe for everyone, just do not crave fish or meat here.
Vegetarian food in Barcelonabrunch coktail
The desserts blend Michelin ideas with simple sweet treats. The Lemon and celery sorbet was the most disappointing creation though. No wonder, the Michelin restaurants would serve something like this as a palate cleanser/refresher and not as the staring dish. Chia and matcha lovers will ohm over a pudding blending both of these trendy “superfoods”. Vegan brownie and ice creams fill the plant-based cravings. In June the Rhubarb and strawberry crumble with vanilla sauce graced the menu and my favourite fruit, the persimmon made an appearance too. My brain needs some sugar, excuse me “clean” eaters.
cold pressed organic juice vegetable dessert
To sip on, the drinks were not overlooked. Whether you crave an organic wine, a cocktail like a bloody spiced-up kimchi mary for brunch as I had, a cup of coffee, tea or just plain Spanish water, you won’t be bored. All the wines by the glass were well chosen.
House pressed raw juices from organic ingredients are perfect alcohol-free brunch pals, but they can be taken to go since they are bottled every morning. The cold pressed Maia was perfectly balanced blend of pineapple, apple, cucumber, lemon and mint.
Restaurants like The Green Spot brighten the time we live in when the hippie lifestyle of the 60s has been luxed up into a trendy, global movement of the millennials and the generations succeeding them.
12 C. de la Reina Cristina, Barcelona
+34  938 02 55 65
Mon – Fri: 12:30PM – 12AM
Sat & Sun: 1PM – 12AM; Fri & Sat drinks till 2AM

Flax & Kale Barcelona: four decades of flexiterian lifestyle inspiring you to eat better, be happier and to live longer

Flax & Kale in Barcelona subscribes to flexiterianism, a breed of a semi-vegetarian dietary lifestyle, with the occassional inclusion of meat, fish, eggs, and a rare sight of dairy on the colourful and detailed healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.
Founded in 1979 by the health-conscious Catalan chef Teresa Carles Borràs, the 80% plant-based café, restaurant and bar, Flax & Kale was the veggie trend setter in the city of meat and seafood-loaded tapas. Daily packed, the brunches are roaring with a healthy human buzz so Teresa’s grain, nut & vege-centric eateries now venture into new locations in and outside of Barcelona.
KalePomegrenates at Flax & Kale in Barcelona

The sustained joy from locally-sourced flexitarian lifestyle

Flax & Kale has a great terrace to be on sunny days, so abundant in Catalunya. There, the rooftop vegetable garden flashes leafy green shades even in December. Sipping and munching on the tasty servings enjoy the vista of the church of Parròquia de Sant Pere Nolasc Mercedaris, the dome of which is embellished in a colourful mosaic. The bells dinging as the old heralds of time. The almost sixty-years-old Teresa’s growing up on the farm land of Lleyda inspired her to growing the fruits and vegetables or purchasing from local farms for her restaurants.
Flexiterianism is the most realistic, balanced diet that is not too restrictive, while still being sustainable for the planet that is increasingly overwhelmed by the alarmingly growing human population. Unknowingly, perhaps due to my strongly aware feminine instinct, I subscribe to this lifestyle, where an occasional animal protein is consumed in additional to the predominantly vegetarian diet. Socially and more practically, for a frequent traveller disembarking in the global urban mazes of tempting gastronomic hedonism, it would be too challenging to become fully vegetarian. My semi-vegetarian eating habits were squared by my doctors, who recommended for many health reasons to keep eating little meat (once, maximum twice per week). Plant-based eating is the way to go for most of us.
Church Parròquia de Sant Pere Nolasc Mercedaris from the terrace of Flax & Kale in Barcelona

Finding the balance with Flax & Kale while in Barcelona

Preparing tasty and healthy food, while being sustainable Flax & Kale became my go to breakfast recovery after an indulgent gastronomic night at one of Barcelona’s incredible restaurants. The morning after is always hard, but walking along the beach, strolling through the narrow carreteras of Barcelonetta and getting to this healthful café near the city’s busiest vein, the Plaza de Catalunya felt the most rejuvenating during my recent trips to the Catalan metropolis.
Restaurants like Flax & Kale, suitable for all social meals during the day and night, make a balanced lifestyle easier and way more enjoyable. Next to ultra-casual eateries, the plant-centric culinary trends swished into some of the best chefs’ consciousness, so now we can all savour the diversity of the earth on any occasion. With top chefs like Alain Ducasse in France, Jean Georges Vongerichten in the US, and Balwoo Gongyang, the chef at the first Korean-style temple restaurant in the world to receive a Michelin star. You don’t need to subscribe to the Buddhist philosophy of non-harming in order to eat better, more responsibly for your own health and for the edible nature’s resources, yet if you eat healthily than you will do less harm naturally.

Superfood breakfast, wholesome lunch and sustainable dinner

Acai bowlThe food at Flax & Kale is based on “organoleptical pleasure” and a small amount of omega3 rich oily fish and eggs. The omega 3s in animal sources are the easiest to absorb by the human body and since they are of a slightly different constitution than when present in plants, their inclusion into our diet is necessary for the brain development and protection of cells from degenerative diseases. Flexiterianism is therefore more healthy and balanced than a vegan diet. We loved the satisfying brunch plate of gluten-free SAVOURY PANCAKES. The generous tower of almond and buckwheat flower based pancakes with red quinoa, corn, Chinese onion and turmeric, interlaced with a decadent peanut cream sauce, mushrooms, rucola, avocados, tomatoes, adzuki beans, pico de gallo and a poached egg. You won’t leave hungry after such a wholesome feast.vegan pancakes
The fibre-abundant flax rich in magnesium and potassium and above all the cancer growth inhibiting lignans (breast and prostate) appears in numerous pastries at Flax & Kale. There are many nutritional benefits to consuming flax seeds that were proven by rigorous science, so eating flax in a bagel or gluten-free muffin naturally sweetened with agave or coconut sugar is great. The Aussie classic breakfast, the AVOCADO TOAST is served with a drizzle of lemon, anti-inflammatory cayenne, flax and chia seeds is a great morning starter that is not too large.
Breakfast avocado toast
The most disappointing plate we tried were the HEALTHY VEGGIE EGGS BENEDICT served on a house-made english muffin. The plant-based hollandaise sauce with truffles was boring since we could not detect the fragrance of much truffles in the dish.
On warm days the frozen fruit and seed-laced PITAYA BOWL or the Brazilian export – the ACAI BOWL feel more indulgent than you might expect from a “healthy” label, and they are calories-rich and sweetened, be it naturally, so have them on active days.
Vegetarian specialities at Flax & Kale Barcelona
Now popular from California, through FloridaLondon, Prague to Milan, some raw plates have not been heated above 48°C to keep the enzymes alive in Barcelona too. For lunch I like the seasonal RAW ZUCCHINI BLOSSOMS. The zucchini blossoms are stuffed with peanut and macadamia nuts cream, accompanied by a rich Andalusian salmorejo of sun-dried tomatoes with basil, a scoop of guacamole and pico de gallo, and all sprinkled with goji berries, green salad and radish sprouts, carrot and corn. A colourful and vibrant bowl. There are some fun food choices for kids like the veggie burger or tomato rice spaghettini, that can help you get more nutrients into the little ones.
Dining roomrustic design

Urban cool meets sustainable design

Most of you might appreciate a dictionary of some of the exotic “superfoods” that are used at Flax & Kale. Black garlic, chlorella, maca, mizuna, nixtamalised corn (cooking in alkalising liquid that increases its nutritional value), and the other less familiar global nutritional bombs are described inside the menus and clipped to the map inside a private dining room on the second floor.
From the large, buzzing main dining area, and a smaller room at the back, you must take an elevator to the third floor, passing the kitchen and ingredients storage on the second floor to the charming roof patio. What an expose!
Here, a terrarium meets urban casual design with large leafy plants and red bricks mixing in a bright, large-windowed space.
cold pressed juicePitaya bowl

The cold-pressed juice pioneer in Spain to go, order online or sip in

The cold-pressed juices are the founder’s creations sold under the label Teresa’s Juicery, one of the first cold-pressed juicing brands in Spain. Forever Young, an orange blend with carrot, grapes, Peruvian lucuma, turmeric, pineapple and lime juice, and the Green Love (apples, celery, ginger, spinach, pepper, lemon) are my favourite picks.
The gazpachos and soups in the bottle are practical for a lunch to go, and the prices are much lower than at most cold pressed juiceries that I have encountered in any major global city.
The nut mylks are perhaps the best in their class. Rarely I have tasted a better almond mylk, but also the Coconut meat Masala Chai blend sweetened with low-glycemic coconut sugar is heavenly. You can have the version with turmeric sweetened with honey instead. As tiger nuts make the paleo inroads on the grocery shelves, Teresa soaked them and strained a rich mylk for her twist on Mexican Horchiata with agave and chia seeds.
For an after workout, healthier energy reboot try the superfood energy protein balls and bars. The ENERGY SPICY BAR is made of almonds, walnuts, raw cacao, cayenne pepper, pistachios and antioxidant-rich goji berries, and is not that sweet.
vegan energy bar
TERESA CARLES has recently opened a new Vegetarian Restaurant nearby and Teresa’s Stairway to Health, a fast-health-food concept. Many ingredients come from Lleida, her birth region. Like these home-made marmalade fruits:


Adding only the necessary amount of brown sugar to let the cooked fruit talk, her marmalade is used in breakfast wholewheat toast (can be replaced by spelt croissant).
Some cartoonists may imagine a flexiterian as a liberal thinker relishing kale with a good shaving of parmesan, a thin, athletic and energetic individual, flexing the biceps over a vegetable patch and caressing all cattle with respect. I am very athletic, eloquent (my mouth is definitely very energetic), tall, and I do not hang on preaching the one way only, I am open to reasonable revisions. Let’s be flexible, let’s all become flexitarians, and keep our awareness focused on reducing our meat consumption. After all, there are some many delectable plants, and the cookbooks with some chefs today stretch their veggie-based imagination beyond your wildest dreams of carrots and rabbits jumping happily in the Garden of Eden. Let’s enjoy our food, responsibly and creatively!
C/Tallers 74B (Cantonada Gravina), Placa Castella, Ciutat Vella, Barcelona
+34 933 175 664

Basque authenticity, nature's wildness, pintxos and other charms of San Sebastian

The clouds hovering above San Sebastian can disperse swiftly with a puff of a strong wind, and melt into a crystal azure canvas of blue sky. Often streaming from the Atlantic, the weather system tends to change rapidly in this moody part of the Basque region, but this is the charming visual attribute of the coastal Northern Spain. As if you wiped off the colour palate in front, the brush of nature creates a brand new landscape painting within minutes.
The Concha beach in San SebastianView of Santa Clara Island off Sebastian
Love at first sight, a blazing storm of emotions, indeed. It happened to these, who let their eyes to fly freely in these paradise-found landscapes. Inhale the pristine clean air, let go, be one with the dream as I was.
A hilly pair of horns that form the rocky coast and spike from a half-moon of sprawling white beaches often stamp San Sebastian on post cards. Gripping, the dramatic jaw appears as if gulping a small islet in between its lips. After a stroll and a boat ride, there is more to see and taste in Donostia, as San Sebastian is known in Basque. Troll up by a cable car to the Mount Igeldo or hike to the old castle atop the Mount Urgull to admire the verdant hills in San Sebastian’s back country. Lush after frequent rain, the mountains reach deeply inland towards Navarra region. Hemingway’s first novel The Sun Also Rises was inspired by his frequent trips to its bull rings (Pamplona) and the spawning rivers. The Britsh author literally fished out his affection for creative writing in these hills and by the Irati river, where the trouts swam once aplenty. In his Hemingwaysque ironic restraint he wrote:
“Where I’d better go? Up or Down?”
“Down is the best. They are plenty up above, too”.
Before your imagination takes you too far into the unknown lands, flip from the dreamscape and return to San Sebastian. The coast facing the Bay of Biscay possesses so much beauty, addictive and hard not to fall for. The sizeable town was cast as having one the Europe’s most alluring beaches. Avoid the planes swapping journey (so far the only direct flights are from Barcelona and Madrid) during the peak of the summer when swarms of umbrellas and sun bathers flock to the Playa de La Concha. For most of the year its rustic, pure and exotic panoramic coast is much more visually attractive, umbrella-free.
As you linger in the shielded port, its charms inspire plenty of adventurous as well as nostalgia-teasing ideas. Taking a fisherman’s boat to the tiny island of Santa Clara may tiptoe into your mind as an idea of a romantic journey, but you will more likely hop on a regular ferry taking visitors to this turtle-shaped rocky mass covered with trees. Positioned in everyone’s plain sight from the horseshoe curved bay, the romance is over. Still, if you catch a lucky tide and the rare human-free presence, you can stride barefooted on its tiny beach feeling like a nymph washed ashore.
San Sebastian

San Sebastian treasures: from nature to your mouth

Nature’s bounty also inspires the plates at local restaurants. Many of the Spain’s three Michelin stared gastronomic pilgrimages are located in the Basque region, from the globally known Arzak to the lesser known, but exquisite Martin Beratasegui.
Gastronomy in the region flourishes almost effortlessly. With three restaurants obtaining the maximum of three Michelin stars in the San Sebastian’s ward itself, as well as some excellent, more casual one starred places to eat, there is no doubt that a visit of the area is on every foodie’s bucket list. A hot ticket is right near the airport in Hondarribia, a typical Basque fishing town worth seeing. The family-owned Alameda offers three generations of superb local cooking with a modern twist and a warm friendly waiters including the family members themselves. For a more casual bite, in parallel to the port promenade turn into a pintxos-filled bar street adorned with the gingerbread, Alpine-like, but for this region typical, narrow houses.tapas in the old town
As everywhere in Spain, there is also plenty of salivating stimulation for the less affluent foodies. The casual pintxos as the tapas are locally called (a cocktail stick keeping the food together is in Basque called a ‘pintxo’) are reputed to be one of the best in the country. Perhaps only Seville can rival San Sebastian in the Iberian tapas race, where convenience, diversity, quality and value are judged. I find the tapas in Barcelona and Bilbao less quality and for the later less creatively driven, while Madrid offers generally more commercial and too touristy tapas bar scene. Some are more pub-like and basic stand and eat only, while others spin culinary ideas creating more contemporary, lighter, less oily while gushing with flavours.
Iberic ham
For decades only the local chefs succeeded in capturing the best from the local ingredients such as unsalted anchovies, tuna and koktxa, literally meaning a cheek, but usually a fried cod fish chin, into morsels of pleasure. Change came with the recent influx of the culinary phalanx of foreigners and ex-Bulli cooks, who revived the creativity in this coastal town. The foie gras comes from nearby Landes across the border with France and is served as frequently as Jamón Íberico in this region.
Atlantic fish
In the realm of alcoholic drinks, a must try is Txakoli, a slightly sparkling, very dry local white wine with high acidity and low alcohol content. Cider (slightly fermented apples into a bubbly fruity beverage) is another Basque pride poured in abundance.
The old town stretches from the Baroque Basilica of Santa María through the Calle Mayor street towards the port. Here you find the highest density of casual tapas eateries and its narrow streets invite for a mindless mingling in between the pintxo bars. A truly indulgent and affordable heaven for foodies.
 San Vicente ChurchSan Sebastian

Liberated art scene

The town is currently burbling through a liberating transformation. After all, hardly a decade passed since the legally-binding agreement between ETA, the locally terrifying separatist terrorist group, signed a peace treaty with the Spanish government. The Basque pride will not shut itself off from being expressed publicly though. In Basque San Sebastian is known as ‘Donostia’, and the airport sign still assures the visitors and locals alike of the non-impeding regional definition here.
After stiffing the ETA movement, new projects cropped around the town. San Telmo Museum located in a former Dominican Convent was refurbished into a modern edifice with a contemporary space for dining. The museum displays the history of the Basque region and its culture from their trading prowess through their separatist decades of the past century. Scattered around the old town are also more personal small galleries such as the Ekain Arte Lanak reprinting many successful living as well as established Basque artists post mortem.
Fashion is of serious interest at the Balenciaga Museum, dedicated to the master couturier from the nearby Getaria, it is housed in a newly built annex to Palacio Aldamar, about 30-50 minutes drive from San Sebastian.
nature in artSan Sebastian beach

Where to lodge in San Sebastian

Now that the lives of the locals were stripped off the fear from bombs and bullets, they enjoy the abundance of their town. Outdoor cafés hum with activity. And there is plenty to choose from whether you want a cup of well-made espresso, pastry or tea (Aramendia, 22 Narrika street). The only drawback is the lack of good hotels in town as well as a serious need for more boutique places to stay. The most flamboyant is the recently refurbished Maria Cristina Hotel. Having a cocktail, a glass of wine or tea at the elegant bar is a must if you don’t stay there. A more restrained, but historic is the beach Hotel Nizza still owned by the descendants of a famous Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida. Don’t leave the booking to the last minute as you might end up staying somewhere not that ideal. Although cool and fun, the cinema-themed Hotel Astoria 7 we stayed at was noisy as you could hear not only the local construction but also every shower, toilet and basin in the rooms above you flushing. Each room has a different actor or director featured on its walls, so if you are a film buff, you may still fancy residing there.
Old town in San Sebastian
The architecture of San Sebastian may be confusing. If blindfolded and someone dropped you out in the middle of the almost 200.000 inhabitants bolstering town, you would think that you are in some mid-sized French destination. Art Deco, Art Nouveau, but also Baroque and Gothic styles will guide your eyes glued on the facades as you stroll through its cobbled streets. Being once the favoured health retreat for royalty, the ornamental villas and decadent castles pinned in the bay are dazzling.
HondarribiaBasque dance
By the coward weather determined character, the locals rebel as more crisp, genuine and very casual than the slow-paced people in the South of Spain. The social interaction is acted out in a plain sight on streets, and the bars are preferred by the families in place of a secluded hangout in their backyards. This outdoor display takes over sidewalks during all-weather conditions. It feels like being in a village. Just raise your gaze towards the bright red flower pots adorning the windows of countless buildings. Tourists are currently not being privileged with any kind of a special attention, even the museums describe their displays mostly in Basque and Spanish only. This can be desirable as much as unpleasant, but being accepted by the locals as their equal feels liberating and authentic.
Explore the innocence of the town now before the international and commercial Spanish brands arrive and change the independent spirit of San Sebastian. Not just the superficial beauty is there to be admired, but San Sebastian also bursts with a gripping character – from its so far noncommercial independent film festival screenings, the aristocratic past, to feeding your belly and mind with the local superb cuisine and art.
Txacoli Basque wine My recommended gastronomic restaurants:
 Martin Beratasegui – 3* Michelin
 Mugaritz – 2* Michelin (contemporary molecular temple)
 Alameda – 1* Michelin (most casual and affordable)
 Etxebarri – 1* Michelin (a must visit rural grill about 1 – 2 hours drive towards Bilbao)
Atari Gastroteka – our favourite offering a wide fresh selection of pintxos
La Cuchara de San Telmo – modern and local’s favourite
BETI-JAI Berria – contemporary, young, great wine selection
NOTE: We did not have good experience at Akelare, both service and the food were disappointing. After being underwhelmed with Elena Arzak’s restaurant in London we were not as interested in her family’s 3* Michelin legend near the town.

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