Northern Spain’s allure

Spain is such a diverse country that every region displays characteristics different from those of the others. The landscape differs from one region to the other, the residents’s cultural preferences vary, even the language spoken by the locals differ. But Spain is there for visitors to enjoy because these differences add attractive facets to its beauty.

Unfortunately, every time I visit Spain, it’s always just a quick business trip so I am restricted only to either Madrid and Barcelona. Of course, there’s nothing to complain about because Madrid’s attractions are enough to keep my leisure hours occupied. Spain’s capital city is beautiful, with its impressive boulevards and well-manicured parks. I am dazzled by the masterpieces of Velazquez and Goya at the Prado Museum. And, the romantic, beautifully designed Plaza Mayor is my favorite hangout.

But, in my book, Barcelona has more to offer. The famous Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, flaunting the unusual design of its architect Antoni Gaudi, is the city’s most popular landmark. It is the largest unfinished Roman Catholic church in the world, and has been featured in so many foreign and local movies.

The imposing façade of the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela in Galicia

There’s also La Rambla, which has become Barcelona’s social hub. It is a pedestrian mall, lined with lush greenery, which stretches 1.2 kilometers across the city’s downtown area. And for the art connoisseurs, there are Museu Picasso and Fundació Joan Miró which feature the masterpieces of the eponymous world-famous Spanish artists.

But one thing that jolted me the very first time I visited Spain was that the locals really take the siesta hours seriously. Shops and businesses close at around two o’clock in the afternoon and resume work at five o’clock until around eight o’clock, the reason why Spaniards are used to having late dinners. So, every time I visit Spain, I see to it that my business is done in the morning, otherwise, it will be a very long wait for me for office hours resume.

The next time I visit Spain, however, it will have to be in the northern region, as my friends have been raving about its beauty. That part of the country is sometimes referred to as “Green Spain” because of the landscape’s rich vegetation and “Secret Spain” because it has remained undiscovered by many international visitors, even if it offers a feast for the eyes, the mind and the palate.

The beautiful Roman Catholic Catedral de Santiago de Compostela is a Romanesque structure in Galicia in northwestern Spain, and is believed to be the resting place of St. James, one of Jesus Christ’s apostles. This church is also the end of the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route, with several interesting landmarks along the way, taken by Catholic devotees as a form of spiritual cleansing towards their spiritual growth. Modern-day sports enthusiasts, however, also take this route for hiking and cycling.

Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque region, is famous for world-class art at the ultramodern Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum and the futuristic architecture of some of the city’s landmarks.   The city’s pulsating and fun nightlife continues to attract party animals from the rest of the country.

Sandee and Andrew Masigan brought northern Spain’s culinary specialties to the Philippines through their Oye! Tapas and Grill restaurant

But what I am looking forward to in a Northern Spain visit is the plethora of culinary delights that the region offers. Bilbao alone has its famous pintxos which is the Basque name for tapas. San Sebastian, which is still in Basque Country or Paiz Vasco, is sometimes referred to as the Food Capital of the world. In fact, some reports say that there are more Michelin-star restaurants in that city than there are in Paris.

The good news is that I can now have easy access to the culinary delights of Northern Spain, here in Manila, anytime I want, through the newly opened Spanish-influenced restaurant, Oye! Tapas and Grill, at the Bonifacio Global City.  Owned by Andrew and Sandee Masigan, the dining venue serves the popular traditional dishes from Spain’s rich culinary heritage that we are all very familiar with.  

It also prides itself with some adventurous infusion of a youthful element to the northern Spanish region’s cuisine, a menu innovation designed by Spanish head chef Joseba Sola, who is an expert in modern Spanish cooking.  

Some of the northern Spain-influenced scrumptious specialties served at Oye which I often go back for include Relleno Calamares con Chorizo (lightly grilled baby squid stuffed with chorizo, grapes, and honey), Huevos Trufado (poached egg yolk with egg white and truffle foam, topped with crispy chorizo and potato), and Pollo a la Brasa con Salsa Majada (grilled chicken with majada sauce). Feasting on them makes me feel like I’m in Bilbao or Galicia or San Sebastian.

Although Spain’s northern region remains at the top of my list for my next European sojourn, I will content myself, meantime, with savoring Oye’s well-crafted culinary offerings, while I try to figure out something about El Paiz Vasco (Basque Country) that has piqued my curiosity: Why do Basque names almost always have an “x” or a lot of “z” in them, as in my name? Oye, por favor, explicamelo.

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Topics: Spain , diverse country , Velazquez , Goya , Prado Museum , Sandee and Andrew Masigan
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