Travelling and exploring is a unique and amazing experience, but there are times when walking for hours between sights and not stopping for a minute is simply not the way you wish to spend your precious days off from your busy life. So what better way to relax, recharge and discover at the same time, than taking a gastronomic route through two countries as beautiful and rich as Spain and France. Make the whole experience even more extraordinary by travelling between destinations with Renfe-SNCF en Coopération’s trains, allowing you to relax in your seat and take in your breathtaking surroundings as you go.
If what you enjoy is discovering new and exciting flavors and tastes to please your taste buds, Spain is definitely the place for you. Its rich and healthy cuisine has been endlessly influenced over the centuries, making it quite unlike any other.
Spain’s geographical location on the Iberian Peninsula separated from France by mountains that rise higher than 3400 meters, has given it endless value over the centuries and the development of the world as we know it, especially during the Age of Discovery. It acts as gatekeeper not only between Europe and Africa, but also between the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. This invaluable characteristic gives Spain incomparable strategic advantages, which has proved to be both a blessing and a curse throughout the unfolding of history – as this made Spain target to endless possession-crazed attacks over the centuries. It also, however, drove their sea-faring, fearless and adventurous nature, making them one of the most powerful world leaders in exploration in the 15 and 16 hundreds, enabling them to be the first to circumnavigate the globe, and return bearing never before seen culinary (and countless others) riches and gems. This, along with the presence of Greeks, Celts, Romans and Moors, stretched out over 2000 years, has chipped and chiseled the Spanish cuisine into the unique treasure it is today.
Food and beverages are a very important component to Spanish culture and lifestyle, and play an invaluable role in how people interact – it would be unthinkable to meet a friend without a glass or wine or beer and some tapas, or a have family meal in which every last inch of the table wasn’t covered in exquisite dishes!
You will be sure to have no lack of cafés, bars or restaurants during your trip – in fact you will be hard pressed to narrow them down, and will be forced to eat non stop just to try even a fraction of what this country offers!
Which is why Tapas are the perfect solution! Small portions of hundreds of varieties (ranging from anything from seafood and cured meats to potato-egg tortillas and beans) which allow you to taste several dishes in just one meal.
It is not to be overlooked however, that one of Spain’s most fascinating features is how different its different regions are to each other, and their cuisine is no exception. The perfect way to get a taste of all Spain has to offer is travelling by train from region to region, being sure not to miss out on Madrid’s famous Cocido Madrileño (a traditional meat and chick-pea stew, read here for the best places in Madrid to try it), Valencia’s renowned Paella (a rice dish with meat or seafood, and ingredients that vary immensely), Andalucia’s Gazpacho (cold tomato soup), Galicia’s Empanadas, and countless others. And be sure never to forget the Jamón Serrano, a typically Spanish dried ham, which is one of Spain’s most prized possessions (I guarantee you will never see a country with so many specialized supermarket sections, shops and entire museums dedicated to ham!).
The most important thing to keep in mind however is that the Spanish Mediterranean diet is so much more than a tasty and surprisingly healthy and nutritious gastronomic recommendation. It is an entire lifestyle that involves a whole ritual of traditional and loving preparation, and enjoying it under the beautiful Spanish sun while talking and laughing for hours with beloved friends and family.
France’s world-famous cuisine does in no way, however, fall behind. So don’t waste another minute and get aboard one of Renfe-SNCF en Coopération’s high-speed trains which will take you speeding through the mountains (while snacking on some delicious jamón that you won’t be able to resist buying before leaving Spain) along to your next destination in a matter of hours.
You are sure to have heard wonders about French gastronomy, and I am pleased to tell you that there is no lack of truth in these statements. In 2010, French gastronomy was added to the “World’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage” by UNESCO, and with good reason. The French pride themselves in their impeccably prepared and presented, exquisite dishes, but do not for a minute be fooled into thinking that it’s all show and no substance. Renowned for its haute cuisine, world known French chefs date as far back as the middle ages, and they maintain their reputation today with establishments such as the Michelin Guide and Le Cordon Bleu, and chefs such as Alain Ducasse and Paul Bocuse.
When thinking of French food, a few things surely pop into your mind: a breakfast of a butter croissant and café au lait, a freshly baked baguette, a glass of one of their magnificent wines, or procrastinating about which ones of the countless cheeses to try (even Charles de Gaulle once said, “How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?” – a number which has since grown!). Although these do make top spots on the list of France’s prides and joys, their cuisine has so much more to offer.
A proper French meal generally consists of several courses: a starter, main course and dessert and/or cheeses. The whole meal is, of course accompanied by fresh baguette and several glasses of wine!
Soupe à l’oignon, or onion soup, is a traditional French soup that is very popular as a starter, made with caramelized onions and beef stock and topped with croutons and cheese that will simply melt in your mouth. If you are slightly more adventurous, you could try Escargots, boiled snails with a butter and garlic sauce, served still in their shell with a toothpick. Boeuf bourguignon is another beloved French dish (you might be reminded of Julia Child), usually served as a main course, and is an art in itself which takes skill and patience to master – an exquisite slow-cooked beef stew prepared with red wine, and seasoned with mushrooms, onions, garlic and fresh herbs. For those who prefer vegetarian meals, or a less heavy option, Ratatouille is a perfect substitute a dish which mixes in several deliciously fresh vegetables such as eggplants, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, carrots garlic and several tasty herbs and spices which make it perfect on its own or accompanied by bread, crepes, omelets or a grand variety of other dishes.
While you are walking home, either from the supermarket after buying the produce to courageously try to take on one of these dishes at home, or stumbling out of a restaurant after having indulged a beautifully cooked meal, one of the infinite beautiful French patisseries are bound to catch your eye, with a window full of mouthwatering, perfectly decorated cakes, pies and other desserts. Try a slice of the Tarte Tartin, and you won’t regret it. It is a rich and heavenly apple caramel pie, which was originally invented back in the 1800s when Stephanie Tartin got distracted with other dinner preparations and left the apples with butter and sugar in the pan for too long. Desperately trying to correct her mistake, she unknowingly gave origin to one of the most famous and delicious French desserts, which is still craved by many over 100 years later.