Cider Season In The Basque Country – A Visit To An Authentic Basque Cider House
The vast majority of authentic Basque cider houses, Sidrerías, or sargardotegiak in Basque, are located in Gipúzkoa (156), with the largest concentration being in the village of Astigarraga, just outside of San Sebastián. In addition, there are 52 cider houses in Bizkaia, 8 in Álava/Araba, 26 in Navarra/Iruña and 7 in Iparralde, in the Pays Basque, the French Basque Country. The cider houses are very popular with local families and groups of friends, especially on weekends.
Some are open for visits in December, but the actual cider season doesn’t begin until January, with most opening the last two weeks of the month. A few are open all year. Cider houses can be quite rustic, some being located down narrow country roads, making them difficult to find.
Apples are harvested in August, the juice left to ferment from September to November, but each year, between January and March, before the cider is bottled, the ritual tasting is carried out. Cider, having been consumed in the Basque Country since at least the 12th century, is an emblem of its culture.
All cider house menus are essentially the same: tortilla de bacalao (cod omelette), sometimes a cod with green pepper dish, bacalao con pimientos verdes, a massive chuletón, or T-bone of veal or ox, and Idiazábal cheese, walnuts and honey with quince paste for dessert, as well as all the hard cider you can drink, for a fixed price of 28€ to 35€ a person. A few cider houses also offer à la carte fish dishes.
Cider is ordered by the bottle or the glass in a restaurant, but in traditional cider houses the custom is to stand while eating. Plates of food are placed on long wooden communal tables and when the gigantic wooden barrels of cider lining the walls are unplugged, and someone yells mojón in Spanish, or txotx in Basque, txotx being the wooden plug of the barrel, diners rush with glass in hand to the barrels. Cider gushes out in a arc stream and everyone queues up to fill his glass, but always holding it at knee level to create froth and release its bouquet. The more height on the pour, the better, since it gives the drink some fizz, and it should be drunk in very small amounts and downed immediately. Then diners go back to the tables to continue their eating until the next mojón. It’s a very dress down affair because you’ll be splashed again and again. It’s quite messy. One should also wear sturdy shoes.
A Bacchanalian feast, it’s a messy and highly entertaining, convivial experience that shouldn’t be missed if you’re game for an excursion into San Sebastián’s nearby countryside.
One of the most noted Sidrerías in Astigarraga is Zapiain, open only in the evenings between January 19 and April 30, except on Sundays, when it’s open year round. In neighboring Hernani there’s Zelaia, at Martindegi, 29, again, open January 19-April 30, year around on Sundays.
Sagardotegia Petritegi is the most tourist-friendly of the cider houses in Astigarraga. Surrounded by hectares of apple orchards, it is open all year long, not just during the traditional cider season. Tours of its facilities are available for a minimum of 4 people. The “Essential” tour is 15€. Closed Monday mornings. Its delicious cider house menus range from 35€ to 47€ for adults, with a children’s menus for 14€ and 32€/person, depending on age. There is also a Vegetarian menu for 29€. And if you’re not a cider fan, you can simply taste and pair your menu with red wine. Seating is around traditional large, communal, bare wood tables.
Take a taxi. Although there is usually enough space to go without a reservation, you may want to call ahead: (+34) 943 457 188, or reserve online.
Our last adventure at a cider house was spending an afternoon at Sidrería Astarbe in Astigarraga the last time we where in San Sebastián-Donostia for the Tamborrada de San Sebastián, which is coming up in a few weeks; January 20, 2023.
If you don’t make it to the cider country, but want to try a typical cider house meal in San Sebastián, then try the Sidería Beharri at Calle Narrika, 22, in the Parte Vieja, the old quarter. Open daily.