People

The ones who make a region unique

In the 16th century, Sevilla was one of the wealthiest cities on Earth. The river Guadalquivir, which flows through the heart of the city, became a river of gold, choked with galleys, each laden with riches from the New World. Sevilla’s Golden Age may be long gone, but, today, Fernando knows that the Guadalquivir is still filled with treasures, from the fauna and flora that thrive along its banks, to the endless stories and legends that lie under its shimmering surface. For years, Fernando has been a regular sight on the waters of the Guadalquivir. His sailing school not only teaches the art of navigation, but promotes the protection and preservation of the local ecosystem. After having met Fernando you’ll understand why everyone calls him “the big fish”.

Sofia Rivaes is like the phoenix in the famous Persian myth, constantly reinventing herself in order to achieve her mission in life. Years ago, this biologist and bird lover started producing organic rice in the Ebro delta, where industrial agriculture is devastating the local ecosystem. In 2003, Sofía teamed up with SEO/Birdlife to set up a company that produces organic foods such as rice, pasta, and legumes, without the use of pesticides. Slowly, Sofía and her team have changed the way things work in the delta, proving to large-scale farmers that an environmentally conscious way of working is just as profitable – and considerably more sustainable – than conventional methods. Her farm has now become a hotspot for bird-watching and an important center for the preservation of salt lagunas and fauna in the area. Once you meet her, we’re sure you’ll agree: the world needs more Sofías.

These two cheese producers are a national treasure. They are two of the last remaining shepherds in Navarra and have won several international awards for their incredible Idiazabal goat cheese. They produce this cheese in their own home and are now selling their product to some of the best chefs in the country. Not only will you meet them, but you’ll get to experience their unique way of life, remarkable approach to food, and endless generosity. You won’t be able to help falling in love with them. But they aren’t just wonderful people, they’re custodians of an ancient and precious culinary tradition.

The first two things that come to mind when you meet Carmen is elegance and balance. The way she speaks, moves, and teaches us about how she made her dream come true are all steeped in those two adjectives. Carmen and her close friend Valentin were both working as winemakers for the best bodegas in La Rioja, but always had in mind to create innovatives blends and move on to biodynamic agriculture. As you might expect, traditions are toughened-skinned in this part of Spain so it has not always been easy for them to make their name on the scene. However, they eventually succeeded. For 20 years now, they have been elaborating elegant and balanced wines – yes indeed, just like Carmen – that are conquering the hearts of people like R.Parker (93 points), Josh Reynolds and many more. Their project is living proof that you can be the reflection of what you do. Or the other way around: what you do can be a mirror of yourself.

Everybody loves an underdog story. Especially when the protagonist is facing impossible odds and still, somehow, comes out on top. Back in the 1980’s, the Perez family, a group of five “hippies”, decided to produce wine in the Priorat region of Cataluña. There was only one problem. The land, they were told, had terrible soil. There weren’t enough nutrients. It was “impossible” for vines to grow there. The Perez family were undeterred by the naysayers. Within a few years, they were producing some of the most prized wines in Spain. Today, Xemma continues to preserve the Perez legacy, and is the perfect guide through this remarkable winery and its epic underdog story.

Forget Robert Redford. Marco is the real deal. He was practically born on a horse. As a young boy, his parents taught him to ride, and he spent all of his free time in the stables. Years later, he went to university and studied fine arts. But he never let go of his first love. Following his heart, he decided to work with horses and became a professional trainer. He also breeds horses and has developed a new process, based on biomechanical principles, which is much more respectful of the animal. He has become an authority in the equine world and has worked with some of its biggest names (Lucy Rees, Jean Claude Rysli, Coby Volger, to name a few). Yet, he still loves nothing more than going for a ride in the wild countryside of El Bierzo. Being out there, he believes, is what connects us to our ancestral heritage and the raw, awe-inspiring power of nature.

Francisco is a magician. He has an infectious zest for life; a man who finds endless beauty in the world around him. Seven years ago, Francisco lost his sight in an accident. Since then, he says, life has taken on new meaning, and he has gained more than he ever thought possible. To walk along the Ribeira Sacra with him is a blessing. Francisco is curious about everything, He knows every tree, every plant, every flower. A proud Galician, he also plays an important role in the community. He is the social tie that binds this sparsely populated region of Galicia, and believes in welcoming visitors and inviting them to keep Galicia alive in their hearts.

We are always amazed to see how humble and genuinely friendly Jesus and his wife are… because to be honest, they could boast about their careers in the culinary industry. But they choose to remain down to earth. Their odyssey brought them to the best kitchens in the U.K. and the United States, working alongside some of the biggest names in the food scene you could dream of: Arzak, El Bulli, Akelarre… Their journey ended (or began again) when they opened their own restaurant and started to build their own identity. It didn’t take long before the world discovered their talent: their “Anchovy sponge Pintxo” won almost all the culinary prices that year and forged them a strong reputation in the scene. They will be more than happy to open their kitchen for us and teach us some tricks in how to prepare the ultimate Pintxo.

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