Basque Country. Magical, mysterious, different place. A perfect option for you if you like unobvious, unique places, not covered in tourists’ footprints yet. Basque Country, even though it belongs to Spain, is not Spain. You will feel it the second you land on a small but stylish airport in Bilbao. When you will be driving through all the green hills and you will be hearing local “Kaixo!” instead of “Hola” as a way of saying hello and each new day will start with a drizzle, it will not bother you at all…
Basque Country is amazing… It has its magic, vibe, mystery – they all seduce you and pull you towards it. I fell in love with it a long time ago, when I went for Erasmus to Bilbao almost 10 years ago. Coming back to well known streets, squares, places, words and tastes meant the world to me, but I know Łukasz fell in love with the Basque Country too. He fell in love with its otherness… in small towns on the coast, small harbours, forever alive pintxos bars, Basque people wearing black berets and sipping on their national drinks – sidra and txakoli wine, in green hills, in the fog in the morning and in walks through San Sebastian. It’s a place that finds its way to your heart immediately and, if you look at me, you could say it stays there forever. I could write like this foreeeever, but today I’m gonna show you places in the Basque Country that are worth seeing. Not all of them, because there are a lof of places left to see for us… these small villages hidden somewhere between the mountains, beautiful beaches and stone coasts, but for now it’s enough… see for yourself that it’s worth it! 🙂
1) DONOSTIA – SAN SEBASTIAN
A pearl in a crown. For most tourists, San Sebastian is a goal when it comes to their travels… it’s no surprise. No doubt it’s one of the most beautiful cities, not only in Spain, but in the whole Europe. Local views never get boring – it’s actually the other way around – even if it’s your 100th walk through La Concha beach, you will be enchanted. Old town, so called Parte Vieja, has one of the lowest coefficient of bars per square kilometre and delicious pintxos that make you drool. Perfect for walks, sunbathing (3 beaches, and one of them is perfect for Zurriola surfing), parties, perfect for all the foodies – there are not many places when you can feel they way you feel in here constantly 🙂 I will write about the Basque Country’s food soon! 🙂
When I was getting ready for Erasmus in 2006, Bilbao was intriguing and also a little scary. All the guides said: it’s an ugly, industrial town. Luckily they were wrong and Bilbao is better and better with every year. Tourists love Guggenhaim’s Museum that charms you with its form the most, but you should also check out the Casco Viejo old town, see the Arriaga Theatre’s beautiful building, go to the Artxanda mountain and take a long walk through the modernly developed Nervion River’s shore. Bilbao’s pro is that you can walk pretty much everywhere and if you take the tube, straight from the centre, you can get to various towns in the suburbs and to suburban beaches. While in town, you should go to Athleticu Bilbao‘s game – it’s a special club with soccer players with Basque roots. Amazing experience! On the day of a game, club’s flags appear everywhere and everybody is going to the game – children and seniors 🙂
Together with its contiguities, so called Gran, there are almost one million residents in Bilbao, which means half of all of the Basque Country’s residents.
PS. I’m sorry for the poor quality of the pictures, but they are from our travel in 2010 🙂 Some things have changed in Bilbao since then, but Guggenheim is still as charming! 😉
We visit Mutriku for the first time. It’s been on my list from the start because I know we both love such places. Located somewhere far away, tiny (5000), fishermen’s town. I feel like this is the Basque Country’s quintessence. You will not meet a tourist here, but you will feel at home. We walk through the harbour and for lunch we go to the Kofradia restaurant by the water – there used to be a community of local fishermen here. Now we wait in line for a table because I guess every single resident comes here to eat their Sunday lunch! You need to try sardines and pimientos rellenos de bacalao, which means red peppers stuffed with codfish. To drink – sour sidra.
Łukasz says it’s his number 1! 🙂 We get here almost by the end of our travel through small and big towns on the coast. Ea is about 50 kilometers from Bilbao. This is a tiny thing – not only is its name two letters long (its residents sometimes call their village Le), but it also has around 800-900 residents. It’s another village that used to belong to fishermen.
It will charm you with its peaceful climate, houses by the dried out river leading to the beach where local kids play. Like in almost every Basque town, there are a lot of Basque accents – ikurriña touches me the most – it’s a Basque flag hanging over a small playground.
Ondarroa has been one of the most important harbours on this coast since forever. Today it’s a very Basque, very authentic place with a huge dose of Basque nationalism. If you’re good watchers, you will notice posters with pictures of Basque political prisoners on them, nationalist slogans in Euskara (Basque language), blurred San Sebastian sign (its Basque name is Donostia). Climatic streets, stone Puente Viejo bridge, a huge church above all of the old houses. If you’re lucky enough, you may come across an octopus straight from a huge pot – cut with scissors, sprinkled with salt, pepper, covered in olive oil. You eat it with a toothpic and you know that it’s one of the best octopuses you have ever had!
Zarautz won’t impress you with its beauty and climate, and compared to all the other villages and towns we visit, it’s pretty big (over 20 thousand residents). But it’s a must-see place on your list if you’re interested in surfing that the Basque Country is famous for. A long beach with a walkway, and a crowd of people on boards in the water.
When you go a few kilometers further, you will get to a climatic fishermen’s Getaria – you will stop there and go to one of pintxos bars on Kale Nagusia. We ate our Sunday breakfast in Taberna Giroa – the best possible way to start a day!
7) SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE
This is definitely the most amazing and the most beautiful place on the Basque coast! It’s a tiny island with a chapel-hermitage dedicated to John the Baptist. You can go to the island through a stone bridge and lots of spiral stairs. Unfortunately, we saw Gaztelugatxe from afar – we didn’t have time and I didn’t have the strength (I was pregnant) having walked for 15 kilometers that day 😉 We’ll do it next time because we know we’ll go back there for sure.
Another fascinating fact is that right next to the island, there’s an underwater chapel dedicated to mother of Jesus – so called Santuario marino de Nuestra Señora de Begoña. The figure of mother of Jesus was placed under the water in 1963.
I think Lekeitio is one of the most charming towns on the coast. Its beauty can be seen even from the road, when you notice a view at a small, woody island, to which you can get through a long bridge, the beach and tightly located houses in the harbour. Charming streets, harbour’s walkway and pleasant views. Perfect for your Sunday walk!
9) PUENTE COLGANTE – PORTUGALETE
One of the most incredible places in Bilbao’s neighbourhood – Vizcaya Bridge, so called Puente de Vizcaya (or Puente Colgante). It’s amazing because it’s been functioning since the end of the 19th century. It was designed by one of Gustave Eiffel’s students. The gondola bridge gets people and cars on a platform hung above the water from one shore to the other. You could also walk above and look around the neighbourhood. We went there with my architect friend. She’s in love with that bridge because it was an example for other bridges in Europe, Africa and Americas. Only a few of them still exist.
I’m not gonna show you our pictures of Guernica because we didn’t manage to get there this time. However, I was there 10 years ago and Guernica is one of the must-sees in the Basque Country.
For two reasons: firstly, founded in 1366 has been the Basques’ saint town forever. Basque meetings took place next to the famous Gernikako Arbola oak tree and this is where Castile’s kings swore to protect Basque freedom. Second of all, Guernica is a town known from Picasso’s famous painting, which showed the bombing of the Basque’s saint town during Spanish civil war in 1937 by the German Condor Legion because of general Franco’s demand. Once you’re there, go to Museo De la Paz De Guernica where you will learn about that story.
The Basque Country is tempting, fascinating, intriguing and addictive. You saw the pictures, you read about our feelings, but if you want more, you should watch “Ochos apellidos vascos” (you can watch the trailer here) – I’m sure you will have no doubts and you’ll quit everything to go to Euskadi. This is how the Basque called their country 🙂 Remember that name – you will need it! 🙂