Kaixo my friend! Ongi Etorri to this new post, kaguen.
No, I didn’t turn crazy. I decided to change the “lyrics” of this post because some days ago I visited an amazing country, Euskal Herria. Or, “for the friends” (Just take it. It is a literally translated Spanish expression from: “para los amigos“), the Basque Country.
This tiny beautiful country is placed in the border of Spain and France at the Atlantic ocean. I have to say that this is the second time that I visit it. The first one was two summers ago, but I only stayed at Donostia (San Sebastian), because I was travelling with some friends and we did the typical tourist-approved things there (eating pintxos, getting wet by some xirimiri, refreshing our mediterranian bodies with a below 10 degrees temperature IN SUMMER…). Now I’ve been moving around the regions of Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia and the French Basque Country.
As I was travelling during Easter, most of the accommodations in the Spanish “side” were full or way too expensive. For this reason, the none-holiday (and for this reason, less funny country) basque part of France was the choice to sleep. This side of the Atlantic coast is kind of attractive too. We were sleeping in Bidart, which is nothing else than a small holiday village without a city centre. The surroundings though, were beautiful. Part of the French coast there is full of cliffs and rocks instead of beaches. For me the idea of the sea coming up and down every 6h is something very intriguing still, even though I perfectly know how it works.
As we found it very beautiful we decided to visit this French area for one day. I explain it before the Spanish one because it was a very fast visit along the region. And it is a beautiful region. The landscapes of Biarritz are amazing, and the shell-shaped beach of Saint-Jean-de-Luz is breathtaking at the sunset time. The area is full of surfers trying to catch the big waves. But, there is something that killed me (my French friends will kill me again here). Something that I take in big value of the places I visit, the food. My recommendation: having the Basque country next to you, at less than 20 km, just go there for lunch and dinner. The food is better and cheaper than what I saw in Biarritz. I really liked the coast of this region, as you can see in this pics, but the food… Très désolé. The perfect plan would be to swim and surf in Biarritz, have a sandwich for lunch there (cooked at home, of course), have a relaxed beer or café at the port of Hondarribia in the mid-afternoon and end up having dinner in Donostia.
Crossing the border between France and the Basque Country is easy. You can decide to pay and go trough the highway, or take the “national” road and go village by village until Donostia (which is incredibly close to the border). The first village that should take your attention is Hondarribia. It is kind of hidden behind the airport of San Sebastian, but believe me, it is the worthiest place to go on purpose to visit. The city centre is very beautiful and it keeps a kind of original basque touch in all the houses and streets of the town. However, if you go there on a holiday day I recommend you to book a place for lunch way before heading there. Even though it is “hidden”, apparently everybody in the Basque Country decides to meet there every Sunday.
Another positive point of taking the national road is that you can discover the tiny and beautiful old fisherman houses of Pasaia, the next big city, from the car. It is a surprising crash of tradition against the huge modern shipyards. In addition, one can also run into the 3 Michelin Starts restaurant Arzak, one of the finest basque cuisine places in the entire Euskal Herria. That one I didn’t try, because the budget was not expecting a 3* restaurant. But I tried others that were not disappointing in San Sebastián, the next must stop. Such a tiny city in one of the most beautiful bays that I have ever seen. The shell shape of La Kontxa beach perfectly defines it. There is something elegant on it, something that makes me think that this place must have been wanted for several conquerors hundreds of years ago. There is a cool mood going on along the city centre of Donostia that makes you want to walk around to look for a pintxos bar. One zurito (short glass of beer or “caña” in Spain I guess) and 3-4 pintxos can be a good meal. Maybe for basque people this is too less, they would have 8 or 9 pintxos, but just because they are very tough people. After that it is only necessary to have a walk along the seafront of La Kontxa to get a comfortable digestion. You can also walk up to one of the hills of the city, Monte Igueldo or Monte Urgull, both worth in order to see the city from a perfect lookout.
However, what most impressed me about this visit to the Basque country was not any of the citites that I saw, but the surroundings where they are built. The area between the cities of San Sebastián and Bilbao is totally worth it to visit, all of it. It starts at Zarautz and ends at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, more or less. Just to give you an idea of it, this last name that I gave you is the place where Dragonstone, from Game of Thrones, was filmed. Breathtaking. The walk until there is kind of crazy though. There is more than 1km of downhill and uphill ramps and stairs that can be a real challenge for those who are not in good shape. However, there are other parts of the area that are easier and, in my opinion, even more beautiful than Dragonstone (let’s call it like this now on). What really defines this area is the geological activity that it had about 60M years ago. The flysch and karst formations are impressive. Some of the coolest ones can be seen at the beach of Zumaia. The spanish readers will know this area because of the movie “8 Apellidos Vascos“, which was filmed mainly along this coast. Other villages such as Deba, Mutriku, Lekeito (and its waves) or Ondarroa are just mind-blowing. The last one, and probably any of the others, has amazing restaurants where the fish is perfectly cooked. There I had a piece (to call it in a “normal” way, because it was like half a fish… tough basque people) of hake, which is a very typical fish in Spain that can be cooked in a hundred ways. This one was the best I have ever tried. All this area is more or less inside the Geoparkea, a must visit place.
After it there is another nice area, more known for the surfers. Well, actually all the coast of Gipuzkoa is known because of the good areas for surfing. But the one I am going to talk about know is particularly well known. The endless Mundaka Wave used to be one of the most important points of the World Surf Tour. However, the human touch destroyed part of its beauty reducing its length from 400 m to “only” 40 m long. Apparently the shipyard of one of the villages of the area needed a sand drainage to make it more easy-to-access for some ships. Hell! How humans can be so full of love in some cases and so destructive in others?! I will never understand the world where we live. However, the wave is still more than excellent for surfing. The location can’t be better, and the estuary where the wave is formed goes inside country for several kilometres, until the village of Gernika, the location known because of the shameful bombing of the Spanish Civil War. This episode of the war became popular (almost like a legend) after the picture that Picasso made for it. Oh, and just to know a bit more about it, it is not exhibited at the town of Gernika but at a Museum in Madrid. Sometimes the big and delicate pieces of art require a big installation, full of art professionals that better know about it, that can better help in their maintenance and sharing to the world. But this is another topic and my personal opinion, of course.
The last stop of this trip will be the city of Bilbao. I have to say that in contrast with Donostia, where I had already been once before, it was my first time there. I expected it to be a super modern and contemporaneous city, and it was. But a part of it, it was also traditional and classical. The city is built along the Nervion river, which grows forming beautiful meanders at this part of its life. The nicest area for me was the part around the Guggenheim Museum. I didn’t get in, but the surroundings are enough to see a bit of the modern art that is shown inside. The flower Puppy at the entrance is just another touristic attraction. The nice sculpture is found behind the building, next to the river. There is a metallic spider of around 3-4 m high (more or less) just at the back of the museum. I don’t know why but I was fascinated by this piece of art. It is somewhere between a new artistic element and something that I already know. It reminded me to something that I can’t really explain what it was. I would just tell you to go there and see it by your own. I ended up buying a small reproduction of it to a guy, I think he was from a north African country, who had dozens of small metallic spiders on his working table. Very talented. Considering the food of the city I have to say that we chose an amazing place for lunch, again. We ate a menu consisting on a starter, a principal plate and a dessert. In that case I ate the typical codfish, which was also delicious, as anything that I ate in the country. I think that I didn’t find any place about which I can say that the food was not worth it to try.
In conclusion I can say that I enjoyed every single place that we visited during this trip. But what I enjoyed the most were 2 things, the natural environment and the food. That is the best that you can find in this small and cold country of the north of Spain.
Eskerrik asko for reading!
[Rereading it I feel I wrote too bad about France. But, what can I say? France is a country of contrasts, also for tourtists.]