THE BASQUE COAST, VILLAGE BY VILLAGE

HONDARRIBIA

Hondarribia

A small fishing town on the Cantabrian Sea at one end of the Bay of Txingudi, which separates it from its neighbour Hendaia, Hondarribia is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. According to the New York Times, it is a place where you can spend the day murmuring 'this is the best thing I've ever tasted'. You can also spend the day sighing over its beauty. It is worth strolling around the city, taking in all the details. Every corner has been painstakingly cared for. Balconies draped with flowers look onto the sea, and it is the only walled city in Euskadi that has been kept up from medieval times, lending the city a certain charm. But it is also a fishing port and market, its restaurants and bars renowned for the quality of their fresh products. The white sandy beach is also well-known.

PASAJES DE SAN JUAN

Pasajes de San Juan

Pasajes is a Guipuzcoan borough made up of four districts: Pasajes de San Juan (Pasai Donibane), Pasajes de San Pedro (Pasai San Pedro), Pasajes Ancho (Pasai Antxo) and Trintxerpe. To get from San Pedro to San Juan, on the opposite bank at the mouth of the harbour, you have two choices: either cross the narrow entrance by boat or drive all the way around the estuary, a distance of approximately seven kilometres. The Town Hall is in Pasajes de San Juan and all the districts share the characteristic architecture of pretty houses with balconies. The writer Victor Hugo chose this fishing village to live in during his exile in 1843. The house in which he lived is now the Tourist Office and is open to visitors. It is also the birthplace of the great fashion designer, Paco Rabanne. Today, travellers from all over the world follow in the wake of these two illustrious characters.

ZARAUTZ

Zarautz

Zarautz boasts the longest beach in Guipuzkoa, 2500 metres, and belongs to a charming and cheerful fishing village. It is home to great surfers, who make their way to the easternmost end of the beach, the wildest area, with sand dunes and where the tides meet, perfect for finding waves. The rest of the beach is more geared to families, with a pretty promenade and a playground area with swings for the youngest members. The artist Joaquín Sorolla immortalised the atmosphere in his painting ‘Bajo el toldo’, featuring his wife and daughter. By the way, in the summer families can take part in an entertaining game in the village: hunt the Galtxagorris, small imps that hide in the streets and are recognisable by their red trousers. Those interested in taking part can collect an envelope left by Mari, the great Goddess of Basque mythology, containing clues on where to find the imps. Available from Zarautz Tourist Office. The game is fun and gives you the opportunity to talk to the Zarautz locals, who will also help you find the magic imps.

GETARIA

Getaria

My friend Joseba, a local from San Sebastián, says that the grilled fish in Getaria is 'out of this world', and even more delicious when accompanied by a glass of Txakoli from Getaria. And, when it comes to food, it's always a good idea to listen to the Basques. In addition to serving amazing seafood, this little fishing village is known for being the birthplace of the most influential fashion designer of all times, Cristóbal Balenciaga, an artist who paved the way for cutting and pattern-making. Fashion-lovers from all over the world come to visit the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, which holds a collection of 1600 designs by the couturier, the best and most relevant in existence dedicated to his exquisite work. Getaria is also the birthplace of the first person to sail round the world, Juan Sebastián Elkano. You can feel the history in the streets of this village, built on a gravel beach, or tombolo, almost completely surrounded by the sea and in the shelter of Mount San Antón, known as “El Ratón de Getaria”.

ZUMAIA

San Telmo Hermitage. Zumaia

The beautiful village of Zumaia lies in the bay where the rivers Urola and Narrondo meet. Protected by green mountains that change into formidable cliffs on reaching the sea, this town has many charms including the beaches of Itzurun and Santiago, and an Old Quarter that still maintains the medieval layout. Zumaia and Ubillos Palaces and Olazábal and Goikotorre Houses are some of the more interesting buildings to visit but, undoubtedly, the Gothic church of San Pedro, dating back to the 13th century, is the architectural gem. Simple, with hardly any decoration, it looks like a fortress. A beautiful altarpiece by Juan de Anchieta can be seen inside this single nave church , declared a national monument owing to its artistic importance. What's more, at low tide, an interesting geological phenomenon is visible on the beaches: Flysch deposits, a graphic book on sedimentary geology, consisting of layer upon layer of limestone, formed by erosion from the sea. Organised excursions take you closer and it is well worth the visit. From Itzurun beach, the silhouette of San Telmo hermitage stands out on the horizon, made popular by the film "Ocho apellidos vascos".

ELANTXOBE

ELANTXOBE

Protected by the majestic Cape Ogoño and several cliffs, Elantxobe is a fishing village in Bizkaia, located within the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. The town is characterised by rows of buildings on terraces, all facing the sea and the harbour. From any point, the views are impressive, as are the quays, reinforced to withstand the constant battering of the sea. It is worth stopping to look inside the church of San Nicolás de Bari, built in 1803 by the guild of merchants and fishermen, to take a look at the beautiful Baroque altarpiece made of gilded wood. In addition to walking up endless hills and enjoying the fresh fish, it is worth a visit to this little oddity: the revolving platform in the town square that turns the buses round as there is not enough space for them otherwise.

LEKEITIO

LEKEITIO

In the shelter of Mount Otoio and Mount Lumentza and spilling down into the Cantabrian Sea, the fishing village of Lekeito is located next to the mouth of the river Lea. Opposite the town lies the island of San Nicolás, Garraitz in Euskera, which can be reached on foot at low tide on a magical stroll. Two beaches, Isuntza and Karraspio (Mendexa) mark out the coastline. There is an impressive view of the bay from Mount Lumentza; the walk up takes barely twenty minutes and is well worth the effort to take in the beauty of the village and surrounding area, framed in shades of green, blue and ochre. It is also worth a trip to the Santa Catalina lighthouse, still in working order and a Centre of Interpretation of Navigation Technology. Here too is a beautiful view of the village. As you walk through the Old Quarter, with its numerous mansions, of note is the Basílica de la Asunción de Santa María which displays a magnificent Gothic gold-plated altarpiece, the third largest in the Peninsula. Visitors during the Lekeitio festival of San Pedro, from 1 to 8 September, can also admire the traditional dance of the Kaxarranka, where a dancer dances on top of a chest held by eight sailors. Impressive.

MUNDAKA

MUNDAKA

Famous the world over, the left-hand barrel wave of Mundaka beach seems to have stolen some of the fame from the village itself, a quiet coastal town in Bizkaia built on the left bank of the Mundaka estuary. The people of Mundaka have always been linked to the sea and surf. But there is much more. For example, beaches such as Laidatxu, perfect for families. Or quiet bathing zones such as Txorrokopunta, the port or the little cove of Ondartzape. What's more, the town has interesting relics from the past such as the late Renaissance penitential cross, dating from 1611. Although a little blurred, an inscription on the cross reads: "Rodrigo Abbot of Mendecano commanded this cross to be made, you the reader shall pray to the sovereign". Strolling around the outskirts, you may come across Santa Catalina hermitage, of architectural interest for its transitional style between Gothic and Renaissance. And close-by is the Portuondo viewpoint. For those who like walking, try the Sendereo de Las Lamias, a two-hour route with fantastic scenery through the Lamias Valley. The lamias, according to popular tradition, were beings who looked like women with birds' feet, shy but kind-hearted, who lived along the banks of the river and combed their long hair with golden combs. This hike will allow you to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve.

SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE

SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE

On an isthmus in the Bizkaia district of Bermeo, eight kilometres from the town centre, is one of the most visited spots in Euskadi: the hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, dating from the 10th century, accessible via a path of 231 steps, and whose silhouette stands out against the horizon, a sight of magnificent beauty. The legend says that San Juan, on arriving at Bermeo, took three large strides until he reached the isthmus. His footprints were lost by the wayside, but the last of his strides remains on the last step to the isthmus. The hermitage is deeply rooted in popular worship, especially among the fishermen. Inside, models of boats have been suspended by way of offerings. Next to the chapel is a refuge with a fireplace to warm yourself on a cold day. The views of the coast from this island are stunning. Bird-lovers will also find it interesting due to the number of birds nesting on the rock walls. The area is also used by divers as there is rich marine life in the surrounding waters. Between the Cape of Matxitxako and the town of Bakio there are caves and arches eroded by the sea, leaving hard limestone reef islands all along this section of the coast. This model of erosion has created a uniquely beautiful setting, which, combined with the natural and historical importance of the Gaztelugatxe area, has been nominated as a Protected Biotope.

GETXO

GETXO

It is said that Getxo has it all. And it’s true. The majestic cliffs alternate with white sandy beaches, both urban and wild. There are a variety of sports on offer, including watersports and golf. At the Aquarium, in the Marina, the young and old together can discover the secrets of the sea. The pretty streets combine the charm of a fishing village with mansion and stately homes that recall their era of maximum splendour and economic prosperity.
Stroll through the Old Port of Algorta, along narrow lanes that still retain the scent of the old port, and then have pintxos in some of the excellent restaurants. Bizkaia Bridge, also known as the Suspension Bridge, joins the district of Getxo to Portugalete, crossing the Nervion estuary. On Gorrondatxe beach, also known as Aizkorri beach, and with the most difficult access of all, it is possible to clearly see the strata of the rocks which reflect the Lutetian era in geologic timescale. This is why the area has been awarded the 'clavo de oro' (golden pin award) indicating its uniqueness and wealth in the world of stratigraphy, the branch of geology that studies sediments and strata. Surrounded by cliffs and covered in some areas with grass, the dunes, an endangered habitat on the Cantabrian coast, make it an exceptional spot. We also have Ereaga Beach with fine white sand. This is an urban beach, well-connected and equipped for the summer season. Take a walk along Punta Galea, a geological structure that runs from Getxo to Sopelana and offers one of the best views of the Bay of Biscay.

BERMEO

BERMEO

With more than 17,000 inhabitants, the town of Bermeo is the most populated district in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. Traditionally sea-faring, the high-quality fish canned in Bermeo has become famous the world over. Its fame is also due to the fact that it is one of the most important fishing ports in Bizkaia and that it is just eight kilometres from the Hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, one of the most visited spots in Euskadi. But Bermeo also has its own charm, including a Fisherman's Museum housed in the 15th century Ercilla Tower, a casino that looks like a French palace, and the pretty Gothic church of Santa Eufemia. Another spot worth a visit is the Néstor Basterretxea monument in tribute to Benito Barrueta. An opening in the centre of this sculpture offers an impressive and perfectly framed view of the Isle of Izaro. The isle of Aketx and Cape Matxitxako are also part of the natural heritage of Bermeo. It should also be noted that this is one of the most recommended spots for txikiteo, that is, going from bar to bar drinking small glasses of wine and tasting delicious pintxos. A great Basque tradition much enjoyed by both locals and visitors.