This article is going to show some of the best spots along the Basque Coast. We will start our path in the French side of the Basque Country, getting into Guipuzcoa province already in Spanish territory to reach the Eastern Biscay in a short distance trip.
That way of doing allows the traveller to enjoy calmly the towns along the path rather than drive like crazy from spot to spot.
The first destination we would recommend is Hendaye (hendaya in Spanish, Hendaia in Basque language). It’s very worth to stop in the extreme south in order to visit the historic train station, Gare de Hendaye.
This visit is interesting for train lovers but also for history fans since there took place a meeting with Franco and Hitler to decide the participation of Spain in the IIWW that never happened. Here you can find the article The Myth of Hendaye by Paul Preston about this episode.
In the north the visitor will find a charm town with an amazing coast. From there, the visitor can spot Hondarribia on the Spanish coast, separated from Hendaye by Bidasoa River in Txingudi Bay. Plage d’Hendaye, in a nice vocational neighbourhood with plenty of villas and summerhouses, won’t be far. The beach is nice and calm and has plenty of bars and restaurants and the small port is beautiful. Probably since you are interested on this territory, you may know that Basque country has a strong national identity. In Hendaye, you will not find many symbols or tracks of that. You can get here more information about the French Basque Country (Iparralde).
The heart of Hendaye is French and the appearance very Basque. The vibe there though, around the beach bars mainly, is more looking like to Cap Ferret than to Lekeitio. Follow the route and you will see how the culture is evolving to something different, same nice but more unique.
On the other side of the bay, already in Spain, you must visit Hondarribia. Hondarribia is vivid and real. There are tourist like every nice town in the world but it is authentic for real. Red, green and blue are the colours of the houses` patterns in perfect combination with the ancient worn out stones of the historic neighbourhoods.
Our tip is to park in the free parking lot near Gate of Santa Maria and get into the downtown walking up along Nagusi Kalea. You will find traditional old buildings and locals chatting on the street in Basque language on your way Iglesia de La Asunción y del Manzano. From there you should go to Arma Plaza and admire the bay from Bahia Txingudi.
You should not miss Barrio de la Marina (Marina Neighbourhood) were you can’t reach Playa Pequeña (Small Beach) and Burton Promenade, the best location for a coffee in a terrace bar front of the Ocean. You could reach inmediately Puerto de Zarra, the best viewing point.
After that, if you won’t to get into the Basque gastronomy, even for pintxos (small tapas) or rather for proper complete dishes you can go to Calle San Pedro and get involved into the local atmosphere. There are there nice gastro bars, fine terraces, many happy locals wearing traditional patterned scarfs and plenty of restaurants. A warning: Basque Country is not cheap overall guys… but specially that close to France even less!
This the capital for txikiteo. That means to go from bar to bar having small drinks and small tapas (called pintxos) with high rhythm. The Old Part (Parte Vieja in Spanish) is probably the best neighbourhood in the world to have that experience. However, Donosti (the locals calll their town this way) is much more than pintxos and txakoli (the local young white wine which match with all kind of pintxo).
The city is kind of snob. San Sebastian is the most expensive city in Spain. If you spend there enough long you will realize that you could have in town a very high live quality. The first reason for that is that the city is beautiful and well organized. It seems to be equally built-in the nineteenth century, with nice streets full of good vibey, very good restaurants and trendy shops around. The distribution of the streets follow the coast, so from the city centre is very easy to reach the Ocean shore in a short walk. There, on the coast, you will find one of the most impressive urban beaches in Spain: Playa de la Contxa.
In terms of heritage, it has lack of icons besides the complete town as a set itself. The cathedral is quite new and the churches around are not that impressive comparing with many other Spanish cities. The weather in Donosti is not one of its best assets neither but, if you catch a nice day, has very few rivals in beauty.
The best you can do to find this out is to admire the city panorama from the pair od hills that there are in its extremes: Monte Urgull and Monte Igueldo. For more information about Donostia-San Sebastian just take a look at our article of the city here.
Have you ever been in a proper angler’s village? Getaria is that kind. And for real. The old town is tiny and delicious. You cannot get into there with your car so it’s better to park outside. The best place to leave your vehicle is in the port. That is symptomatic. Normally the ports are cute, closed and private. In Getaria the port is a working space where you can park paying the fee on the parking meter while the men on the boats download their goods to be sold.
From the Port the way up to the centre brings you to a proper Basque village. Many signs and flags of Basque identity hang from the balconies of the traditional patterned houses. San Salvador Church and Nagusia Kalea will be waiting for you up there. The floor of the church is not flat and once you are inside you remember that you are in sailor’s village famous for its best-known adventurer Juan Sebastian Elcano.
In Nagusia Kalea you can have a short stroll in order to choose the best bar to have some rest. Follow that street after and you will reach one of the most important Basque identity icons: a real ancient fronton, the place where Basque people play pelota (a traditional Basque kind of sports very important into their culture).
The first feeling you will get arriving by car from Getaria to Mutriku may be that is an eclectic town. The road is in an upper position so you can park in the surroundings and admire the port in an aerial view from the top. The port of Mutriku is small but cute. Nevertheless, it has very strange buildings as its partners. Some blocks of appartments from the 70´s has ruined partially the perfect view that might had been before their construction. Don’t surrender and keep going inside.
Mutriku has a lot of heritage buildings and a very authentic Basque atmosphere. The historical centre of Mutriku was declared a monumental complex in 1995 and obviously even today continues to show us some of its most notable medieval treasures.
Hidden among its narrow and cobbled streets, the visitor will run into palaces from the 15th to 17th centuries with forged balconies, decorated eaves and huge stone coats of arms on the walls.
You cannot miss in Mutriku Palacio Arrietakua, Palacio Galdona, Palacio Zabiel, Palacio Montalivet, Iglesia Nuestra señora de la Asunción, Palacio Olazaharra Mizkia and Torre Berriatua. In Txurruka Plaza you will can join the locals for a pote (any kind of alcoholic drink) or just catch the historic vibe that left one of the local Spanish heroes: Admiral Cosme Damián Churruca, honoured there by a statue.
You will fall in love with Lekeitio since the first eye contact. A couple of nice beaches and an extraordinary beautiful Port are just samples of Lekeitio has to offer.
It is not easy to park near Port of Lekeitio so probably you will end up in one of the free parking lots of the suburbs. No worries, all is very close at walking distance in Lekeitio. To take a stroll along the narrow streets to reach the port will be a delight.
There are plenty of traditional Basque colourful houses around and when you arrive to the port you will have the impression that is same beautiful as real, with plenty of anglers’ boats and a lot of bars and restaurants to make your visit pleasant and comfortable. Take your time there, let the seagulls come and wait till a fisherman starts preparing to depart to do his job. Afterwards you will be able to taste the fresh fish in one the local restaurants or even buy it in a port stall.
|How to get there?
From Bilbao to Lekeitio it’s one hour driving and almost 70 km.
There are about 800 kilometers from Paris on the A-10 to reach Hendaye.
SNCF, the French public railway company, offers very attractive rates if purchased in advance to reach Hendaye. It takes almost 5 hours to get there from Paris but this journey will be shortened when the works to improve the high-speed line to Bordeaux will finish.
From Spain is possible to arrive from Donostia-San Sebastian with Euskotren in 40 minutes per 2.75 euros.
In the French side, there is Biarritz-Anglet-Bayonne Airport, a small airport with flights to Paris, Nice and some British and Northern European cities. Ryanair uses to provide fair tariffs on the flights to this destination. The airport is next to the A-10 motorway. Several bus lines take us to the centre of Anglet, Bayonne and Biarritz, and to the beaches of the Basque coast. The ticket costs 1 euro.