As mentioned before we booked a rental car for our trip to Euskal Herria (bisque for the Basque Country). This way we could see some of this Celtic land’s highlights without any problems. We had our base in San Sebastián. The connection from here to other parts is very good.
After most trips we think we should have stayed longer. Of course, it wasn’t any different with the Basque Country.It’s idyllic and some parts of it totally look like a painting. You can really see the general wealth of the northern part of Spain. Streets and houses are in really good condition.
Way of St. James, the Bay of Biscay and the Pyrenees
The sea meets the Pyrenees and it feels like the Mediterranean meets the Alps (yes, I know it’s neither the Mediterranean nor the Alps). In April the air is so fresh and clean I believe our big city bodies would detox here within a week. But for this, we’d have to give up the Txakoli and this wouldn’t be fun at all.
Some parts of St. James pilgrim route are located in the Basque Country and there are some great view points out there. Some even say they’re the prettiest part of the pilgrimage. We can’t judge but it’s really beautiful out there.
Especially the drive between San Sebastián and Hondarribia over the Jaizkibel mountain (don’t use the highway) is fantastic. But be careful – there are a lot of sheep poop out there.
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao
Our flight started from Frankfurt and we landed in Bilbao. We didn’t plan to see the city at all at the beginning because we didn’t have so much time. But we just couldn’t resist seeing the Guggenheim Museum from the outside. We visited it before we headed to San Sebastián.
The Guggenheim Museum is a museum of Modern Art and I would love to have seen it. As we’re all committed democrats, we did what the major part of our group chose for: unluckily I was outvoted 3:1 and we didn’t see the inside.
Nevertheless, it’s already worth seeing it from the outside. It’s somehow iconic. Two hours are totally enough time to have a relaxed walk around and to just enjoy the architecture.
The running of the bulls in idyllic Hondarribia
The small town with its 16.000 residents seems to be really wealthy. The town probably profits from its popularity among Spanish and Basque people, who obviously love to make weekend trips here. There weren’t many foreign people here that Easter Sunday.
Hondarribia is famous for its beautiful Old Town which is in really good condition. It’s surrounded by a well-preserved city wall. The Old Town is definitely picture perfect. Drinking coffee or wine on a sunny day at the Plaza de Armas, watching the beautiful houses and observing the people – our Sunday afternoon was perfect.
It’s quite unremarkable at first sight but it’s definitely worth having a short view at the castle of the Holy Roman Emperors Charles V. Today it’s used as a hotel. The café is open for everyone. But the beautiful inner court is just for hotel guests.
But despite all, we will always remember Hondarribia for something different. As we arrived we randomly got to see the running of the bulls in the Old Town which seems to be an Easter tradition. It was unspectacular and really mean. They partly shot off the inner town and made it turn into an Open-Air arena. Sadly the bulls were leashed and didn’t have any chance. It was all about provoking the bull.
With all due to respect tradition, if you’re already torturing animals please just have balls. It was easy for those young men with a leashed bull. The real heroes were the ones who climbed up the railings and kicked the bulls from above. It was hard to watch.
Flysch at Zumaia
Zumaia is another small town with around 10.000 residents and located in the Bay of Biscay. It’s famous for its San Pedro Church which is part of the Way of St. James. But we weren’t here for that one.
The actual hotspot of the region is the Flysch of Zumaia. These are layers of rocks which pile up vertical or diagonal and become visible at the surface.
This place really seemed surreal.
It wasn’t chosen for nothing as one of the scenes for the new ‘Game of Thrones’ season. Yes, we’re nerds and we just had to see it.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe/ Gaztelugatxeko Doniene
This little island in the Bay of Biscay is called Gaztelugatxe and belongs to the Spanish Basque Country aswell. It just looks phenomenal. Of course, another ‘Game of Thrones’ film location and therefore on our ‘must-see’ list.
However the way there is not so easy. Back in the days, it was allowed to drive down to the parking space. But due to erosions, the road was closed for cars and everyone has to hike the trail which is more or less well paved. As always the way down was ok. The horror started hiking the way UP. Hiking shoes are definitely a great advantage. And maybe clothes you don’t want to sweat in.
We were already fascinated at the first view point and the painting in front of us. A former monastery lies on the peak of the island called San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. It’s still used as a church today.
The island is connected to the mainland with a bridge. Looking up to the church from the bridge looks dramatic. Gaztelugatxe was my personal favourite.
As said before, the hike was exhausting but totally worth the effort.
Surf spot at Bakio
This beautiful beach in the pretty town of Bakio is really popular among surfers and not far from Gaztelugatxe. It was the perfect place for us to relax and eat some tapas after the exhausting hike. A beautiful beach aswell for non-surfers.
Are there any other highlights in the Basque Country we should know about? If so, please tell us. We’re really impressed of Euskal Herria and would come back anytime.
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