Nestled in the northeast corner of Spain, this region is an area very few people venture into.
A captivating destination with a rich cultural heritage and stunning landscapes, it is definitely a place that deserves some time to explore.
Whatever you do in the Spanish Basque Country, there are endless opportunities for families and solo travellers alike.
Regarded as the prettiest, San Sebastián is a coastal gem. Renowned for its pristine beaches, world-class cuisine, and the iconic La Concha Bay.
If you are staying in Bilbao, a closer beach is Zarautz. A popular spot for surfing, the area also has some excellent wineries and vineyard tours.
Nature enthusiasts should not miss the breathtaking landscapes of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. Listed by UNESCO in 1984 as a natural setting of outstanding beauty and diversity. It is a place where lush forests, marshes, and cliffs converge to create a haven for biodiversity.
The protected biotope of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is an essential stop along the coast. A place steeped in legends of pirates and covens. The island joins the coast by a bridge and 241 stone steps. The last step purports to contain the footprint of John the Baptist. If you stand on it, it’s meant to bring you good luck.
The historic town of Bilbao is a must-visit, home to an architectural masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum. Whether you are a fan of modern art or not, the building itself warrants a visit. The museum is home to works by artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol.
Head inland to the charming town of Guernica, spelt Gernika. It is well known as the scene of one of the worst bombings in Spanish history, which occurred on April 26, 1937. The event was then immortalised in Picasso’s famous painting. Most of the sights have to do with this event but there are also museums, churches, nature reserves and markets.
Journey to quaint villages in the Basque countryside. One such village is Hondarribia (Fuenterrabía in Spanish). With its well-preserved architecture and maritime atmosphere, you can glimpse traditional Basque life. Packed with some of the region’s best bars and restaurants, it’s a feast for your eyes and your tummy.
Getaria, known as “the mouse” due to its shape when viewed from the sky, is a charming coastal village. Known for 3 things. Juan Sebastián Elkano, a renowned sailor who was part of the crew that was the first to circumnavigate the world in 1519-1522. Txakoli Wine which is the local crisp, refreshing white wine. You can visit the vineyards and witness traditional wine-making techniques. And, it is also the birthplace of Cristóbal Balenciaga. The town has a museum dedicated to his innovative approach to fashion and holds many of his iconic designs.
If hiking is your thing and you want to see the landscape from a birds-eye view, then there are a few high spots you might want to visit.
Urkiola Natural Park has some of the area’s most impressive hiking trails. The best viewpoint is along the forest path from the Sanctuary of Urkiola to the Mirador de las Tres Cruces. Here you will find three large crosses framing amazing mountain views.
On the outskirts of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve lies Mount Oiz. Here in the foothills, you will find the excellent viewpoint of Balcón de Bizkaia. Reached by car and off the BI-3231, it provides plenty of hills and forests where legend has it, witches gather after nightfall.
Climb up to the 15th-century Hermitage of San Pedro which commands some of the most amazing views. The lookout point is on the summit of Mount Atxarre, near the town of Ibarrangelu.
The Spanish Basque Country is famous for its excellent food. You may not be able to decipher some of the menu items but here are a few things you must try.
Idiazabal – A hard cheese with a smoky, nutty flavour. Usually served with quince jelly.
Percebes – They don’t look great but pull open the scaly barnacles and you’ll find tasty, salty flesh inside. They are very difficult to harvest and are as such, a prized delicacy.
Kalimotxo – Yep, it’s red wine and cola. It may not sound like a great combo but it isn’t quite as bad as it sounds and is quite refreshing.
Basque cheesecake – Often described as burnt cheesecake, it’s baked to give a caramelised outer layer. It doesn’t have a biscuit layer like traditional cheesecake but it is delicious!
Sagardo – While the local white wine, txakoli, is the most common drink, the region’s other signature drink is sagardo. It is a Basque cider that is fizzy and can be found in traditional cider houses from mid-January-April.
How to get there
Jump on an overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao or Santander. Both routes are similar in length – about 33 hours.
Take a direct flight from Manchester or London. Both are around 2 hours flight time and when booked in advance, can be as little as £50 return.
When to go
It depends on what you want to do on your visit. If you want to sit outside sipping local chilled white wine and visit vineyards and beaches, then summer might be the best time. If you want a city break, to visit museums or cosy up in front of a fire and sip local cider, then winter might be perfect for you.
Bidaia ona izan!