Basque Country’s 6 Best-Kept Secrets
From the dramatic coastline of the Bay of Biscay, flanked by the Pyrenees mountains, Spain’s Basque country has so much to offer. Throw into the mix mouthwatering gastronomy (oh, the food!), modern architecture, lively culture and the proud spirit of the Basque people, and you have the makings of a great trip. Here are some of the hidden gems of the Basque region apart from Bilbao that you need to know about.
Skirting the border between Spain and France, Hondarribia is a village influenced by both the Spanish Basque and French Basque cultures. Sitting pretty on the west shore of the Bidasoa River’s mouth, Hondarribia boasts panoramic views of Hendaye, France and a regular ferry service can shuttle you between the two towns with ease.
Home to Gipuzkoa province’s only fortified wall, Hondarribia boasts a beautifully preserved Old Town, replete with Basque houses, baroque buildings and cobblestoned streets. You’ll want to check out Calle San Pedro—here you’ll find a bounty of pintxos bars where you can nibble on delicious bites and sip sangria to your heart’s content.
The Best Pintxos in Basque Country
Speaking of pintxos (our favourite topic of conversation), the Euskal Herria Pintxo Championships were born in Hondarribia in 2006 and have been running in the town ever since. This can only mean one thing for foodies: the pintxos in Hondarribia are an absolute must.
With a beautiful half-mile (800m) stretch of beach, Hondarribia can be quite the paradise when the weather is good (which, luckily, it often is). There is also a lovely seafront promenade that continues along the water to the old port which is worth navigating with a delicious gelato in hand.
The seemingly quaint fishing village of Getaria has quite a lot to say for itself. Not only was it the birthplace of the first man to travel around the world, Juan Sebastián Elcabo , and the celebrated fashion designer, Cristóbal Balenciaga, this village is also home to the delicious Txakoli wine, a vivid coastline, a nature park, a breathtaking medieval church and the tastiest grilled fish you will ever sample in your life. Estupendo!
Getaria’s narrow cobbled streets that wind down to the port are filled with traditional Basque charm. One particularly standout feature is the Gothic church of San Salvador, dating back to the 15thC. The building was officially declared a Bien de Interés Cultural (Spanish Property of Cultural Interest) in 1895.
The Mouse of Getaria
There is something you should know about Getaria; it has its own mouse! The aptly nicknamed Mouse of Getaria is less furry and rockier, but just as likely to make you squeal—only this time in delight at its rugged scenery. Officially known as Mount San Antón, the Mouse of Getaria was given its colloquial name due to its shape. Originally an island, Mount San Antón was artificially annexed in the 15th century and is now the home of a nature park. It’s easy enough to reach the summit of San Antón and the top offers beautiful views of the Bay of Biscay. Plus, you can boast to your friends that you climbed a giant mouse!
Let’s talk about the txakoli, shall we? If you are looking for the perfect accompaniment to your pintxos then this is it! Crisp, dry and slightly sparkling, txakoli is mainly produced in the Basque Country, with around 900,000 litres produced in Getaria each year alone. Many locals from the Basque community are extremely proud of their connection to txakoli, so it would be rude not to drink it with them…at least that’s what I like to say.
Best known for its Saturday market, Tolosa is home to the largest market in the Basque country. Farmers from the region gather to sell their fresh local produce, which is of some of the highest quality in the world. At the market one can pick up delights such as alubia de Tolosa, dark beans used in many Basque dishes, T-bone ox steaks and plenty of sweet treats.
Those with a sweet tooth will be pleased to know there is even a museum in Tolosa dedicated to the house of Gorrotxategi, a confectionary shop selling artisanal sweets since 1680. You haven’t lived until you have tried their turrón.
Like many beautiful Basque towns, it is both the food and the sights that make the place magical. Not only is Tolosa a foodie’s daydream, it is also picture-perfect. Narrow, cobbled streets lined with balconied buildings give way to spacious piazzas or glistening river side walks. Then, of course, there is the Santa María Church. Located in the historic quarter, the 17thC façade with ribbed vaults is breathtaking.