A Month on the Basque Coast of Spain

From Catalonia, we have crossed the Pyrenees Mountains, and settled for a month on the Basque Coast of Spain. Here, we have rented a spacious and well-appointed apartment in the small fishing town of Orio, where the Oria River empties into the Cantabrian Sea.

Orio Boats

Fishing Fleet in Orio

After shorter stays in Barcelona, Girona and the Costa Brava, and a week-long drive through the mountains, it feels good to stop, unpack, and take it easy for a while. As we have quickly determined; however, the Basque Coast of Spain is so travelable, culturally interesting, and strikingly handsome that we won’t have too much time to rest on our laurels.

Joe hiking Flysch Trail

Exploring the Basque Coast of Spain between Zumaia and Deba

On the first day in our new home, we did some much-needed laundry, filled the fridge with groceries, and did some cooking in our modern and equipped kitchen. After that, we have been out exploring our new world.

Euskotren

Euskotren traveling the Basque Coast of Spain

The Basque Country straddles the border of Spain and France, and includes provinces in both countries. Linking every small town and city is an extensive and easy-to-use public transportation system. Conveniently, we have a Euskotren railway station in Orio providing frequent and punctual trains to everywhere we want to go.  

Zarautz Beach

Walking to the beach in Zarautz, the longest on the Basque Coast of Spain

As ardent walkers, we are also happy to find that the Basque Country is connected by a vast network of maintained hiking trails, including the popular coastal route of the St. James Way. Just a one hour walk west of Orio, we stumbled upon the seaside city of Zarautz and the longest beach on the Basque Coast of Spain.

Joe on Flysch

Hiking the Flysch Route

Further west, we hiked the Flysch Route, one of the most geologically impressive trails in the world. Here, the vertically tilted strata look like the pages of a great book with oversized sheets of stone dipping into the sea.

Parte Vieja

San Sebastian’s Old Quarter, Parte Vieja

Besides its access to public transportation and hiking trails, and its slower pace of life, we also chose to stay in small-town Orio for its proximity to the fashionable city of San Sebastian, located just eight miles (13 km) to the east.

Film Festival hotel

Waiting for movie stars at the San Sebastian International Film Festival

Known as the “Pearl of the Cantabrian Sea”, San Sebastian is home to one of Europe’s finest urban beaches, an important international film festival, and more Michelin restaurant stars per capita than any other city in the world.

Txacoli vineyard

Txakoli (sparkling wine) vineyards outside Orio

Our wardrobe and budget won’t get us in the door of any Michelin star establishments, but we have already begun sampling the celebrated local food and wine, accepted as some of Spain’s finest. After all, we have to stave off our hunger and quench our thirsts, after our long hikes and other adventures.

Basque Font

Basque storefront advertising “Butcher” and “Ham”

So far, our visits to the local taverns and surrounding countryside have introduced us to open and talkative people, proud to tell us about their gastronomy, unique language, and ancient culture. In the days to come, we won’t be resting on our laurels, as there is so much to eat, drink, and explore, during our month on the Basque Coast of Spain.

Dog on red carpet

Resting on the red carpet at the San Sebastian International Film Festival

 

12 thoughts on “A Month on the Basque Coast of Spain

  1. In the years I lived in California’s central valley, I used to regularly go to the Basque restaurants and enjoyed the full dinners they all served. Cow’s tongue and Picon Punch were a staple, though I have to admit I was never sure if that was “California Basque” or indeed an actual cuisine from the Spanish region. But now you’re bringing it all to life in a very real way. Great photos and commentary, Joe. – Marty

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    • I would love to know where you lived and dined in the Central Valley, Marty. We have a strong Basque culture in Reno and interior Nevada as well. I have eaten at Louie’s Basque Corner in Reno and more recently at the Star Hotel in Elko. Both are Basque boardinghouse restaurants with hearty family-style meals served at long communal tables. So far, here in the Basque Country, I have not found this type of restaurant, Cow’s tongue, or Picon Punch cocktails. I will be on the lookout, my friend. – Joe

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      • Joe, I lived in Fresno. There’s a stretch between Bakersfield and Fresno where there are quite a few Basque restaurants, all pretty much as you describe the ones in Reno: family style meals, long communal (and regular) tables, etc. I suspected, and I suppose you’re confirming, that this is an American-Basque tradition more than a necessarily authentic one. Still, it was good fun at all the places.

        I think you’re experiencing something more worthwhile, however.

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        • I have been asking around, and the closest thing to the American-Basque dining experience are the Siderias (cider houses) here in the Spanish Basque Country. They are open seasonally during the spring cider season, and serve communal meals including all the alcoholic cider you can enjoy. The menus usually include salt cod (bacalao) omelets, a large bone-in ribeye steak, and a dessert of sheep cheese, quince jelly, and walnuts. So far, I haven’t found anyone who knows how to make a Picon Punch, but I’ll keep looking.

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  2. I’m glad to read that you are settling in for a longer stay… and it appears that you’ve picked the perfect place (and, I’m beginning to think that my husband and I should just follow in your and Esther’s footsteps when we travel to that part of the world… why reinvent the wheel? 🙂 ). I’m curious, do you still have your car or have you turned it in and are now relying on public transportation? Good to know that you are keeping your energy up with good food and drink! Often those smaller taverns and cafes are way better than Michelin star restaurants (not that I would know for sure… just a guess).

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    • Esther and I have been very happy with our itinerary so far. We only had a rental car for our one-week crossing of the Pyrenees. The rest of the time, we are walking or using public transportation. Small atmospheric towns line the Basque coast, and are linked by hiking trails and an excellent train and bus system. Besides the great Basque food and wine, you would also like the old country farmhouses and their many weathered doors.

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  3. Good for you for finding an apartment to settle into for a little while. I’m sure that is a much-appreciated change of pace, and seriously, where better to do that than on the border of Spain and France? I think I’d be tempted to stay for a year or two!

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    • We are tempted to stay too, Ann. Staying for a full month in a small town was just what we needed after our more transient travels last month. Now, we feel like we have the time to do everything we want to do, take a day off now and then, and even get to know a few locals. It really helps to have a comfortable apartment to relax and a nice kitchen to do some of our own cooking. Travel can be tiring, but this month we are feeling very energetic and refreshed.

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    • Thank you very much, Deepa. We are really enjoying our time in the Basque Country so far. We have become very attracted to this area, and feel most welcome here. I am happy that you find the photos alluring. I have taken so many pictures, that I need to keep posting, so that I have something to do with all of them.

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    • So true, Dave. In a month, I can usually see the main sights at a relaxed pace and delve deeper into two or three aspects that are particularly interesting to me. Best of all, in a month, I sort of fall into the rhythm of a place. Here, in this small coastal town, we have begun frequenting the establishments where the locals recognize us, and plan our beach time and hikes around the tidal patterns. When the month is over, I will leave with a lot, but still feel like it wasn’t enough time.

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