Spanish Basque Country

The Spanish Basque Country will delight any visitor. It is famous for its colorful fishing villages, sandy beaches and dramatic scenery along its coast as well as for cities such as Bilbao, with Frank Gehry’s striking architectural landmark, the Guggenheim Modern Art Museum. With its own flag, language and culture, the Basque Country has a different feel than the rest of Spain and should be put on your “must see” travel list.

The Colorful Fishing Village Of Bermeo

The rugged Basque coastline on the Bay of Biscay in Northeast Spain, with cliffs that plunge into the pounding surf, is dotted with traditional small villages as well as resort towns known for their spectacular beaches and some of the best surfing in Europe. During our cruise aboard the Seven Seas Explorer, we had an over night stay in the port city of Getxo, a lovely seaside town about 15 minutes from Bilbao, Spain. Over the course of a day and a half, we visited Bilbao and several other nearby towns in the Spanish Basque Country.

Click on any photo in the article to enlarge and see a slide show. 

Riding along the coast, our first stop was to see San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a small chapel perched on top of a tiny island. For the physically fit, you can reach the chapel by crossing a long stone footbridge and then climbing a couple hundred steep steps up the rocky island. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you might recognize it as “Dragonstone”.

Bermeo is one of the Basque Country’s most important fishing ports. The picturesque  old port has colorful narrow houses that overlook the boats in the harbor. Many are now bars where the locals stop for a drink and a pintxo (similar to tapas). In the main square, there is a pretty gazebo, the town hall and the Santa Maria Church. At the top of town, you find the Ercilla Tower which is now the Fisherman’s Museum.

The former capital of ancient Vizcaya, Gernika/Guernica was our next stop. Unfortunately it is best known for a tragic bombing event that destroyed a large portion of the town during the Spanish Civil War. Casa de Juntas, its assembly house, and an oak tree survived the bombing and are now symbols of Basque’s political history. The bombing was later immortalized by Pablo Picasso in one of his most famous paintings, the huge black and white mural called “Guernica”.  

Typical Basque Pintxos

After our tour, we visited 1000 Kolorau, a restaurant that specializes in fresh fish. We sat outside on the shaded terrace and enjoyed glasses of Txakoli de Vizcaya, the most popular white wine in the Basque region along with pintxos of grilled octopus, bread topped with potatoes, bacalao and jamón and delicious olive rolls stuffed with jamón. While tapas are common in other parts of Spain, pintxos, which are generally smaller, are traditional snacks in the Spanish Basque Country.

The following day we toured Bilbao. Our first stop was the Great Biscay Transporter Bridge built in 1893 by a student of Gustave Eiffel, the construction of which my husband found to be very interesting. It was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War but was rebuilt. It  carries people and cars, across the river in an open gondola that hangs  suspended from the bridge.

From there we drove up to Mount Artxanda, one of the two mountains within the city limits, that offers wonderful views of Bilbao from its park. There is a huge fingerprint sculpture called “Huella Dactilar” which honors the many victims that were killed during the Spanish Civil War.

Then it was on to the celebrated Guggenheim Modern Art Museum which is constructed of shimmering titanium, stone and glass. The museum is the most photographed structure in Bilbao. Outside the museum, the other popular spots for a photo is the enormous sculpture of “Puppy” which is covered in living flowers and  the giant spider “Maman”.

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Although the Spanish Basque Country is not visited as much as other regions of Spain, it should be. With spectacular scenery of lush green mountains, rolling countryside and pristine beaches, good wine and delicious food found at both small pintxos bars and world famous Michelin starred restaurants, there is something for everyone. We loved the Basque Country and would love to return for a longer visit. The resort town of San Sebastian is at the top of our list as we missed it on this trip to Spain due to a last minute port change and it is a favorite of visitors to this region.

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About Karen

I travel the back roads of New England and beyond, sharing great food and interesting places.
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77 Responses to Spanish Basque Country

  1. Loretta says:

    Enjoyed reading this post Karen. I agree that part of Spain is not frequented as much as other parts. We were in Asturias this past summer, what a gorgeous part of Spain. Don’t you just love those wee villages?

    • Karen says:

      Thank you Loretta, I’m glad you enjoyed the post about the Basque Country and that it brought back memories of your trip to Spain this summer. This is definitely a part of Spain that we would like to return to and yes, the villages are charming.

  2. Wonderful post and photos, Karen. I loved Bilbao and San Sebastian when I went there a couple of years ago. The Guggenheim in Bilbao really is stunning and my friend and I lived on pintxos in different bars in San Sebastian, which is very lovely, so do try to get back. Thank you for happy memories 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kay, I’m happy that my post brought back memories of your visit to the Basque Country. Yes, we do hope to return as we really want to visit San Sebastian.

  3. How I’d love to go to Spain. I really enjoyed reading this Karen.

  4. Mad Dog says:

    I’m sure you had great food there – I believe they have more Michelin starred restaurants in País Vasco than anywhere else in the world. I was blown away just by the pinxos in San Sebastian – good food is their way of life.

    • Karen says:

      Can you believe it, Mad Dog…so much good food in such a small portion of Spain. The food alone should have people wanting to visit the Basque Country. We were very disappointed that we didn’t get to San Sebastian because of a weather related port change.

      • Mad Dog says:

        I have some Basque friends and they all live to eat. The rest of Spain even makes jokes about their food obsession and the men have food clubs where they meet to cook and talk about food. It’s a good excuse to back again another year to visit San Sebastian – you could easily spend months dining out!

  5. Karen, do you really prefer cruises, bussing, and groups? I think I would prefer self-travel. Would you compare + and -? Diane

    • Karen says:

      Hi Diane, I do not prefer one way of traveling over another as they are very different and we will continue to do both in the future. My husband and I loved our cruise, so much so that we gave a deposit for another one on Regent within the next 2 years. It was all inclusive, meaning unless you bought something in the boutiques or booked a spa treatment, not one penny was billed to you. All food (not one bad meal), all drinks (top shelf liquor and champagne) and all tours were included. We chose to take bus tours that were offered free to visit outlying towns but there was the option of booking a private tour…we saw many private limos lined at the dock that couples had arranged or you could visit the port cities on your own. Our ship was small compared to many that we saw, there were only 750 passengers compared to some that hold as many as 6000. That means there were never long lines, any group we were with had about 20 people at most. I usually spend months planning our European trips and it was nice to have a break and let someone else do all the planning. On our next cruise, one thing I will do is to make sure about how much walking is involved. Some of the towns we visited on this trip had very steep streets which were hard for my husband as he has a balance problem from a past health issue that in now in remission. Hope that helps.

  6. Those photos are amazing! You definitely had a great time in Spain.

  7. Ingrid says:

    Looks and sounds like a wonderful place to spend the day, and that food looks scrumptious!

  8. What a lovely area and you describe it so well. The food sounds amazing.

    • Karen says:

      Thank you for your nice compliment Jovina. The food in the Basque Country is considered some of the best in the world. I’m hoping we get to return for more. 🙂

  9. What a beautiful place! Spain is on our list to visit next … hoping sometime in the next 12 months!

  10. Such a great experience. I hope to get to this museum some day. 🙂

  11. For the Love of Cooking says:

    What a fun area to explore!

  12. Darlene says:

    The Northern part of Spain is quite amazing. We spent some time in Asturias and loved it. Everyone who has been to Bilbao has enjoyed it a lot. Your tour looks great and your pictures are amazing!

  13. A really wonderful post, Karen. This area of Spain does look very different and well worth a visit. I love that tiny chapel on the rock. I think hubby and I might manage the steps, me at a pinch if I had on my most comfortable shoes. 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Thank you Sylvia, I’m happy to know that you enjoyed the post and I appreciate your lovely compliment. We were told it takes about three hours to walk down to the bridge, then up to the chapel then get back up to the other side. Knowing you, I bet you could. 😀

  14. Debra Kolkka says:

    We loved our visit to the area earlier this year, especially San Sebastián and Getaria. We were using public transport, which was a bit restrictive. Next time we will drive so we can see much more.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Debra, I do remember your visit. I especially was envious of your visit to the Balenziaga museum. It was one of the tours we could have taken but I knew my husband would rather see something else. As I mentioned, he loved learning about the construction of the Transporter Bridge in Bilbao. 😀 We are hoping to get back to Spain and drive through the Basque Country…San Sebastian is at the top of our list.

  15. Eva Taylor says:

    Torontonian Frank Gehry designed the Bilbao. Coincidentally, I am just reading the book Origins which begins its adventure at the Bilbao in Spain. Definitely on my list for Spain which may be in the cards next year.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Eva, If you do get a chance to visit Spain next year, do put the Basque Country on your lists of stops. It is very different from the other parts of the country that we visited.

  16. Jane says:

    This post was delightful. My brother and sister in law have been to Spain twice. I’ve often placed Spain and Greece at the top of my list when I finally get to travel to Europe. It’s great to know about areas and regions one might overlook so thank you for introducing us to Spanish Basque Country. So much history, the view of the mountains, and the picturesque fishing village truly sparked my interest! Thanks, Karen.

    Jane

    • Karen says:

      Thank you for your kind words Jane, I’m glad that you enjoyed the post. I do hope that you get a chance to visit Europe and definitely put Spain on your list. The Basque Country and Barcelona are two places that we would like to visit again.

  17. Eha says:

    I’d give anything, just anything to get to the Guggenheim in Bilbao ! Tho’ in Europe for trade exhibitions and other business affairs at least yearly for decades Spain did at the tine have little ‘drawing power’ . . . the so-called ‘bucket list’ having changed in the interim years just hope I have future opportunities; the Basque country and other parts of the NW for a variety of reasons having developed quite a drawing power . . . oh, your pintxos of octopus and jamon would have been right up my alley . . .

    • Karen says:

      The Basque Country had always intrigued us so I’m happy that we got the chance to finally visit. Now we need to plan other trip so that we can eat more pintxos. 😀

  18. lulu says:

    It looks like you are doing a trip very similar to one we did a few years ago. In Basque country, I learned to like Crema Catalan a lot! Did you try it?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Linda, Being the world traveler that you are, that wouldn’t surprise me. 🙂 Oh yes, Crema Catalan is a real favorite…it is the perfect ending to a meal.

  19. Karen, these are beautiful photos of an area of Spain that I haven’t visited. I love exploring small villages. The Basque Country looks perfectly charming.

  20. chef mimi says:

    Just beautiful. I would just never go to a bullfight in that region. But your photos are spectacular!

  21. oh it all sounds fabulous Karen! That flower covered “Puppy” wow! the pintxos sound incredible! It’s all so beautiful, so many wonderful colors and the museum I’m sure was fabulous!
    Jenna

  22. really beautiful and lovely pictures !! hugs!

  23. Your travel posts always give me a case of wanderlust! A fab post Karen!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Deb, I appreciate knowing that you enjoy my travel posts…thank you very much. When I look back at the photos, I give myself a case of wanderlust too. 😀

  24. lifeincharente says:

    I love Spain but I am thankful we decided to settle in France and not there. It is easy though to take a few days out and drive over the border. A couple of years back we travelled along the south coast to Portugal. We drove up through Portugal and back along the North Coast of Spain. We had a great trip. Love your photos. Have a good week Diane

    • Karen says:

      Thank you Diane, for your nice compliment. You are indeed lucky to be living in your area of France, no matter which direction you travel, you have something wonderful to see. My guess is that you are probably about 4 or 5 house away from San Sebastian which is on my list to visit in the future. By the way, I’ve been having a hard time commenting on your blog, give Nigel belated happy birthday wishes from me. 🙂

  25. What spectacular photos and views!

  26. 2sistersrecipes says:

    HI Karen! I have been admiring your posts these pasts few weeks, but had trouble leaving a comment from my phone ( with Feedly).Very frustrating to say the least. Anyway, I LOVE every post from your trip! What a wonderful Cruise ship!! We don’t like cruises but since this one is first class, we may consider taking one, but only the Seven Seas Explorer as you recommended. Thank you for taking us on your fabulous trip to all the beautiful ports and cities you toured on. I love the French cooking class on board and sharing the Chicken Fines Herbes recipe. By the way, your photos are spectacular!! Thanks for sharing!
    xo Anna

    • Karen says:

      Thank you so much Anna, for letting me know that you have enjoyed the posts about our cruise. I hope they help anyone who might be planning a holiday. We were very hesitant about this cruise before we left…my husband saying it would be our first and last. Boy has he had to tell a lot of people how wrong he was. I think it would be very hard to top our experience aboard the Seven Seas Explore as we loved everything about it. You are right, it is first class all the way. I’m sorry that you have had a problem leaving comments. I’ve had a similar experience on a lot of the blogs that I follow, mostly on Blogger.

  27. I am so glad you made it to the Basque Country! It is certainly one of the best regions for tapas or pinchos (Spanish version) and we have enjoyed their culinary delights many a time. I am sorry you didn’t get the chance to stop at San Sebastian, as it is very pretty and the tapas bars around the main square (Plaza Mayor) are second to none and definitely my favourite in all of Spain. I hope you will have a chance to visit it next time and, while you are at it, also make sure to stop in Pamplona: just beautiful, but don’t go for San Fermín (7th July) as it’d be mayhem! 👍

  28. Karen says:

    Hi Fatima, We loved our time in Spain and definitely want to return. My husband was very disappointed when our tour of San Sebastian had to be dropped because of a port change. We definitely want to return to the Basque Country and will now add Pamplona to the list with San Sebastian. Thank you for your suggestion. 😀

  29. Debra says:

    Each person I’ve known who has spent time in Spain falls in love and wants to return! Between the natural beauty, the art, the food and the people…pretty great! 🙂

  30. Gorgeous photos, the Basque Country is on my travel list!

    • Karen says:

      Thank you for your nice compliment Laura. I’m happy to know that you enjoyed my photos of the Basque Country. I do hope you get a chance to visit, we thought it was a wonderful place to visit.

  31. Lovely! Quite a few years ago now Sydney hosted Puppy. He was seated at our Circular Quay with a wonderful view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House….quiet near the cruise ships passenger terminal in fact ☺️

  32. Michelle says:

    Oh, do go to San Sebastián. There are few things more fun than wandering from pintxo bar to pintxo bar.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Michelle, We were so disappointed when we had to make a port change and miss visiting San Sebastian. It is at the top of our list of places we Must visit. 😀

  33. Mél@nie says:

    very nice memories and your last paragraph has said all… 🙂 we love both French and Spanish Basque countries, we try to go there once a year, as it’s about 3h-drive from Toulouse; Biarritz, France and San Sebastian, Spain are really must-visit spots… ❤ oh, Bilbao is OK, been once… 😉

  34. David says:

    Oh, my… Spain has so much to show us. We have never been but dream of going. First, though I want to learn more Spanish. Second, I need to find the best time of year to go, as I know it gets mercilessly hot and humid there. Any thoughts? My favorite of the outdoor sculptures is the fingerprint! One must wonder whose it is!

    • Karen says:

      Hi David, I do hope the two of you go to Spain. We don’t speak Spanish and had no trouble as everyone we met spoke English. As far as weather, I think that the end of September and October are usually not as hot although Seville is the exception to the rule. We cancelled a tour there in late September as the temperature was 99. The temperature was fine everywhere else when we were there at the end of September.

      • David says:

        Haha – I just asked you about the weather in Portugal, so I imagine the answer would be about the same – end of September, early October! Thanks for that intel! As I say, Spain and Portugal are really the highest on the list of places we want to go but have never visited… Italy just keeps getting in our way! 🙂 Looking back again on this, I just dream of taking that walk to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Stunning!

  35. Wonderful recounting of your Basque travels Karen!! We lived in Spain 12 years and only traveled though that area a few times– on our way north to France. Bilboa is an amazing mix of traditional and modern. And your pintxos photo made me a little jealous! So glad to see this post– just beautiful! thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ronda, I’m glad that you enjoyed the post on the Spain Basque Country and that it brought back nice memories of your years spent in Spain. That had to be a wonderful experience.

  36. kitchenriffs says:

    Basque country is SO pretty! Neat area of the world — and I loved the Guggenheim. Such a neat building.

  37. Karen says:

    Hi John, The Basque Country is definitely an area I would love to return to…may next time on a road trip.

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