Sun. Blue skies. Gelato for days. It sounds great doesn’t it? I’ll let you in on a secret – it is great! I visited Basque Country during the European summer of 2015, it was my first real taste of Spain outside of Madrid and it was well worth the trip north. Here’s how it looked.
View from Monte Urgull, San Sebastian
The first major stop in Basque Country was Bilbao, the biggest city in Basque Country. A city known for events such as the Bilbao BBK Live festival, museums such as the Guggenheim and the Bilbao Fine Arts museum just to name a couple. The city is nestled along the estuary of Bilbao at the base of the many mountains found in this breathtaking part of the country.
The Guggenheim. A name which even those without interest in the arts are likely to be familiar with – and with good reason. The alternative and strange nature of the pieces throughout the entirety of this multi-level museum at the time of my visit made me feel completely at home (at this point I’ll admit I’m a bit alternative and strange myself). A trip to Bilbao would be incomplete without visiting the Guggenheim, do yourself a favour and take a peek. At the time of my visit there was a collection of works by Jeff Koons, this is a name that stuck with me, his works were so interesting.
I suggest when in and around the area that the Guggenheim calls home that you take a walk along the river. Cross the Zubizuri footbridge – which in itself is another piece of art – and walk in whichever direction takes your fancy, Bilbao I found is a fantastic place to explore on foot, no matter how far the walk the view is always pleasant. So pleasant in fact I remember walking back to my hotel after dinner and thinking about how frustrating this walk would be if I were back at home, the buildings alone were enough to make the walk bearable.
If you’re looking for extra things to do and see in Bilbao have a look through the following list.
• Bilbao Fine Arts Museum
• For football fans San Mames Stadium, home to Athletic Bilbao, is a must see.
• Zubizuri footbridge
• Plaza Nueva
• Bilbao Cathedral
Sun and Sand in San Sebastian
The next major stop in Basque Country was San Sebastián or as more commonly heard in Spain, Donostia. I have three words that sum up this seaside city perfectly: take me back! San Seb sits comfortably in the bay of Biscay and although it is not known for its sunny climate I was lucky to be there when the weather was beautiful and warm. Like Bilbao, San Sebastián is quite nice to explore on foot.
I suggest the first thing you do in San Sebastian is to make your way to one of the cities lookout points, this way you can get a great view overlooking the city, this will also help you to get somewhat of a grasp on the cities layout. The two viewpoints that are the most popular are located on top of the mounts at either end of La Concha beach, another of the main drawcards of the city. Monte Igueldo is at your lefthand side if you are soaking up the sun on La Concha, and Monte Urgull to the right. At the top of the latter, Monte Urgull, there is a statue of Christ and the remains of a military fortress. Today however, it serves as a lookout point and there is a History House among the remains which is great to spend some time so you can learn further about the history of the city and the surrounding area. There is a bit of a walk up to this point so if that’s not your thing then visiting the top of Monte Igueldo might be more to your liking – on this side of the bay there is a funicular to take you to the top.
Now that you are all walked out from the walk up Monte Urgull, a well deserved pit stop is in order. San Sebastian is said to hold some of the best pintxos bars (in this part of the country the language is a bit different, you’ll find the names of many items to differ from traditional Spanish, for example pintxos is for the most part the same as tapas) in Basque country, you’ll likely find many different options for pintxos bars and restaurants in the areas surrounding the main beaches (the old town) which is a lively and interesting part of the city. If you feel a delicious cold treat is necessary – which let’s be honest, of course it is necessary – then by all means head on up to Gelateria Boulevard! You can find this heaven on earth down Alameda del Boulevard only a few minutes walk from the beach in the old town. I can assure you it will be well worth your precious adventuring time, I am still dreaming about my pistachio and kinder surprise combination! The fact that I can still remember the flavours I bought while I was there should be testament enough!
If you are looking for some more substantial activities hopefully the following list can help you out.
• If you are in town January 19th be sure to take part in San Sebastian Day celebrations
• Take part in one of the many food and wine tours available to get a true taste of the amazing quality food that the region is known for, alternatively visit one of the Michelin restaurants
• The aquarium provides a good option to break up all the usual tourist-y sightseeing activities
• There is also a Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour that runs throughout the city to take you to around the city and see places you may not have otherwise
San Sebastian holds some very fond memories for me and although I did not spend a substantial amount of time in the seaside city I do not have any faults from a traveling perspective, so go and make your own fond memories. Happy adventuring!