Three days is not enough to explore the Basque Country. The coast is lovely, and I’m sure you could spend easily one or two weeks in the area we covered in a couple of days. But we only had a short time to meet up with our friends during their holidays there. It was worth the effort: we visited amazing places and loved our food discoveries as well.
We drove from Biarritz to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe along very scenic roads and had lovely stops on the way.
Our overall target was to check out the stunning Gaztelugatxe, and we ended up picking places where to stop on the way according to the strength of the rain. Well, you cannot always be lucky with the weather – and we loved where we stopped so we were lucky in the end! Plus, we had a lovely day for visiting Gaztelugatxe, so it was perfect!
Highlights of our three-day road trip on the Basque Country coast
1. Saint Jean de Luz
Okay, this isn’t Spain (it’s still France), but it’s close to it, and it’s the Basque Country. We were hungry, so we stopped there to try the Basque gastronomy, on our way back to Biarritz airport at the end of our road trip.
If Saint Jean de Luz is on your way while you’re driving to the Spanish Basque Country, it’s worth to have a look around.
The history of Saint Jean de Luz starts back in the 15th century, and the town had its “Golden Age” in the 17th century. Buildings from that time remain in the now busy town centre.
Don’t miss enjoying a short walk on the Promenade. Make a detour to the Saint Baptiste Church. In this typical church from the French Basque Country, the French King Louis XIV married the King of Spain’s daughter, ending the long-lasting conflict between the two countries.
2. Donostia (San Sebastian)
Donostia (San Sebastián) has been one of the chicest seaside towns in Spain since the 19th century when the Spanish nobles started to enjoy the beautiful bay and its beaches. Nowadays, the atmosphere seems to be more young and festive than chic.
The Pintxos bars (the local tapas) are a Basque speciality not to miss in San Sebastian.
So after hiking Mount Urgull to get the best views of the city, we tried a couple of different bars in town for our first Pintxos experiences. I love the concept: you can taste small portions of many different foods that are displayed on the bar. And it’s delicious.
They also had local wines to taste. Unfortunately, wine is never a good pair with a road trip as we had to hit the road in the evening, so we stuck to local cider, lighter in alcohol.
Photo: Nicolas Vollmer
Photo: Marianne Casamance
The road leading to Getaria looked fantastic. We drove along stunning rugged cliffs and, despite the grey weather, I wished we could have spent more time exploring the bay.
We reached Guetaria in the evening just before sunset. It was perfect timing to have a walk to the Mount San Anton to admire the view. In town, we wandered in charming lanes made of wood and stone to reach the port and choose a restaurant.
Fish and white wine are the two specialities of the area. I also ate urchins for the first time.
With San Nicolas island in front of the river mouth, the drive into the old town of Lekeitio is very scenic. We stopped there between two showers. I liked how interesting it felt to drive through Spanish towns. There is always something special to look at: a church or another building full of History. That’s something we also have in France but that I’ve been missing in Australia’s towns.
5. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe was my highlight of the trip. Do you recognise it from elsewhere? The winding stairs were featured in the popular Game of Thrones TV series. We went there before the season 7 got released, so it was surprising to see it there!
It’s a great leg work out to go up more than 200 steps, but it’s rewarding all the way. The views are fantastic.
Gazteligatxe in Basque means Tremendous Castle. Up there, you won’t find Dragonstone, the castle from Game of Thrones. In reality, it’s a lovely small church from the 10th century. I loved finding marine elements hidden in the architecture of the church. And don’t be surprised to hear the bells ringing at any time. According to the legend, those who make it up there should ring the bell three times and make a wish.
Bonus: Cider in Spanish Basque Country
I’m originally from Britanny, and I studied in Normandy, the two French regions famous for producing cider in France.
Still, I keep being surprised by ciders when I travel.
I mean, they all look the same, they’re made with the same ingredients and have very similar names. So why do they taste so different? In England (and even worse in Australia!), it tastes awfully sweet to me. In the Basque Country, it was flat.
Well, that was before we learnt how to serve it the local way: you have to pour it from about 20cm above your glass, with a special cork half placed on the bottle. It’s still a lot flatter than the French cider, but I enjoyed it!
Have you visited the Spanish Basque Country? What was your highlight? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where did we go during our road trip in the Spanish Basque Country?
We flew from Paris to Biarritz, where we rented a car to drive to Spain. There is also an airport in Bilbao if you want to do it from the other end.
Over three days, we drove 350km for about 6 hours in total.
If you’re renting a car in France or Spain, you may be interested in this tip to save money on rental car insurance in Europe.
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