Coastal Charms of the Basque Country

Do you want to discover one of the most culturally unique regions of the world? Where northern Spain meets southwestern France, you will find the Basque Country, the WHOLE Basque Country at Valesa Cultural.

Between the Pyrenees mountains and the Bay of Biscay, the Basque culture stands out among that of Spain and France. Its cities like San Sebastián, Bilbao, and Bayonne are worth visiting with the Guggenheim and Basque Fine Arts Museum, incredible pintxos (Basque tapas) and cider, maritime and Route of St James history with beautiful coastline and sports with great food and much more. Here you can bookend your trip or take day trips to other lesser known, but worthwhile parts of the region, on both sides of the border.

Maybe you’ve been to the Basque Country before and you’re hoping to branch out into new spots and experiences. Here we zoom in on the best towns not to miss.

Head to the picturesque town of Getaria on the Spanish side. As the birthplace of designer Cristóbal Balenciaga, don’t miss the Balenciaga Museum for fashion, fashion history, and the story of the designer himself. This seaside town serves up fresh fish that pairs well with local Txakoli wine, a unique Basque wine originating at the farmhouses. For history lovers, visit the monument of Juan Sebastián Elcano, the first to travel all the way around the globe.

Further south enroute to the wine country is the inland province of Álava with the medieval town of Laguardia. Here Basque culture meets the wine region of La Rioja. This medieval village contains enchanting streets, houses, towers, and palaces all surrounded by the medieval wall that still outlines the Old Town. On the outside of its walls, vineyards sweep the landscape in the valley with mountains in the background. With the town’s origins stemming in military defense, it now flourishes in wine production and historical sites. Visit the bodegas, wine cellars, or even the winery that lies in an underground cave. Eat pintxos, small, tasty bites of local flavors, that pair perfectly with each glass of local wine. The cuisine in this region reflects that of its geography and combines Basque traditions with Riojan gastronomy.

Traveling back up the northern coast, you’ll find Hondarribia. This quaint seaside town (just 10 min from San Sebastian, location on San Sebastian airport) is made up of two parts, Old Town and the Marina Neighborhood. Gastronomy is a highlight of this spot with multiple Michelin star restaurants and plenty of quality, local establishments. In Hondarribia, find the Castle of Charles V that today is now a Parador Hotel. Originally a fortress, one of its most prominent guests was the Spanish Royal Family who lived there during the time of their daughter’s marriage to King Lous XIV of France in 1660. This spot has great significance in the historical conflict between France and Spain. In Hondarribia, you’ll also find a beachside bike path that leads into the French side of Basque Country. Take a leisurely ride to get to know the coastline.

On the French side of Basque Country (just 20 minutes from San Sebastian), the town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz is not to be missed. In the Bay of Biscay and along the Pyrenees Mountain range, this town holds lots of history. Well-known for its great tranquil beaches of the Bay, it makes a great place to relax and unwind on your trip. Here you’ll see many fishing boats, visit the market to sample local delicacies, and enjoy many Basque seafood specialties. The Basque architecture of the town is well seen from the main square of Louis XIV. Visitors will want to experience the Baroque architecture of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church, where King Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Spain married in 1660. Saint-Jean-de-Luz has many other landmarks that mark their marriage, including the mansion turned museum and the gate of Old Town.

Finally, on our highlight of Basque towns is Biarritz. This surfing and beach town has been historically known as a getaway spot for European royalty. The old port includes a sea museum and aquarium and the Rocher de la Vierge, marking the entrance of the Bay and a great spot to take pictures off the coast. Biarritz features the French Basque culture and elegance with its early 20th century casino and prestigious golf courses as well as a fabulous food market.

Not far from Biarritz lies Bayonne, the French Basque capital city. While still a small city, Bayonne has a small town feel. It is home to the largest Bullfighting festival of France as well as the Basque and Jewish Museums. Filled with chocolatiers and Bayonne ham, Bayonne serves as a worthwhile place to start or end your travels through Basque Country. Additionally there are inland villages that are beautiful and historic, including the beginning of Route of St James.

With so many options to choose from and towns to see in this distinctive region of Spain and France, let our team at Valesa Cultural Services help you plan what works best for you or your group. Contact us to begin your personalized process or ask questions about these fascinating and tasty destinations.