The Basque Country

‘Bilbao ? Never heard of it…’ said one of my work colleagues when I proudly announced that I was going on holiday to the Spanish Basque Country. No surprise here, most people’s knowledge of Spain is reduced to Marbella and Tenerife. Because it’s still a relatively undiscovered destination the small towns and villages we visited had that authentic vibe that extremely popular places often lack. No signs of stag/hen parties or three day millionaires attracted to low alcohol prices. Not that we didn’t take advantage: what wine lover would say no to a 拢1.50 glass of white Rioja or Txakoli ?

The Basque Country, situated in the north – east of Spain (we didn’t venture to the French part) somehow reminded me of Wales: a unique language, a proud, ancient nation conquered by a powerful neighbour, ubiquitous mountains and sheep, a gorgeous coastline, frequent rain…Obviously, it’s much, much hotter, even in late September. If I were to describe it with one word, I would say ‘nature’. There no escape from it, the green hills and meadows are even visible from the motorways, which, by the way, are excellent if a little expensive.

A green and pleasant land:

We went for a whole week and decided to steer clear of the cities and larger towns, so  we omitted Bilbao, San Sebastian and Vitoria Gasteiz. Instead, we drove all over the country admiring breathtaking views and visiting places such as Guernica, Hondarribia, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (known to GoT fans as Dragonstone), Getxo and Portugalete connected by the astonishing Bizkaia Bridge; Mutriku, Ondarroa and tiny but cute Ea, Sakoleta Beach with its flysch rocks…We walked in the Gorbeia woods and in the mysterious Forest of Otzarreta – easy to find once we established that we should not follow a dirt road that our Sat Nav was taking us to 馃槈 One week simply wasn’t enough and we couldn’t spend as much time outdoors as we would have liked.

Hayedo De Otzarreta – enchanted forest straight out of Tolkien:

Almost everyone there spoke English and the tourist information centres were able to give us good directions and advice on what to see.  Not all the places they recommended were actually worth it: Viana and Orduna are to be avoided, while Laguardia was delightful.  Same goes for restaurants with glowing reviews on Trip Advisor. We ate in one such eatery in Ondarrea. The service was shockingly bad, food barely acceptable; I don’t know how on earth they have such good reviews, unless they write them themselves…Other than that, I loved the food – had some pintxchos (tapas), tried a delicious local cider, had copious amount of very good wine that would inevitably cost 拢30 per bottle at Waitrose, ate the best olives ever, and even went to a Michelin restaurat in Getaria which was actually quite affordable and served us a good local white wine at 拢2.5 per glass 馃檪

Since I mention wine a lot…We simply had to visit La Rioja community and I even managed to grab some grapes in a vineyard that had a 5000 years old dolmen la Chabola Hechicera casually in the middle of it:

Sunset over marina in Getxo:

Mountains, towns and sea:

Visiting San Juan de Gaztelugatxe was definitely a highlight of our trip. We were lucky to get there just before the sunset. An American lady asked me if she could go all the way there by car. I should have said yes

And that was that…I flew back to Manchester yesterday having spent an entire week in an intriguing and beautiful place that hasn’t become trendy yet. I hope it stays that way.

My only disappointment came when when I started going through my pictures and to my horror I discovered I had to bin some 90 % and then pick from whatever was left. I’ve never had so few half decent holiday pics before. Thinking about it now, the light was always either harsh, or flat and dull. Unlike in Scotland, there was usually nowehere to stop to take photos while on the road. Last but not least, we spent more time in towns and villages than in the outdoors, and I don’t particularly like photographing architecture. I guess I will have to go back next year and try a bit harder 馃槈