The Basque Coast: From Bilbao to Hondarribia

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San Juan de Gastelugatxe

Back from the summer break with a notepad full of jotted-down notes for the blog, a camera that ran out of memory, and an absolutely satisfied foodie soul. There is so much to share!  Being summer I have decided to start with the coastal Basque region.  If I have always loved Southern Spain, now I cannot wait to be back in the Green Spain.

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Day 1 – It was midafternoon when we hit the road.  It took us about 20 min to drive from the airport to downtown Bilbao.

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Our first stop was Txinpum, a small bar specialized in wines from small producers and craft beers. Located on the bank of the Ría de Bilbao; they have a privileged terrace, overlooking the Mercado de la Ribera.

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Rioja, Cecina (cured beef), Cantabrian Anchovies … A good way to start a vacation.

We drove approx. 35 km towards north until we reached our destination on the coast:  San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

This is a magical place, that you cannot miss if you are in the area. All the efforts to reach the hermitage, down the hill and up the more than 230 steps, are all worthwhile.

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We had a 30-min (17 km) drive to Atxurra Casa Rural in Bermeo, a very comfortable hotel in the middle of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Urdaibai, where we spent the night.

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Day 2 – The next morning we were delighted to find freshly-squeezed orange juice for breakfast. My readers know how I trust on freshly-squeezed orange juice as a good indicator of a reliable place …

 

After breakfast we continued the road trip along the coast, driving through the  greenest rolling hills, fields, and woods you could imagine.

We stopped first in Mundaka (15 min, 10.5 km), well known among surfers for its left wave – the longest in Europe.

 

After 45-min (32 km) we found Lekeitio with its charming port and coastal cliffs.

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We had to get back to the car; we still had 50 km to reach Getaria. The whole route was

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absolutely breathtaking.  It looked as if the mountains had merged with the sea.

 

Our table booked for 14:30 at Txoko was ready.  Being in Getaria, home of Txakoli (the Basque white wine), we enjoyed the cold bottle.

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This fantastic restaurant at the seafront of Getaria cannot have a better chef and a better location!

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Grilled Octopus with Roast Potato

 

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With Enrique

 

 

They had different catches-of-the-day, but apparently everybody had decided for rodaballo (turbot).  Enrique Fleischmann taking care of the grill, with our turbot in his hands …

If you like fresh fish, let it cook for you by Enrique.  I did, and he proved his talent.  Best grilled fish I have ever had in my life!

 

Desserts were also delicious, and we felt more than spoilt at Txoko.

If you are interested in learning more about Txoko and Enrique, I recommend you this great write up by the Sisters in the City: El Txoko de Getaria … .  By the way, their blog is full of excellent tips for the region.

A short walk through this medieval village and its port.

 

 

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La Zurriola Bridge

 

 

The 30-km ride to Donostia/San Sebastian took us less than 40 min. From our guest house Pension C7 in the Gros neighborhood, we only had to cross La Zurriola Bridge to be in the old town, where I had most of my foodie addresses.

Like tapas in other parts of Spain, in the Basque Country you have pintxos; these are generally served with bread. Note that what a tapa is for the Basques, in other parts of Spain it could be a ración, i.e. a larger portion served on a plate, usually to share with others.

IMG_6444We started our first pintxos night at Calle Fermín Calbatón, one of the popular streets in the old town packed with bars and restaurants.  The choice is remarkable.

Our first stop: the traditional Casa Bartolo, following different sources of advice.  As expected, the bar is packed, the authentic atmosphere is an experience. Soon we found our way to the counter, and, luckily, a patron very kindly (as all the people we had the chance to meet during this trip) explained us the procedure:  Here you get an empty plate when you order your drink.  Then you can choose the pintxos you want, show the plate to someone behind the bar, who will tell you how much to pay.  The bartender is exactly as it has to be when you go for pintxos or tapas:  very busy but not showing stress, efficient, friendly, and even has time for small talk!

Tartaleta de Txangurro (Crab Tart) – Alcachofa a la Vinagreta (Vinaigrette Artichoke) – Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician style Octopus)

Walking a bit around, just 150 m away, we decided to try Mesón Portaletas.  The displayed pintxos were too tempting.

Bacalao (Codfish) – Croqueta (Iberico Ham Croquette) – Chorizo

I ordered a good Verdejo, and the barman poured a glass of a delicious, fruity, organic Caraballas – I sticked to it for the rest of the trip!  My husband had a zurito, for the Basques it is a small glass of beer, equivalent to a caña or corto, in the rest of Spain.

They also serve grilled fare in the restaurant at the back. We did not try the restaurant but, the two times we were there, it was full.

It was almost midnight, and it had been a long day. We decided to start moving towards our hotel. We strolled through the city, enchanted by its beauty and flair by night.

 

Just a few steps from our lodging, we had a well-deserved nightcap at the Bodega Donostiarra.  Look what our table neighbors were having:

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Skewered Octopus and King Prawns

 

Day 3 – We decided to explore the city beaches of Donostia/San Sebastian.  In the morning we went to the renowned Playa La Concha, a beautiful sand beach in the middle of the city.

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Have you also noticed that they are not using sun umbrellas?

 

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A walk through the old town (this time by daylight)

 

A quick look into La Bretxa market

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Time for lunch! We were really looking forward to this booking at Gandarias, a fantastic address for authentic, Basque cuisine

 

 

 

with an extraordinary pintxo bar

 

and genuine, traditional food

 

Of course, we had to try the Chuletón de Vaca Vieja (Gandarias Cutlet).  An incredible beef steak, called de Vaca Vieja , not because it comes from an old (vieja) cow (vaca), but because they let the cuts age to increase tenderness and taste.  Our expectations were exceeded.

I have to confess that I was not loyal to the region, and I ordered a Ribera instead of a Rioja …  They had a Malleolus 2011 that I wanted to try for some time now.  I succumbed, and it was a wise decision.

Have a look to my Foodie Route on “The Ribera del Duero …”, and you will understand why I am so fond of the Riberas.

Tip:

  • Call to get a table. They only accept reservations by phone.

 

A nice walk along the banks of the Urumea river with nice views

La Zurriola Bridge

Santa Catalina Bridge

to reach Playa de Zurriola, another urban beach, preferred by surfers and young people.

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Although the beach was packed, we decided to stay there like the locals, catching rays on a gorgeous, summer day, having a repairing nap, and taking a dip in the blue waters of the Bay of Biscay.

Then back to the hotel, which was really close by.

At sunset time the streets and bars started to get busy.

 

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The Menu

We had to go out for our last night of pintxos in this amazing city.  The highlight was certainly Borda Berri, a non-traditional bar with non-traditional pintxos made to order and not showcased on the bar.

 

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Getting drinks while waiting for the order

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_6529Serving sidra (cider), the Basque way: the bottle high above your head, let the cider cascade down into a glass on the bar.

Rice with Mushrooms and  Slow-Roasted Duck Breast

This is another review on Borda Berri by foodosophy:  Borda Berri, San Sebastian, Spain

Borda Berri, a place full of amazing flavors.

Tip:

  • It is a very busy place.  A local recommended us:  Be ready with the order, and try to make eye contact with the staff to get their attention, or you will never be able to place your order … It worked!

 

Day 4 – Our last destination on the Basque coast:  Hondarribia; a 30-min (23 km) drive.  IMG_6547We left early Donostia/San Sebastian as we aimed to visit this pinturesque town before starting our tastings in the Rioja.  I will tell you all about the fantastic days in the Rioja on another foodie route.

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As soon as we arrived in Hondarribia, we found Amona Margarita, the perfect place to start the day.

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Freshly-Squeezed Orange Juice – Croissant – Coffee

 

 

 

 

We started strolling down Calle San Pedro with the colorful fishermen’s houses.

 

Towards the shore, where the Bidasoa river sets the borderline between Spain and France.

 

The Hondarribia Bay with its nice Marina

 

Back to Itsaspe at the end of Calle San Pedro for lunch.

Tortilla de Patatas – Bacalao – Arroz Cremoso con Almejas – Pimientos de Padrón

Potato Omelet – Codfish – Cream Rice with Clams – Padron Green Peppers

Hondarribia was another pleasant discovery.  Someone is considering to retire there …

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15 thoughts on “The Basque Coast: From Bilbao to Hondarribia

  1. Super lindo este articulo, Patty!
    Me encanta tu blog porque me ayuda a conocer lugares espectaculares mas alla de mis aburridos itinerarios de viaje!
    Se me abrio el apetito! Puedo oler ese rodabalo!!!

    Like

  2. Patty……acá leyendo tu blog con Alberto…se nos ha abierto el apetito! Súper tips para nuestro recorrido next month!👌🏼😋

    Like

  3. Patty, este proximo Noviembre viajaremos a la costa vasca! Saldremos desde Barcelona y bordearemos el norte hasta llegar a Santiago de Compostela. Estos tips nos van a servir muchisimo!
    Nos encantaria coincidir con algun curso en el Basque Culinary Center… vamos a ver!
    Sigue con tu blog! Me encanta!

    Liked by 1 person

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