There are many small towns worth exploring in the Basque region. Every foodie will have heard of San Sebastian and its vast array of pintxos bars and restaurants with Michelin stars. However, let’s widen the horizon and seek out the small coastal gems that the locals escape to.
Bermeo is a small coastal village, midway between San Sebastian and Bilbao. With beautiful coloured homes and a reputation for seafood. Bermeo is famous for its fishing tradition and one of the most charming corners of this village is its beautiful harbour. This old harbour is surrounded by willowy houses painted in a myriad of pastel colours. Below the beautifully coloured homes, you will find casual seafood restaurants and pintxos bars. Here you will see locals and fishermen stopped for a drink.
Have a walk around the steep old part of Bermeo, find this behind the old harbour. Bermeo was a fishing village in the 13th century but in the 15th century, it developed and became an important trade centre. Bermeo was given the nickname that means “Chief of all Cities in Basque.”. The Basque fishermen (arrantzale) were famous for fishing whales and that is shown on the coat of arms. Head over to the museum in the old quarters to learn more.
Bakio is a small coastal town outside of Bilbao. Bakio undoubtedly one of the most beautiful beaches in the area, with breathtaking soft sand running along the clear blue water of the Bay of Biscay. The town is surrounded by stunning mountains and the beach is sheltered by imposing cliffs. The beach has a lovely promenade, which is home to many seafood restaurants and pintxos bars. Head to Birjilanda, known for its daily seafood specials. You will get what is caught fresh that day. Take a seat on the patio overlooking the sea, grab a glass of wine, a plate of chopitos (fried baby squid) and do what the Spanish do best, relax, soak up the sun and chat with friends.
Bakio isn’t only known for their beautiful beaches and surf. Only a few kilometres out of town is San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a magical and legendary chapel which forms a peninsula out into the Bay of Biscay. This is connected to the mainland by a stone bridge built on the rocks by hand. Crowned by the small chapel eighty metres above sea level. You can reach it by climbing 231 steps up a rocky slope. If you managed to reach the top another legend recounts that if ring the chapel bell three times you will attract good luck and ward off any evil spirits.
After the return journey of 6km, there is an oasis called Eneperi Baquio. This restaurant is a farmhouse dating back to the early 19th century. The sprawling restaurant is set on the edge of the mountain with 360-degree views over the Bay of Biscay. You can sit inside behind the huge glass windows or out on the grass on beautiful yet causing picnic tables. There is the option to have pintxos with casual drinks or a meal.
Enquire about the set price 5-course menu. This is a secret menu for those with local knowledge. The food here is the mix of traditional Spanish and French cooking known as Basque. You will be presented dishes like foie gras, lobster tart or pear ravioli and goat cheese gyozas for entrée. There will options like fresh grilled tuna or perfectly cooked duck breast with caramelized apple with grilled foie for main. Expect fine dining quality food but don’t expect fine dining service, however, this is reflected in the price.
Plentzia is seaside village only 25 kilometres from Bilbao. The beach is over 356 metres long, so the sprawling white sand leaves a place for everyone. Often overlooked by visitors this little town has a plethora of restaurants and bars set along the estuary that are well worth the visit. Here you will find locals and city folk sipping wines on the terraces and enjoying the best food of the region. So pull up a seat riverside and experience the top quality tapas that the locals demand.
You will find a substantial crowd at the Pension Arrarte. A pintxos bar that is set on the river further back into town. Head inside and fill your plate with any pintxos that catch your eye. The goat cheese and caramelised salmon is highly recommended. If you’re still hungry order a plate of fritos peacados or the paella. Take a seat on the river’s edge and grab a glass of the local cider.
The quaint little village of Mundaka is located a few hours south of San Sebastian. Although it’s quite a small town, Mundaka is internationally-renowned for its surfing, known for having the longest left-hand waves in the world. The town is centred around its fishing port.
Mundaka doesn’t just make for a makes for a stopping point, it is worth a few days. If you’re not here for the surf, you can explore the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve or take in the view of Izaro Island or the Mount Ogoño.
From sweeping views of the beach from a rooftop and bar, head to Atxarre Taberna Kafetegia. This is the place to sample the best pinxtos in town. The shredded crab and prawn were worth a second trip to the bar as well as the fried goat cheese and green pepper on crusty bread.
The Basque region is so much more than the glitz, glam and Michlin stars of San Sebastian. Don’t rush, head out along the coast road and see what truly wonder local spots you can discover.
Brittnay is an Aussie Abroad and one half of the The Traveling House Sitters. She lived in London for the past two years before making the move to Dublin. She managed to squeeze in 21 trips to Europe & Africa in that time (including lots of cheese, wine & beaches).