Basque country, tucked away in the north-east corner of Spain is its own little world. Technically the Basque region crosses the border and continues into the south-western part of France. Despite being sandwiched between the two countries, the Basque people consider themselves neither Spanish nor French but distinctly Basque. They have their own language, which you’ll notice when you hear them speak, read their menus or even look for restaurant names. Talks of independence which manifest themselves in rally’s or demonstrations are much of an everyday occurrence in these parts and nothing to be worried about.
The Basque region, aside from its distinct language and culture also has beautiful beaches, intriguing cities and some impeccable wine. Here’s where we think you should go.
San Sebastian is the city farthest to the east along the coast; it’s less than 20 miles, in a straight shot, from France. San Sebastian has stunning beaches and is considered one of the best cities by the beach in all of Europe. There is plenty to see and do in San Sebastian. Wine and food abound, hiking and cycling will keep you busy and when you’re tired from all of that just spread your towel and enjoy the rays at La Concha beach.
Recommended hotels in San Sebastian
Over 100 years old, looming large in San Sebastian’s old town is the luxury Hotel Maria Cristina. Rooms are posh and perfect. Fluffy duvet covers and Victorian furniture create a comfortable stay. The location, on the edge of old town and just across the river from the neighborhood of Gros, is absolutely ideal. The staff are helpful and friendly and there is little that will disappoint you. Do expect to pay for all of this wonder at around €275/night.
Overlooking the stunningly perfect La Concha bay and beach is Hotel Niza. Hotel Niza has retained some of its old-time charm with a few quirks like a small, old style lift. These bits are the reason to choose rather than to skip over this one. Request a sea view room and listen to the waves crashing against the shore all evening. Try to grab a higher floor though as some of the lower, outward facing ones can be subject to street noise. Deal come about €125/night.
Just over an hours drive west of San Sebastian is the larger, grittier Bilbao. Bilbao is everything San Sebastian is not and that is exactly why you should visit. Full of dread locked, tattooed, pierced locals you’ll see what the Basque culture is all about and why they consider themselves so separate from Spain, perhaps because they are. You’ll have ample opportunity to people watch as you partake in Bilbao’s other main sport, eating. Pintxo bars abound throughout the city and there is no reason to be shy about filling up your plate, time and time again. Most tourists stay in Bilbao for a day
and move on to other towns of Basque country.
Recommended hotels in Bilbao
The simple two-star pension of Hotel Itutienea Ostatua in the heart of old town will give you perfect access and basic comforts. The rooms are clean if small and the beds are comfortable. Unlike many pensions breakfast is on offer here, for an extra fee. If you’d prefer not to eat in house you have more options than you’ll know what to do with just out the door. This spot will not disappoint for just around €60/night.
A Bilbao classic is Hotel Carlton where simply the reception area will be enough to impress even the most demanding of guests. Luxurious, old fashioned and classic, Hotel Carlton is a beautiful five-star option. It’s in the Abando neighborhood of town, across the river from old town but quite close to the architecturally appealing Guggenheim. Rooms go for around €100/night.
Moving inland off the coast you’ll reach the ancient walled city of La Guardia. While small La Guardia has some interesting stories to tell. Because of it’s old military history it is full of tunnels, intended for escape from attack but today used for wine storage and creation. Since you’re deep in wine region, take a tour and do some tasting.
With La Guardia as base, you can plan an itinerary of wine towns
A five-minute drive out of town you’ll find Hotel Eguren Ugarte. It’s a rustic yet modernized hotel set amongst a breathtaking background. Mountains at its rear and vineyards surrounding it on all sides you’ll be simply blown away. Of course, you’ll want to have a car with you to make your stay here manageable but with free parking you can use your vehicle to get around to all of the bodegas in the area. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, be sure to get a balcony to enjoy the views at all hours of the day and night. Amazingly you can find rooms here for as low as €80/night.
Hammam, hot tub and wine therapy. What more need we say? Sticking inside the little walled city is Hospederia de los Parajes. This hotel is simply luxurious and not thought has been left unthunk. You’ll have everything you could imagine. Breakfast is included and the dining room serves other meals as well. The staff are helpful and friendly. The rooms are clean and all surround an interior courtyard meaning they are quite quiet. Rooms start around €125/night.
Between La Guardia and the coast, is the park surrounded Vitoria-Gasteiz. It’s called the green ring, the circle of six large parks which form the perimeter of the city. This along with its many pedestrianized areas and well thought out recycling program has earned the city recognition as an eco-tourism destination. You’ll want to get your running shoes on and your cycling helmet on as there’s lots of nature to be explored. But the old town is by no means anything to scoff at. In fact, it’s one of the best in the Basque country.
NH Canciller Ayala Vitoria sits opposite a park, so be sure to request a room with a view onto it. Everything at this NH hotel is good. Staff are friendly, though check in is known to lag. The rooms are comfortable. Included breakfast is very good and parking, for an extra fee, can be used underneath the hotel itself. Rooms can be about €70/night.
On the outskirts of town, where you’ll want to have a car but will have easy access to the nearby parks, is Hotel Restaurante Araba. The attached restaurant is very good and comes highly recommended. There is secure parking beneath the hotel. The staff are attentive and the rooms are comfortable, though some can be a bit cramped. Rooms are around €65/night.