What is the most beautiful town of the Basque Country?
Directing our gaze towards the most captivating Basque Country towns, we embark on a journey through the tapestry of beauty that graces the region. In the Spanish Basque Country, the crown jewel of charm is none other than San Sebastián. Its alluring presence shines through its sun-kissed beaches and the timeless allure of its Old Town, inviting visitors to revel in its enchanting atmosphere.
Crossing the border into the French Basque Country, the idyllic village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port emerges as a picturesque jewel. Steeped in medieval history, this enchanting enclave exudes an undeniable charm through its well-preserved architecture and enchanting landscapes. The French Basque region and coastline, adorned with coastal treasures like Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, weaves a captivating tale of sandy shores, dramatic cliffs, and an irresistible joie de vivre.
Embark on an extraordinary voyage of discovery as we delve into this article that reveals the highly sought-after compilation of the Basque Country’s 10 most awe-inspiring towns. Prepare to be transported through the land of the written words, unraveling the essence of these captivating destinations, each brimming with unparalleled beauty and allure. Let us unlock the secrets of this coveted selection, igniting a sense of wanderlust and allowing your imagination to traverse the enchanting landscapes and cultural treasures that await within the realm of the Basque Country’s most magnificent towns.
IN THE SPANISH BASQUE COUNTRY
1. San Sebastian
Also called Donostia in Basque language, San Sebastián emerges as an enchanting coastal haven that seamlessly weaves together the charms of the past and the allure of the present. This vibrant town, renowned for its sun-kissed beaches and elegant Belle Époque architecture, exudes a palpable sense of sophistication. As you traverse the labyrinthine alleys of the Old Town, tantalizing aromas from pintxos bars fill the air, inviting you to indulge in the culinary delights that have earned San Sebastián its reputation as a gastronomic paradise.
Beyond the culinary delights, the town’s rich cultural heritage is evident in its historic landmarks, such as the ornate Miramar Palace and the imposing Urgull Mountain, which offers breathtaking views of the shimmering Bay of Biscay. Whether you bask in the sun on La Concha Beach, embark on a culinary odyssey through the bustling streets, or immerse yourself in the town’s vibrant festivals, San Sebastián captivates with its captivating blend of coastal beauty, culinary excellence, and timeless allure
Curious fact: A fascinating fact about San Sebastián is its reputation as a culinary haven with more Michelin stars per capita than any other city in the world, except for Kyoto, Japan. This remarkable feat showcases the town’s exceptional gastronomic scene and the high level of creativity and craftsmanship of its chefs. From traditional pintxos bars to world-class Michelin-starred restaurants, San Sebastián offers an unparalleled dining experience that continues to tantalize the taste buds of both locals and visitors alike. Whether you’re a seasoned foodie or a curious traveler, San Sebastián’s culinary delights are sure to leave an indelible mark on your palate and a lasting memory of its gastronomic excellence.
As we venture deeper into the heart of the Spanish Basque Country, the town of Hondarribia -or Fuentarrabía in Spanish- beckons with its picturesque streets and centuries-old stone houses. Nestled by the Bidasoa River, this vibrant coastal gem enchants with its colorful facades, inviting squares, and captivating views of the French coast. Its picturesque waterfront and lively atmosphere add to its undeniable appeal.
Curious fact: One intriguing aspect that adds to the allure of Hondarribia is the Castle of Charles V, a remarkable medieval fortress that now serves as a Parador (hotel). Access to this historical gem is restricted exclusively to guests of the Parador or visitors on CÚRATE Trips, ensuring an exclusive and privileged experience. From within the fortress walls, fortunate guests can immerse themselves in the rich history of the castle, relishing its unique charm while savoring the breathtaking views that unfold from its privileged vantage point.
Getaria is known as “the mouse” due to the unique shape of the town when viewed from afar. The town is situated on a narrow peninsula that juts out into the Bay of Biscay, and when seen from a distance, its silhouette resembles the shape of a mouse. This distinctive geographical feature has led to the endearing nickname, making a visit to Getaria even more memorable and charming for visitors and locals alike.
But three aspects showcase Getaria’s rich historical heritage, gastronomic excellence, and cultural contributions, making it a unique destination in the Basque Country:
- Elkano and the First Circumnavigation of the World: Getaria celebrates the legacy of Juan Sebastián Elkano, the renowned sailor who was born in the town. Elkano was a key member of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition, which completed the first circumnavigation of the world. Getaria takes pride in its association with this historic voyage, commemorating Elkano’s significant contribution to maritime exploration.
- Txakoli Wine: Getaria is renowned for its production of Txakoli, a crisp and refreshing white wine. The town’s vineyards, situated on the slopes near the sea, benefit from the unique climate and coastal influence. Visitors can explore the local wineries, taste the exquisite Txakoli wines, and witness the traditional winemaking techniques that have been passed down through generations.
- Balenciaga: Getaria is also famous for being the birthplace of Cristóbal Balenciaga, one of the most influential fashion designers in history. Balenciaga’s avant-garde designs and impeccable craftsmanship revolutionized the fashion industry. The town pays homage to his legacy through the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, which showcases his iconic creations and offers insights into his innovative approach to fashion.
Curious fact: If you’re looking for a truly unforgettable dining experience, then you need to try turbot in Getaria. This small town in the Basque Country is home to some of the best seafood restaurants in the world, and their turbot is simply out of this world. The turbot is caught fresh from the Bay of Biscay and cooked over oak charcoal. The result is a dish that is perfectly cooked, with a crispy skin and a flaky, moist flesh. The turbot is then simply seasoned with a simple secret dressing. And if you’re really looking to splurge, you can book a table at Elkano, a Michelin-starred restaurant that is widely considered to be one of the best seafood restaurants in the world (and is one our Basque Country Tour program).
Lekeitio is a charming seaside town in the Spanish Basque Country. It is known for its beautiful beaches, its traditional fishing boats, and its delicious seafood. The town is also home to a number of historical landmarks, including the enchanting Basílica de la Asunción de Santa María. It exudes a tranquil atmosphere that invites visitors to unwind and embrace its coastal charm.
Curious fact: While whaling is no longer practiced, Lekeitio has a long and storied history of whale catching. The town was once one of the most important whaling centers in the northern Basque Country alone, and its whalers were renowned for their skill and daring. Whales were a valuable source of food and oil for the town, and their hunting was a major part of the local economy. The town’s whaling tradition has left a lasting legacy. The town’s coat of arms features a whale, and there are a number of whale-related monuments and artifacts in the town.
Laguardia is a town in the Rioja Alavesa appellation of Spain that is brimming with history and wine. The town’s roots date back to the Roman era, and it was once a powerful fortress. Today, Laguardia is a thriving tourist destination, thanks to its well-preserved medieval architecture and its world-renowned wines.
The town’s most impressive landmark is its medieval castle, which was built in the 12th century. The castle is now a museum, and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Other notable landmarks in Laguardia include its old town walls, its 13th-century church, and its many bodegas.
Laguardia’s historical power and importance is also evident in its winemaking tradition. The town has been producing wine for centuries, and its wines are some of the most highly-regarded in Spain.
Curious fact: Did you know about the underground cellars of Laguardia? They are a labyrinth of tunnels and caves that have been used for winemaking for centuries. These cellars are cool and humid, providing the perfect conditions for aging wine. The cool temperatures help to preserve the wine’s flavor and aroma, while the humidity helps to prevent the wine from drying out. The underground cellars of Laguardia are a fascinating and important part of the town’s history and winemaking tradition.
IN THE FRENCH BASQUE COUNTRY
Immerse yourself in the captivating realm of the French Basque Country, where time stands still, and the echoes of industry fade away. This picturesque region, adorned with enchanting towns and breathtaking landscapes, embraces a remarkable distinction—it remains untouched by the grasp of industrialization.
Preserved with unwavering devotion, the French Basque Country – or le Pays Basque – stands as a testament to the harmony between mankind and nature. Supported by generous government initiatives, these idyllic towns transport visitors into a realm akin to a fairytale, where the charms of centuries-old architecture, vibrant cultural traditions, and unspoiled natural beauty intertwine to create an extraordinary experience like no other. Here are five of the most captivating spots in the whole northern Basque country region below:
Nestled along the Basque coast, this charming seaside town enchants visitors with its picturesque harbor, golden sandy beach, and colorful Basque architecture. Its vibrant atmosphere, historic town center, and delightful waterfront promenade make it an irresistible destination.
Saint Jean de Luz is a thriving town with a vibrant culture. The town is home to a number of museums, including the Musée de la Mer (Sea Museum) and the Musée de la Ville (Town Museum). There are also a number of festivals held in the town throughout the year.
The Les Halles food market is located in the heart of Saint Jean de Luz, and it is open every day except Sunday. The market is a great place to find fresh produce, great seafood, and amazing cheese vendors.
Curious fact: The macaron is one of the most popular pastries in the world, but did you know that it originated in the Basque town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz? The story goes that in the 17th century, a young woman named Madeleine Paulin was preparing a wedding feast for the future King Louis XIV. She wanted to create a special dessert for the occasion, so she experimented with different recipes. One day, she accidentally added almond paste to a batch of meringue. The result was a light, airy cookie with a delicate flavor. Paulin was so pleased with the results that she named the cookies “macarons” after the town where she lived. The macarons were a hit at the wedding feast, and they quickly became popular throughout France. Today, they are enjoyed all over the world. But the macarons that are made in Saint Jean de Luz are still considered to be the best. The town is home to a number of traditional macaron shops, and the bakers there still use the same recipe that Madeleine Paulin used centuries ago. So if you’re ever in Saint Jean de Luz, be sure to try a macaron. You won’t be disappointed!
A renowned coastal gem, Biarritz offers a captivating blend of elegance and natural beauty. With its stunning beaches, such as Grande Plage and Côte des Basques, luxurious Belle Époque architecture, and vibrant surf culture, Biarritz has long been a favorite destination for relaxation and rejuvenation. The city has a long history of attracting celebrities. Biarritz has been a popular destination for celebrities for centuries. This means that there is a sense of history and glamour associated with the town and still remains.
Biarritz is often considered one of the birthplaces of surfing in Europe. The sport of surfing is believed to have been introduced to Biarritz by Hawaiian princes in the late 19th century. The princes, who were studying in Europe, brought their surfboards with them and were observed riding the waves off the coast of Biarritz. This event is said to have sparked interest in surfing among the locals and visitors, contributing to the sport’s early presence in the area. Consequently, Biarritz is home to the world’s first surf lifesaving club. The Biarritz Surf Club was founded in 1910, and it is considered to be the world’s first surf lifesaving club. The club was founded in response to a number of drownings that had occurred in the town.
Curious fact: Did you know the bikini was invented in Biarritz? In 1946 by Louis Réard. Réard was a French engineer and swimwear designer, and he named the bikini after the Bikini Atoll, a coral reef in the Marshall Islands, where the United States had conducted nuclear tests a few months earlier.
Nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees, this medieval town is famous for its picturesque streets, historic citadel, and its role as a starting point for pilgrims embarking on the French Way of the Camino de Santiago. The traditional Basque architecture and stunning mountain backdrop add to its allure. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a fortified town, and its walls were built in the 13th century. The walls are still standing today, and they provide a fascinating glimpse into the town’s history.
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. This means that the town is considered to be of outstanding universal value. The town’s walls, its bridges, and its old town are all part of the World Heritage Site.
Curious fact: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a major center for the Basque culture. The town is home to a number of Basque cultural institutions, including the Basque Museum and the Basque Language Institute. The town also hosts a number of Basque festivals throughout the year.
Ainhoa is a “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (Most Beautiful Villages of France).This prestigious designation is given to villages that are considered to be of outstanding architectural and cultural interest. Ainhoa was awarded this designation in 1979, and it is one of only 16 villages in the Basque Country to have received it.
The alluring town of Ainhoa welcomes you with a kaleidoscope of colors splashed across its charming houses. Adorned with vibrant red and white facades, this picturesque village exudes an enchanting allure that transports visitors to a bygone era. As you meander through its cobblestone lanes, the scent of freshly baked pastries and the echo of traditional Basque music create a captivating ambiance, drawing you further into Ainhoa’s spellbinding charm.
One of the town’s intriguing features is its unique cemetery, a place of historical significance and reverence. Set amidst the tranquil beauty of the town, the cemetery provides a peaceful sanctuary where generations past rest in eternal slumber. It adds to Ainhoa’s distinct allure, offering a moment of contemplation and connection with its rich heritage.But the crown jewel of Ainhoa is the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, a magnificent architectural marvel dating back to the 13th century. This remarkable church, adorned with a square four-story bell tower, stands as a cherished symbol of the town’s rich history and heritage. The church in Ainhoa tells a tale of resilience and historical significance. Its thick walls, riddled with visible loopholes, evoke images of a sanctuary that once offered refuge to the population during times of war. During the Revolution, the church underwent transformation into a fodder store, only to later return to its original purpose as a place of worship in 1801.
Inside, the church exemplifies the essential characteristics of Labourdine religious architecture, featuring a single nave without pillars, crowned by a roofing structure, and graced with tribunes known as galleries. The porch tower, rising with grandeur, proudly boasts four floors, serving as a foundation for the octagonal bell tower, which dates back to 1823.
The significance of this venerable church was officially recognized in 1996 when it received the distinction of being listed as a Historical Monument. This esteemed designation cements its importance in preserving the rich heritage and cultural legacy of Ainhoa, making it a treasured jewel in the region’s historical tapestry.
Curious fact: In this remote spot, another delightful surprise awaits – a Michelin-starred restaurant that promises to captivate food enthusiasts with its exceptional culinary creations: Restaurant Ithurria.
Welcome to Bayonne, the charming gem of the French Basque Country! This vibrant town, steeped in history and culture, beckons travelers with its beguiling blend of Basque and French influences. As you stroll through the cobblestone streets of the old town, you’ll be enchanted by the sight of half-timbered houses adorned with colorful shutters, reflecting the town’s unique architectural character. Take a leisurely walk along the banks of the Nive River, where the reflections of charming buildings dance upon the tranquil waters.
Bayonne’s allure doesn’t end with its picturesque streets; it’s also a paradise for foodies. The town is renowned for its delectable Basque cuisine, where you can savor traditional dishes like pintxos, hearty stews, and the famous Bayonne ham. Don’t forget to pair these culinary delights with a glass of local Txakoli wine or a refreshing Basque cider.
As you delve deeper into Bayonne’s history, explore the historic Saint Mary’s Cathedral, an architectural masterpiece that boasts a unique blend of Gothic and Basque styles. And for art enthusiasts, visit the Bonnat Museum that houses an impressive collection of paintings, showcasing works by renowned artists like Goya, El Greco, and Delacroix.
Bayonne’s vibrant energy comes to life during the annual Fêtes de Bayonne, a lively celebration of Basque culture, where locals and visitors come together to revel in the joyous atmosphere. The town pulsates with music, dance, and traditional festivities, creating an unforgettable experience that will leave you with lasting memories.
Curious fact: Centuries ago, during the 17th century, the Jewish community in Bayonne dominated the commerce of cacao and the intricate chocolate manufacturing process, brought from Spain. This rich historical connection laid the foundation for Bayonne’s esteemed status as the Chocolate Capital. Today, as you wander through the delightful boutiques, each delectable bite of Bayonne chocolate is a sweet masterpiece, a captivating blend of Basque flavors and artisanal expertise shaped by the enduring legacy of the Jewish influence on this enchanting town.
AND THE 11th IS… BILBAO
Bilbao’s remarkable metamorphosis, from a once-grey industrial city to a vibrant green and sustainable urban oasis, serves as a shining example for the world. Its visionary initiatives, blending art, architecture, and environmental consciousness, showcase the power of urban revitalization to create a thriving city that inspires and captivates on a global scale.
In the heart of the Basque Country, Bilbao gracefully strikes a great balance between modernity and tradition. From the world over known Guggenheim Museum to the awe-inspiring Norman Foster-designed metro stations that adorn the cityscape, to the charming historic quarters that resonate with centuries of culture, Bilbao’s allure is a testament to its harmonious fusion of old-world charm and contemporary innovation. As you delve into this captivating town, our comprehensive Bilbao guide invites you to discover the seamless interplay between the past and the present, where modern architectural marvels stand in harmony with the rich cultural heritage of the Basque region. (Link to our full article about Bilbao)
As we conclude our extraordinary journey through the 11 Most Beautiful Basque Towns, we’re left with an indelible sense of wonder and admiration for this enchanting region. Each town unveiled its unique charms, from the French to the Spanish side. The Basque Country’s captivating landscapes, vibrant culture, and culinary delights have left an unforgettable imprint on our souls.
Now, dear travelers, it’s time to heed the call of adventure and embark on your own remarkable journey to discover this hidden gem of Europe or step into the enchanting world ofour small group tour to the Basque Country. Let this journey be your passport to moments of awe, wonder, and joy, as you venture through this extraordinary destination that weaves dreams into reality. Bon voyage!