Seaside San Sebastián (known as Donostia in the Basque language) is perennially popular for its superb natural setting on La Concha Bay surrounded by hills — a beautiful city with top restaurants, a buzzing Parte Vieja (old town), an international film festival, and one of the finest urban beaches in the world. Ever since Queen Isabella II spent time here in 1845 seeking treatment for a skin ailment the city has remained popular with a well-heeled set. Some grand architecture and one of the world’s great dining scenes are part of the allure of this attractive city. San Sebastián makes a good base for the first three nights of the tour.
A day-trip over to the French Basque Country is in order with visits to St-Jean-de-Luz with its colorful harbor, old streets, a curious church, and elegant beach as well as to Biarritz, formerly the stomping grounds of European royalty – “the resort of kings and the king of resorts.”
The fishing center of Getaria is a picturesque town with cobbled streets winding their way to the harbor and makes for a pleasant stop between San Sebastián and Bilbao.
Gernika, the symbol of Basque pride and nationalism, was the scene of an immense tragedy having been destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. One famous result of the Nazi bombing was Picasso’s painting named after the town. Today it’s an emotive and welcoming market town, worthy of a stop.
Bilbao — our second base for the tour, also for three nights — has successfully reinvented itself from a declining industrial dinosaur to a vibrant and optimistic European city. The arrival of the Guggenheim Museum, designed by architect Frank Gehry in 1997, certainly had a great deal to do with that, but we’ll snoop around the narrow streets of the Casco Viejo, too — Bilbao’s old town. By far the Basque region’s biggest city, Bilbao buzzes with activity.
This is home to Spain’s top wine region – the world-famous La Rioja — so we’ll have to call in at one of the area’s lovely wineries.
Laguardia is one of the most attractive walled towns in northern Spain, commanding the plains like a sentinel (which it once was), but is also an important center of the Rioja wine region.
Along the way you can sample the extensive variety of delicious Pintxos – the Basque version of tapas – available at bars throughout the region. Various ingredients are piled on top of small slices of bread. These bites are usually enjoyed with a beer or the Basque favorite txacoli — a slightly sparkling, very dry white wine.