So this was it, the time had come to embark on the holiday I’d been dreaming about for months: a 10 day road trip through the Basque Country, starting in Bilbao and ending in Biarritz for my friend Klaudia’s wedding.
It’s not just because I’m sat back at my desk that I’ll say it was one of the best holidays I’ve been on. I’ve always wanted to do a road trip around Spain and this trip just reinforced my love for this country and my desire to one day make my way back there.
The food, the people, the weather (not so reliable in the Basque Country, but we got lucky), the sites.. I love all of it! It is so full of life and good vibes that I am filled with joy every time I go back. For me it’s a strange feeling because I feel at home in Spain; it groups together elements of the Italian culture, we are very close, but for me people are happier, complain less and are more open minded.
So let me tell you about my Basque Country road trip day by day, so that I have the time to give you a true feel of what I saw and felt.
DAY 1: BILBAO – SAN JUAN GAZTELUGATXE – MUNDAKA
As you can imagine, we started checking the weather forecast about 2 weeks before departing, and much to our horror, the predictions were just getting worse and worse. To the point that on the day we were leaving, it was showing rain for the full 10 days. Those who know me and my lizard-like love of the sun, can feel my pain.
Much to our surprise when we opened the shutters of our hostel in Bilbao, we were greeted by rays of sunshine and warm air – YES! We bounced out of bed and made our way to the first ‘barito’ (little bar) for a good old Spanish breakfast – i.e. pantumaca (toasted bread with tomato & olive oil), jamón, tortilla, zumo de naranja y café? yes, they go strong.
After that, we made our way to Goldcar to pick up our rental car for the whole trip – a process that did not quite go as smoothly as we hoped. We ended up paying triple what we had already paid with additional costs and charges being thrown our way.
Travel tip: if you’re hiring a car, don’t go Goldcar, they don’t even accept debit cards; also, those comparison sites can be very cheeky and not disclose all the costs, so it may be better to book with the car rental company directly. In Italy we were fine, but Spain hit us quite hard!
We then set off with our Ford Fiesta and a sore bank account, but excited for what lay ahead. Given the time already lost we decided to only have a quick wander around Bilbao. I’d already been there and to be honest, the city is nothing too special, especially considering what surrounds it – the one thing that’s probably worth doing is the Guggenheim but given the unexpectedly good weather and our inherent desire to hit the beach, we played the ignorant tourist card and only had a walk around the outside and set off for San Juan Gaztelugatxe. I think you’ll understand why..
Just so you know, the way we chose our itinerary was quite random, we basically looked at the map, Google images, friend’s recommendations and a few blogs, jotted down a bunch of places, crossed out those that looked a little insipid and that’s what we went by!
Just about 40 min from Bilbao you have San Juan Gaztelugatxe, which we learned once there is not an actual town or village. Don’t expect shops or many restaurants – the name itself means ‘castle rock’ and you go there to visit a beautiful hermitage built on a cliff on the ocean, dedicated to John the Baptist. It’s well worth the hike!
The views, the sunshine and the hike back to the car made us crave a swim; luckily just a 15 minute drive along the coast you have Bakio where there is a beach and you can just chill out, away from the slightly menacing looking rocks.
We ended the day by driving a little further along the coast to Mundaka – a quaint little beach town also known for its surfing scene and its infamous ‘left-hand wave’. I’m not gonna lie, there is not much to do or see, but it was perfect to spend one evening there. We stayed in by far the best spot, right in the mini port, with a view of the sea and a seafront restaurant at Hotel El Puerto. There we enjoyed our first Txakoli (the local white wine) and soaked in the views, as well as the peace and quiet.