It’s no wonder why many Basques like to consider themselves a separate country from Spain. There was no gradual ease into the stark differences; one minute I was flying out of the sunny south, the next, flying beneath a blanket of dark clouds and green rolling hills that break off into jagged coastline hugging the Bay of Biscay.
(The beautiful Bay of Biscay)
There’s little to remind you that you’re technically still in Spain except for the bits and pieces of Spanish intermingling with the x’s and k’s that frequent the Basque language. Nearly everything is in contrast to my more southernly residence: the siesta isn’t observed here, tapas are traded in for the more generously-portioned pintxo, and the beaches that dominate the south are replaced by a landscape so green, you’ll swear you’re in Ireland.
Spain’s Basque Country is divided into 3 provinces, Guipúzcoa, Vizcaya and Araba and can be crossed by car in under 2 hours. It hosts large cities such as San Sebastian and Bilbao, but is mostly composed of small villages, such as Lekeitio.
(La Isla de San Nicolas)
Lekeitio is by far one of the most naturally stunning places I’ve visited. I spent the last weekend of October in Lekeitio for my second time around with friends, and bar-hopping for pintxos and kalimotxos.
(The port of Lekeitio)
Lekeitio is by tradition, a fishing village, but now shares this with the title of being a popular holiday destination for travelers, as its week-long festival in September (“Gansos”) triples the town’s population. It’s best to visit at this time for unbeatable weather, basking (no pun intended!) on golden beaches and the opportunity to see an authentic Basque celebration.
Head down to the port for waterfront pintxos bars. There is etiquette here to be followed, so pay attention to those around you and you’ll find quickly that it is based on an honor system—you simply stand at the bar, taking as many pintxos as you want to eat, and tell the bartender at the end of the meal how many you ate. It is also typical to throw your napkins and toothpicks on the floor, so don’t be shocked if you see a littered ground, and don’t turn your nose up at it either! I highly recommend ordering a glass of Basque txakoli wine; crisp and refreshing, it complements most any pintxo perfectly.
(Wildly colorful Lekeitio city center + port)
The most famous monument of Lekeitio is The Basilica Assumption of Santa Maria of Lekeitio. This Basilica dates back to the 15th century and is acclaimed for its Late Basque Gothic architectural style.
(The 15th Century Basilica in Lekeitio)
There’s no shortage of things to do in Lekeitio, regardless of the season. This is a town with a lot of character, and certainly off of the tourist track the majority of the year. Stroll around the port during the day and up through the winding streets at night and you will find children playing in the streets and ducking in and out of bars where their parents are sipping drinks and sampling pintxos. It’s a lifestyle to be admired, people are out of their homes, adults able to be adults, and children, children, but together in the same place. Here in the Basque Country, the family ties are clear, the people are reserved, yet warm and its delights are appreciated not only by sight but by taste too.
(A view of Lekeitio from the hillside.)
Have you ever visited the Basque Coast?