Exploring the Basque Country

After we finished all of our exams and sorted out all of the responsibilities we traveled to Basque Country in Spain where we stayed for almost a full month. Read more about what we got up to there!

Why Basque Country?
When we first started talking about summer vacation it was still 2016 and we all wanted to go somewhere much more exotic that we ultimately ended up at. We were talking about Bali and even Australia was brought up at some point but due to us being a large group of 6 with half of the group studying at difficult and very time consuming colleges we knew we’d never get that far. These ideas started to fade away in the beginning of 2017 and we started thinking more realistically. We narrowed our choices down to European Countries – starting with my beloved Tenerife Island. We were all beyond excited about it, already looking for apartments and surf shops where we could borrow our equipment. We only missed one little detail – the ocean is flat in the summer months a.k.a. no surfing! We were ready to buy our plane tickets the next day when I luckily came across an article about surfing on Tenerife that was brutally honest about the surfing conditions in the summer. When that idea didn’t work out as well we were running out of time and patience so we decided to go back to Zarautz with Ujusansa – a Slovenian surf camp.
What is ujusansa? 
Ujusansa is a Slovenian surf school with two camps, one is located in Zarautz, Spain and the other one in Portugal but we choose the one in Spain. They offer everything you need for surfing and they even set up a camp with tents so you don’t have to worry about anything. You can choose a surfing course that fits your abilities and knowledge of surfing – beginner, intermediate and advanced. Since we all attended the beginner course last year and didn’t quite feel like paying extra for another class we decided to skip the class. We still improved a lot anyways. They assign you your wetsuit and your surf (which you can exchange at any time) and it is available to you 24/7. They also offer 2 meals per day if you don’t feel like cooking but we decided to cook our own food since we were always hungry after surfing and didn’t want to wait till the evening to eat lunch. We decided to stay there for 23 days – including 22 hours of a bus ride from Slovenia to Zarautz each way. When we compared the prices to some other surf camps we realised that this is probably the cheapest option for us. None of us were really excited of living in a tent for almost a month but it was definitely adapted quickly. The only annoying thing was the 15 minute walk to the beach or 432 steep stairs + you had to carry your surf up and down the hill. Other than that, no complaints – and that walk forced us to exercise a little bit more than usual which can’t be bad. Oh and the view from our camp was magnificent!
Photo from last year by Katja Pokorn
Where to go and what to see in Basque Country? 
Basque Country is an autonomous community of northern Spain. It is divided into three provinces; Álava, Biscay and Gipuzkoa. We only had the time to explore Gipuzkoa and a little bit of Álava . We visited San Sebastian, Bilbao, Vitoria and Getaria which are all incredible Basque cities with amazing architecture and culture.
It is a coastal town located in central Gipuzkoa, in Spain. Its beach is very popular among many local and foreign surfers due to it’s beach break and for being a good beginner spot. Our camp was situated at the top of Talaimendi, and Grand Camping Zarautz right below the Belgium Boardx camp. We spend most of our time there either surfing or chilling in the camp. When we visited the city we normally stopped at the Pukas Surf Shop and browsed through their surfing equipment, longboards, clothing and sports shoes. I bought my beloved longboard there last year.
We also almost always stopped at Arrivati Gelateria because of their amazing ice cream with limitless flavours. Our favorite spot to eat was the La Perla bar by the beach where we had the most amazing bacon cheese burgers and churros. The beach sidewalk is also an amazing surface for skating!
San Sebastian
It is a coastal city located on the coast of Bay of Biscay and it’s one of the most famous tourist destination in Spain. It’s most famous for its dreamy beach, Mirmar Palace and many more cultural attractions which made San Sebastian the European Culture Capital in 2016.
The ride from Zarautz to San Sebastian takes about 20 minutes and costs less than 5 euros. We of course took our longboards with us and cruised through the city in the most practical way. But if you’re travelling there you should expect some annoying cops trying to stop you from driving on the pavement – it’s forbidden to do so there which doesn’t make any sense. As long as you stay low key and jump off as soon as you see a cop you should be fine.
Let’s talk about food. There are many restaurants called Jatetxe which offer different traditional Basque specialities like pinxos (Basque tapas), meats and fish grilled over hot coals, marmitako and lamb stews, cod, Tolosa bean dishes, paprikas from Lekeitio and much more. Because my boyfriend has celiac disease we had to choose McDonald’s since they offer gluten free burgers and there were no other certified gluten free options.
It is the largest city of Basque Country located in the north-central part of Spain. It’s most known for the Guggenheim Museum, the Iberdrola Tower, the Bilbao Arena and many more.
We decided to take the bus from Zarautz to Bilbao because it was cheaper and faster than the train. We payed 9 euros for the ticket each way and got there in about 40 – 50 minutes which would take us more than two hours by train.
Our first stop was the Zubiarte Shopping Mall where we ate some snacks at McDonald’s and browsed through the stores. Next we visited the Guggenheim Museum and I must tell you that the building itself was much more interesting than most of the exhibitions in the museum. The only part that we all truly enjoyed was the first floor where the exhibition of Bill Viola named Retroperspectiva was displayed. It was a series of different looped short videos of people in different places and situations. It was mesmerising and really interesting to see.
Because we were getting hungry again me and my boyfriend decided to head back to McDonald’s to grab some lunch and the rest of them found a Jatetxe where they ordered a two course meal with a bottle of wine for only 13 euros. They had some issues when it came to ordering food from the menu which was in Spanish and Basque only but in the end they left satisfied. If you ever visit Basque don’t expect that the people will understand English. In our three week journey we encountered only a few locals that understood English good enough to communicate with us without using hand gestures to describe what they meant.
After lunch we decided to explore the old town of Bilbao which surprised us with its historical architecture and beautiful parks where we stopped to chill for a while.
When we got tired of running around we decided to head back to the bus station which ended up being a 30 minute journey. We got really confused and at first we couldn’t even figure out which bus station is the right one but in the end we realised that it was on the other side of the city.
It is a coastal town located at the Urala Coast and it’s about a 5 minute bus ride from Zarautz. Getaria is famous for its restaurants serving grilled fish and a white wine with a protected designation of origin which is cultivated in the surroundings of this coastal town and takes the name of Getariako Txakolina. The Cristobal Balenciaga Museum is also located in this village but unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to visit it while we were there.
Me and two other friends randomly decided to go skating by the beach in Zarautz when we stopped for some ice cream and spotted a nice sidewalk appropriate for skating. We decided to check it out and about 15 minutes later we ended up in Getaria. It was totally spontaneous and we were only there for two, maybe three hours. When we first walked into the centre of the town we were greeted by the cheerfulness of the bars on the main street. There were people sitting outside, eating pinxos and enjoying their evening with a glass of wine. There were also huge banners hung up in between the buildings to remind the tourist that they are in Basque Country and not in Spain. We saw those posters in every city and it was amazing to see how much the people are willing to fight for their country.
When we were tired of walking around we found a cute little bar where we ordered some wine and cocktails and decided to chill there for a bit. Then we decided to try and find the famous Balenciaga Museum which was unfortunately already closed. We still decided to take the escalator stairs to the top of the city (which were just randomly placed in the middle of the town and were meant for the inhabitants of the nearby housing complexes). The sun was starting to set so we took the next bus back to Zarautz where we treated ourselves to some burgers.
It is the seat of government and the capital city of the Basque Autonomous Community. It’s rich with historical buildings such as Cathedral of Santa Maria, Cathedral of Mary Immaculate, Plaza de la Virgen Blanca and many more.
Our first stop was at the first cafe that we could find but it was a massive disappointment. I  wanted to order a lemonade but the waiter had no idea what that was, a friend ordered a cappuccino and got a espresso with milk since it was the only thing that the waiter understood even though he had a fancy coffee machine at the bar which seemed very strange to us. Later we decided to visit the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca and just explore the city without any plans. We found some cute streets with shops like Zara Home and stopped for a burger at the Donga fast food restaurant where we ate the biggest burgers in our lives (and they were cheap too!). While we were eating out on the street we were also people watching – it’s always so interesting to see what people from different cultures wear and how they behave. A woman with a Primark shopping bag walked by and we all started googling where the hell was Primark. We found the shopping centre a few minutes away and decided to check it out after we visited the Artium Museum. At the reception desk there was this rude receptionist which left us with a bad impression but we didn’t let it bother us too much. The great thing about this museum was that if you are a student, unemployed or retired you can decide the amount of money you want to pay so we scraped together all of our change and ended up paying about 1 euro per person. The museum wasn’t really that interesting, the first exhibition of Liliana Porter was the only one that really grabbed my attention-it was an exhibition of little figures which she put in different situtaions, one figure was drawing on the wall, the other was hitting the wall with a hammer etc. The thing that surprised me was the fact that the museum owned a painting of Salvador Dali and another of Pablo Picasso which were probably worth a lot. Other than that, there wasn’t much to see.
The offer in Primark was quite poor – especially at the women’s section but I still bought some basic bits like socks and underwear. Luckily I decided to take a walk around the shopping centre and found the biggest Pull and Bear, Bershka and Stradivarius that I’ve ever seen and everything was on sale! Unfortunately I was on a tight budget and wasn’t really in a mood for shopping with a longboard in one hand and a Primark bag in the other so I just browsed through the stores quickly and then we decided to return back to Zarautz.
To conclude – I could not recommend you more to visit Basque. It is an amazing country filled with different cultural and historical attractions. I was blown away by the beauty of the Zarautz beach when I was first there last year. Our surf sessions at sunset were one of the most incredible things I ever experienced in my life and being such a photography geek as I am you can enjoy these amazing photos from our trip.
Thank you so much for reading! x

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