10 Days in Basque Country


Basque Country, San Sebastian


Sorry I’ve been gone so long. I tripped 10 days across the Basque Country, came home to Hollywood to jet to New York for business, and in the middle of spending these last weeks launching my new blog, Faster, PC! Clean! Clean, Kristopher Dukes, Inc. grabbed a new pad — it’s gorgeous.

But not like the Basque coast…

Bilbao Airport outside of Bilbao

We landed in Bilbao, Spain’s airport, a modish set of back-to-the-future concrete curves growing out of grassy hills and herbed air. Our mapped-out-as-15-minutes drive to our hotel stretched three times that — constant construction around the Guggenheim Museum meant that the one way one-way streets went was constantly changing. After we finally checked into the Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao — part of Spanish’s W’ish hotel chain Silken — we plopped onto our bed and stared outside our room’s window, where Jeff Koon’s “43-foot-tall topiary terrier” waved hello to Guggenheim goers. We cruised through the museum mostly out of guilt; it seemed like missing El Goog in Bilbao was like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. And while Frank Gehry’s blobatecture looked beautiful against the dirty river that cuts Bilbao in half, everything outside of Bilbao was more interesting. 3o minutes on the metro took us to Getxo, the Basque Malibu: during the turn of the century when Bilbao an important port town, the wealthiest industrialists built new-money mansions on Getxo’s coast. And an hour outside of Bilbao is San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a tiny island topped by a small 10th-century church.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

After hiking its hundreds of stairs and ringing the church bell, we drove two hours north to San Sebastian, where parts of Paris are perched on a Californian coast. We stayed at the bed and breakfast Villa Soro, a Victorian mansion tucked in a tree-lined lane. Villa Soro is a 10-minute bike ride away from the bars of San Sebastian’s old town, which are known for their pintxos. Meant to be eaten two at a time like tapas as you bar hop, there are blogs dedicated to pintxos in San Sebastian. We were wandering through old town’s arched alleys when Spain made it into the World Cup finals, but the most excitement that generated was hand-painted banners in Basque reminding people that we weren’t in Spain or France — so calm down.

From San Sebastian we drove north to Saint Jean de Luz, France. Though street signs weren’t repeated in Basque, as they were in Spain, the fishing village was open on Bastille Day — because of its Basque heritage, Saint Jean de Luz doesn’t celebrate many French federal holidays. But a 30-minute drive away, resort town Biarritz — still part of Pays Basque, but much more fancy and French — was almost completely quiet. We ate at a Chinese dive that overlooked Hôtel du Palais, the former palace of Napoleon’s Spanish-born wife, Eugénie.

In Saint Jean de Luz, on a whim we decided to stay a night in Mundaka Bay, Spain, which is a famous surfing spot and obscure fishing village. We arrived around 2 am, woke up the manager, and, as only one suitcase and person would fit at time, took turns taking the elevator up to the third floor. Hotel Atalaya, a barely renovated Victorian home overlooking the bay, was as fancy as my photography:

Hotel Atalaya, Mundaka Bay

Seagulls woke us up, and for lunch we walked over the hilly highway to Bermeo, a larger port town. On our way we saw graffiti expressing the locals’ attitude towards tourism brought on by the Guggenheim:

Gugenhein Go Home, Bermeo, Spain

Then that night, it was back to Bilbao for a few hours of sleep before flying home…

8 thoughts on “10 Days in Basque Country

  1. it was nice to see your post pop up in my google reader this afternoon.

    your vacation looks lovely (even enviable, dare i say?). did you take the pretty puppy with you on vacation as well?

    congrats on the new blog launch, sugar.

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