We were at Gran Camping Zarautz earlier this year (February 2022) and enjoyed our stay. It’s a very comfortable campsite and there’s nothing wrong with the small town of Zarautz but we returned primarily because of the campsite’s close proximity to Bilbao. We were booked on the Bilbao to Portsmouth ferry for travel on 28 September and needed somewhere to while away the last hours of this 2022 tour.
To the east of Zarautz, just 20 minutes drive away, is San Sebastian (Donostia in Basque) which, amongst other things, is supposedly Spain’s culinary capital and where the Spanish monarchy used to spend their summer holidays. We had it in mind to visit San Sebastian but the one day we had left is insufficient to do the place justice and this particular tour (Tour 6) must end now. We’ll do it next year…
We took the coast road from Zumaia to Zarautz stopping at Getaria on the way. We’d passed through Getaria the day before (after I’d missed the turn off to our campsite in Zumaia) and the small town looked most appealing … and certainly worth revisiting.
We parked on the western edge of Zumaia, just above the smaller of the town’s two beaches (Gaztetape Beach), and then walked up towards the town centre which is dominated by a monument to Juan Sebastian Elkano (1487-1526). Until then I’d never heard of Elkano but he is a most fascinating character and fully deserving of the monument. It was Elkano and not, as I once thought, Magellan who first circumnavigated the globe. Elkano was captain of one of the five ships that in 1519 formed Magellan’s fleet in the search for a western passage to the Spice Islands and it was Elkano who in 1522 brought the sole remaining ship (the Victoria) back to Spain long after Magellan was killed somewhere in the Philippines (1521). I’ve subsequently watched a Spanish TV Series, ‘Boundless’, which tells Elkano’s story in a very engrossing manner (although I couldn’t testify as to it’s historical accuracy).
Another famous son of Getaria is the fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972) whom Christian Dior described as “the master of us all” and whose brand was ultimately taken over by Gucci. A museum dedicated to Balenciaga was opened in Getaria in 2011. I didn’t go in (it’s not quite my cup of tea) but it supposedly rotates some 1,000 of Balenciaga’s creations.
Having checked out the Elkano Monument, Vanya and I made our way down the main street (Nagusia Kalea) of this quaint medieval fishing and whaling village towards the Church of San Salvador. There are a number of pintxos bars on the main street where we could have taken brunch but, from the monument, I had seen a couple of bars on the harbour and thought to eat there and; besides, I wanted a look inside the church.
There’s been a church on this site since the 13th century but this particular church dates mostly from the 15th and 16th centuries (except for some 19th century restoration work to fire damage caused during the Carlist Wars). There’s an attractive upper gallery inside the church on which a choir was practising as I entered. They were seriously good and I had to tear myself away to rejoin Vanya and the dogs waiting outside on Nagusia Kalea.
We followed the main street on through a narrow tunnel (the Katropana Tunnel) which goes under the church and past a small crypt to the harbour. It was time to eat.
After eating and checking out the harbour area we walked the dogs back to the Van and then I retraced my steps to the far end of the harbour and up the small mouse shaped hill grandly referred to as Mount San Anton but better known by the locals as ‘The Mouse of Getaria’. Mount San Anton was originally a small island with a lighthouse (Faro de Getaria) and a gun emplacement which was last used in earnest during the Spanish Civil War. The lighthouse is still working but the gun emplacement serves now only as a viewpoint.
It occurs to me that I have not yet mentioned food and/or drink in any detail. That needs to be corrected because this area is famous for txacoli (sometimes called txakolilocal) and it’s seafood. Txacoli is a traditional Basque white wine, slightly sparkling and very dry, made with the local grape, Hondarrabi Zuri. The wine goes very well with the local fish; talking of which, the ‘Elkano’ is a Michelin Star Restaurant in Getaria which specialises in chargrilled fish. Next time.
For the last two days of this tour we are booked into Gran Camping Zarautz (a favourite site during our earlier tour this year but one which is also within easy reach of Bilbao where we are to catch the ferry to Portsmouth). This left us sufficient time to visit both Zumaia and Getaria before our journey home. We started with Zumaia.
Zumaia is just a few miles west of Zarautz at the mouth of the River Urola. It was originally a fishing town but the harbour is now filled with leisure craft and is more of a tourist resort. The area is famous for it’s flysch. These are successive layers of rock which are in effect a 60 million year old record of the planet Earth. I know very little about geology but it seems these enormous layers of sediment stretch more than 13 kilometres along the coast and attract geologists from all over the world. They form the UNESCO recognised ‘Basque Coast Geopark’. I had to see it for myself and after parking the Van up I took off on a quick exploration.
My route took me down and across the River Urola to Zumaia’s old town; past the 13th Century Basque style Gothic Church of Saint Peter the Aposle and; up onto the cliffs. I’d take a closer look at the town on my way back. A narrow track on the cliff leads to a viewing point which provides wonderful views of the flysch (and along the coast in both directions). There’s a series of panels along the route providing rudimentary information about the flysch.
Zumaia is not a large town and can easily be seen in half a day. It’s most prominent feature is the 13th century Iglesia de San Pedro (Church of Saint Peter the Apostle) which is an austere gothic church in the Basque style and more reminiscent of a fortress than a church. It has an impressive altarpiece which has been declared a national monument.
There are two good beaches in the immediate vicinity of the town, the Itzurun and the Santiago. The Itzurun is on the west bank of the River Urola and the Santiago is on the east bank near the marina. Playa de Itzurun was being used by a group of surfers as I arrived. Part of it featured in the seventh series of Game of Thrones – John Snow is seen landing here when visiting Daenerys. Part of the flysch forms a backdrop to Playa de Itzurun and it is very pretty. On the cliff top overlooking Itzurun is a chapel dedicated to St Elmo the Patron Saint of sailors.
There is a third beach further to the west of Zumaia, the Algorri (or the Aitzgorri in Basque). It is a rocky beach and submerged each time the tide comes in. With the tide out it is considered to be the most beautiful beach in the area and the best place to view a thin black line in the flysch which dates back some 65 million years and reflects when a huge meteorite hit what is now the Gulf of Mexico and wiped out the dinosaurs.
Apologies. We stopped overnight in Zumaia at Camping Zumaia (a new site in this part of the country and just 10 minutes walk from the town) during the last week of September 2022 and it is now 1 November. Talk about being behind with this blog.