How is it that before moving to Spain I'd never even heard of Basque Country?
Sure, I was 19 years old and hadn't heard of much apart from Madrid and Barcelona, but it's hard to believe that such a beautiful place isn't synonymous with romantic and stunning landscapes like those of Tuscany or Santorini. After finally discovering Basque Country for myself, I can safely say it is a part of the world you must visit-- or maybe it would actually be wise to keep it a secret (but I won't!).
Words fail to describe the nearly magical transition that happens when driving along the highway from Madrid to País Vasco; you suddenly realize you've gone from the flat, arid fields of Castilla y León, to the green mountains of Euskadi-- Basque Country to you and I. The drastic change is surreal, and even more dramatic in August when Madrid is boiling but the north of Spain is often chilly.
We were heading north for my friend Christine's wedding in Lekeitio, a small Basque fishing village located on the Bay of Biscay. I'd seen pictures of the gorgeous town on Christine's blog-- and I hoped it lived up to my expectations.
We arrived to funny weather, bright sunshine followed by ominous clouds, but the town's charm was undeniable. I quickly understood why the population of 7,000 often swells three or four times that size in the summer months-- Lekeitio is truly a Basque paradise!
We stayed at the lovely Hotel Zubieta, a family run hotel (more like a country inn) set in a building dating back to the early 1800s when it used to be the horse stables for a Spanish count! The rooms are simple and spacious, and the surrounding grounds are green and gorgeous. It was this view that we met with upon arrival-- who wouldn't fall in love?
The location is only a 10-minute walk from the Lekeitio harbor and beach, making it the perfect quiet retreat when not out sightseeing. It was lovely to relax on the terrace after a long day. We also enjoyed a gin tonic (or two) at the convenient hotel bar.
What to do in Lekeitio
Before arriving, Christine told me that we could expect an island, a mountain, and the beach-- at first I thought she was joking. But, in addition to a traditional Basque fishing harbor and a gorgeous Gothic basilica, the town does indeed have an island, a mountain, and a great beach-- and it also has a very pretty river!
Walk to San Nicolas Island (Garraitz)
The most curious thing to do in Lekeitio is to wait for low-tide and then make your way across the sandbar to San Nicolas Island (Garraitz in Basque). Walking across seems impossible when you first see the small island surrounded by water (some say the island was originally a colony for people with leprosy). But once low tide hits, the walk is quick and easy. The views from the top of the island are excellent, but climb at your own risk and make sure not to get caught there once the tide comes back in!
Visit the Basilica of the Asunción de Santa María
You must take in Lekeitio's gorgeous gothic church that contrasts with the Basque harbor and the sea. It is definitely worth peeking inside (I was lucky to observe Christine's entire wedding ceremony there!).
Go to the beach
Lekeitio has two great beaches, Isuntza and Karraspio (which technically seems to belong to the next town over). Both are great for sunbathing and relaxing, and the water is crystal clear.
Eat your way around town
Lekeitio is small, but there are still some great places to eat. We had some of the best fish of our lives in a famous local restaurant called Meson Arropain, and of course, checked out the local pintxos scene too.
After traveling to many of the Basque Country's charming towns, I have to say that Lekeitio is my number one pick (so far!). I mean, where else can you find an island, a mountain, two beaches, a river, a gothic church and amazing food? (If you know somewhere that fits the description, please do share!).
Have you fallen for Basque Country?
Love Basque Country? Check out the Devour San Sebastian food and travel blog for more about this incredible part of the world! And for top foodie picks, don't miss my San Sebastian Gastro Guide!
Hi Lauren, Great article. My grandfather is from Lekeitio and I would LOVE to visit. Is it important to speak the language or can I get by with English?
Some Spanish would be ideal - Basque is widely spoken but that's very difficult to learn! Maybe hello and thank you however! Worth the visit 🙂
I'm so glad I came across your post on Lekeitio when planning our trip through Rioja, Basque and Barcelona, from which we have just returned.
We started in Lograno, and had planned to go to Bilbao before heading on to San Sebastian when we decided we wanted to find an non-touristy seaside town to unplug for a couple of days, instead of Bilbao - it was our honeymoon! We decided on Lekeitio after reading your post. And what a memorable experience it was.
The drive into and out of the town, first through the bold mountains to suddenly be sprung upon the waterfront, then along the coast through winding, hairpin turn roads, was absolutely stunning.
We treated ourselves to a waterfront room at the Silken Hotel Palacio Uribarren (https://www.hoteles-silken.com/en/hotel-palacio-uribarren-lekeitio/). It was spectacular! Unbeknownst to us it was just recently refurbished to very high style and spec, relaunching this summer. Amazing value compared to the larger centres we visited.
The hotel, the beaches, the town, the views, the food, the people were all phenomenal. In hindsight we wished we'd stayed longer here, and cut our San Sebastian stay shorter. We will be back! Thanks so much for writing this post.
Oh, and a visit (or many) to Pastelería Santi Gozotegia bakery (http://www.pasteleriasantigozotegia.es/index.php) is a must. Hands down one of the best I’ve had the delight to experience.
Kevin Fermanagh N Ireland
I am very happy you found Lekeitio it is a jewel and yes the people are very friendly and helpful we have been going to Lekeitio for 12 years and we atre lucky has we have now great friends in Lekeitio.
The town, the beach, the port, the mountains and the walks are fantastic and the location is also very good to get to Donastia ( San Sebastian ) & Bilbo and the bus service is very good and a visit to Guernica is also recommended.
21 years old. In 1998. I biked from Bilbao to Norway. First met the coast in Lekeitio. An unforgetable moment. Fell in love with the town and the Basque region as a whole.
Late last year we took the plunge and purchased a four bedroom Piso in the Casco Viejo (Old Town) area of Lekeitio. We are less than a minute's walk to the port. It is truly a bucolic setting. For now, this serves as our little summer getaway. My wife's mother was born there before the Spanish Civil War, and came to the US in the early 1950's. We are actually one street over from where she was born. In addition to the bars and restaurants, the many butcher shops, the San Pedro fishmonger, the farmer's market and the several grocery stores offer very fresh meats, seafood, and fresh organic fruits and vegetables (most locally grown). The only challenge for non-native speakers is the language. My wife has no problem with her native Bizkaino Euskera (Basque); however, if you don't speak either Euskera or Castellano, you can encounter a bit of a language barrier. As retirement looms on the horizon over the next year or so, we are actually considering moving there. We are truly fortunate indeed!
Wow Ron-- what a story! Thanks so much for the comment. That's so cool-- best of luck with everything and you will be fine with learning Spanish (Basque is another story!).
We actually bought a four bedroom flat in the Casco Viejo (Old Town) section, about a minute walk from the Port. My wife's mother was born one street over from our place, and grew up there. Although born in the States, my wife is fluent in the "Bizkaino" Euskera (Basque), and seems to be related to half the town! My only personal drawback is the language, which I am working on by learning Spanish, because Euskera is just too much of a challenge for this 60+ year old brain! Yes, it is one of the most picturesque little towns on the Costa Vasca. When we go, we don't even rent a car since public transportation is excellent with BizkaiaBus within Bizkaia province & LarraldeBus for inter-province travel (e.g. Donosti in Guizpokoa). As retirement looms on the horizon, we may just settle down in this little jewel of a village that's just this side of heaven...
I went to Lekeitio to relax after a conference and fell in love. Such a beautiful little town with bright, warm people. The beaches are absolutely gorgeous and the tide coming in and out makes it so interesting. I've basically changed my entire research focus so that I can go work in Basque Country and never leave again.
Anyone who goes NEEDS to go to Lumentza. It is a brilliant little pintxo bar with quite possibly the best food I had in Spain. It's cheap, easy and delicious. You HAVE to try the baby back ribs and paella there. Also, the staff are so awesome! I swear the head bartender, also the go-to guy for filleting fish after they were cooked, an art lost on North Americans, worked 14 hour days! He was there ALL DAY and ALL NIGHT! Amazing!
I've just discovered Lekeitio online and my wife and I are considering visiting for a week. We have two small children, one aged 2 and the other 4. I'm just wondering is it family friendly (places to eat etc)?
Hi Gary, I think so! There are lots of families who live there and also that vacation there. I'm sure there are plenty of places!
Everywhere. Lekeitio is for families. I was raised there. My favorite place is a family owned restaurant in the little town of Oleta, not far from Lekeitio.
The restaurant is called Epermendi. I believe they are closed some weekdays so find out before you go.
It must have been lovely growing up there! I'll look up the restaurant if I return!
The Epermendi just closed last year but there are a couple more restaurants in Oleta.
i think that the wedding you attended must have been Christine and Xabier’s? My son Louis and his wife MIchelle also attended it.
Lekeitio is absolutely the best place for families! It is extremely safe and there is lots to do for little or no money.
Visit Castro Urdiales (west of Bilbao) if you haven't yet. It's beautiful there too with an amazing harbor, beaches, cliffs, a gothic church and a castle. Never heard of it until now that my daughter is an auxilliar there.
Awe, Basque country, my favourite part of Spain! I have to go Lekeitio now, it's so close to where I live.
Definitely! It is a lovely town.
Gerard ~ GQ trippin
Looking into what my wife & I should do with an extra day from San Sebastian. You're saying you'd prefer Lekeitio over Saint Jean De Luz? Saint Jean de Luz does sound pretty touristic based off what I've seen. Also considering La Rioja for a day perhaps, but that could be another story.
I personally preferred Lekeitio and/or seeing San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. I'd stay in Basque Country with only one day, save La Rioja for another trip! https://spanishsabores.com/visiting-san-juan-de-gaztelugatxe/
La Rioja is beautiful, a little town called Haro is worth the visit and to use as your base.
What a great discovery! Its great to read about places that are almost unknown in the UK and the Basque Country of Spain is off most people's radar.
Cat of Sunshine and Siestas
I'm sure Christine's wedding looked awesome - and in such a perfect setting! Just an FYI… I have something big going on next August 8th in Chicago 😉
Jenny | A Thing For Wor(l)ds
I lived in Basque Country (Bilbao) all of last year and can absolutely vouch for Lekeitio! Such a charming coastal village. I couldn't get out to visit the island because we went during one of the highest tides the region had experienced (sections of the town were roped off because water came crashing over the walls), but nonetheless, we enjoyed the beach and the pintxo bars! I agree with you, EVERYONE who comes to Spain should check out Euskadi. Such a unique region, and if you catch it on a day without rain (unlikely) it's truly stunning.