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Straddling the border of Spain and France is a unique pocket of Europe, bound by its own distinct language and culture. Though not technically its own country, the Basque region might as well be.
Basque is perhaps best known for San Sebastian, Spain — a foodie mecca — but there are many other fantastic areas of Spain’s Basque Country that deserve their own turn in the spotlight.
Barrika Beach, SpainA little bit of planning will go a long way when it comes to visiting Barrika Beach. Also known as “Hidden Beach,” this half-mile-long beach completely disappears at high tide. The beach itself is made of sand and large stones, while the surrounding area appears mystical with green, rolling hills blanketed in mist. Because of its discreet location, the beach is often frequented by nudists, but surfers and climbers also take advantage of the waves and rocky cliffs. Barrika Beach is about 15 miles outside of Bilbao, so it makes a wonderful day trip from the city.
Where to Stay: Consider Hotel Miro, amodern and minimal hotel that is walking distance to both the Guggenheim and Fine Arts museums. There are 50 rooms, most of which overlook Abandoibarra park. Be sure to book a Sunday brunch reservation, or stop by for evening tapas in the cocktail bar.
Lekeitio, SpainLocated halfway between San Sebastian and Bilbao, the tiny village of Lekeitio is a one-stop shop for the perfect vacation; it has beaches, an island, a river and a mountain. Though the coastal fishermen community is sleepy in the winter season, it swells with tourists during summer months.
Lekeitio’s beaches are well-known, as are its colorful port, bars and restaurants. Isuntza Beach is the main beach, right next to the port, while Karraspio Beach is usually less crowded. During low tide, take a stroll over across the sandbar to the Island of San Nicolas, which has a steady incline that leads to a lookout point.
Where to Stay: On the outskirts of the town is Hotel Zubieta, which is built into a 17th-century building that has been fully refurbished and includes a restaurant. The hotel is a five-minute walk from Lekeitio’s port and beaches, and it has a bike rental program for guests.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, SpainTranslated from Basque to “Castle Rock” in English, this tiny islet in the Bay of Biscay is home to a 10th-century church. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is connected to the mainland by an impressive zigzagging stone bridge with 241 steps, and the island played a crucial and strategic role in military conquests throughout the ages.
Where to Stay: One of the closest cities to Castle Rock is Bilbao, where hotel options abound. Near Bilbao, however, is Castillo de Arteaga — a historic and lovely option in the village of Arteaga. Built within a neo-Gothic castle, this hotel is known for its gourmet cuisine and impressive wine cellar.
Txindoki Mountain, SpainThis impressive peak is one of the highest in the Gipuzkoa province, towering at more than 4,000 feet. Though colossal, it is one of the easier mountains to climb and has impressive views. Often thought of as Basque Country’s Matterhorn, there are multiple routes to the summit. The one that starts from the nearby town of Larraitz is the easiest.
Where to Stay: Less than an hour from Txindoki and near the entrance to Aralar Natural Park is Hotel Dolarea. The building of the hotel is an original 17th-century farmhouse, and the accommodations inside have been completely updated and modernized. The hotel has 20 rooms and an elegant on-site restaurant.
Urkiola Natural Park, SpainSpanning the highest portion of the Aramotz mountain range is Urkiola Natural Park. A paradise for mountaineers and climbers, the limestone cliffs and deep surrounding valleys provide more than 400 climbing routes that range from easy to difficult. The park is also known for its caves and prehistoric sites, where archaeologists have found prehistoric tools and the remains of both animals and humans.
Where to Stay: The nearby historic village of Abadino is known for its bars, restaurants and comfortable inns. For a unique stay, consider Murueta Baserria, an agrotourism hotel in Abadino that was built into a historic palace.