When I was in high school and university, I was addicted to those e-mail surveys that everyone forwarded each other. Each survey seemed to include the question “Which do you prefer, the mountains or the sea?” A decade later, now that I’m using Facebook, YouTube and Candy Crush as my procrastination tools, I live in a place where I don’t have to decide. Euskadi, or the Basque Country autonomous community, has plenty of both right next to each other. The problem I hashtag #BasqueProblems for is “do I feel like the sea or the mountains since the sun is actually out today?” There are just so many must-see places here, and most of them are worth repeating.
Today, due to the buses being plum sold out of seats to Donostia (San Sebastían), I decided to go back to Lekeitio, a village on the Vizcayan Coast about an hour from Bilbao (53 kilometres/33 miles to be exact). The bus is long and tedious, taking you through Durango and Markina before finally reaching Lekeitio. And the bus stop isn’t near the centre of the village either. After taking you up and down and around mountainous curves, the bus leaves you a good ten-minute walk from the centre of town, which happens to be right on the coast.
The first time I was in Lekeitio, it was raining, of course. It’s just not the Basque Country if you don’t see rain at some point. The second time, I hiked up (the word “hike” makes it sound much longer than it actually is) to the Santa Catalina lighthouse near the town and had a horrible headache which prevented me from further exploration.
The third time was the charm.
I was lucky and arrive during low tide. The beach was much more expansive than I had previously seen it, providing a path to the island in the centre of the port, la Isla Garraitz. There was a small path through Garraitz with a warning in Basque, Spanish, English and French not to wander off the path due to falling trees. Indeed, there was a fallen tree in the midst of the path. It couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes walking, and it was worth it to see the views of Lekeitio and the Cantabrian Sea.
The mist or fog offered an intriguing view of the beach. It’s not often that one side of the beach has bright sunshine famous in the Iberian Peninsula and the other side has a low-hanging fog covering it that is more typical of the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula. This contrast was striking and beautiful.
I later hiked up Mount Lumentza next to the town, following 12 crosses with Roman Numerals inscribed in them to the summit, which had three crosses. Remember, Spain is technically a Catholic country, though you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who attends mass. From here, I saw that the land I had just visited, la Isla Garraitz, was now an actual island again. The water reminded me more of the Carribbean or Ibiza than anything I had seen in the Basque Country from the height of 120 metres (more or less 120 yards).
The Santa María church is also quite beautiful, and it is similar to the main church in Mundaka, my favourite Vizcayan coastal village.
The one downside to being a coastal village in June was finding a cheap place to eat. The Beatia Barria provided an amazing meal of paella and solomillo (beef) with dessert for only 9€. I lived in Valencia, so I have to say I have tried better paella, of course, but this paella was amazing. I’m not a foodie, so if I mention food…it’s because it really was made of awesome.
If I really like a place, I leave something to come back to. I saw a hiking path I’ll have to explore for the next time. So many beautiful Basque places and so little time.
What’s your favourite, the mountains or the sea?