Villages of Basque Country
By Viator, August 2013
This seaside border town (the French border, to be exact) captures a vibrant side of Spain like none other, with its rainbow-colored homes decorated with ornate wooden facades and flowerpot-bedecked balconies. Above the city, explore the fortressed old town with its still-standing medieval walls. Once inside, you can visit the Castle of Charles V (which now houses a Parador Hotel) and the 15th-century Gothic-style cathedral Santa Maria de la Asunción. After checking out the city, head for the coast: Hondarribia boasts a lengthy beach with waters suitable (when the moody northern weather permits) for surfing, swimming and jet skiing.
In the opposite direction, heading away from France, you’ll come upon another coastal town, Getaria. This fishing village is proudly the birthplace of historical figures like Juan Sebastián Elcano, who was Magellan’s second-in-command on his trip around the world, and, more recently, world-renowned fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga. Apart from a stop at Balenciaga’s namesake museum, a trip to the village should include abundant sampling of local delights like pescado a la brasa -- a barbequed fish -- and txakolí, the Basque dry white wine for which the region is especially renowned.
Steering away from the coast, venture inland to Spanish wine country and the Rioja region. For a particularly vino-filled experience, set your sights on the village of Laguardia. This walled-in town sits atop a maze of bodegas, so much so that sometimes the whole pueblo smells of grape and barrel. Wander the town’s narrow streets, snack on local cuisine (like pinchos, Basque Country’s answer to the tapa), or even venture underground to experience the Laguardia underworld for yourself.