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Basque region itinerary - need help please

Basque region itinerary - need help please

Old Mar 15th, 2024, 09:34 AM
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Basque region itinerary - need help please

Hello there, I am planning a 9 day trip to the Basque region the first week of June, and looking for some advice with organizing my itinerary.

My husband and I will be flying in and out of Bilbao, planning to rent a car there. I am thinking to drive to France immediately upon landing, and spend 3-4 days in Bordeaux exploring the region and some wineries, then return back to Spain, stay 3-4 days in San Sebastian. I'm excited to visit Bilbao, especially the Guggenheim museum, but can't decide whether to do it as a day trip from SS or stay in Bilbao itself and, if stay there, whether its best to start with that or leave it to the end. Also would love to visit Rioja, possibly as a day trip as well. I need to pick a 3rd location to stay for 1 or 2 nights, just can't decide where. If we were travelling later in the season, I'd definitely head to a beach resort town, but as it's likely not going to be beach weather yet, we can probably limit the beach to a short visit and stay elsewhere.

A bit about us - we are an active couple in our 40s. We enjoy beach time (although I realize this will not be much of a beach trip due to the timing), a scenic hike, enjoy a bit of culture/history, and really look forward to good food and wine that this region has to offer.

I welcome all your thoughts and recommendations and thank in advance for everyone's contribution.
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Old Mar 15th, 2024, 01:12 PM
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For hiking,the Basque region against the Pyrenees might be a good destination away from the cities.


this area is about 1 hour from San Sebastian


Trip Report: Spanish Basque Country, Asturias and Leon, Madrid==July 2018

And the Astrurias offer beaches and mountains too.



Last edited by Michael; Mar 15th, 2024 at 01:14 PM.
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Old Mar 15th, 2024, 01:16 PM
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If you are flying in from overseas I would not drive to Bordeaux as it’s about a 4 hour drive. I would spend the night in Bilbao and take in the Guggenheim and some Pintxos before heading to France. You might also want to spend your last night in Bilbao before you leave to see what you missed.
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Old Mar 15th, 2024, 11:17 PM
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My husband and I will be flying in and out of Bilbao, planning to rent a car there. I am thinking to drive to France immediately upon landing, and spend 3-4 days in Bordeaux exploring the region and some wineries, then return back to Spain, stay 3-4 days in San Sebastian. I'm excited to visit Bilbao, especially the Guggenheim museum, but can't decide whether to do it as a day trip from SS or stay in Bilbao itself and, if stay there, whether its best to start with that or leave it to the end. Also would love to visit Rioja, possibly as a day trip as well. I need to pick a 3rd location to stay for 1 or 2 nights, just can't decide where. If we were travelling later in the season, I'd definitely head to a beach resort town, but as it's likely not going to be beach weather yet, we can probably limit the beach to a short visit and stay elsewhere.
Driving to Bordeaux does not make that much sense, it´s kind of far and of course it´s not the Basque Country. I would no doubt stay in Bilbao at least a couple of days, a minimum of one for the Guggenheim, the beautiful old quarter, the funicular train of Artxanda, Azkuna Zentroa and the great architecture all over the city (and the statue of John Adams...there´s a good story behind it). Getxo and the Hanging Bridge, Plentzia, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Bermeo, Mundaka, Gernika and the Casa de Juntas...are all must sees on the nearby coast. Rioja is only a one hour drive from Bilbao (two hours from Donostia-San Sebastian) and Laguardia or Haro would be two places to stay, but you can do it as a day trip. The Basque Country does NOT have beach resort towns like the Mediterranean...weather in northern Spain tends to be rainy and very unreliable, so do not expect to find any beach resorts. Just beautiful beaches by the towns, but not the classic bar atmosphere around it, very far from it (Donostia-San Sebastian is not, in any way, a beach resort town; it´s a working city that happens to have three beaches). And a beautiful city too. D-SS only offers one or two hotels with a pool...this is to give you an idea of the weather, come prepared for almost anything.
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Old Mar 16th, 2024, 12:40 AM
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I agree with mikelg and mjs.
After flying in to Bilbao, I think you really won't want to drive all the way to Bordeaux.
Are the city of Bordeaux and wine touring around it (Médoc, St-Emilion, etc.) a big priority?
If not, I would stick to the Basque Country for your 8 nights/9 days with more than enough beauty and interesting sights to explore, as mikelg has listed, between Bilbao and the wonderful very Basque city of Bayonne/Baiona, on the French side.

And as mikelg notes, the Rioja wine region is much closer to Bilbao and Haro, the "capital" of the Rioja Alta D.O.C,. boasts 7 visitable wineries, several centuries old, in its lower town (Barrio de la Estación), all walkable from one to another, and the area between Haro and Laguardia (plus Laguardia itself) offers many interesting wineries, from highly contemporary structures to ancient underground cellars .

The hike from San Sebastián to Pasai, part of the Camino del Norte, coastal route to St. James, is quite scenic, or you can hike a bit of the Talaia trail (also part of the Camino del Norte) from Hondarribia's Jaizkibel mountain, starting at the Hermitage of Guadalupe. Or take the La Rhune scenic train outside of Sare on the French side up to the summit, then hike down.

And Hondarribia itself makes for another nice base on the Spanish side to visit the lovely, postcard picture pretty Pays Basque inland towns of Sare, Ainhoa, Espelette, Cambo-les-Bains, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle.

Last edited by Maribel; Mar 16th, 2024 at 12:43 AM.
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Old Mar 16th, 2024, 09:28 AM
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If you want to visit the wineries where the big names are made, of course, we won't convince you to forget about a side trip to Bordeaux area (almost 4 hours one way from Bilbao).
On top of recommendations for the Rioja, Basques also make some wine and it could be a nice experience to visit wineries there, with wines almost unknown outside the region, like Txakoli (white wine produced south) or Iroulegi (red wine produced north). Also in Navarra.
just a small note on hiking and Maribel's recommendations: I recently hiked both La Rhune (up and down because the clog train doesn't operate right now) and Jaizkibel. Jaizkibel is a must on a clear day, with gorgeous views on the ocean and snow capped mountains on the other side. But La Rhune (down to the station) should be avoided. The path is terribly eroded and very steep (hiking poles essential).

Last edited by rouelan; Mar 16th, 2024 at 09:37 AM.
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Old Mar 16th, 2024, 09:40 AM
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Yes! As rouelan says, txakolí, with several visitable wineries in and around Getaria-Zarautz and also in the Urdaibai, east of Bilbao around Gernika and Bakio.

We've also visited Iroulégy wineries between Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the village of Iroulégy and Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry, the smallest appellation, I believe, in France.
The ones we've visited don't speak much English, ime, except for the largest producer Domaine Brana, that also makes spirits and even gin.
But at the cooperative in Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry you can sample wines from all the Irouléguy producers....very handy and they speak good English. We've also purchased hand painted wine coolers there produced from the poterie (ceramicist) Pierre Goicoechea in Osses. it's a very, very pretty drive down from the coast to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and over to Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry. Truly beautiful scenery. And there the family-run Hotel Arcé at the river´s edge makes for a wonderful, atmospheric lunch stop. Monday, BTW, is the traditional outdoor market day in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.


Thanks for the update, rouelan, on the hike down from la Rhune! Duly noted!

Last edited by Maribel; Mar 16th, 2024 at 10:11 AM.
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Old Mar 16th, 2024, 11:47 AM
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For what it's worth, the scenery in the Basque Country wine region of Rioja Alavesa, the txakolí wine regions of the Basque Country, whether it be around Getaria or in Bizkaia in the Urdaibai or in the French Basque Country Irouléguy appellation. will be even prettier, as in more dramatically scenic, ime, in June, than in the flatter area around Bordeaux, if that matters.

I would consider spending your 8 nights in the Basque Country alone, delving into both sides, Spanish and French. You don´t need to go south to Navarra for great hiking opportunities, although there are many.

Last edited by Maribel; Mar 16th, 2024 at 11:53 AM.
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Old Mar 16th, 2024, 11:56 AM
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Whatever you decide (and I agree with the others re as good or better scenery in Basque country). - whatever your final plan - do not pick up a car and drive on your arrival day. Even if it wasn't tiring and dangerous - why start out on holiday totally frazzled after an overnight flight, mucking about with the rental agency, and driving hours on unfamiliar roads with unfamiliar road signs etc.
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Old Mar 16th, 2024, 11:57 AM
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Obviously!! Do not do it, as janisj and others have said! Stay in Bilbao and enjoy this wonderful city and visit the places that our Bilbao native, mikelg, has recommended.
And yes, the scenery in the Basque Country, both sides, is even better, more impressive, than in the flatter Gironde.

If you´re planning a Basque Country trip, we recommend that you stay in the Basque Country, again, on both sides rather than venture west to Asturias or south to Navarra, which would require far more time to do them justice.
Anywhere from your landing in Bilbao to Bayonne in the Pays Basque--it's all wonderful.

Last edited by Maribel; Mar 16th, 2024 at 12:13 PM.
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Old Mar 17th, 2024, 02:17 AM
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Originally Posted by janisj
why start out on holiday totally frazzled after an overnight flight, mucking about with the rental agency, and driving hours on unfamiliar roads with unfamiliar road signs etc.
I don't want to be nit picking (thank you for learning me that cool expression, better than the french one: looking for hair on eggs) but OP never said she would drive after an overnight flight. For sure, the last flight won't be because BIO cannot accommodate widebodies.

Last edited by rouelan; Mar 17th, 2024 at 02:19 AM.
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Old Mar 17th, 2024, 03:06 AM
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And do not forget about the smallest D.O. in Spain, Arabako Txakolina, with a very small number of producers, making excellent red, white and "ojo de gallo" (rooster´s eye) rosé txakoli, most of them in the inland mountains south of Bilbao and in the province of Araba. The Basque Country is small, but produces wine in 5 distinctive regions under a D.O., plus cider and patxaran, the spirit made from blueberries. And of course, great vermouths.
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Old Mar 17th, 2024, 10:35 AM
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mikelg,
Our "go to" Araba txakolí is Astobiza. They even make a late harvest txakolí.
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Old Mar 17th, 2024, 10:36 PM
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There are others that are quite interesting, too, like Beldui and Txikubin in Torre de Murga, beautiful places both of them. Astobiza is an excellent one, of course!
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Old Mar 17th, 2024, 11:40 PM
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Torre de Murga? Thanks, mikelg! We need to do an Araba bodega tour soon and get back to Amurrio, where we stayed at the Casa Rural Iruaritz, pretty place.
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Old Mar 18th, 2024, 12:30 AM
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And also several other txakolindegis, like hidden Garate...and those near Orduña, where you can also have a great meal.Artomaña, Tantaka, the unique txakolis from Bat Gara, the small Gure Ahaleginak...plan at least two full days. And finish your visit at Izoria cheese farm!
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Old Mar 18th, 2024, 01:11 AM
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Thanks, mikelg, for keeping us very busy on the road!
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Old Mar 18th, 2024, 06:28 AM
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Thank you all so much for your generous responses, all the information you've shared is very helpful in planning my trip!
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