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Summer trip with littles to Basque Country and Costa Brava with kids

Summer trip with littles to Basque Country and Costa Brava with kids

Old Jan 3rd, 2024, 10:08 AM
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Summer trip with littles to Basque Country and Costa Brava with kids

My husband and I are planning a 2-3 week trip to Spain with our 2 and 4 year old kiddos in late July-mid August. As a Francophile, I originally wanted to spend time in France but because of the Olympics, I think it's wise to skip out on it this year as we do not want to be among the masses. We are thinking of splitting up the trip between two (maybe three) places. The first spot we'd like to have go to a walkable town that has easy things to do with the kids like parks, playgrounds, museums, ect. I'm an artist and would love to be in a town that values art! I also love antique shopping and flea markets (not mandatory on this trip but would be a bonus . When researching, San Sebastian seemed like a kid friendly place with fun surrounding day trips to Bilbao for art and Biarritz for my French fix. I also like that the weather would not be hot there. My hesitation with San Sebastian is that it the town doesn't seem all that charming? Am I wrong here? I'm only going off of Google photos. For the second half of the trip, we'd like to go to a rustic, laid back small beach town, ideally on the Mediterranean. I have been to Mallorca and loved it but we want to try something new like Costa Brava. I'm looking into Cadaques and it looks very charming. Any thoughts on this? We'd likely road trip from San Sebastian (6 and a half hour drive) and maybe stop somewhere for a few days along the way. We are very open minded if anyone has any other ideas! We'd just like to avoid extreme heat and really crowded places.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2024, 11:44 AM
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We had a wonderful stay in Hondarribia, near San Sebastián. We used it as a base for both the Spanish and French areas.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2024, 11:58 AM
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To be honest, do not understand that much interest on Biarritz. It must be because of the name, associated with nobility and the Belle Epoque. A casino, a beach, expensive shops...a very nice market, too...and then a walk to the statue or Virgin Mary. There are so many other places in the French Basque Country that I would visit first! Donostia-San Sebastian is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, 185.000h, a working city with three beautiful beaches and a wonderful scenery. Currently way touristy, it seems "the" place to visit while in Spain...but worth it! Weather in northern Spain is quite unreliable and beach weather is not always an option. Visitors do not go to the north for the weather, but for the beautiful landscapes and great food, though.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2024, 02:18 PM
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thank you! I will look into that!
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Old Jan 3rd, 2024, 02:20 PM
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Originally Posted by HappyTrvlr
We had a wonderful stay in Hondarribia, near San Sebastián. We used it as a base for both the Spanish and French areas.
Thank you! I will look into Hondarribia.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2024, 02:26 PM
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Originally Posted by mikelg
To be honest, do not understand that much interest on Biarritz. It must be because of the name, associated with nobility and the Belle Epoque. A casino, a beach, expensive shops...a very nice market, too...and then a walk to the statue or Virgin Mary. There are so many other places in the French Basque Country that I would visit first! Donostia-San Sebastian is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, 185.000h, a working city with three beautiful beaches and a wonderful scenery. Currently way touristy, it seems "the" place to visit while in Spain...but worth it! Weather in northern Spain is quite unreliable and beach weather is not always an option. Visitors do not go to the north for the weather, but for the beautiful landscapes and great food, though.

Thanks for the info! I'm not set on Biarritz. I'd probably be more interested in the smaller towns anyways! Which other places would you suggest? It seems almost everywher in Europe will be crowded in August anyways, right? Any other suggestions on Mediterranean beach spots that aren't going to be extremely hot!? Thank you!
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Old Jan 3rd, 2024, 10:35 PM
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I´m Basque, so I can recommend places in the Basque Country, both sides of it. On the French side, St Jean de Luz (Donibane Lohizune in Basque), Bidart, Gethary, Ainhoa, Espelette, Cambo-Les-Bains and further inland will be nice places to visit. Hondarribia is a great place to stay, but on those dates prices will be high.
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Old Jan 4th, 2024, 05:20 AM
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¨The first spot we'd like to have go to a walkable town that has easy things to do with the kids like parks, playgrounds, museums"

For the Spanish Basque side:
San Sebastián-Donostia is certainly charming, with handsome Belle Epoque architecture and is extremely walkable (a walker's and cyclist's dream, actually). It has lots of parks, a merry-go-round, playgrounds, a safe, family-friendly Ondarreta beach (more sheltered than the other two, La Concha and Zurriola, the surfers' beach). It. also has artisanal ice cream shops (Arnaldo), lots of pastry shops (Otaegui), two lively indoor markets, a small maritime museum, an aquarium and the wonderful Chillida Leku sculpture park, the former home of sculptor Eduardo Chillida, just outside of town (reachable by public bus BU05). In the summer on Sundays you may find musicians playing among the sculptures. And San Sebastián is very fashion forward with unique clothing and jewelry boutiques. Antique shops you'll find more on the French side.

The downside is that the price of lodging in late July-August really soars, as it's "high, high season". And it attracts huge crowds. As mikelg says, it has become extremely touristy, especially in the summer, with lines out the street to get into some pintxos bars in the Old Quarter, but that's life in late July-early August these days. San Sebastián is beautiful. We go every summer and are headed there soon for the Tamborrada.

A smaller, less crowded Spanish Basque town would be Hondarribia (population: 17,000) with an evocative medieval quarter, a lively fishermen's quarter, La Marina, filled with great pintxos bars, some fine restaurants, a beach and access to the larger Hendaye beach across the bay in the Pays Basque via little ferry boat. But... no museums, flea markets, antique shops, not many children's activities.

I do have to stand up a bit for the often maligned Biarritz (just kidding, mikelg !). I've never sat foot in the casino or stayed at the aristocratic Hotel du Palais, but I do enjoy the Basque linen, chocolate, pastry and gourmet shops (the same ones you'll find in Bayonne and St-Jean-de-Luz) and I love the indoor market, as I do the Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday (in summer) outdoor market in St-Jean-de-Luz. An outing to the St-Jean-de-Luz market is a must for me.

You can enjoy either St-Jean-de-Luz or Biarritz in just a day's outing, and there are regular buses from San Sebastián to Biarritz and to St-Jean-de-Luz if you don't want to rent a car. As for beaches for your kids, the better, safer, child friendlier beaches, more sheltered, are found in St-Jean-de-Luz, so I would take your family there for a beach day.

Ditto to all the places on the French side that mikelg has named that are worthy of a visit if you do rent a car. I would add Sare and a rack rail train ride up to La Rhune mountain that families enjoy (you'll see the Pottoka horses along the way), but it requires an early start from San Sebastián. Train tickets can now be booked online, however..

As to a family vacation of several days on the Costa Brava, rather than somewhat isolated, bohemian-artsy Cadaqués (one road in and out and very heavy traffic in summer, bumper to bumper), I would choose a place with more child-friendly beaches and activities geared to families The beaches of Cadaqués are of pebbles, not soft sand.

I would look instead at the Calella de Palafrugell-Llafranc-Tamariú area in the northern Costa Brava with sand beaches, especially in Llafranc with regular beach services and activities geared to families. There are small family-run hotels on the beach promenade and rentals in this area, but it's a popular and regular vacation spot for Catalán families, and the best rentals may already have been snapped up, so whatever you decide, I'l book ASAP.
Roses, below Cadaqués would be another option, very popular with French families, but to my eyes (but maybe not to others) it doesn't have the charm or interesting architecture of the Begur-Aiguablava-Calella de Palafrugell-Llafranc area, which to me seems more upmarket. If you've loved the Mallorcan villages of the Tramuntana, I think you'd like this area as well.

Last edited by Maribel; Jan 4th, 2024 at 05:41 AM.
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Old Jan 4th, 2024, 07:08 AM
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mikelg Thank you for those awesome suggestions! I have a few airbnbs saved it St. Jean de Luz and Gethary that I'm tempted to book for a weekend.

Maribel Wow, thank you for all of this very helpful and wonderful information! It does seem like San Sebastian has a lot to offer for kids, even if crowded and high season. Here's my thing - we can do crowded if it's not too hot but crowded and hot is too much for us. It seems like almost everywhere in August is going to be crowded? We normally only travel on shoulder seasons to avoid crowds but are committed to get out of the Texas heat in August.

Hondarribia seems super charming but I do worry about what to do with the kids if it's rainy and just ease of getting around with strollers. Maybe worth a day trip?

I will definitely seek out the market in St. Jean de Luz per your recommendation and my kids would love the train ride especially if it involves seeing horses

OK Costa Brava now. I've already decided against Cadaques since almost all of the airbnbs we had marked are completely booked up. I think it will just be too crowded. I have looked into Begur and Calella de Palafrugell-Llafranc-Tamariú area and it does seem like there is more availability there which means maybe it'll be less crowded? To be honest, I'm starting to rethink Costa Brava entirely and wondering if it is more wise to stay in the Basque country. I'm looking into Galicia and Asturias but wondering if it is too rugged for small children? mikelg would you suggest this area? I'd be sad to miss out on the Mediterranean but I'm just worried about it being overly crowded (especially if San Sebastian is going to be crowded, it would be nice to have one part of the trip very laid back). Or perhaps there is an easy flight from Bilbao to a less discovered area? Thank you so much! This is so helpful!
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Old Jan 4th, 2024, 07:23 AM
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You never can tell in the Basque Country whether it's going to be hot or whether you'll have several rainy days in a row! Totally unpredictable.

As to the sweet Pottokas, you can also see them up close at the animal park Etxola in Sare.

Yes, Hondarribia is worth a day trip. With your little ones, I wouldn't make it your base.

As to St-Jean-de-Luz versus Guéthary for a weekend, I'd most definitely go with the former, as it's larger and there's just more to do with the kids, especially the long sheltered beach with kids' clubs and tents, the boardwalk, plus ice cream! in wonderful flavors, plus a merry-go-round, plus pastry (who doesn't like a gâteau Basque from Maison Adam!) and chocolate shops (Maison Pariès) galore or a boat ride across the bay or even all the way to Hendaye or Hondarribia.

I LOVE Asturias in the summer, have spent several vacations there from east to west, and it has beaches that are appropriate for children all along the coast. The eastern section around Llanes will be busier than the western coast between Tapia de Casariego & Puerto de Vega, which is definitely laid back, and it will give you some cooler weather (one would hope). Ditto to Galicia in the Sanxenxo area on the west coast and cooler temps. Many from Madrid and the south this past summer were seeking cooler spots in Galicia and Asturias to escape the intense heat.
James Blick, a Madrid resident, has a YouTube video about spending the entire month of August in Galicia to beat the heat.

Last edited by Maribel; Jan 4th, 2024 at 07:58 AM.
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Old Jan 16th, 2024, 07:09 PM
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I have decided to create a new thread as our itinerary has changed a bit. If you have any input, i'd love to hear it!!

Basque + Bordeaux summer trip
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