and skilled in navigating it since the beginning of written history.
The moody Bay of Biscay sparkles in the distance. The same tides, the same waves, the same salty water that has been carrying Basque fishermen out to sea since the Ice Age. They say that instead of blood, water from the sea (itsasoa, in Euskera) pumps through the veins of the Basques.
Basques have an intimate relationship with the ocean and skilled in navigating it since the beginning of written history. Declared “masters of the ocean” by other begrudging seamen, they were contracted by European royalty to teach their maritime knowledge to sailors and fishermen across the globe. They were masters of whaling, intrepid explorers, the first to circumnavigate the globe, and prolific fishermen.
At dawn, watch the fishing boats glide soundlessly from the port to the open sea, seeking anchovy, tuna, and other marine life. At twilight, watch fishermen climb aboard their txipironeras, small boats used for rowing out to look for fresh squid. Their lights are what twinkle out at sea during the summer months .
This love and appreciation for the sea trickles through the very fabric of Basque life. Now, the Basque surfer has taken the place of the Basque whaler, but they both know the sea and its rhythms intimately, bobbing up and down until they see that perfect wave and the opportunity to strike.
Watch world-class rowers race through the bay every September during regatas. Shimmy atop a surfboard and bob in the Bay of Biscay. Or simply delight in the fruits of the ocean, charred lightly over a charcoal grill. The escapades below give a taste of the ocean’s starring role in Basque life, for everyone from shoppers to gourmands to adventure seekers.
You are strolling along the port of San Sebastián, when you see a whitewashed building that appears to be a museum. You duck in, only to find yourself in the midst of an interactive exhibition detailing the history of the Basque whaler. Around the corner, you practically bump into a life-size replica of a whaling boat, and you run your hands along the wood, imagining what it must have been like to go out to sea in such a vessel. On the third floor, you lose yourself in the fascinating library of the Naval Museum, one of the city’s hidden treasures.
Kaiko Pasealekua 24, San Sebastian
943 43 00 51
You step out of the taxi in the tiny village of Getaria. Right in the middle of town, a stout man in chef’s whites is grilling something over an open flame. He stops to greet an older man, approaching in rubber boots and with a crate of something shining on ice. You sit, choose a crisp txakoli from the gorgeously curated wine list, and watch as plate after plate of the freshest grilled langoustines, hake cheeks, and a gorgeous turbot are paraded out for your enjoyment at Elkano, one of the best spots for seafood in Basque Country.
Herrerieta Kalea 2, Getaria / 943 14 00 24
It is late morning, and you’ve just slipped on your rented wetsuit. You follow your bleached-haired instructor out to the Zurriola, just a hop across the street from Pukas Surf Eskola, one of the most prestigious spots to learn surfing in San Sebastián. After he warms you up, you jump into the water and he guides your movements, encouraging you as the set approaches, and you get up on your board and glide in, admiring the city’s skyline from atop your surfboard.
Zurriola Hiribidea 24, Donostia
943 32 00 68
The fishermen in Basque Country have their uniform, all coarse cloth and navy, white and yellow. From this fashion springs the clothing of some of the city’s best boutiques, with real designers at the helm: Loreak Mendian and Minimil. You ruffle through their modern clothes, inspired by the chic side of the rustic, authentic Basque culture. At Loreak Mendian, you opt for a boxy yet silky overshirt, and at Minimil you grab a unique overcoat, whose function has been perfected by years of rainy, cold winters in San Sebastián.
Loreak Mendian / Hernani Kalea 27, Donostia / 943 43 41 76
Minimil / Garibai Kalea 3, Donostia / 943 42 86 77
Shouts and the buzz of gossip are the general din in the La Bretxa Market, San Sebastián’s fish, meat and farmer’s market that dates back to 1870. As you squeeze in between locals and chefs, you can’t help but marvel at the pristine seafood. You’ve never seen this level of variety before, and it is all clear, glistening and perfect. Should you pick up a hake? Some glittering anchovies? A few purple-spotted squid? Whatever you choose, with just a sear in hot olive oil it will taste incredible.
Boulevard Zumardia 3, Donostia