“Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God – Kurt Vonnegut”
This September I went back again to France (in an attempt to make this an annual thing, and make it sound all fancy!), and luckily for me, this year, the (European) weather Gods were in a much better mood! The 10 days that i was there i soaked up more sunshine than I actually ever have in Bangalore in the last 1.5 years!!
Since last year I had managed to cover a lot of places in France, so this year I decided to drive down further and visit the areas of the Basque Country which lie in Spain (obviously it’s a blessing when you have an adoring boyfriend willing to drive you down to wherever you want!)
Our first stop was Hondarribia.
Hondarribia, which in Basque means sand fort is a quaint border town located on the west shore of the Bidasoa river. The first thing that hits you when you step foot on here, is how different the pace of life is from France which is just a couple of kilometres away! Almost felt that the car ride was more than a ride, it was a journey back in time (or forward?!), to a space where good food, good ambience, walking by the beach, watching pristine white sailboats and colourful yachts on the deep blue waters, meandering aimlessly on cobbled streets define a way of life instead of the madness that consumes us as we run every morning from home to the gym to work to the local bar to back to bed. It was a Wednesday and we only planned to stop for a few quick hours to walk around the town, but it almost felt like in the middle of a festive season with kids running all over the place, people old and young sipping on wine and gulping down beer on the tiny bar stools that pockmarked every walkway and lively music floating through the air.
Apart from chilling, soaking in the good life and leaving all worries behind, the other things to do here would be to relax some more (!!) and maybe to visit the Ermita de Guadalupe, a small church situated on the hill top.
Next up was the city, which is now a part of my ‘favourite cities’ list; Bilbao. Before coming, the usual things one would have heard about Bilbao were..umm nothing more than a small gritty industrial town, but it is magnificently surprising to see how culturally oriented the city has become with marvels of art to stumble upon at every second turn you take!
First up of course is the most famous attraction – the Guggenheim Museum. Designed by Frank Gehry, the building in itself is an architectural masterpiece. And even before you can enter the museum, you are hit by a blast of art by from the several installations around museum premises.
The Guggenheim is situated right next to Casco Viejo, the old town which is full of charming streets, quaint houses, magnificent churches, boisterous bars, quirky shops and lots of good food!
When in Bilbao, one must try the pinxtos (Basque tapas), and we were just lucky to have landed right in the middle of the pinxto festival! This is when almost every pub (which double up as cafes during the day) serve their specialities and compete with each other to win the best pinxtos award!
Now since Bilbao is a valley town nestled between mountain ranges, it’s a pretty good use of one’s time there to take the funicular as it creaks and moans its way up Mount Artxanda from where one can get spectacular views of the entire city.
Finally on our way back to France, we decided to make on last stop at Donostia- San Sebastian. If ever you have dreamt of what the perfect beach would look like, then Playa de Concha and its extension Playa de Ondarreta would be the epitome of that dream! With the golden sandy beach stretching till the eyes can see, water more blue than you’ve ever witnessed, hundreds of toned bodies soaking up the sun, it is easily one of the best beaches I have ever been to! Walking towards the western part of the beach, you reach Playa de Ondarreta and if the sumptuous beach wasn’t enough to enthral your senses, then definitely the sculptures embedded in the rocks would. The installations by Eduardo Chillida, create a mystical harmony between human art creations and the creations of nature.
San Sebastian, screams art, culture, history and positivity from every brick! No wonder it has been named as the European Center of Culture for 2016. One can spend hours walking around the old city, savouring the pinxtos followed by the churros, witness wedding celebrations at the Ayuntamiento de San Sebastian, laze around in the courtyard of the Plaza de Constitucion, walk up to the sculpture of Christ as the Good Shepherd or just check out the Aquarium at the end of the pier.
It is true that visiting Spain is tantamount to a visit to India, it’s a collection of small nations working together, each with its own distinct art, flavour and culture and yet fusing together so effortlessly. A weekend in the Basque region will most probably be spent OD-ing on art and beauty and letting the smells and tastes overwhelm your senses.
These are not the most advertised European destinations, but by far one of the most beautiful and fulfilling journeys I have taken.