There is a reason why we are already talking about the last ports of the Basque coast– their activity has diminished to the point where most of the fish arrive by plane and the biggest ‘port’ is the airport. The severity of marine life, the decline in near-shore catches, the low price of products from fish farms and competition from frozen fish from distant seas have reduced the size of our fishing fleet. Significantly, the beautiful fishing port of San Sebastián now accommodates yachts, while the centuries-old Hondarribia (Fuenterrabía), Zumaia, Deba and Portugalete docks no longer accommodate slender fishing vessels.
Fishing ports of Gipuzkoa
Starting from the west, Pasaia Bay is is protected by a narrow mouth that guards it from the rough ocean. We strolled through the narrow streets of Pasajes de San Juan and then boarded the motorbike that– with some slight shaking and splashes caused by the wind– crossed the bay to Pasajes de San Pedro. During the summer months, you can usually find pilgrims on the Northern Way to Santiago. Upon arriving at the dock we will visit the Mater Boat Museum, where we contemplate the operation of a fishing boat and life on board. We then head towards the mouth of the bay, to visit the Basque Maritime Factory ‘Albaola‘. In this unique museum-workshop the ancestral techniques of the carpentry of the riverbank are showcased in the construction of a replica of the Nao San Juan, a whaling ship that was lost during the sixteenth century on the coast of Canada. If you decide to stay overnight after these visits, we recommend exploring the local options here, as these fishing villages have lower prices than the neighboring Donosti and Hondarribía.
After driving along the A-8 motorway, our next phase of our journey begins on the east bank of the Oria River, where the town of Orio is located. In the old town there are several taverns where you can enjoy pintxos, as well as barbecues where you can taste grilled dishes. It is common to see many fishing boats along the riverbank. We can can continue our journey by travelling to Zarautz, which we cross, and from there we can enjoy the beautiful coastal route that leads us to Getaria. This town is recognizable from far away due to its San Antón Mountain, a small natural park with a hill in the shape of a mouse that overlooks the sea and is connected to the coast by its ‘long tail’ where the port is located. Next to the road is the impressive monument of Juan Sebastian Elkano, a local sailor who was the first to circumnavigate the planet. A little further up is the modern Balenciaga Museum, with a large collection of high fashion from this universally renowned designer. The natural next step is to stay in Getaria itself to enjoy the night walk through the illuminated town.
Fishing Ports of Bizkaia
The third phase of our route begins in the ‘forgotten’ Ondarroa. This major Basque fishing port suffers an unfair lack of popularity due to its difficult accessibility. The journey from Getaria to Ondarroa is a very beautiful but twisting road that passes through Zumaia and Deba (localities that share the spectacular Geopark of the flysch) in order to divert to the seafaring town of Mutriku. A few kilometres further on we find Ondarroa, a town that embraces the two banks of the Artibai River with numerous bridges and docks full of small boats. In its wide port there are large deep-sea fishing boats, which are a major part of the economy. It is not unusual to come across many foreigners, who often comprise a large part of the crew on board. Ondarroa preserves the charm of the most authentic Basque fishing ports, encouraged by a gastronomic selection ‘without nonsense’: affordable prices with an emphasis on a good quality. To continue towards Lekeitio we can choose between the beautiful, tortuous and dangerous BI-3438 road along the coast, or the Bi-633, which goes inland and is a few kilometres longer, but is usually faster. Located in a beautiful bay presided over by the island of San Nicolás, Lekeitio is one of the most traditional summer resorts on the Basque coast and has a harbour with a long history. It is highly recommended to stroll around its beautiful town centre, with attractions such as the basilica of Santa María de la Asunción, the numerous palace-mansions and the lively Txatxo pier. The difficulty with finding parking can be solved by staying overnight in one of the many sleeping accommodations in Lekeitio.
On the way to the final phase of our journey, we suggest you visit the stunning Oma Forest and the cave of Santimamiñe. Then we continue towards Gernika, to take the BI-2235 road in the direction of Mundaka, a village known all over the world for its surfing, which we pass before reaching Bermeo. Its fishing port is interesting in that is surrounded by an excellent gastronomic variety and it is the starting point for maritime excursions to visit the coast of the Urdaibai Reserve and the cinematic island of Ízaro. If you make the wise decision to eat their excellent fish, remember to accompany it with the traditional Txakolí wine from Bizkaia, produced in the region. If you choose to see the neighboring islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (known worldwide as the setting for ‘Dragonstone’ in the series Game of Thrones) you should stay overnight in the area. In that case, we recommend taking the BI-351 coastal road the next day in the direction of Santurce, our last Basque fishing port. Behind the beautiful towns of Plentzia and Getxo, at the southern end of the latter you can have the unusual experience of crossing the Nervión River by the aerial ferry of the Bizkaia Bridge.
Texto de Ignacio Suárez-Zuloaga.