Zestoa – Cestona

A famous spa and a writer's place

Zestoa-Cestona is mainly known for its spa which attracted the elite, the aristocracy and the intellectuals. Centuries ago, the city was also known for its bull recipes but nowadays, except for the spa, people can admire its beautiful interpretation center in Ekain Cave.

Plan your getaway to Cestona

For more than a century, people visit Cestona for its famous spa and beautiful surroundings. Its historic center is small, the tour won’t last more than a couple of hours. You can start from exploring the city’s beautiful streets and palaces, all located close to each other, and of course the spa. A 20 minute walk towards the parking lot will lead you to the Cueva de Ekain Interpretation Center. It’s a modern building with some prehistoric painting replicas and the visit will take you about half an hour . You can buy your tickets directly from the Zestoa Tourist Office. Cestona’s location, in the valley of Urola, makes it an ideal place, from which you can easily organize your day trips.  If you head towards the south you can perfectly spend the day in the villages of Azpeitia, Azkoitia (there you can visit unique buildings like houses, palaces and churches) and the fascinating Sanctuary of Loiola. Taking the highway G631 you get to Zumaia, a little village with a flynch park and a tidal area. Cestona is generally a place with a few options to sleep and eat and in our pages we have gathered the best places in order to make your visit more enjoyable.

Do you want to visit this place?

In 1383, the King Juan I of Castile, granted the Carta Puebla (Chartae Populationis) in the neighbours of Aizama in order to populate the place, and that’s how Zestoa-Cestona was founded.

In 1486 the terrain of Bedúa became part of Zestoa. In that area taxes were collected, for offloading the minerals melted in the forges of Urola river and the ingots exported to other ports.

Since 15th century Zestoa was one of the eighteenth cities where Juntas Generales de Guipúzcoa (a self-government meeting) was organized. Especially in the Juntas held in Zestoa in 1527 it was issued that no Jewish or Moorish descendant could leave close to Guipúzcoa. That would be the legal basis that sustained the universal nobility of the people of Guipúzcoa.

The year 1667 was when the first bullfights were reported, a tradition that is maintained until our days. In 2012 a referendum was organized in order to be decided whether the tradition should continue or not, and those in favor won.

In 1760, it was noticed that the dogs of Marquis of San Millán were cured from scabies after dipping in some hot water pools. Thanks to that story, the sulphurous waters that would give fame to the place were discovered. In 1792, the waters were declared of public use and in 1804 the Balneario de Cestona, its spa, opened its doors, at the time when other famous spas did so, that happened in 21st century.

These spa centers were set as big facilities where, the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, artists and politics, apart from enjoying a therapeutic treatment, they could establish important social relations. Zestoa became a popular place quite this way. In 1830, the Infante Francisco de Paula Antonio, brother of Fernando VII and since then the place gained great popularity until is stood out as a main holiday destination in the Basque Country. In 1894 the Gran Hotel was built, as an attachment to the spa resulting from a growing number of visitors, with a triple annual average in ten years. The twenties of the twentieth century were the golden age of Cestona and of its spa, at the same time with the Belle Epoque in San Sebastián. Nowadays, it´s the only spa with such characteristics in the Basque Country.

Terraza del Hotel Arteche, a principios del siglo XX en Zestoa
Terraza del Hotel Arteche, a principios del siglo XX

Entre los personajes notables que llegaron a disfrutar de sus aguas destacan los escritores Azorín y Pío Baroja, quienes glosaron las virtudes del complejo e hicieron detalladas descripciones del lugar, sus empleados y sus ocasionalmente pintorescos visitantes. Baroja, además, ejerció como médico en la localidad entre 1894 y 1895, año en el que terminó de encontrarse con su auténtica vocación literaria, por una parte, y con sus raíces vascas, por la otra: “En Cestona comencé yo a sentirme vasco”, escribiría años más tarde.

En septiembre de 2008 se inauguró las instalaciones del Centro de Interpretación de la Cueva de Ekain, a las que se accede desde Zestoa.

The city of Zestoa, very close to Zumaia, is located in the foothills of the Izarratiz massif and on the banks of the Urola River. Except its spa, the town has also an interesting monumental ensemble. Puerta de San José and Puerta de la Inmaculada are the only gates of the ancient walls which are well conserved. You will find them at the beginning and at the end of Cesáreo Díaz Street.

In Plaza de los Fueros you should visit the Parish church of la Natividad de Nuestra Señora. In 1549 a fire demolished it and a new temple was built on top of the old one, conserving in its interior the old gothic chapel that survived the catastrophic fire. Previously in 17th century, the church was renovated and the bell tower erected during 18th century. The final aspect is a church with one nave (central part) with a ribbed coverage and extern buttresses. In that square another important building is erected, that of the Town Hall (18th century), declared as Historic-Artistic Monument. You can see the seats where the participants of the Juntas were taking place.

Posteriormente, la iglesia fue modificada en el siglo XVII y su torre campanario erigida durante el siglo XVIII. El aspecto final es el de un templo de una sola nave, con cubiertas de crucería y contrafuertes externos. En esta plaza se levanta también el Ayuntamiento (s. XVIII), declarado Monumento Histórico-Artístico y donde todavía pueden visitarse los asientos donde se celebraban las Juntas Generales de la Provincia. In Portale Kalea neighborhood, take the Street that goes down towards the river, cross the bridge to continue by the river’s bank. When you pass in front of the Fuente de los Cuatro Caños, a fountain designed in 1792 of neoclassical style, you will have reached the outskirts of the town, where the Palace of Lili. It is one of the town’s most remarkable architectural features and it is probable that it dates back to 6th century even though the building was clearly modified. Nowadays, it’s a gothic defensive building, where you can observe castle-style windows and corner watchtowers. Almost  attached to it you will see Casa Solariega Lilibea, and close you can observe the remains of the ancient Windmill and the Forge. The Lili ensemble was declared, together with the Town Hall, as Historic Artistic Monument.

We continue our tour by the river until we reach the spa facilities, less than a kilometer away towards the south of the village. The spa is totally well worth a visit not only for its historic and economic value but also for its artistic one. The building is characterized by an eclectic appearance and encompasses various styles; from the neoclassical façade of the Hotel Estrada, of which only a small part is left, to the decadent Mozarabic main hall or Arabic Hall (Salón Árabe).

In the road connecting the villages of Zumaia and Aizarnazabal is actually a curve of Urola River we find Casa solar de Bedua, a fortified mansion of the 16th century that served as fluvial port since iron begun to be transported as well as a shipyard with traditional wooden Basque fishing boats. Nowadays, it houses the famous Restaurante Bedua that appears in the Spanish movie “Spanish Affair”.

Balneario de Zestoa
Balneario de Zestoa

Even though it belongs to the municipality of Deba, Ekain Cave, is an important archaeological site of the Upper Paleolithic located very close to Zestoa. Another worth visiting site is that of Idiakait where there were found important stone industry remains arranged in five occupation levels from Lower to Upper Paleolithic and they are well conserved. The especial characteristics of these two archaeological sites make them one of the most important in the Basque Country.

There is more much to see in Zestoa, let’s not forget its long bull tradition that is more than 350 years old. During the festivities of September novilladas* are celebrated and attracts people from many neighboring cities and villages.



* A novillada features bullfighters, usually younger in age, that have not yet achieved the official rank of “Matador de Toros”.


Pinturas de osos de la Cueva de Ekain
Palacio de Lili en Zestoa
Palacio de Lili

Practical Data


43° 14′ 24″ N, 2° 15′ 28.8″ W


Donostia- San Sebastián 33 km, Bilbao 75 km, Madrid 427 km


Donostia- San Sebastián 33 km, Bilbao 75 km, Madrid 427 km


3650 (2013)

Nearby Destinations

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Fiestas of the Madonna(8th of September), Santa Cruz (3rd of May), San Esteban (27th of December)

Novilladas (Fiestas of the Madonna)

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