Eurovacation: Gipuzkoa, The Basque Country
Where ancient heritage, the high life and the full force of the Atlantic collide
Gipuzkoa is one of three provinces that make up the Spanish portion of the Basque Country, and stretches west from the French-Spanish border through San Sebastián and Zarautz. Few are more intimately acquainted with the intricacies of its coastline than Pacotwo, author of the guide before you. Not only is he one of the finest surf photographers in all of Christendom, he also runs one of its best websites; find him here at MarGruesa.
Top: La Zurriola. Photo: Lance-Foto
San Sebastián (or Donostia in Basque) is the capital city and therefore the most densely populated area in the province. You’ll find everything you need here, including a bunch of shopping and site-seeing. Other relevant towns in terms of surf include Irun and Zarautz, although you’ll find that surfing is practised widely throughout the province including by those who live inland.
The Gipuzkoa coast stands out for its ruggedness, mainly made up of eroded cliffs, small fishing enclaves, and a handful of beaches. In fact, in total there are only 5 or 6 beachies along this 86km stretch of coast. The remaining surf spots all break on a rock bottom and access to some of them can be somewhat tricky.
When to go
There are usually waves all year round and spots like La Zurriola in San Seb will pick up whatever swell is out there. In theory, autumn is the best time of year, with consistent long-period swells accompanied by offshore winds and warm water temps, but the months of December and January can be epic too.
Water temps can vary a lot. During the summer months when the sun is out you can trunk it no problem; in spring and autumn a 3/2 is sufficient, and in winter a 4/3 with booties should be fine.
This totally depends on what your intentions are and the time of year you plan to come. Everything from a fish to a gun could serve you well. In any case, if you’ve left a board at home that you end up needing you shouldn’t have any problem buying an appropriate stick in the area, the surfboard industry in Gipuzkoa is one of the biggest in Europe.
The best types of swell are long-period pulses from the north west, although a powerful westerly swell can also light up the coast. The warm winds from the south are offshore, although there are certain breaks that still work with easterly and westerly cross winds.
If you like to charge then you’re in luck. The best spots along the coast are big waves breaking on a rock bottom, like Roca Puta and Deba. Before entering the water take your time and talk to some of the locals, they’ll be able to give you useful advice. And if you really want to get it on, acquire yourself a jetski and a tow partner and get to work on an XXL nomination, there’s plenty of potential. The quality of the surrounding beach breaks depends on state of the sandbanks; most of the time, expect these to be more manoeuvre-based waves, although from time to time they’ll be tubes out there
Is the smallest province in Spain and is one of three to make up the Basque Autonomous Community. It’s bordered by France on one side and the province of Bizkaia on the other, and in terms of the surf is ideally situated between Les Landes and Mundaka. The climate is generally mild although often rainy and very humid, hence its very fertile, green countryside.
"Acquire yourself a jetski and a tow partner and get to work on an XXL nomination"
There’s something for all budgets, but surfers generally tend to be skint, so the best thing to do is find a campsite if it’s summer time, where you’ll usually find a cool, friendly vibe. In San Sebastián, decent and cheap-ish hostel accommodation is available, although bear in mind that prices will hike during summer. Surf camps are also a good option, but if you want to spoil your girl then there’s always the "Agroturismo" option, with most located in idyllic countryside settings.
Attracting attention to yourself both in and out of the water. Basques can appear to be cold and distant on first appearance, but once you’ve gained their trust they’ll rarely let you down.
In San Sebastián, the most touristy drinking holes can be found in the old part of town ("la parte vieja"), before stumbling over to the infamous Bataplan nightclub, where the quality and quantity of female flesh is always off the scale. Failing that (it’s not uncommon to be turned away at the door), there are plenty of alternatives such as the Reyes Católicos district, where you’ll find good music and interesting people.
Zarautz is another good option especially in summer, where you can flit between the surfer-owned drinking dens such as El Marmol, local Pablo Garcia's El Dada, or El Sausalito, which belongs to the Collazo family.
Watch out for
If you like to watch good surfing, head to Zarautz where the average standard of surfing in the water is always high and it’s not uncommon to find guys like Aritz Aranburu, Hodei Collazo and the hotbed of up-coming juniors training. Order a beer in the Argiñano seafront restaurant and take in all the action.
The Basque food is world-renowned, there’s no tastier fast food than a couple of good pintxos. Calle 31 de Agosto in San Sebastián is your best bet for the right combination of world-class cuisine, cheap-ish prices and good atmosphere.
Five things to do
- Put a day aside to visit San Sebastian, known to be one of the most beautiful cities in the whole of Spain.
- Go for a couple of pintxos in a bar before hitting up a cider house for dinner – bloody veal chop is the speciality to go for.
- If you enjoy amusement parks then don’t forget to catch the funicular to the top of Mt Igueldo and get tickets for the Swiss Mountain ride. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.
- Explore some of the small Basque villages and markets of the interior for the real rural eccentricities of the region.
- The traditional Basque sports like pelota or “wood chopping" always attract a crowd and are worth a look.