Basque Country’s Best Break

Joaquim Bel

Rangy Basque Country, with the Bay of Biscay on one side and rugged mountains inland, is Spain’s most geologically exciting region and home to two of the Iberian peninsula’s simplest pleasures: surfing and pintxos. No small wonder that when Jake Barnes, protagonist of Ernest Hemingway’s masterpiece ‘The Sun Also Rises,’ was looking for a place to escape his mundane life, he ended up here among the bulls and beaches.

Spain’s best surf spots are all in Basque Country: Mundaka has the most epic waves, Zurriola has prime real estate in San Sebastian, and Menakoz has a reputation for big waves with dangerous hazards to match. But the best bet for surfers of all levels is Zarautz, a quintessential beach town that hosts the San Miguel Pro surfing event each September. The three-kilometer beach here is the longest in Basque Country, and the sandy break has consistent waves that range from three to nine feet in both directions. Beginners or solo travelers looking to meet people hang out at Good People Surf or Pukas Surf Camp, both of which seem to attract an inordinate number of vacationing beautiful people.

Before Zarautz was a destination for surf bums, it was a settlement of whale hunters, and the town’s rich history is on display; the gothic Luzea tower and the medieval church of Santa Maria la Real loom over downtown. Still, the main attraction is the beach, which abuts the boardwalk, and its large inventory of bars and restaurants. While localism is a problem at some Basque surf spots, the energy in Zarautz is positive in and out of the surf – just ask one of the locals drinking beer and eating jamon bocatas, the regional sandwich of choice, at Bar Pagoeta.

One of the perks of catching waves in Zarautz is that the tiny medieval village of Getaria is only a three-mile scooter ride away. The town of 2,600 is a riotous explosion of local flavors. Pinxtos, savory cod, and anchovy aperitifs are served to tanned surfers slurping down txakoli, a local sparkling white wine, at Elkano. The restaurant’s kokotxas (hake cheeks) are the perfect crisp dish for anyone whose mouth is already encrusted in salt.

When the sun sets – it does that as well – head to Naguasia Kalea, where main street bars like Politena allow surfers to continue eating and drinking late into the night.

More information: Zarautz is a 30-minute train ride from San Sebastian on the Euskotren, which departs every 30 minutes. Hotel Alameda offers comfortable if basic lodging on the beach.

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