Basque Coast & Bilbao

Any port in storm, as the saying goes. In Zumaia, on April Fools’ Day, we found a port but needed greater cover from the battering southerly wind that was hurling itself into the town’s pretty cove.

We found refuge beside a massive steel-clad newly built ship, the Norwegian Gannet.

Zumaia evening view

According to my trusty source,, the 4,000-ton vessel has the world’s first hybrid battery-supported diesel propulsion system which substantially reduces its emissions.

It’s a fish factory on the sea, capable of carrying and processing 1,000 tonnes of Norwegian salmon per trip, to be delivered to a newly purpose-built Danish canning plant for onward sale to the Asian market.

A world first – Norwegian Gannet

Interior comforts for the 53 crew will include a cinema, gym, sauna, cabins and lounges. In its final stages of build, the Norwegian Gannet will make its maiden voyage to the North Sea in August.

We were grateful for the shelter it gave us as we pitched up portside.

Flysch view

The coastline around Zumaia is a UNESCO world heritage site. It has 13 kms of unique layered rocks and cliffs that tell 60 million years of geological history, including the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The ‘Flysch’ was busy the next day with walkers, mountain-bikers, children and us, all gazing in wonder at the spectacular landscape.

Dragonstone Beach

Later we discovered the ‘Flysch’ is the setting for Dragonstone, featured in the Game of Thrones TV series. Having never seen an episode we were clueless, but the town is expecting increased tourism and last year opened a large and excellent new campsite, which was our home for a second night’s stay.

Wild coastal waves battered the road, and us, on a short drive to the popular seaside town of Zarautz.

Wheeling over wild waves

Delighted families walking the route enjoyed the drenching they got as the waters crashed high up and over the sea walls.

It seemed part of the Easter holiday fun which continued that night with a funfair at the harbourside and more pintxos tastings in Zumaia’s old town.

Brightly lit and tiny bars inhabit the ground floors of previous palaces and merchants’ houses clustered around the fortress church of St Peter, built in the 13th century.

Bilbao, city of modernity, home to Atletic Bilbao’s incredible stadium, the Guggenheim Museum and countless soaring skyscrapers, all closed to visitors on an Easter Monday.

Cerrado. No matter, we visited the medieval centre, Casco Viejo, instead. What a treat!

Bertha’s Bilbao view

Twisting narrow lanes of brightly painted and balconied apartments opened into grand arcaded plazas, full of happy eateries and swanky bars where locals and visitors enjoyed the Spanish bank holiday together.

Landmark architectural gems of the art noveau railway station and Europe’s largest indoor market squat proudly amid the green river, its’ many bridges and the iron balconied and bay window-fronted apartments.

Estacion de Santander

The air was warm and smelt Mediterranean with the aromas of seafood lunches, freshly baked bread and accompanying basura (which the local green-clad army of Garbi was hastily disposing of and clearing up).

Shops were shut but looked interesting and independent – music, vintage clothing, dressmakers, crafts and art galleries all had tempting and teasing window displays. The afternoon had a relaxed atmosphere and locals hung out on terraced balconies or on the steps of their medieval apartment buildings chatting, laughing and smoking.

Pretty cats gazed out of shuttered windows and an army of small dogs were being walked by jewellery-clad women and dapper men in tailored coats and bright scarves.

High up on Monte Kobeta we had a birds’ eye view of the city at all hours. It was a remarkable end to our short 720-mile road trip, and worth toasting with a glass of the local Rioja. Tomorrow the port, a ferry, and a return home would beckon.

Gusting winds on England’s south coast would welcome us and work soon afterwards. Oh well.