Week 1 – the Basque Country

Our first week in Northern Spain is over. In glorious sunshine and teeming rain, we’ve experienced the city life and sampled the pintxos  of Bilbao and San Sebastian of the Pais Vasco province and travelled south, still in the Basque region, into the depths of rural Navarre.

Aside from one scare (Van trouble), all vital signs with the van are good although we are now especially cautious at any risk of a steep incline. So when the temperature gauge started to creep up as we travelled up the motorway rising sharply between San Sebastian to Pamplona, that was our cue to pull over for breakfast and a chance for the van to calm herself.

And the highlights:

The Guggenheim up close

The Guggenheim Museum inside and out – Overtaking the hordes of Rapid Vienna footie fans marching through the centre of Bilbao, bellowing chants familiar to the terraces at home, we turned the corner to reach the Guggenheim. The first glimpse of the building is an ‘oh wow’ moment – as Brian Sewell would not have said. And as it was almost closing time, having the Richard Serra ‘The Matter  of Time’ exhibit hall to myself was also pretty cool – another phrase I’m sure Brian would have avoided. The pieces are massive and eerie. One curiously reminded me I should see the film ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ again to see if it is as good as I remember.

Meanwhile Stuart enjoyed his wandering outside, though not so much the scarily high steps down from the bridge across the river. He balked at taking the six storeys of steps down and opted for the lift inside instead. (Though not as bad with heights as I am, he did also have to sit through the first seven songs at the Elbow concert in the O2 with his eyes firmly shut.)

Keeping guard at the Guggenheim
Keeping guard at the Guggenheim
The Guggenheim from across the river
The Guggenheim from across the river

Food Glorious Food: In Bilbao, we ate pintxos (the Basque equivalent of tapas) and rationes (bigger portions) at a few of the bars near the Moyua metro, from simple ones like anchovy and olive on a cocktail stick to more elaborate ones like this dish of calamari, chorizo and peppers.

Calamari, chorizo and peppers

In San Sebastian, we started off with pintxos in one of the more sophisticated bars where the counters are piled high with colourful mouthfuls and followed up with another dish at this crammed busy bar which served only calamari or mussels with different sauces served with big platefuls of patatas bravas.

La Mejillonera - fast food San Sebastian style
La Mejillonera – fast food San Sebastian style

Being Outdoors: We’ve walked for miles this week. In truly beautiful San Sebastian, we walked to the top of Monte Urgull, the steep hill overlooking the city and visited the English cemetery where lies Colonel Tupper resting in peace overlooking the grand sweep of the bay.

Here lies Colonel William Tupper - on the high hill overlooking San Sebastian
Here lies Colonel William Tupper – on the high hill overlooking San Sebastian

And in Parque Natural Urbasa Andia, 40 miles from Pamplona, we walked across meadows carpeted with autumn crocuses up to the cliff escarpment.

Parque Natural de Urbesa
Parque Natural de Urbasa

The only sounds were the bells on the sheep grazing – yes definitely bells on the sheep – the humming of bees and the squeals of a delighted nature lover who has just spotted a chough. (That’s Stuart – I wouldn’t recognise a chough even if served to me on a plate with watercress).


This is a chough - apparently. (Stuart's career in wildlife photography gets off to a modest start)
This is a chough – apparently. (Stuart’s career in wildlife photography gets off to a modest start)

But this sighting was crowned for him when, the next day,  we followed a trail through the Parque Natural de Valderejo at Lalastra. Way up high on the cliff tops, we saw what looked like three chamois perched on the edge together. Not chamois at all – they were Griffon vultures, sitting in companionable silence.

Three Griffon vultures perched high on the cliff above us
Three Griffon vultures perched high on the cliff above us
Taking flight
Taking flight
Dear Santa, Please bring me a long lens for Christmas. Yours ever, Stuart
Dear Santa,
Please bring me a long lens for Christmas.
Yours ever,

On another day, we walked the countryside around the village of Villanane, past the nodding ripe sunflowers and the 14th century castle and church.

Sunflowers ready for harvesting
Sunflowers ready for harvesting


The countryside near Villnane
The countryside near Villanane

Surprise discovery – Other than working out a general direction of travel, we haven’t planned too much about this trip. We want to be open to the surprises and here was one – it was the salt farms at Salinas de Anana in Navarre. We took the 1 hour tour to find out more about this fascinating place which used to be farmed by up to 1,000 individuals with their own holding and is now a local co-operative, farming and selling Anana salt to, among others,  Michelin-star chefs and the occasional campervan kitchen. Every year, on the same day they are running the bulls at Pamplona, the local community gather here for what is apparently a spectacular sound and light show. I know which I’d rather be doing.

The salt farms at the Salinas de Anana
The salt farms at the Salinas de Ananausuario

16 thoughts on “Week 1 – the Basque Country”

  1. OK, I know you two have only just stared this trip, but if it carries on like this I’m cancelling my subscription to the blog. On reflection I should have known that every time one of your posts pops into my inbox that I would become a green eyed monster!!! Any advice, from anyone out there, on how to deal with a colossal envy complex?
    Yours as ever……
    Grumpy Old Man

    1. Dear GOM,

      Sorry to hear that you are not entirely satisfied with the service. We can assure you that we will give your issues our full attention in due course.

      Best wishes

      The Campervan Matters Team

      PS Off to the beach now and then more mountains……(there is chance of rain- does that help?)

  2. Absolutely awesome guys and brings back such great memories of travelling in the Basque before Hayley and I were married visiting much the same areas. Look out for the Dolmades stuffed with Boudin Noir/Rice – delicious plus Basque cider which is also delicious and highly highly drinkable. Sluuuuuuuurp!


    Other Gavin

  3. Ah beautfiul – takes me back to last month 🙂 Make sure you get to Potes in the Picos – great cable car up the road at Fuente De with walks at the top of the cliffs where we saw Golden Eagles – steady the tripod and forget the vertigo.


    1. Cheers Steve – We are heading to the Picos today so will follow up on this – not sure about forgetting the vertigo though. Is it higher than the grand circle of the Royal Albert Hall??? If so, I’m going to be crawling along the ledges – as with the Elvis Costello concert with you both 🙁

  4. OK, so I have finally been tempted into the twenty-first century and have subscribed to this, my first ever bloggy-whatyamacallit-thingy. And I admit I’m enjoying it! Sounds like you have had an amazingly packed, interesting and fun-filled first week on the road. Well done and keep the posts coming!

    1. Cheers Delphine – very glad to have brought you into the 21st century with the blogging. Hold tight girl – we may even start vlogging!(that’s if I can drag myself into the 21st century and work out the technology)

  5. Absolutely a great week you have had, great photos Stuart and you should get yourself a long range lens over there. Keep up the good work and can’t wait for your next post from your brilliant author.

    1. Yep, am pleased with some of the photos but frustrating not to be able get closer to the vultures – they were huge! At one point, we had ten circling overhead- might have been eyeing us up as potential lunch. Not sure about more equipment though – we are rammed for space as it is so expect more grainy pics to come..

  6. You have just carried me far away from the grey pavements of Londinium for five minutes… It sounds fabulous… Zxxxx

    1. Hey Zana – Glad we brought some sunshine into the grey days of a London autumn. Got some rain here today too but guess it looks a bit more picturesque when not viewed through the grimy windows of a South West commuter train. Cheers, Helen xx

  7. Fantastic that you are off on your adventure! Very jealous of course. The Picos and Asturias are gorgeous. I like the idea of not planning too much and seeing what you find…and of course it’s a million miles away from the regimented nature of working life (or at least my working life).
    I’m still working in Cumbria although now having climbed 178 of the 214 Wainwright fells I’m beginning to think it may be time for a change.

    Best of luck with the big trip.

    1. Thanks Kenna. Stick with Wainwright (or maybe Munro) We were crawling out of Asturias at 4100 feet today and I reckon we aged a year in the process. Now on the flat albeit at 3000 feet. Enough of the hills for a bit. Cheers Stuart

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