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Basque Country Travel Guide & The Belle Epoque Route

Coastal Scenery in Zestoa, Zumaia, Getaria and Zarautz

At its peak, the Belle Epoque era in Europe, was an age of peace and optimism, filled with artistic, scientific and cultural discovery. It was also during this time that the seaside towns of Zumaia, Getaria and Zarautz became important destinations for European aristocracy seeking fresh air, seaside resorts and healing spa treatments.

Starting in the village of Zestoa with its gothic Lili Palace from the thirteenth century and the Ekain caves with prehistoric cave paintings, this area of the Urola Kosta region has been inhabited since early times and in the twentieth century it became known for its thermal springs. The healing properties of water and relaxing spa treatments have been a favorite past time of the well-to-do for hundreds of years.

It all began around 1760, a story is told that the dogs of the Marques of San Millan went swimming in the marine waters, and their skin infections were miraculously cured, word spread that the healing powers of these marine waters offered unique health benefits and businesses began to grow. Up to 11 spas were opened in this small province catering to health and leisure seekers. The Cestona Spa opened in Zestoa in 1805 is the only balneario or spa from this period still in operation. The modern facility retains its classic façade but inside boasts modern hydrotherapy facilities, a fully staffed hotel with conference facilities and lush gardens with century old trees.

Continue along the coastal road for 8 kilometres until you arrive at Zumaia, a seafront town where the rivers Narrondo and Urola meet the sea. Zumaia has two beaches, Itzurun and Santiago as well as several interesting stops including Casa Museo the house of famous Basque painter Ignacio Zuloaga, containing works by El Greco, Rivera, Zurbarán and Goya. You will also find a handicraft museum and in the old quarter, the Church of San Pedro, is a Basque Gothic style church with a magnificent altarpiece by Juan de Antxieta.

Zumaia is also a pilgrimage destination for geologists and scientists from around the world for the famous Flysch, a name given to the spectacular cliffs that have been carved out by the sea exposing millions of years of geological history written in successive layers of rock strata.

From Zumaia head to San Sebastian until you reach Getaria, where Juan Sebastian Elcano was born, he was the first captain circumnavigate the world. As Ferdinand Magellan's second in command, Elcano took over after Magellan's death in the Philippines. The lush valley and well restored fishing town is filled with restaurants famous for grilling fresh seafood, beaches, waterfront promenades and four rural districts surrounded by vineyards where the grapes used to make the local white wine txakoli are grown.

Along the way you will come across the coastal route of the Camino de Santiago, which winds its way through these fields, and the medieval church of San Prudencio until you reach Askizu, a balcony that overlooks the Bay of Bizcay where you will find the church of St. Martin of Tours, patron saint of pilgrims.

San Anton Mountain, known as Ratón de Getaria (Getaria Mouse) is a natural park where you can find diverse vegetation and wildlife. This mountain park was an island until the fifteenth century when it was then connected by an artificial peninsula. The trail to the summit leads you past a lighthouse, which was once a lookout point to warn vessels when whales came close to the shore, from here head on the Katxapo, a veranda with a panoramic view of the Basque coastline.

Before leaving Getaria, stop and visit the museum of Cristobal Balenciaga, who was born in Getaria. This Spanish Basque fashion designer is famous for transforming the feminine silhouette and his architectural approach to fashion.

Places: Zestoa, Zumaia, Getaria, Zarautz. 
Travel time: 21.7 km (13.48 miles), 45 min. 
Length: 2 Days.

Discover the Iron Route next.