A visit to pristine Basque Country may be the remedy if you’re a stressed out multi-tasking urban dweller in need of some serious rejuvenation in a short time! Not that you need an excuse to visit this picturesque region of northern Spain.
According to David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too.
And we don’t need long, in just three days, you can see significant results, The three-day effect (says Strayer), is a kind of cleaning of the mental windshield that occurs when we’ve been immersed in nature long enough. Source: This Is Your Brain on Nature.
That’s why, I think a long weekend revelling in the green wonders of Basque Country is the perfect prescription for a stressed out urban dweller! I know it was for me! So here are my top 6 recommendations of how best to travel in Basque Country to return home a new refreshed, blissed out you!
Take a Coastal Drive Along the Basque Country’s 175km Long Coastline
There are some incredible coastal drives in Basque Country. I particularly enjoyed the one from the town of Honarriba to Pasai Donibane. I highly recommend taking a few minutes and stepping out of your car. Then breathe. I mean really breathe. If you’re stressed out, chances are that you’re not breathing as deeply as you could be. This is the ultimate spot to take a few well deserved minutes and feel the stress melting away. When I arrived at the spot pictured below, I had a pounding headache. I kept mentally running through my ever expanding to-do list. But after just a few minutes of inhaling deeply, the pounding slightly subsided. I hopped back onto the bus with a spring in my step that hadn’t been there 10 minutes earlier! The healing powers of nature at play!
In the wise words of famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959),
Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
Take a scenic coastal drive from Honarriba to Pasai Donibane.
Take a Boat Ride or Go For a Swim Between Pasai Donibane and Pasai San Pedro
The boat ride only takes a few minutes, but I loved this spot! Locals were diving into the water, some even with their dogs! It’s a place where locals revel in the simple pleasures – and remind us that on a hot day, nothing is more refreshing than a cool dip!
I took the boat across to get to Albaola, a sea factory of the Basques, where I learned all about whaling in Basque Country and how Basque sailors were excellent whalers going all the way to Canada (my home country). I didn’t expect to fin it interesting, but I did. It’s worth a side trip if you’re in the area. Travel tip: They’re closed on Mondays.
River crossing from Pasai Donibane to Pasai San Sedro
Head to One of Basque Country’s Incredible Beaches
If you’re like many stressed out urbanites, hitting the beach is the only thing on your mind when you need to de-stress! And for good reason. Doctors have been prescribing trips to the beach or bathing hospitals (where seawater bath treatments were administered) since the 18th century!
In fact, one British study reported that people who took trips to the coast experienced more feelings of calmness and relaxation than those who visited urban parks or the countryside.
Fortunately, you’ll find a wide variety of beaches to choose from in Basque Country with its 176 km long coast line!
Concha Beach in San Sebastian is a popular choice if you want to see and be seen….
Concha Beach in San Sebastian
while Getaria Beach is a quieter option. Pick the beach that best suits your style. You’ll also find surfing beaches in Basque Country. There’s something for everyone!
Walk the El Camino de Santiago
If you have time by all means walk the entire 791 km (490 mi). Assuming that you don’t, settle for a scenic 5 km stretch from Getaria to Zumaia. You’ll walk past vineyards, rolling hills and finish with a gorgeous coastal view! Not only is walking in nature restorative, but it can even prevent depression! Not to mention, help fight weight gain from all the delicious Pintxos that you’ll be eating!
Walk the scenic 5km stretch of the Camino de Santiago from Getaria to Zumaia in Basque Country.
Take a Boat Along the UNESCO Basque Coast Geopark
The Basque Coast Geopark consists of 13 km of cliffs showcasing spectacular rock formations known as Flysch deposits. Some of them are over 60 million years old. You can experience the Coastal Flysch Route on a guided tour – either on land, sea, or both. I took an awe-inspiring boat ride from Zamaia to Mutriku. It ranked as one of my favourite boat rides of all time – the ultimate mood booster! Take a look:
UNESCO Basque Coast Geopark
Spectacular rock formations seen along the UNESCO Basque Coast Geopark
Go Bird Watching at Urdaibai Bird Centre
I loved visiting the Bird Centre with its observatory overlooking a marshland in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. It’s one of the most important wetlands in Europe. The best time to visit is in spring or fall where you can spot migrating birds. I visited off season, but there were still 22 different bird species to be seen!
Best of all, 3 black-winged stilts were born just hours before my arrival. That’s only the second known time such a birth has occurred in Basque Country! They’ll stay for a month or two before migrating to Africa. Thanks to a conveniently placed webcam, I got a close-up look at them! Unsurprisingly, there are health benefits from birding! I know I certainly felt them after my visit to Urdaibai Bird Centre – especially watching the new-born stilts exploring on their still shaky legs!
View from Urdaibai Bird Centre.
Where to Stay in Basque Country
You could stay in the larger centres of San Sebastian of Bilbao, but if you really want to get away from it all, I highly recommend Hotel Arbe, just outside of Mutriku. The owner of this quiet modern hotel is incredibly warm and welcoming. Upon hearing of my gluten allergy, she baked three special gluten-free treats for breakfast! And that’s in addition to also providing gluten-free bread! Plus, the views! I had a sea view from my room, and the pool was just steps away. Hotel Arbe is the type of place where you feel lighter upon arrival – the ultimate way to de-stress!
I recommend staying at Hotel Arbe near Mutriku.
You may well arrive in Basque Country feeling frazzled, and overworked, but by spending time in these natural places you will leave feeling rejuvenated. You’ll be a more relaxed and happier version of yourself! And isn’t that the best kind of travel?
You can fly from London to Bilbao in less than 2 hours, making it a great quick getaway!
Disclosure: Many thanks to Basque Country Tourism and the Spain Tourism Board for the UK and The Travel Mob for making my visit possible. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.