I think it might have been this post by Christine in Spain that fixed Spanish Basque Country in my mind. It’s about Puerto Viejo in Algorta, just a metro ride north of Bilbao.
It doesn’t seem like a big tourist destination – I was one of the only visitors roaming up and down the winding, uneven paths among the whitewashed Basque houses, accented with colorful trim and hanging flowers. I could hear spoons clinking against coffee cups through the open windows. It was noon, too early for lunch in Spain.
It is so picturesque that it’s hard to believe people really live in these quaint houses with red and green doors. There was laundry hanging out the windows, the kind that always looks so pretty in pictures, but my little iPhone wasn’t up to the job in such narrow, shadowy walkways. I felt self-conscious taking so many photos anyway – I’m sure that the young locals who breezed past me now and again were laughing at my touristy ways in Basque.
These guys kept waving and insisting that the looney, iPhone wielding tourist take their picture.
There is no doubt that we are in the Basque Country. The Basque flag is red, green, and white, so this tiny village is splashed with local pride. Many houses display a long red and white striped flag, which I thought was the Basque flag for the first half of my trip because I kept seeing it everywhere, but it turns out it’s for Bilbao’s soccer team, Athletic Club Bilbao (…right, sports fans?) There are signs written in Basque everywhere, and I have no idea what they say or how to pronounce any of the words. They sure like the letter X in Basque.
When it was almost a respectable time to start lunching, I stepped into a small cafe with a distinct nautical theme and had some of the best pintxos I ate all week – creamy croquetas speared to a slice of bread with a toothpick, and slices of jambon serrano, and a glass of txakoli, local white wine. Yum yum yum.
I loved Puerto Viejo so much I actually went twice. It’s not hard to get to from Bilbao. The first time, I took the metro to the Areeta stop in Getxo, a town just north of Bilbao which encompasses the Algorta neighborhood and Puerto Viejo. Then I walked north along the water – I think I was going north, anyway – for maybe thirty or forty minutes.
I took my time, took pictures of boats and everything else in sight, made some friends. It was a beautiful sunny day, one of those great summer days where you just wander and eat and drink in the sun and do whatever you want all day long.
I knew instantly when I had reached Puerto Viejo because I saw the whitewashed walls and green trim, just like in Christine’s photos. It’s on a hill; the rocky stairs lead right down to the bike path. It’s quite small and you don’t need much time to visit it, but I could have stayed all day.
The second time, I took the metro up to the Algorta stop to save time (it’s less than 30 minutes from Bilbao) but I got horribly lost trying to find Puerto Viejo. It shouldn’t have been so difficult since I just had to retrace my steps backwards from the last time (because I had walked up to the Algorta metro after my pintxos and wine) but I ended up completely off track – I took wrong turns to a secluded beach (not as cool as it sounds) and a silent residential neighborhood with enormous beautiful houses until someone kindly pointed me in the right direction. I wandered along the coast on a brambly, rocky path until I saw white walls ahead.
Then I wandered some more, ate pintxos, drank txakoli. Rinse, repeat.
How to get there
From Bilbao, take metro line 1 to Algorta. It’s a ten minute walk to Puerto Viejo from there. I recommend bringing the route up on Google maps ahead of time if you won’t have access to phone data, as it can be a little confusing to find your bearings when you get off the metro.