This article was translated by John R. Bopp

We made those most of Spring Break to take a quick tour of one of our favorite places on the Basque coast: Pasaia.

Specifically, we drove to their most touristic and attractive places, Pasai San Pedro and Pasai Donibane, two towns within this municipality that have flanked the narrow mouth of this harbor, the Port of Pasaia, which is the most protected on the Bay of Biscay.

Carta náutica Del Puerto de Pasaia de 1788
Nautical chart of the Port of Pasaia from 1788 (Source)

When you arrive, you discover two towns separated by a narrow body of water that is the entrance to the Port of Pasaia.  Connecting the two is a small boat, called La Motora.

It’s amazing how these two towns have grown on the narrow strip of land between the mountains and the sea.  This situation means that as you’re walking down the main street (which is practically the only street) of Pasai Donibane, you can feel the waves of the bay hitting the ground underfoot.

La estrecha bocana de Puerto de Pasaiaa y la motora que transporta a los pasajeros de una a otra orilla.
The narrow entrance to the Port of Pasaia and the boat that transports passengers from one side to the other.

When we stand there and look at the entrance to the port, which the boat crosses in just one minute, and then we look at the boats docked at the same port, we can’t help but wonder how its possible they go in or out of that narrow, winding waterway.  Of course, a good part of that “miracle” is the responsibility of the port’s pilots.  If you’d like to understand what we’re talking about, take a look at a video they made on their website:

Or this other video, where you can see the whole process of getting the Azamara Journey, the first cruise ship to visit, into the port.

This point of the Basque Coast is closely tied with both the history of our country and important events.  During our visit, alongside the Pasai Donibane dock for the Motora, the memorial dedicated to the town’s citizens’ participation in the Battle of Ronceveaux Pass.

Alongside it, just a few meters away, is another memorial to when the Marquis of Layfeyette set sail from this port, at just 20 years of age, aboard the La Victorie, a sailboat he had bought himself just a bit earlier in Bordeaux, to help the Continental Army fight for the independence of the US.  His boat set sain on April 26, 1777 with supplies of arms (5,000 rifles) from the factories in Gipuzkoa and a crew of 65 volunteers.  It was his first trip to the New World, and the start of the legend of the “Hero of Two Worlds”.

But its privileged connection with history goes far beyond that: it was also a Roman port, a port for part of the Invincible Armada, a logistical center for the Guipuzcoan Company of Caracas, birthplace of Blas de Lezo, the place where Victor Hugo discovered the Basques… Strolling down its streets is not only to enjoy a place of beauty and personality.  Strolling down its streets is strolling through history.


But, as we always say in this section, we just tell our experiences, and we invite our readers to enjoy these places we visit and enjoy for themselves.  We’re not tour guides.

Pasaiako planoa
Pasaiako planoa (Oarsoaldea)

This is especially true if, as is this case, there are great resources to be had.  We recommend the Oarsoaldea website, which has lots of clear info online to get to know the main tourist resources in the Gipuzcoan towns of Renteria, Lezo, Oiartzun, and Pasaia.  It’s a great website to use to plan a weekend getaway or a day trip.

On this occasion, we dedicated a few hours one afternoon when the weather kept changing from sunny to rainy and back.  This meant we weren’t able to visit many important places, so they’ll have to wait for our next visit.

Albaola la Factoría Marítima Vasca
Albaola la Factoría Marítima Vasca

Without a doubt, one of those things we’re eager to check out in that next visit is the Albaola Basque Sea Factory.  As they explain on the Oarsoaldea site:

Albaola factory evokes many sea odysseys lived by the Basque people along the New World trough the whale hunters and their vessels. More than a museum, this factory is an imaginative and open space where you can learn, thanks to a dynamic process, the sea history of the Basques watching the public construction of the replica of one of its most famous ships: XVIth century whale ship SAN JUAN.

Since we are huge admirers of Basque sailing history in the North Atlantic, we have to visit the replica of the ship San Juan, which is being rebuilt right at this extraordinary location.

Also, we’ll try to get that visit to coincide with the 2018 Pasaia Maritime Festival.  From May 17-21, more than 100 boats with over 400 crewmen will inundate the city of Pasaia for this grand international maritime heritage event.

We’d like to share a vide and some photos of our brief visit to this corner of the Basque Coast, which has the best harbor in the Bay of Biscay.

And we’ll be back, because this visit was just the beginning.

Last Updated on Dec 20, 2020 by About Basque Country

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