Getaria – A Seafarer, A Couturier & Sensational Seafood!

No visit to Getaria can begin without knowing the answer to this simple question: Who was the first person to circumnavigate the earth?

What you and I learned in primary school, it appears, is the wrong answer! Ferdinand Magellan did plan and embark on the ambitious voyage from Spain. He did discover the strait that led to the Pacific ocean (whose name he coined as well). But he did not live to complete the circumnavigation. That honour goes to one of his subordinate officers: the Basque sailor Juan Sebastián Elcano, who successfully captained the sole surviving craft of the expedition back home from the Pacific.

And his charming hometown does not let you forget the fact. With ubiquitous statues, a strange but imposing monument, over a dozen businesses boasting his name and even a fiesta, every four years, to celbrate his 1522 landing at Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

Getaria is picture perfect. The highway with commanding views over the Bay of Biscay turns into the main thoroughfare that bisects the town into the old and the new. The former, complete with charming medieval buildings and an atmospheric Gothic church with ancient foundations is arrayed along four short parallel streets leading to a wharf lined with a slew of seafood restaurants. All brimming over with lunch time crowds. At 4PM! Our evening snack of fried shrimp and beer is perforce consumed indoors when it becomes evident that no one is in any hurry to vacate a terrace table.

Across the road, the new urban development elegantly traces the steep slope of the hillside. Midway up a flight of stairs (there are escalators for the infirm and the lazy) in a swank annexe to the Palacio Aldemar, is the Cristobal Balenciaga Museoa that pays homage to yet another famous son of Getaria. The stark boxy exterior of this “first museum in the world exclusively dedicated to a dress designer”, sticks out rather oddly against the beautiful Palacio. Inside, the sheet metal overlay with floral cutouts that reminded me of the intricate metal fretwork in the avant garde train station in Cuenca, was nearly as striking as Balenciaga’s timeless creations.

Its renowned citizens aside, Getaria’s current claim to fame is the Mecca for seafood lovers: Restaurant Elkano (What else!) An unpretentious grillhouse, started by Pedro Arreguiin in 1964, that has no sea views or contemporary interiors, and that wears its newly received Michelin star lightly. Aitor, Pedro’s son and current owner, personally guides each guest through a fuss free menu where the ingredient takes centre stage.

We skippped their signature kokotxa – the throat of the hake – since I wasn’t sure I would like its gelatinous texture. But the prawn ceviche amuse bouche, chopped lobster in a beautifully textured onion and egg white sauce and the baked spider crab were all superbly balanced, and the extremely fresh rodaballo (turbot) grilled to perfection. Desserts in speciality restaurants are often underwhelming, but Elkano’s helado con queso (local cheese icecream) in a bath of fresh tart strawberry compote gave their seafood a run for its money.

It was the perfect place to begin our exploration of Basque cuisine, washed down with our first bottle of  Txakoli (the local white recognised as a ‘denomination of origin’ as Getariako Txakolina). And to celebrate R’s birthday! The best seafood restaurant in the world? We are not food connoisseurs and are yet to explore the world fully, but this certainly surpassed any seafood meal we have had anywhere. That’s saying a lot considering I grew up on the coast on an almost exclusively fish diet.

Situated just 25 minutes by road from San Sebastian, Getaria makes for an easy day trip by car or bus. But we opted to stay overnight at the lovely Saiaz Getaria whose owners generously tweaked their two night minimum stay (summer) policy for us. That view alone was worth the night stolen from San Sebastian.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

56 thoughts on “Getaria – A Seafarer, A Couturier & Sensational Seafood!

  1. This is Alex from San Sebastian. I am very glad that you write this post about Getaria and Juan Sebastian Elkano. I like to tell this story to all my american guests. And i am specially glad because you found the best restaurant in town. Elkano restaurant, one of my favourites!!

    1. Delighted to read your lovely comment Alex. We loved Getaria and Elkano is probably the best seafood restaurant we’ve ever eaten in!

  2. Awesome post I must say! I really like the way you write and present your views. Thanks a lot for introducing us to this marvelous place which I’m sure many are not aware of.

  3. What a terrible day for me to come looking for you, Madhu. I saw your comment on Sylvia’s post and thought that you must have posted something new. I’m glad R had such a superb birthday. We have to celebrate all we can in this world.

    1. Hi Jo, I just did! And I also left a comment on your latest post that I suspect has been banished to your spam folder! Always happens when I haven’t logged in for a while! Would you release me please?

  4. Enjoyed learning about Juan Sebastián Elcano! This post actually reminded me a little bit of the town of St. Augustine on Florida’s east coast – less statues and not quite the same shoreline- but when u go to St Augustine you learn all about these “other” navigators and their featured historic man is Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon (also a Juan) who landed there in 1513-oh and they also have nice seafood throughout!
    Anyhow – enjoyed reading your take on this gorgeous place and thinking of the folks not leaving those terraces!
    💛❤️

    1. I wouldn’t have vacated a hard found terrace seat either, so they were easy to forgive 🙂 Thanks for reading Yvette. And for educating me about St. Augustine and Juan Ponce de Leon, hadn’t heard of him before.

      1. Oh those traveling Juans! Ha! And I wonder if some places have a time limit or spending requirement – have a great week M!

  5. Loved the trivia about Magellan…very good. The sights and feel of small town with deep seated history are always the most intriguing and interesting places I find. You put Getaria on the map for me, there is nothing quite like a coastal town to me.

    1. You will love the entires stretch of that coast then Randall. Much of it is still unspoilt. Thank you for reading and for your lovely comment.

  6. I did know he died, didn’t remember who took over! Or where he was from. And don’t think I ever heard of the place before! So thanks for the info! And outrageous photos!! You da man, woman.

    1. Ah thank you Badfish! Much appreciated. But why exactly is da woman less than da man? 🙂

  7. Enjoyed your post, accompanied by the mouthwatering, eye popping cuisine and Nature’s largesse imagery.

  8. Well, I learned something new today. I didn’t know that “Basque sailor Juan Sebastián Elcano” was the first person to successfully circle the globe. Thank you, Madhu, for that and for the excellent photos. 😉

    1. Valentine, what a lovely thing to say! Here’s hoping you get to every single place on that list.

    1. Sublime is the word Poppy! Easily the best fish we have tasted in all our travels or at home. Thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts. Much appreciated.

    1. I am glad you find my ‘discoveries’ interesting Ian. Thank you for reading and for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    1. Debra, the pieces on display, loaned from celebrities and royalty, looked amazingly undated.You could just pick it off the rack and wear it today. The most brilliant indeed.

  9. A beautiful post, Madhu. I knew of Elcano’s origin in the Basque Country, but not Balenciaga! The seafood in Getaria sounds divine, although I wished you also ordered the kokotxas de merluza. I tried kokotxas in Bilbao and remember them being luscious and tender, not overly gelatinous.

    Funny thing is, the picture captioned “a dramatic morning” reminds me so much of the beaches in Hong Kong. Though I am sure it looks completely different in the blazing sunlight!

    1. Thanks James. We regretted not trying the Kokotxas on hindsight. Especially since we are unlikely to find it gracing our menus in the near future. And certainly not cooked to Elkano’s standards of perfection. But at that point, and at those prices, it was a toss up between the prawn and the lobster and the Kokotxas. And I love my shellfish 😉

      Could it be the grey tones that remind you of Hong Kong? That dramatic morning was the only time we found the landscape desaturated. Otherwise it was brilliant azures and turquoises throughout.

  10. What a magnificent view of the beach, Madhu! And the town itself looks pretty too — looks like a very nice place to celebrate R’s birthday. Getaria seems to fit my imagination of a perfect little Spanish coastal town.

    1. It is a lovely town Bama, but then all of them along that coast are. That meal though was one of the best of the entire trip.

      The NE monsoon – slightly delayed this year – has just broken out in these parts. Hope the worst is over by the time you guys reach the East coast. Its good you are heading South and West from Myanmar.

    1. Thank you Vishal. It felt all the more special since it was the first stop on our Basque itinerary.

  11. I am a fan of your writing style. Another awesome post. Thanks for sharing this place which is new to me.

    1. Oh thank you for the lovely compliment Himanshu! The Northern coast of Spain is peppered with many such lovely villages.

    1. That view and the meal were certainly awesome! Thank you for your visit and comment Vamagandhi.

  12. A quiet little spot absolutely brimming with something for everyone and what a beautiful place for birthday celebrations! I want to wade out into those gorgeous emerald waves!

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