What can we tell you about this little tourist destination, to be found halfway between the Gipuzkoan capital San Sebastian and the Biscay capital of Bilbao, and known as Lekeitio?
Well, that according to the last official count, the town has approximately 7,000 inhabitants, though this number falls well short of its summer-time population. And it's no surprise really, given that Lekeitio is located in an area blessed with natural beauty, thanks to its two beaches and its truly exceptional surroundings. Here one can find autoctonous species of trees, like oaks and beeches, alongside whole woodlands of eucalyptus which, as well as helping cool down the air during the summer months, give the sensation of strolling through an exotic wilderness.
Even though Lekeitio is not especially big, the fact remains that in the town, especially around the old quarter, there are quite a number of things that simply are a Must-See.
For example, its magnificent basílica de la Asuncíon, or Basilica of the Assumption, perhaps one of the best examples of Basque Gothic architecture, also with unmistakable hints of a more north European influence. Not only its façade will captivate you, as it practically transports you to medieval France, but also its interior, home to a magnificent alterpiece brought all the way from 15th century Flanders.
And of course,.. being a popular holiday destination Lekeitio is well-stocked with all sorts of bars and restaurants. But that's something you can discover for yourself! Especially if you take a stroll along the small and charming area around the port, or the old quarter, with its steep little streets and truly vintage houses! For here one has a veritable compendium of architectural styles: Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclasical, as well as hints of the wealth this town could once boast thanks to the successful fishing and trade industries of yesteryear.
But even all this does not reveal one of Lekeitio's best-kept secrets, that you can discover for yourself if you venture as far as the San Nicolás island... Once there, you can close your eyes and imagine Jack Aubrey, captain of HMS Surprise, shouting orders and firing cannons on the French Corsicans, for this was the setting of many of the battles that were Europe's bane during the Napoleonic Wars.
In June 1812, between the 16th and 19th to be precise, merely a few months before Napoleon's Grande Armée would be severely defeated by the hellish tactics of the White Russian Army, his handsome soldiers would get a taste, though on a smaller scale, of the bitterness of defeat.
The soldiers charged with serving up this bitter dish were led by the legendary Gaspar de Jauregui, otherwise known as “The Shepherd”, who went from tending sheep in the fields to commanding entire batalliones of infantry. During those final rainy days of the Spring 1812, Jauregui was leading the First Volunteer Force of Gipuzkoa. Fighting alongside him was none other than the British Royal Navy, whose sailors, soldiers and cannon-discharging artillerymen were all at his disposal on the island of San Nicolás.
Thanks to the British cannons, Jauregui's Gipuzkoan Force launched one attack after another against the walls that existed in those days to protect Lekeitio. Unfortunately, strong winds on the night of the 19th June would carry off the British fleet; all that was left to do that showery night was launch one final attack on the French, as the air filled with drops of rain and French gunshot. That night, San Ignacio (St Ignatius) the patron saint of those soldiers, had his work cut out because the Gipuzkoans, after breaking down all the external defences, managed to corner the French in the Santo Domingo Convent. As it happens, the convent is a magnificent building that to this day remains well-preserved in Lekeitio's old part precisely because Jauregui had no need to fire the two cannons he had brought with him all the way there.
And this was how Jauregui, his volunteers and his royal majesty's soldiers and sailors were able to declare Victory during that rainy night. Not even General Caffarelli, one of Napoleon's favourites, could save the garrison of Lekeitio, which on the 20th June 1812 passed into Allied hands: A portentous sign to the Emperor, perhaps, that his star was on the wane, and it all started here in this little town of Biscay, which you are now visiting.