We've decided to take this audio guide by the tail!... More specifically, the tail of the mouse of San Antón!
For the people of Gipuzkoa and beyond, it is difficult to mention Getaria without picturing its island with its characteristic shape so similar to that of a little rodent. Its original name is the Mount of San Antón, and these days it is a National Park that forever looks out to sea. The mount is now artificially joined to the town of Getaria, in turn dividing its coastline into two little beaches. To the left you will find the beach of Gaztetape, very popular among surfers thanks to its right-hand waves... less favoured by Cardinal Richelieu, mind you, who attempted to conquer it in 1638. Things didn't turn out as well as he'd hoped since, despite managing to sink the Spanish fleet right there in the bay, on disembarking he suffered a humiliating military defeat.
On the other side is the beach of Malkorbe, which is more shielded from the swell of the sea and where you can enjoy a swim in calmer waters. Continuing along the road towards Zumaia and descending a flight of steps, you will find the wild, rocky and mostly isolated beach of Orruaga.
At the top of what would be the head of the mouse, one finds the lighthouse from where previously whales could be spotted, since whale-hunting was once the principal occupation of the town of Getaria. What is more, if you look closely at the coat of arms carved in stone on the local Town Hall you will see that the dominant image is a harpooned whale.
It so happens that, along with Donostia-San Sebastian, you are in one of the oldest towns in Gipuzkoa. The exact date of its foundation, by King Sancho VI of Navarre, remains unclear. One hears mention of the year 1180, and also 1194, and there is a theory its name derives from a Gascon word “guaita”, meaning “look out”. That is probably why this is not the only town along this coastline to bear such a name... There is another one, on the French side of the Basque Country, called Guéthary. Another theory, based on archaeological findings, is that the two Getarias were named as such for their “Cetareas”, vivariums or fish farms linking directly to the sea.
Running parallel to the coastline is this town's main identifying feature... Mount Gárate. Can you guess why? Well, because this gently rising knoll of almost 280 metres is what gives Getaria the perfect microclimate in which to grow an exceptional grape; one which is then turned into a young white wine called txakoli by the farmhouses located on its hillside. It is so unique that, in fact, it even boasts its own Certificate of Origin: “Getariako Txakolina”.
But let us return to the main town!… and take a minute to contemplate the impressive 15th-century gothic church that lies at the end of its main street; the Church of San Salvador, which has been declared a National Monument. And if you happen to step inside, don't panic! The sloping floor is not due to the effects of txakoli, but in fact to the rocky terrain located below which meant the high altar had to be, well, even higher! Curiously, running underneath this church and linking it to the main street or Calle Mayor, is a narrow tunnel which, along with the ramparts, was used for defensive purposes and can still be visited today.
When you wander deeper into the streets of Getaria, it is hard to avoid gazing up at the grand houses, which date back to the gothic, baroque and neoclassical periods. Despite enduring demolition and various fires throughout its long history, thanks to recent restoration work, one can still appreciate the delicate decorative work on the tower-houses. In contrast to rural towers which served a merely functional and defensive purpose, these tower-houses were a mark of the social prestige and economic prosperity of its residents. In the Calle Mayor, you will find the Ochoa e Ibañez de Olano tower-house; over 600 years old it once belonged to a wealthy merchant and an archaeological site found on its grounds also revealed that Getaria had been inhabited during the Roman era.
Another of Getaria's most impressive tower-houses to be found slightly further up is the Aldamar Palace. Belonging to the Marquesses of Casa Torres, it was where one very famous fashion designer spent much of his childhood: Cristobal Balenciaga. Nowadays, you can visit the Balenciaga museum which can be accessed through the modern building next door to the Palace.
And speaking of famous people from Getaria... We have left the best for last, namely its world-renowned inhabitant Mr Juan Sebastian Elcano. Navigator and explorer, five hundred years ago he became the first person ever to circumnavigate the Earth in the famous Magellan-Elcano expedition.
And by the way, did you know that in his testament, made in 1526, he left three grills and three barbeques? Well, centuries later, Getaria continues the tradition, cooking with these utensils at street level. So do not think about it anymore and as it is said here “on egin,” meaning, enjoy your meal!