Just a few kilometres away from San Sebatian is the pretty town of Zarautz, a place with an overwhelmingly wide array of leisure and cultural activities to choose from.
We'll start our tour at the beach, which is iconic among surfers thanks to the International Championship held here every year. Its majestic and varied right and left-hand waves, along with the moderate temperature of the water all year round, make it an ideal location for professional surfers and aspiring amateurs alike.
On the Maritime Walkway that accompanies the beach along the entire stretch of its 2.5 kms, there are numerous bars and terraces from which to enjoy the sea view. And keep your eyes peeled! Halfway along the Walkway is the hotel-restaurant Arguiñano, belonging to its namesake, the famous TV chef Karlos Arguiñano. Another well-known but less gastronomic artist, the impressionist painter Joaquín Sorolla, painted his wife and daughter here, on the beach at Zarautz, in a scene entitled “Bajo el toldo” or “Under the awning”.
To the east of the sandy shore, opposite the sea, is the Zarautz golfcourse and just alongside it you can see the protected biotope of Inurritza, where the dunes, marshlands and estuary are all visible within a small area. At 177,000 km2, this system of natural dunes is the most extensive in the whole of Gipuzkoa, although most of it belongs to the golf club. As a result of the extreme conditions afforded by this place, due to the mix of salt and fresh water, flora is scarce and it has had to develop its own complex systems in order to retain moisture. There is plenty of fauna, however, and if you're very quiet, there are a variety of birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects to see.
Previously, wagons travelling by air and filled with iron mineral would be transported to this part of the beach. Yes, you heard correctly! More than 100 years ago aerial transport was used from Asteasu, located 11 kms from here. Along 112 metallic cables up to 150 tonnes of iron, the equivalent weight of 25 elephants, could be transported every hour. You can access the erstwhile mineral wharf, called Mollarri, either by car or by climbing some wooden steps located at the far right end of the beach.
Let's now head inland from the coastal area and into the town itself where one can visit two museums: the Photomuseum and the Art and History Museum, part of a Monumental Archaeological Ensemble belonging to the Church of Santa María la Real. In the latter, various stages of occupation of the area are depicted, from the Middle Ages to the present day. As with many churches around the Basque Country, this gothic-style church was originally built with a single nave, the chapels being subsequently added on either side thereby creating a church in the form of a Latin cross. The crusade column you can see outside once belonged to the church, before a lorry accidentally carried it off. In fact, that wasn't the only incident to be suffered by this church: In the year 1586, a false pilgrim from Genoa, called Bartolomeo Casano, stole the jewels from the temple and, after his capture, was brought to justice in a gallows that had been swiftly erected in the esplanade between the church, the Narros Palace (where Casano had hidden the consignment of stolen jewels) and the shipyards of Santuru.
Zarautz was officially established in 1237 and although it never had any defensive walls, various tower-houses were erected to take care of this function which to this day still do not go unnoticed. One of the most impressive among them is Torre Luzea (meaning The Long Tower) which along with Torre Laburra (The Short Tower) defended the western entrance to the town during the Late Middle Ages, today providing us with two magnificent examples of Basque civil gothic architecture.
Torre Luzea (also known as the Makatza house) is a four-storey building where one can still see the remains of the ancient kitchen as well as the medieval toilet built in to the heavy walls. Thanks to its monumental aspect it was not demolished at the end of Gipuzkoa's hectic Middle Ages, an era that makes “Game of Thrones” look like a romantic comedy. It is true, however, that King Henry IV of Castille removed the defensive elements from the Tower as a warning to the rebellious feudal lords that had dared to defy him there, sometime towards the end of the 15th century. However, he wasn't such a bad guy at heart and didn't hold a grudge, so he allowed his repentant vassals to keep the tower and even add some ornamental bits and pieces, such as the trilobate arches and the coat of arms, though these days they are difficult to make out.
Zarautz also boasts various other interesting buildings. The Town Hall, for example, now installed in what was once a Palace belonging to the noble Portu family, powerful and influential knights who claimed to all and sundry that their lineage was so powerful that their palace would be built according to the “latest fashion”. In other words, what we nowadays call Renaissance Style.
And these are just some of the things you Must See as you stroll through the streets of Zarautz. Don't miss out!