At the end of the costera del bonito, the fleets appear moored to the bollards transmitting a workable, innocent joy, as the novelist Rafael Chirbes described. Without the stresses of the summer, the walk through these charming ports in the north of the Peninsula means internalizing the movement of boats, fishing gear, the bustle of auctions, boxes and trucks; smelling the salt of the docks together with faces with tanned complexions, initialing the day in an element that cannot be missing in any minimally complete canon of port culture: the bar.

Oysters, anchovies, pintxos, hake stuffed with crab, squid rings, octopus, scallops… Gastronomic delights that are complemented by visits to museums, lighthouses or a stop to see the Bermeo neskatillas at work.

A scrumptious port: Getaria (Gipuzkoa)

Getaria is the main gastronomic-fishing center of the Basque coast. On the way down to the port we will stop at the Dona Doni ice cream parlor, before passing under the Gothic church of San Salvador (on Sundays the temple closes at 12:00). Many will be moved to see at first light the pitching of the squid in the old whaling port of Getaria, with 16 inshore purse seiners that end the campaign in mid-November, making it possible to photograph them in full color. Added to the seiners is a flotilla of seven small-gear boats that daily supply the city’s grills with sole, mullet, bream… although they usually sell their catches at the Pasajes market. They do not have an arrival time.

The nets are often seen, on the piers or on your ship, if the weather is not good or if the patch is tricky. Some juicy Maisor anchovies, bought in his store, will be the best souvenir in Getaria. In the morning it is possible to see through a glass how the women make them. And not to stray too far from the port, there is the Saiaz Getaria hotel.

If we have not managed to reserve one of the four tables at the ElkanoTxiki bar (648 02 79 12; closes on December 11), the origin of the famous Elkano restaurant, we will head down Calle Mayor. The lively Basque pintxos bars have one of their icons in the Politena bar, opened in 1968. With two or three walls of pintxos (glazed after the covid) that almost hide the waiters, a variety is at hand that enters through the eyes, and in what way. You can not only eat fried squid fish in Getaria, but also seasonal products such as artichoke with mushrooms and foie, black pudding or mushroom tartlet, although nothing has as many fans as squid rings, without forgetting the classic hake stuffed with txangurro; all washed down with chacoli from Bodegas Katxina. The menu costs 35 euros (without drinks).

Fondeo separately: Fisterra (A Coruna)

Due to the strength of the Atlantic, the boats in Fisterra, as well as in the rest of the Costa da Morte, usually anchor separately, leaving a safe distance between them (the punts do have pontoons). This is how its 83 small craft boats can be glimpsed near the finis terrae, those that work with pots for octopus or complicated gillnets, such as the beta (for whiting or pouting) or the mino (used for sole and turbot). For greater abundance, we have nearby, in the castle of San Carlos (18th century), the Fishing Museum (673 42 31 74; admission: 2 euros), whose visits, from Tuesday to Sunday in the morning, are guided by the former sailor and poet Manuel Lopez until next December 31.

The fact that in winter the ocean currents clean the seabed of algae makes the veteran Diving School Finisterre an appealing autumn activity. Everything invites you to dive into the iron freighter Montparnasse, sunk in 1900, explore the gorgonian forests of the Lobeiras islands; glimpse the passage of rays ready to spawn, swaying over kelp forests.

The arrival of the fleet takes place between one and five in the afternoon, time to go up to the gallery of the market designed by the architect Covadonga Carrasco to attend the auction where money is not seen but heard. The one with octopus, razor clams and longueiron takes place at 4:30 p.m.; half an hour later, that of the fish.

A view from above is offered from A Galeria, an alluvial library inaugurated in 1988 in which all the pilgrims and travelers who have passed through here have deposited souvenirs; a cabinet of curiosities including a dinosaur fossil, as well as an old bulb from the Finisterre lighthouse. Roberto Traba (Fisterra, 1961) is the owner, a conservative and talkative soul in this bar and mixed bag at the same time. While some have toast from the Velay bakery for breakfast, others leaf through books or peer at the port through the windows, waiting to celebrate the aperitif with a portion of kilometer zero octopus.

Between green mountains: Viavelez, El Franco (Asturias)

The Viavelez port is hidden like no other on the Cantabrian coast, and with the modest fishermen’s houses it summarizes a whole postcard of what this coastline was like in the middle of the last century. This is because Viavelez has historically been invisible, both from the sea and for many poorly informed coastal travelers. The navigator of the car will first lead to the viewpoint of the Watchtower, from where until the 17th century the whales could be seen. Then we will go down by car to the port, where two red marina houses stand out, one of which belongs to the most widely read author in Spanish, Corin Tellado (1927-2009), the great lady of the pink novel.

The fleet is made up of eight small boats of minor gear, of which they go to the longline (hook), to the pot, to the volantilla… and whose octopus has obtained the prestigious ecolabel of sustainable artisanal fishing, certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). They return at lunchtime.

Before reaching the mouth of the port, we will see the port beacon (red) that provisionally replaces the one demolished in 2020 by the Bella storm, which still remains at the bottom of the sea awaiting rescue. Almost in silence, we will leave a marine cave and the cetarea (nursery) on the left, to finally leave the climb to the Viavelez viewpoint, next to the Litoral sculpture, by Ernesto Knorr.

Everything seen is ruminated in the Taberna Viavelez, original from 1989. Chef Paco Ron obtained two Michelin stars in these kitchens before moving to Madrid to open his successful Viavelez restaurant. Today the two Rodriguez Bedia brothers run the premises, who have decided to open this year in low season, from Wednesday to Sunday. The autumn tapas are made up of scallops, octopus, grilled boletus confit and Cantharellus risotto, among other delicacies.

Oysters!: San Vicente de la Barquera (Cantabria)

The San Vicente de la Barquera estuary is transformed at low tide into a suggestive succession of shoals and boats leaning over the sand. There, after the Barquera bridge, lies the fishing port which, being inside the estuary, offers great protection, although it requires a heavy outlay to dredge its access channel each spring. If it stands out for something, it is for being the largest port of refuge between Gijon and Santander. For the car there is free parking (the paid one, only as a last resort). The market comes alive early in the morning with five purse seiners and 13 smaller vessels. The rest of the morning, longliners generally loaded with hake arrive.

The fishing port of San Vicente de la Barquera (Cantabria), seen from the castle.Alamy Stock Photo

After taking a look at the patron saint from the gate of the Santuario de la Barquera, we will go up to the Punta Silla lighthouse, which has become the Interpretation Center of the Oyambre Natural Park and where beforehand we can join different guided tours.

Right next to the jetty ―closed to the public during storm surges and spring tides― is Ostranor, a Japanese oyster farming company over whose purification pools stands La Ostreria San Vicente, the gastronomic section of the oyster company. This bar-restaurant has two menus: the one on the terrace includes oysters, both natural, with its soft and fine texture that is so reminiscent of the French ones from Arcachon, as well as tempura with soy aioli, wakame seaweed and flying fish roe. sharing a beautiful panoramic view of the estuary and the beach of Meron until ending at Cape Oyambre. Some ship greets the diners with its horn.

Sculptures and ‘little girls’: Bermeo (Bizkaia)

Time, given the abundance of attractions, passes quickly in the port of Bermeo. The park of Lamera is escorted by the hake fleet of 28 boats, which goes out “to the varied”, and to which two purse seiners are added. The neskatillas are the women who worked in the port, of which only a few remain in the Basque Country, among them five Bermeanas who make visits to the fish market, show how the nets are mended and include a tasting of anchovies and bonito. As the groups are of a minimum of 10 people (10 euros per person), it is possible to join an already established group.

On the slope of the mountain we glimpse an exponent of Basque rationalism: the Kikunbera house (1930), by Fernando Arzadun, which bears a great resemblance to the bridge of a ship. Already in the Old Port, especially in Hutsa Eskilarak street, it is surprising that the entrance to the houses is made by independent stairs. Next to the docks, littered with sports boats, a globe was erected last year in commemoration of the feat of Elcano and his boatswain, Juan de Acurio from Berme.

The striking thing about the Museo del Pescador is that it occupies the tower of the family home of Alonso de Ercilla, author of La Araucana. At his feet stands the sculptural group ¡Ay vienen!, by Enrique Zubia, which recalls the 116 sailors drowned in the gale of 1912 (30 weddings were left without effect). This sculptural splendor of the city is extended by the famous Bermean sculptor Nestor Basterretxea and his eight meter high Corten steel wave.

One of the rooms of the Museo del Pescador in the tower of Ercilla de Bermeo (Bizkaia).Alamy Stock Photo

If the Baztarre viewpoint invites you to anchor your gaze on the island of Izaro and the Ogono rock, the Atalaia park will do no less, with murals on whaling.

In 2023, the Kafe Loidxie will celebrate a quarter of a century beating expectations. Up to 300 skewers are on display at rush hour, from traditional ones such as desalted cod with oil and garlic, to the more complex baked potato with txangurro and cococha de hake al pilpil. As it is impossible to assign labels to everyone, the bar staff explains them to the audience. Apart from the squid rings, another specialty that is successful is the garlic sprout omelette, with ham and cheese. To this gastronomic plan we must add, upon return, the tasting of products from the Arroyabe cannery, in its gastroshop, with own-brand wines.

A museumized fishing boat: Burela (Lugo)

In just eight square kilometers of municipality, the Galician town of Burela concentrates a fishing activity that is difficult to see in the Cantabrian Sea, perhaps because many Cantabrian and Basque boats come to sell at this port of the Marina Lucense, while others fish in the fishing ground. de Gran Sol, in search of the hake on the skewer. Starting at five in the afternoon, the inshore fleet docks, made up of about thirty small-gear boats and “varied” boats, that is, whatever comes in (seabass, coastal bream…). If the wooded sea prevails, nothing like socializing with idle fishermen. And, why not, go to the first market that Burela had, nicknamed La Moncloa, where the old sea lions gather around a small museum.

The best introduction to marine life is provided by the wooden-hulled tuna boat Virgen del Carmen, a floating museum that rescues the tradition of the Cantabrian tuna fisheries in the 20th century. In the fridge, the sample of equipment, arts and methods of fishing stands out -trolling, seine, trammel net-. The visits, guided by Lino Pernas, take place from Tuesday to Friday, at 11:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.; Saturdays, only in the morning (admission: 5 euros).

We end up going up to the A Lonxa bar-restaurant, which collects among the 111 species of fish and shellfish that are auctioned one floor below: from the market to the plate, never better said. A good time to taste sea urchins -cooked or steamed-, squid or octopus with clams. In the dining room, the highly valued grilled red pomfret reigns supreme.

The coastal plain begins in Burela, a strip up to five kilometers wide that extends to Cantabria. At low tide and with good shoes to step on boulders, we will be able to approach some curious cavities in the cliff, called La Iglesia de Coedo, which has a small resemblance to the well-known Las Catedrales beach (Ribadeo). At Christmas, Easter and summer, guided groups come.

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