St Ignatius of Loyola, the Basque founder of the Jesuits

17 06 2014

You have surely heard of the Catholic order of the Jesuits, as they are present all over the world. But I´m sure you didn´t know that the founder was born in 1491 in Azpeitia, in the heart of the Basque CountryIñigo de Loyola (born Iñigo, a Basque name, that he changed later to Ignacio), of a noble family, received a good education and soon became a soldier serving the King of Castile. In 1521 he was injured while battling in Pamplona, and retired to heal his wounds to his fortress in the valley of Loiola, near Azpeitia and Azkoitia. During his long recovery he started reading religious books, that made him rethink his whole life. Once recovered, he started a life of sanctity that led him to the foundation of the Jesuit order, probably the most influential in the history of the Catholic church.

The 18th century basilica is located in a beautiful valley, surrounded by a park full of trees and the Urola river that flows through the mountainous scenery. As you can see by the pictures, it´s a magnificent but at the same time a modest building, with a great dome covered in baroque paintings and designs. On its left hand side you can visit the birthplace of San Ignacio de Loyola (a medieval tower) that has been beautifully restored to its original state. You can visit both buildings, the Loiola tower shows most rooms as they originally were on the 16th century.

Right by the Basilica (or Sanctuary) there´s a nice, cozy hotel and some rural lodgings, as well as fine restaurants, in an atmosphere surprisingly tourist free. The valley offers very interesting visits, like the Ferrería de Mirandaola (Ironmongery) in the Iron Valley or the town of Idiazabal, where the world famous Idiazabal sheep cheese is made (also, the Cheese Museum deserves a visit). The Railway Museum in Azpeitia offers the possibility to ride in a steam locomotive train…a great experience for kids!!

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Medieval Towns in Basque Rioja…it´s more than just wine

9 06 2014

Rioja wine region is divided into Rioja Alavesa (Basque Country), Rioja Alta (La Rioja) and Rioja Baja (La Rioja and Navarre). It´s mostly small family wineries, but of course there are also some big ones among them too. A visit to a winery in Rioja is always a delightful experiences, as you spend at least a couple of hours learning how they´ve been making wine during centuries. No wine bars like in Napa valley…it´s a much more enriching experience.

Medieval tower in Labraza, where time passes slowly

Medieval tower in Labraza, where time passes slowly

But there´s more to Basque Rioja than wine. When you drive along the roads surrounded by vineyards, you will for sure find a beautiful medieval town on your way. Or several prehistoric monuments, like dolmens and funerary burial sites. Or incredible churches that keep inside amazing altarpieces. Or a walled town, just where lied the borders of the ancient kingdoms of Castile and Navarre. Or maybe  just a town with nothing special on it but full of flavor and a particular relaxing atmosphere, where one of its neighbors may invite you to his place for a homemade meal.

Dolmen of the Sorceress, in Elvillar

Dolmen of the Sorceress, in Elvillar

Next time you´re there, don´t forget to visit walled Laguardia and the façade of Santa María de los Reyes (a must), Labastida and its fortressed church, medieval Labraza surrounded by nothing but vineyards, Samaniego, Lapuebla de Labarca, Baños de Ebro, Kripán, Elvillar, Elciego and the Marqués de Riscal winery (designed by Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim arquitect)…you´ll find a lovely atmosphere in places where the path of time seems to be slower than in the rest of the world…

Fortress church in Labastida, Basque Rioja

Fortress church in Labastida, Basque Rioja

Elciego, Marqués de Riscal winery

Elciego, Marqués de Riscal winery





I´m moving…

30 03 2010
It´s been a long time since my last entry on this blog, mainly for professional reasons but also because I´ve been contacted by the Basque Broadcasting Corporation (yes, it does sound like the BBC!!), that is, www.eitb.com, and they´ve proposed to publish this blog under their web dominion. I´ve accepted, and the new blog will be published together with a series of other interesting blogs in English language (http://www.eitb.com/en, at the bottom of page) most aspects of Basque life (gastronomy, sports, culture, tourism,…). The new address is http://www.blogseitb.us/basquetourism/, I hope you will continue visiting this blog and sending your comments or questions. Some of the entries will be new but I will also publish old ones, for the newcomers.

Of course, I will maintain my independent (but non-objective and clearly biased) point of view. Hope you like the new blog!!





Basque Ferrerías – Ironworks of the Middle Ages and Beyond

24 02 2010

One of the main characteristics of the Basque soil is (was) its rich content in high quality iron. Up to the XVI century, there were around 300 foundries producing iron for all of Europe. Nowadays, it still plays an important role in our present industrial activity. At the very beginning, the foundries were located on top of the mountains and they used the wind as the main force to produce iron, using coal as the source of heat (in an extreme anti-economical way). Soon they found out that it made more sense to have the ironworks by a water stream, and so “modern” foundries were established in many Basque towns.

I´ve been to two of these foundries, that have been recently restored . You can visit them (visits also available in English) in order to see “live” how iron was formerly obtained, the historical reconstruction is very well performed and what you see is probably very close to what it really was. One of them is near Bilbao, in Muskiz (Bizkaia), Ferrería El Pobal, www.elpobal.com (this link will redirect you to another page available in English)- press here for a 4´youtube video of a visitor-. You can also see how they got flour with a water mill. It´s cheap and very interesting, kids find it amusing.

The other one is located in Legazpi, Gipuzkoa, where there formerly were 7 foundries. This one is Ferrería Mirandaola, on this link (not the best of webs, but it´s in English too), located in the middle of a beautiful park where you can enjoy the incredible landscape surrounding it.





The blog of blogs about the Basque Country: buber.net

26 01 2010

Blas Pedro Urberuaga, a son of Basque shepherds that emigrated to Idaho (USA), started his web www.buber.net, the most complete and comprehensive on the internet about the Basque Country. It covers all aspects of Basque life and you can find there information on almost any Basque issue.

He´s so popular that the annual prize for the best Basque webs is named “Buber Sariak” or Buber Prizes, an event that is widely popular among those dedicated to the internet world.

If you want to have a deeper knowledge of who we are, what´s going on, our history, landmarks, etc…, www.buber.net is the best web. And then, this one, of course…:):)





Txoko and Batzoki-II

19 01 2010

So you arrive into the Basque Country and notice that, unlike your country of origin, there are bars. Many bars, as in the rest of Spain (although our level of alcoholism is not higher to that of your country, paradoxically). Bars in Spain and in the Basque Country are places to socialize, to meet, to talk, to enjoy a small drink and a “pintxo” or “tapa”, but not to get drunk (at least, not their main target)…well, you already know this. So you enter in a bar, and find that there´s a lot of Basque memorabilia on it: flags, pictures of people in Basque berets and of traditional Basque sports, Basque symbols everywhere…welcome, you´re now in a “batzoki”, roughly translated, “the place to meet”. Batzokis belong to the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV-EAJ) and are everywhere…there´s one per town over 1000 people, at least. They serve as places where members of this party (over 100 years old and in power for 30 years, just until last year) like to have a drink and hold meetings. They are bars in the strictest sense of the word: entrance is public and you get the same as in every other bar. Famed for their excellent food, pintxos and low prices (not so low now), they are very popular, even among those that do not hold the same political views.

The new strategy of the PNV regarding batzokis is to modernize them with a mixture of traditional and very modern interior arquitecture, to offer excellent menus at very good prices and to win every pintxo contest held in the Basque Country. And a familiar atmosphere too.

The extreme left nationalist parties also have their “Herriko Tabernas” or “People´s Taverns”, much more radical in looks and many of them clearly supporting ETA violence (many are being closed now under the new laws that have ilegalize these parties). The socialist party has their “Casa del Pueblo”, “People´s Home”, also a bar but not as popular as batzokis.





San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Eneperi, San Pelayo,…

1 12 2009

On the road to Bakio to Bermeo there are three places that you can´t miss on your visit to Euskadi: the church of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the restaurant Eneperi and the chapel of San Pelayo.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a small church built in the X century, dedicated to St John. The peculiarity of this church is the place where it was built: on top of a small isthmus (or peninsula) linked to land by a narrow pass. And to get there you must first go down from the small parking lot by the main road and then climb the 237 stairs that lead you to one of the most special places in the Basque Country. You can get a very good idea of the place on this amazing 3 minute video, a bird´s eye of the church. More info, videos and pictures on www.sanjuandegaztelugatxe.com, available only in Spanish (international promotion is not one of our strong points…). I´ve been there several times, the climb is not that hard, the views are spectacular (cliffs, forests and a rough sea) and the legend goes that if you sound the bell three times your wishes will be fulfilled.

On the way there from Bakio, to your left, you will see the sign for Eneperi, an ancient “baserri” or Basque farmhouse turned into a restaurant, www.eneperi.com. The restaurant offers excellent local food in a very cozy atmosphere, and the bar area has just been renovated, adding a glass balcony that overlooks the island of Aketxe. There´s also a “cervecera”, that is, a popular place that offers grilled chicken, chorizo, green peppers, black sausage and the likes, plus wine, beer or cider, on the “help yourself” concept, at good prices. A meadow to lay down overlooking the ocean and a kid´s play area complete the scenario.

And on th right hand side of the road, the chapel of San Pelayo, a very popular XII romanic church. Many Basque couples celebrate there their wedding ceremony, not only because of the special significance of the site, but also because of the great views and closeness to Eneperi restaurant.

For those looking for a more lively atmosphere, there´s the 01, with a huge open air terrace and ocean views. DJ music, live shows,…