7 Off the Beaten Path Must-Sees in the Basque Country

27 01 2015

So you´re coming to the Basque Country because you want to visit Donostia-San Sebastian, the Guggenheim and try some of the famous pintxos. Good for you!…but you´re missing many other great visits that go unseen for most visitors. Here´s a list of seven of them:

1- The Transporter (or Hanging) Bridge of Vizcaya, that links Portugalete and Las Arenas (metro Areeta). A unique construction, running 365/24, built in 1893, that can transport 6 cars and quite a good number of people on its two barges (it resembles a catamaran, somehow). Patented in the Basque Country, it´s the very first one and the most beautiful of all. You can take the lift all the way up and cross it from side to side, with incredible views. Always a delightful surprise to visitors.

Another view The Transporter Bridge

2- The Rolls Royce museum Torre Loizaga, http://www.torreloizaga.com, the biggest and best Rolls Royce car collection in the world. Kept in a beautiful castle about 30kms from Bilbao, the owner (that died in 2009) built this collection throughout his adventurous life and also reconstructed the tower castle. A real must for car lovers, as it also has some Ferraris, Cadillacs, Lamborghinis,…

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3- Pozalagua Caves, one of the three caves with the highest concentration of eccentric stalactites in the world. Located in the unspoilt green valleys of western Bizkaia, they can be visited and the experience of seeing those weird shapes is just amazing. A short, beautiful video on them on this link.

4- The Basilica of Loyola (or Loiola), located in this neighbourhood of Azpeitia (Gipuzkoa, near San Sebastian). Right by it, the castle where St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the religious order of the Jesuits, was born. The castle is kept as it was during the time St Ignatius lived there, and the Basilica is a great example of a 18th century church, with its huge central dome. Surrounded by mountains and in a green valley, this visit is another must.

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4- Vitoria, the capital city of the Basque Country. Its Old Quarter, called The Almond due to its shape, and with a medieval Jewish quarter, is beautiful and contains amazing centuries old buildings. The Cathedral of Santa María, “open for repairs”, offers a great visit that shows you the reconstruction of this 13th century cathedral. And don´t forget about the pintxos in Vitoria!!

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5- Labraza, declared the Best Walled Town in the world in 2008, and the smallest fortified town in the Basque Country, is a beautiful example of a well preserved medieval village, off the beaten path and unspoilt by tourism. Just 60 houses in total and the church of San Miguel, surrounded by the fortified walls. A must during your visit to Rioja.

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6- San Juan de Gaztelugatxe…becoming more and more popular, but still massively unvisited and remaining unknown for most foreign visitors. 300 stairs lead to the top, where you´ll find a church and have to ring the bell…Meaning “the castle in the rock”, it was formerly a castle used for defense against foreign invasions. Amazing.

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7- Ainhoa, probably the most beautiful village in the French Basque Country…it´s cemetery, right by the church, deserves a visit, as well as main street, surrounded by beautiful Basque style houses in perfect condition.

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A very short list, as the Basque Country is full of hidden, unspoilt places that are always a great way to experience our real way of life and visit our favorite places. More to come soon…





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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