The Pyrenees start the long journey east to the Mediterranean in the Basque hills of Gipuzkoa. Dotted with large Basque farmhouses the rolling hills hide towns that have kept traditions largely unchanged for centuries.
Pure Basque Country
Basque baroque Palaces
Santa Maria Church
Santa Clara Convent
Ignatius Loyola sanctuary,
Founder of the Jesuit religious order
Historical town centre with Main Square,
Enparan Tower House
Well preserved old quarter
16th and 17th century mansions
San Pedro de Ariznoa Church
Santa Marina de Orixondo Church
Wander the narrow cobbled streets
The ‘Toledo of the North’
Exquisite old quarter
Sancti Spiritus University
St Michael parish church
The countryside of the Basque Hills lends itself perfectly to outdoor pursuits including high level climbing at Araotz, potholing at the San Elias Cave, trout fishing the Araotz reservoir and the Olabarrieta and Zubillaga Rivers. Stunning natural beauty and low lying mountains provide perfect mountain biking and walks possible for all ages and levels. Mount Aizkorri at 1528m altitude is topped by a small chapel and a well maintained shelter for those looking to spend a night on the summit. Mount Aloña and the Oñati valley constitute the best paragliding.
Tolosa, the capital of Gipuzkoa in the 19th century is known for the pure Basque spoken and enjoys an abundance of distinguished buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries; the Baroque Idiaquez Palace, Aranburu Palace, Andia Tower, Santa Clara Convent and the Gothic Santa Maria Church. Tolosa is one of few towns in Gipuzkoa to have a bullring and is well worth visiting Saturday mornings for its lively market.
Azpeitia, 28km west of Tolosa is the birthplace of Ignatius Loyola, a courtier and soldier who gave up everything to spread religion. Returning wounded from the siege of Pamplona in 1521 he began his life’s work forming the Jesuit religious order. The beautifully proportioned 18th century Loyola sanctuary is testament to his work. The historical centre of Azpeitia has retained the main square and interesting buildings such as Antxieta House and Enparan Tower House.
Moving South, Bergera has a wonderfully preserved old quarter; an ensemble of 16th and 17th century mansions, the San Pedro de Ariznoa Church and the gothic Santa Marina de Orixondo Church. Wander the narrow cobbled streets, shop at a surprising number of boutiques or take a drink at one of the many small bars tucked in the old town.
Continuing south Oñati enjoys a dramatic setting nestled between the Aralart and Arantzazu mountains. This most monumental town is full of artistic grandeur and architectural wealth deserved of its reputation as the ‘Toledo of the North’. The old quarter contains a wealth of monuments including the Sancti Spiritus University (founded in 1540 and for centuries the Basque Country’s only university), St Michael parish church, Bidaurreta Monastery and Lazarraga tower-house.
9km south through the Arantzazu gorge is the Arantzazu Sanctuary, a place of pilgrimage since the virgin appeared miraculously in 1468. Renovation in the 1950’s led to a new contemporary Basilica created by the Basque Country’s most notable artists including Jorge Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida.