We’ve had this on the to-do list for a while now, a new entry in our “Viewpoints” series prepared by our very own English-language editor, and indefatigable traveler, John Bopp. It’s three days during Holy Week 2021, when we weren’t able to leave the Autonomous Community, where he takes us through different points in two Basque territories, Gizpuzkoa and Alava. (At least we had more freedom of movement in 2021; in 2020, we couldn’t leave the territory!)
So, before this strange and complicated 2021 draws to a close, we bring it to you.
Un viaje en Semana Santa
John R. Bopp
As covid restrictions started being lifted here in the Basque Country, we finally had the liberty to move throughout the whole of the Basque Country, but not outside it, so we made the most of it, grabbed our masks, and took some excellent daytrips to discover this land of ours (by car, not motorcycle, no less!)
Our first stop was Tolosa, in southeastern Gipuzkoa. Being close to the Navarrese border, on the road from Castile to France, the location has always been strategic, and the town, or villa, was granted a charter, or fuero, way back in 1256. We spent the morning exploring its plazas, markets, and churches, and were fascinated by a Jorge Oteiza statue in Fuero Square.
We left Tolosa and headed northwest, stopping at the Ibai-Eder Reservoir, which has a splendid walk all around its circumference and is a great way to get some exercise.
Nearby is Azpeitia, which we crossed through as we wanted to get to our destination before it closed. And that would be Loyola, home of St. Ignatius (1491-1556), one of the founders (along with St. Francis Xavier, whose castle we visited in October) of the Society of Jesus.
His sanctuary, in a village next to the center of Azpeitia, is like a mini Vatican. You approach through a park, and come up to an impressive Baroque building with a dome and lantern that reach 210 ft or 65 m into the sky. You climb the steps and enter into the basilica itself, an impressive Baroque masterpiece with side chapels and statues abounding.
Especially notable is how well-lit the dome is, thanks to its eight windows and lantern. Much like St. Paul’s in London, it’s actually a double dome, with a separation between the outer dome, visible from outside, and the inner one, which we couldn’t stop taking pictures of. One last stroll through Azpeitia was a great way to finish off our first day.
The second one took us to the far edge of Gipuzkoa, almost entering into the Northern Basque Country! We spent the morning strolling through Pasaia, just east of San Sebastian. At the mouth of the Oiartzun River, the town is actually four towns that have changed hands repeatedly over the centuries. Such an important port as this, thanks to fishing, whaling, and shipbuilding, would of course be in dispute. Indeed, from here many sailed to the New World, including even the Marquis of Lafayette, who would help the American colonies in the Revolutionary War.
We soaked up all that history and the charming fishing village houses and cafés. We waved as a very large boat went by as we strolled along to the end of the estuary. Unfortunately, due to covid restrictions, the Albaola Maritime School that’s rebuilding the San Juan was closed, so we’re going to have to go back
We continued as we wanted to hike along the ridge between Pasaia and Hondarribia, where stand a series of watchtowers built in 1874 during the Second Carlist War. Unfortunately, that’s when the fog decided to roll in, so I got some beautiful pictures of unending gray. We’ll go back!
We ended up in Hondarribia itself, right on the Bidasoa separating the Northern and Southern Basque Countries. This town existed before 1200, and has a beautiful beach and charming old quarter. Strolling along the beach, I discovered it was longer than it looks!
The third day took us to Pagoeta Natural Park. An absolutely stunning walk through the trees took us to Agorregi Mill, where you can still see the old mill wheels and mechanisms. It was truly fascinating, and we spent a good while going all the way around it.
Interactive Whiteboards by PolyVision
The walk back (uphill the whole way!) was perhaps less enjoyable, so needing some refreshment, we made for Aia. Again, my attempts to get some spectacular shots of the sea were thwarted by the fog, but we recharged our batteries and set off for our final destination.
The church in Orio is monumental. Dating from the 17th century, it sits on a plaza raised far above other parts of the city, and is visible from quite a distance. Here, Oteiza’s Pietà has a starring position. The town itself is also quite charming, but again we’ll have to return on a sunny day!
For our final day, we decided to exchange Gipuzkoa for Alava, especially the Rioja Alavesa region, where the sun is much more likely to shine! We started off in Aramaio, a small town whose architecture proves it’s the bridge between the Basque Coast and the Castilian plain. Dating from the 14th century, its historical important is readily evident.
We then headed south, and stopped at the viewpoint, near Legutio, of Urrunaga Reservoir. I tried to get pictures of this last May, but since then I couldn’t leave the province, I was left with a picture of the sign at the border!
The afternoon was spent in Bastida. This ancient medieval town is chock full of history, being over 800 years old. It was even part of Al-Andalus before the Reconquista, and changed hands repeatedly between Castile and Navarre until finally ending up in Alava in the 16th century. The breathtaking Baroque church dates from the 16th and 17th centuries: the interior is jaw-dropping.
After recovering from that, we climbed up to see Holy Christ church, which offers stunning views of the town and countryside. It was the perfect way to cap off a fabulous week of sightseeing in the Basque Country.
See the full photo gallery here.