Category Archives: Castles

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

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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, and Marqués de Riscal Winery in Elciego,Rioja AlavesaElciego, Marqués de Riscal winery

How a XIII Century Cathedral Is Being Restored

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In the very centre of what´s knows as The Almond (due to its peculiar shape), that is, the historic district of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the Basque Country, there´s the Old Cathedral of St Mary´s. A few years ago, a very interesting project was born: the restoration of this Cathedral to stop its decaying process, seemingly unstoppable at the time. They have a great motto, Open For Reworks, (Abierto Por Obras, in Spanish), and they offer guided tours with experts that show you why the Cathedral was about to collapse, what are they doing to prevent it from falling down and how are they “reconstructing” some walls and columns so the building stays as it is for several more centuries. Extremely interesting for art and architecture lovers, for families and kids and for everyone interested in History, with capital letters. The Old Town of Vitoria-Gasteiz offers a great array of historical monuments and it´s also well worth a visit (the Jewish quarter is very well kept and its buildings are beautiful). This project has received a good number of prizes, based on its universal interest, and you can have all relevant info on www.catedralvitoria.com, also available in English.

Castles in the Basque Country II. The Tower of Varona.

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This beautifully restored castle, or maybe fortress, built originally in the IX century and rebuilt on the XIII-XIV,  is located in the beautiful Valdegobia valley, in the much unknown province of Araba. Scarcely populated, it´s nevertheless full of historical places (very close to it is Valpuesta, one of the first places where the Spanish Castilian language was born) and near the pretty church of Tuesta. Also very close to the Natural Park of Valderejo and the town of Espejo (“mirror”, in Spanish). Nature at its full length…

The legends goes that there were three brothers and a sister, María Pérez, and the first three went to battle for Doña Urraca against  king Alfonso of Aragón. The lady also participated in the battle, hidden under an armor, and at one moment she found herself battling against the king, face to face. She defeated him, and admired by her braveness and after finding out he had been fighting with a woman, he told her “You´ve fought bravely, not as a feeble woman, but as a strong warrior. Therefore, you will not be considered a man hereafter (“Varón”, in Spanish), but “Varona” in feminine, and thus that will be the name for your descendents”. And so her name changed from Pérez to Varona.

For more info on the area, http://www.valdegovia.com/en/ver_index.asp, also on the romanic and pre-gothic church of Tuesta, Valderejo Natural Park, Salinas de Añana, etc…A very relaxing area, very authentic, full of unexplored jewels…And eating at the restaurant in the public swimming pool of Valdegobia may also be a great idea…

Castles in the Basque Country I. Castle of Butrón

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The castle of Butrón corresponds to the romantic idea of a castle. Located in Gatika, 20 miles from Bilbao, it was a mediaeval fortress built on the XIII century, that served as defensive tower in the fights that took place for centuries between Oñacinos and Gamboinos, the two big families that dominated the Basque Country in the Middle Ages. On the XVI century another castle was built on its place, and then it was abandoned for many years until the Marqués de Cubas recontructed and gave its present shape on the XIX century.butrón 1

At present, it belongs to a private company, it has served as restaurant for some years but it´s currently closed for visits. In any case, the views and the pictures you can take are spectacular. It is surrounded by a luxurious tree garden, with exotic species, and the visit is really worth it.