February 2007- Vittoria by Marisa Mackle

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  Fruits of the Basque forest: Ryanair links Dublin with the Basque capital this month

Fruits of the Basque forest: Ryanair links Dublin with the Basque capital this month

When people think of Spain, they probably think of sun, sea and Sangria, but the beautiful, almost barren-like Basque area of Northern Spain is so far removed from the usual stereotypical image, that it may as well be a different country altogether.

The mountainous picturesque countryside and vast acres of vineyards really give you the impression that you’ve left it all behind and entered a secret delightful world that the Basque people have kept to themselves for far too long.

The city Vitoria-Gasteiz is the capital of the Basque Country and is home to some truly magnificent buildings. Founded in 1181, it still preserves an impressive medieval quarter.

Most of the centre is pedestrianised which makes it ideal for walking sort distances. Enter into the medieval part of Vitoria and you´ll see the spectacular stately homes and Renaissance palaces of Villa Suso, Casa del Cordón (15th century tower with Gothic Hall), Escoriaza-Esquival, Portalón and Montehermoso.

Here you also can also visit the famous Fournier Museum of Playing Cards homed in the Palacio de Bendaña.

 

In the heart of the ancient city, it is possible to view large sections of the old medieval wall, especially in the Santa María Cathedral; a Gothic temple originally constructed as part of the city’s defensive wall. These days this treasure is one of the most visited sights in the Basque Country.

Currently undergoing restoration, the stunning  Santa Maria is a history book in stone of the city. The restoration has exposed its guard towers, slitted defensive windows, and long sentry paths. Unlike visiting a normal museum, it is possible to witness the on-going process  and experience first-hand, an authentic archaeological site. Hard hats are a must though!

Also hugely recommended is a visit to The Fine Arts Museum housed in the Palacio de Augusti opposite the Ajuria Enea Mansion, which is the official residence of the President of the Basque Country. The museum contains Spanish paintings and sculptures from the 14th century until the beginning of the 20th century.

The splendid gardens of the museum are home to sculptures by Basque artists in their native environment and Romanesque pieces. The archaeological museum, housed in a 16th century Basque home, the House of Guevara-Gobeo-San Juan, is also a must-see visiting. Those interested in modern art should pay a visit to the Artium Museum.

The Plaza del Machete, Plaza de Espana and the Plaza de la Virgin Blanca are popular places for eating, and drinking and the nearby Florida Park is the perfect place to walk off the calories afterwards. The main street in Vitoria, lovely tree-lined Calle Dato, has a huge variety of clothes shops, cafes and stylish bars.

 

This city also enjoys a marvellous selection of quality restaurants. We had dinner in the fabulous El Portalón, an authentic old inn of the 15th century and one of the most famous restaurants of the city. www.restauranteelportalon.com. I can honestly say it was one of the nicest meals I’d ever had in my life and the ambience was unbeatable.

The following morning we boarded a bus to Laguardia, one of the prettiest medieval villages of the whole of the Basque area. En route we dropped into Baigorri, a spectacular wine cave at the village of Samaniego www.bodegasbaigorri.com and sampled some of the wine on offer, working up an appetite for lunch at the delightful restaurant of Antigua Bodega de D. Cosme Palacio, www.habarcelo.es.

That night, after a leisurely walk along the village’s tiny cobbled streets, and one last wine tasting (for the road!) at Bodega (www.bodegaselfabulista.com),  plus a quick visit to the spectacular cathedral, we checked into Hotel Villa de Laguardia. (www.hotelvilladelaguardia.com) to rest our weary heads for the night, tired but very happy. My only complaint about this treat of a trip was that it was too short!

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