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I always say that in La Rioja there are more things than wineries and wine. It is a land with an impressive historical and natural heritage.
In this case our client wanted to make a recording playing her instrument. For this she needed a special place with good acoustics and that was unique for its beauty. It occurred to me that a small gothic-renaissance style church would suit her. The chosen church was Santa María la Mayor in San Vicente de Sonsierra. It is a unique church because of its rich interior and its location. It is situated on top of a hill overlooking the Ebro river from where you can see the whole valley of La Rioja.
We contacted the person in charge of the church and asked to reserve it for us for a while.
After seeing the final result I can’t think of a better place for this purpose. Of course the client was delighted with the place and its acoustics. It exceeded all her expectations.
After visiting a number of other places of interest we stopped for lunch at a typical restaurant in the area.

 

Location

This 19th century neo-gothic chateau is located in Hendaye, in the French Basque Country. It is only 4 km from the Spanish border and it is very well located facing the sea with views over the French coast, the Spanish coast and the Pyrenees. The view over Larrhune mountain that rises imposingly towards the sky is outstanding. The estate on which the chateau is located is very well kept and maintains for grazing animals such as sheep and horses. The entire estate is located within the natural park of the corniche and today is a public domain property belonging to the municipality of Hendaye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antoine Abbadie

The history of the Chateau Abbadie is very curious, as is its architecture in facade and interior design. Antoine d’Abadie was a geographer, ethnologist and man of science in the 19th century who commissioned this work to the architect Viollet Le Duc in 1864. Antoine d’Abadie was a passionate scientist and explorer, he was the first to map Ethiopia where he stayed for 11 years. He was also interested in astrology, celestial cartography and the sources of the Nile. In 1892 he became president of the French Academy of Sciences. The interior of the palace houses an astronomical observatory that functioned until 1979 and has mapped up to half million stars, at his death Antoine Abbadia donated his castle to the Academy of Sciences. He was also a scholar and patron of the Basque language since his father was Basque and went down in history as “euskaldunen aita” the basque father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arquitecture

It is an observatory castle in Gothic style, comprises three parts: the library, the observatory and the chapel. The building is out of the ordinary, its facades are decorated with wild animals such as elephants, snakes, crocodiles and other exotic animals that Antoine discovered in his travels. It is a medieval building that combines oriental and arabic architectural details.

It is definitely a place worth visiting. The truth is that it is a pleasure to walk through its gardens facing the sea and admire the wonderful figures that decorate the building.

 

Elkano from Getaria is the most universal Basque sailor

This is the story of the Spanish expedition that in 1519 left Seville for the Spice Islands in the Moluccas. The difficulty of the voyage is that they would reach their destination sailing westward, since Portugal controlled navigation in Africa and the Indian Ocean. It was an expedition led by Magellan and composed of 5 ships and 235 men. The crew was composed of men of all nationalities: Portuguese, French, English, Germans, Greeks… among them was the experienced Basque sailor Juan Sebastian Elkano. Elkano would take command of the expedition after Magellan’s death in the Philippine islands at the hands of the natives. Elkano’s decision to return to Spain through the west and not to retrace his steps was what made them complete the first round-the-world voyage. In 1522 only 18 men and one ship, La Nao Victoria, arrived in Seville, commanded by the Basque sailor Juan Sebastian Elkano. The first round-the-world sailing had been completed, the first round-the-world voyage that happened to be round. This fact today is comparable to the first trip to the moon and was a revolution in all aspects.

 

Timeline

1519

The expedition departs from San Lucar de Brrameda near Seville on September 20.
On September 26th they reach Tenerife in the Canary Islands. On October 3rd they continue their voyage to Cape Verde and Sierra Leone, starting from there the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. On November 29th they reach the coast of Brazil and stop in Santa Lucia, what is now Rio de Janeiro.

1520

On January 12 they reach the estuary of La Plata but it is not the passage they are looking for, but the longed-for passage to the Pacific Ocean.
March 31 arrival at Puerto San Julian, south of Patagonia; Magellan decides to spend the winter there.
May 3 The Nao Santiago sinks while exploring a river.
October 21 they find the entrance to the strait and begin their voyage. A few days later the Nao San Antonio abandons the expedition and arrives in Seville in May 1521.
November 28th they manage to leave the strait with the fleet reduced to 3 ships and begin the navigation through the Pacific Ocean. It will be 3 months of suffering, hunger, thirst and diseases.

1521

March 6 they reach the Mariana Islands and are able to make landfall.
March 16 arrives at the Philippine Islands, Magellan tries to Christianize the locals, thus breaking the agreements with the king.
April 7 arrival at Cebu. Magellan gets involved in local fighting and dies along with several men in a battle on April 27. Other violent episodes will follow in Cebu.
July 8, arrival in Borneo from where they leave on July 29. Still searching for the Moluccas with only 2 ships on this uncertain route, on September 16, 1521 Elkano is elected captain of the Nao Victoria.
November 8: two years and two months after leaving Seville they reach the Moluccas, the original destination of the expedition.
December 21: the nao Trinidad must stay in Tidore for repairs. Elkano begins the return voyage, but by the western route, which he considers more efficient. The first round-the-world voyage is therefore a consequence of Elkano’s decision.

1522

January 25 stopover in Timor, from where they start on February 11 a solo crossing of the Indian Ocean, without stopovers, which will last several months.
May 19 they pass the Cape of Good Hope after a month and a half of efforts to reach it.

 

July 9, they call at the Cape Verde Islands after 5 months without touching land. They are Portuguese islands so do not say they come from the Spice Islands. They are discovered and some crew members are captured, the rest manage to flee to Spain.
On September 6th they arrive in Sanlucar de Barrameda and in Seville on September 8th, 3 years after their departure. Only one ship and 18 men remain of the 235 that left Seville. Four of those men are Basques: Juan Sebastian Elkano from Guetaria, captain of the Nao Victoria. Juan Acurio, from Bermeo. Juan Arratia from Bilbao. Juan Zubileta from Barakaldo.

Sometimes the weather in San Sebastian can be very adverse. The city is located in front of the Atlantic Ocean, so sea storms have a strong impact on the city. It is spectacular to see the waves crashing against the walls of the city but although it is a very dangerous spectacle. Every year some of the city’s infrastructure are damage by the power of the waves so once the storm is over, is rebuilt as soon as possible.

Some waves can reach to 15 meters in height and crash hopelessly against the rocks and cliffs which is a spectacle worth admiring. Always keeping a safe distance since the waves can make you disappear in a moment. The safest area to admire the strength of the waves is the Mount Urgul which is located over La Concha bay and the Paseo Nuevo. As local Donostiarras we are fascinated by the beauty of the sea and its storms so every year we come to see and feel the fury of the Atlantic sea in the first row. Always with the camera ready to capture that moment when the wave hits the city and jumps the splash of water up to 50 meters above our heads.

When the waves are not so dangerous a perfect place to admire their beauty is “El Peine de los Vientos” this esculpture is located at the end of the bay, on Ondarreta beach. In this idyllic place of San Sebastian you can admire the masterpiece of the artist Eduardo Chillida at the same time you keep an eye in the horizon to see where are the waves coming from and avoid getting completely wet. Very close there is a resturant called Branka where you can hide from the winds and drink a cofee admiring the views over the city.

As you can see even in winter with the worst weather conditions the people of san sebastian go out to enjoy their city. We are waiting for you also in one of those rainy days.

 

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Palacio de Aiete hotel

The Hotel Palacio de Aiete is located on one of the hills of the city in front of La Concha Bay. It is a very quiet residential area, perfect for those clients who are looking for a relaxing time at the hotel and do not want to hear disturbing noises at night. It is an ideal place to relax and rest whether you come on vacation or for work.

It is a 4 star hotel and its rooms and facilities are brand new. Modern and pleasant designs for the comfort of the client. The mattresses are of the highest quality and even have a cart with different pillows.

One of the things that attracts the most attention is the amount of services offered. For example, the jakuzzi located on the upper terrace where you can relax and enjoy a drink while you enjoy the view. Also, they have a masseur service for total relaxation.

Another free service is the fitness room, where customers can maintain their workout routine. Exercise bikes, treadmills, rowing machines will test the most demanding athletes.

Free parking for all your customers. Yes, that’s right, the hotel has the courtesy to offer the client parking for the entire duration of his stay in San Sebastian.

It also has a lounge club and a convention room, both of which have been completely renovated to offer maximum comfort.

Bera Bera Restaurant

The hotel’s restaurant is inspired by traditional Basque cuisine so the quality is guaranteed. Always fresh products of the highest quality to satisfy the most demanding palates.

In short, the Palacio de Aiete hotel is the perfect place to spend a few days in San Sebastian. In addition, they give you a 15% discount if you book through the website. I leave here the link for those who may be interested.

https://hotelpalaciodeaiete.com/es/

 

Little California

One of my favorite places in San Sebastian is the Zurriola beach in Gros neighborhood. It is the beach for surfing and sports in general. It is the beach of the young people. For me it’s like little California in San Sebastian.

It has a promenade that goes from Sagúes at the foot of Mount Ulia to the Kursaal by the Urumea River. The Kursaal building is the city’s convention center. It is a very modern building and it has the shape of a cube. It is a big contrasts with the classic architecture of the city but on the other hand is a very practical building. At first it was a very controversial construction but today it is an icon of San Sebastian and one of the most vibrant points of the city.

Gros neighborhood has some bars and restaurants that are worth visiting. On Thursday evening the famous pintxo-pote is held and for only 2 Euros you can have your pintxo and beer. It is a day in which all Donostiarras come to enjoy the party atmosphere.

As I said before, La Zurriola is the perfect beach to practice water sports. Surfing is the most popular and can be practiced every day of the year. There are numerous surfing schools where you can go to rent equipment or take lessons. Come and enjoy the gros neighborhood!

Check out the waves at Zurriola beach from the webcam!

 

 

 

The “makila” is the traditional basque stick that besides its practical use, is a cultural symbol of authority and strength. For example, it is used in political appointments in the Basque Country. The head of the Basque state, the lehendakari, is sworn in and given the “makila”.

Hand-made piece

Beñat Alberdi from his workshop in Irun he continues the tradition. His grandfather started the trade in 1948, then his father and now he has decided to continue the family tradition.

The handcrafted production of these pieces is not easy and requires time. The process begins in the depths of the Pyrenean forest. In these forests you can find the much appreciated nispero wood. The most appropriate branches are carved in life so that the plant begins a natural tattooing process on the wood. This process can take about a year and that’s when the branch is cut. The “tatoo” is well visible along the entire length of the pole.

Cut in winter, it is debarked in the oven, dyed with quicklime and straightened with heat. Once prepared, the rod is covered at the bottom by a brass, alpaca or silver ferrule, carefully chiselled by hand with Basque motifs. The upper part is crowned by a horn handle that takes shape in a threaded tube covered with braided leather. For the makila called of honor, the hilt is entirely made of silver or alpaca.

Honour and respect

It is a gift that is made to honor another person and show your respect for them. On the upper part of the handle you can carve some typical phrase of the Basque tradition as they are:

“Hitza Hitz” The word is the word

“Hitzemana zor” what is promised is debt

“Ihes etsaiak” escape enemies

“Nerekin beti zuzen” with me always straight

“Nere bideko laguna” my friend traveler

“Nere laguna eta laguntza” My partner and support

Famous people from history

The custom of the Basque people to give away makilas as a symbol of friendship has very old roots. After the First World War, Marshals Foch and Petain and President Clemenceau received makilas. Through these gifts, the Basques of the North of the Pyrenees showed their gratitude. The makila of Marshal Foch had a map of Verdun and on it printed: Hemendik ezin da pasa (From here you do not pass).

A long list of personalities from political, social and sports life have been given the Basque makila. Here some examples; The Pope Juan Pablo II, Ronald Reagan president of the United States, Juan Carlos king of Spain and more.

Here i share the link to the website of these Basque artisans. The last makila artisans.

 

https://www.alberdimakila.com/

 

Inspirock Trip Planner

https://www.inspirock.com/spain/san-sebastian-donostia/san-sebastian-trips-a8246012267

Top tours in the Basque

The Basque country is a land of contrasts. To the north, mountainous landscapes facing the sea, typical of the Atlantic climate. On the other side, in the south there is a predominance of wheat fields and vineyards, more typical of the Mediterranean climate. It also has an important historical legacy and therefore offers its visitors many tourist possibilities. In the Northeast, Gipuzkoa or the San Sebastian region and the border with the French Basque country are the most important. The first mountains of the Pyrenees are the natural border between the two countries, France and Spain.  The French Basque side is a very picturesque and charming place. The villages look like something from the pages of a fairy tale.

In this post we want to highlight some of the top tours in the Basque territory.

San Sebastian city & pintxos

San Sebastian is a small city of unparalleled beauty, nestled between mountains and the Bay of Biscay. La Concha Bay is its best known landmark. It is a city founded by fishermen and traders. At the end of the 19th century it became the summer residence of the Spanish royalty and aristocracy, which revolutionized the local economy and turned it into a tourist destination of high standing. Large and luxurious hotels were developed as well as restaurants, cafes, casinos and spas. Today the city is still a tourist attraction worldwide and its gastronomy plays a starring role. In this tour we want to show you the best places of the city and end up enjoying the gastronomy in San Sebastián’s Old City. We will try pinchos in 5 different bars accompanied by 5 top-quality wines from our land. Throughout the experience, our clients have a local guide at their disposal who will advise them which are the best places and the best pinchos. He also does all the work, because sometimes it can be difficult for a foreigner to order in a crowded bar.

Rioja wine tour

La Rioja is a land of wine, it is a land of history, it is the Camino Santiago(Saint James’ Way), it is gastronomy. We could say that it has everything. The landscapes are fantastic, The Cantabrian range to the north, The Demanda range to the south and the  Ebro river crossing the valley from east to west. The medieval villages have a special charm and the quality of their gastronomy is recognized worldwide. 

The vanguard of this gastronomy is the wine. There are many wineries, some of which are more traditional in style and were founded in the 19th century. Others are more modern, from the 21st century, and can be seen well in the architecture of their buildings. But all of them have in common the quality of the wine. The Rioja wines use mainly Tempranillo grapes and must meet very strict quality requirements to market their wines. In addition, wines with the crianza and reserva labels must remain a minimum of 12 months in oak barrels. In this tour we visit and taste the wines of some of the best wineries in Rioja with a variety of different styles. We will also visit some historical points of interest and of course enjoy traditional Rioja food. Don’t miss this tour!

 

French Basque Country 

The French Basque country is an absolute delight for the senses. It’s postcard perfect no matter where you look at it from. And you certainly have options – from mountainous inland areas to the beaches which line its coast. The villages are very charming. Despite some customers saying they look like they’ve been taken out of Disney movies, they are indeed real and have a lot of history, some of them founded in the 10th century and some traditional Basque houses that are still standing and inhabited today are from the 16th century. 

In the French Basque Country we differentiate two areas for our tours. One would be the coastal area and the other would be the inland area. In the coastal area, the villages of Saint Jean de Luz, Guethary and Biarritz stand out. In the inland area, villages such as Sare, Ascain, Ainoa and Spelleta. On this tour we like to surprise our clients by crossing the border into the mountains and visiting some villages on the Spanish side. This area of the Basque Country is also worth seeing.

Bilbao & the coast

Bilbao is the economic capital of the Basque Country and northern Spain. Historically a great industrial city, today it has been reconverted. The maximum exponent of this reconversion would be the Guggehim Museum. The building’s impressive architecture and exhibitions attract people from all over the world. It’s a true pleasure to walk around and admire its absolute magnificence in all its architectural details. There are also other museums like the Museo Bellas Artes in Bilbao that are worth a visit. This tour continues from Bilbao to the Basque coast. There we stop for lunch, usually in Guetaria,  a fishing village famous for its wine and restaurants. It is also a village with illustrious inhabitants that we encourage you to discover. The food here is excellent and is based on fish and seafood. On this tour we combine the modern and cosmopolitan art of Bilbao with the beauty and tradition of the Basque coast.

 

Hike & cider house restaurant

This is a top tour since it combines some aspects that I personally like the most such as sport and gastronomy. We usually climb an emblematic mountain in the region of San Sebastian. It is considered the first mountain of the Pyrenees and is right on the border with France. The views from here are impressive. After a light hike we will be able to taste the gastronomy of the zone in a typical place – a Basque cider house. The menu is always the same, good fish, good quality steak, and a dessert of local cheese and walnuts. To drink you have all the cider you want directly from the barrel. It’s one of my favorite places to eat. I always say it’s a must!

 

Cruise on a sailboat

It’s a good way to get to know the Basque coast on board a sailing boat. We can appreciate the landscape from a different perspective. I remember the first time I saw my land from the sea. I thought it was a wonderful thing, that it had been there all this time and I hadn’t seen it. For me it is a very recommendable experience. Also, sometimes we can see our friends the dolphins fluttering around the boat as if they came to say hello. On the boat we always like to offer our clients a good wine and an aperitif based on local products. Everybody loves this tour and so do I.

 

 

Peñas de Aia, the 1st mountain of the Pyrenees

One of the visually spectacular elements of San Sebastián is its unique setting between the mountains and the sea. One of these mountains, Peñas de Aia, is a mere 15 kilometers from San Sebastian. It is approximately 850 meters (about half a mile) high. It is a rocky mountain of rugged beauty and dominates the city’s horizon. It is considered the first mountain in the Pyrenees from the western end. In addition, it is located in a truly spectacular conservation area, whose slopes are crisscrossed by rivers and punctuated by waterfalls in the rainy season. The views from up there are spectacular – on one side, you have the Atlantic coastline of Spain and France, and on the other, the Pyrenees stretch out before you. On most days, you can see the first snow capped peaks in the distance.

The hike

There are two ways to reach the summit. You can start from the base of the mountain, at the source of the Oiartzun river. From here the climb is hard and steep, but at a good pace you can reach the summit in about 2 hours. The other option is to park the car in an area near the summit on the north side. From here we have a 1 hour walk.

During the ascent you can enjoy the local fauna and flora, like wild horses and sheep grazing placidly on mountain slopes. Our local pride is the Latza breed sheep, which produces the milk that is used to make Idiazabal cheese, one of the best known local products in the Basque Country.

It is an easy route, suitable for all people with a minimum of physical ability.

"peñas de aia hiking"

At the feet of Peñas de Aia mountain. From here we start the hike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cider house restaurant

After the hike, it’s time to eat! Since we are in the Basque Country we will go to a traditional cider house to eat fresh fish, tender beef, and cheese from the local farms. These foods go perfectly with a tart, lightly carbonated hard apple cider, always poured directly from the barrel. While cider is a very tasty and even healthful drink, it’s easy to drink fast after a hike, so we encourage moderation.

FOOD AND WINE TOURS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

roncesvalles

In winter, it is still possible to go river fishing in the Basque Country.  Close to San Sebastian there is one in particular that has great trout all year!  

The day was mostly cloudy which makes it perfect for river fishing.  We began the day fly fishing but with only a few nibbles and nothing to put into our basket. The brown trout on this river is quite large and so it is difficult to catch them with light equipment. 

In this photo, you see E.W.H, a professional rugby player on the Biarritz Olimpique team https://www.bo-pb.com/ , and his father.

 

Fishing in san sebastian

 

Around 2pm we decided to stop and enjoy a light lunch on one of the picnic tables along the riverbank.  We munched on local products such as cured ham, fresh bread, cheese and wine….perfect for restoring our strength to continue fishing.  I’ve always thought that a good picnic is paramount to a successful day of river fishing.  After lunch, we decided to change our technique and began spin fishing.  It wasn’t easy, but we finally caught three great specimens of brown trout.  
Around San Sebastian, there are many rivers with abundant trout.  In spring the season expands to include all rivers and it is the best time for this sport.  I would love to take you on a fishing excursion with San Sebastian Trips!