As soon as you start planning a getaway, a question arises with an answer that will change the course of your trip: beach or mountain? If you prefer the second option, these hidden villages in the Basque mountains will not disappoint you. Yes, the northern beaches of Spain are spectacular, but have you seen its mountains, valleys and forests? Pure nature in the heart of the Basque Country!
Among the hidden villages in the Basque mountains, you can discover Zerain– one of those small and welcoming villages where the nature is overwhelming. Located in the Goierri region, Zerain has managed to preserve all the charm of the traditional Basque rural environment. In addition to its magnificent church of San Martín de Tours, the town hall and its mill, its main attraction is the royal road which, passing through the spectacular San Adrían Tunnel, crosses the mountain range of the Aitzkorri natural park and enters Álava.
Elorrio is possibly the most monumental town in Bizkaia. It is located near Durango, in the Duranguesado valley. Elorrio is surrounded by mountains and is pierced by the Zumelegi River and several streams. Its historical centre features interesting architecture inspired by palaces, stone crosses and important buildings such as as its church and town hall. Among many other attractions, on the outskirts of the town you can find the Necropolis of Argiñeta and the San Adrían Chapel, a unique and unforgettable place.
Orduña is a town sheltered by the Sierra Salvada mountain range, forming a curious Biscayan enclave surrounded by the territories of Álava and Burgos. Its medieval town centre stands out for its religious and civil monuments. Its must-see sights include its fortified walls, the Church of Santa María, the Ortés de Velasco Palace, the Customs House and the Txarlazo monument. Very close by, in the nature preserve of Monte de Santiago in Burgos, is the spectacular Nervión waterfall.
The beautiful and well-preserved village of Leintz Gatzaga (Salinas de Léniz) is located in the complicated mountain range of Gatzaga – Arlabán. It was an indispensable stop for trade in the past centuries; it was also an important salt producer due to its nearby salt spring. Currently, only those who are in love with the special places that deviate from the motorway travel there. In addition, it still preserves its medieval layout, with ashlar stone houses and a coat of arms dating from 1371.
Quejana – Kexaa (Álava – Araba)
This tiny village in the Ayala valley, wedged between mountains, is one of the least accessible in the Cantabrian mountain range, with only a narrow access road. Its glorious past is evident in its palace and other impressive buildings, constructed by the powerful Ayala lineage, which gave great rulers to the Hispanic monarchy. A few kilometres south of Quejana, one of the main commercial routes of the peninsula passed through the estate of this family, which linked Burgos with the port of Bilbao.
The Spanish painter Ignacio Zuloaga gave the last of our hidden villages in the Basque mountains the nickname of “Basque Toledo,” which refers to the magnificent architecture of this place. It has a very curious history, as it became an important university, constituted a medieval manor in the Egalitarian Gipuzkoa and was the place where the First Carlist War ended. Despite its isolation, it is a very prosperous town and typically has the lowest unemployment rate in Spain each year. Located at the foot of the Aizkorri Natural Park, it is a great starting-point for hikers.
Santuario Arantzazu (Gipuzkoa)
Although this Sanctuary is not, in a strict sense, one of the hidden villages in the Basque mountains, since we have reached Oñati we suggest following the winding road that goes up to the mountain along the cliff overlooking the river. This path is dotted with small chapels, figures of virgins, etc., which introduce us to the religious atmosphere of this area. We will reach a large square, which is partly used as a car park, from which we can see the impressive main façade of the so-called “Sanctuary of Contemporary Art” due to its avant-garde architectural forms and its imposing façades, sculptures and doors. The Arantzazu Sanctuary is a unique place to end this recommendation of hidden villages in the Basque mountains.