Hidden villages in the mountains of the Basque Country

As soon as you start organizing a getaway, a question arises whose answer will change the course of your trip: beach or mountain? If you are one of those who, like me, prefer the second option, the hidden villages in the Basque mountains will not disappoint you. Yes, the beaches in the north are spectacular, but… Have you seen the mountains, valleys and forests? Pure nature in the interior of Euskadi!

Zegama, Guipuzkoa


Zegama (Gipuzkoa). | Shutterstock

Among the hidden villages in the Basque mountains, Zerain is one of those small and cozy where nature overwhelms. In the Goierri region, it has managed to preserve all the charm of the traditional Basque rural atmosphere. In addition to its magnificent church of San Martín de Tours, the town hall and its mill, the main attraction is the royal road that, crossing the spectacular ‘Túnel de San Adrían’, goes through the mountain range of the natural park of Aitzkorri, penetrating into Álava.

Elorrio, Bizkaia


Elorrio (Bizkaia). | Shutterstock

Elorrio is possibly the most monumental village in Bizkaia. It is located near Durango, in the valley of Duranguesado. Its position is surrounded by mountains and is crossed by the river Zumelegi and several streams. Its historic center concentrates a very interesting palatial architecture, stone crosses, and buildings as important as its church and town hall. Among many other attractions, on the outskirts is the interesting necropolis of Argiñeta and its hermitage of San Adrian, a unique and unforgettable place.

Orduña, Bizkaia


Orduña (Bizkaia). | Shutterstock

Orduña is a town that lives in the shelter of the Sierra Salvada, forming a curious Biscayan enclave surrounded by territories of Alava and Burgos. It is worth mentioning its medieval quarter, which houses both religious and civil monuments. A visit to the fortified enclosure and walls, the Church of Santa María, Palacio Ortés de Velasco, La Aduana and the Txarlazo monument is a must. Nearby, in the natural area of Monte de Santiago in Burgos, is the spectacular waterfall of the Nervión.

Leintz-Gatzaga, Gipuzkoa


Leintz-Gatzaga (Gipuzkoa). | Shutterstock

The beautiful and well-preserved village of Leintz Gatzaga (Salinas de Léniz) is in the complicated mountain pass of Gatzaga – Arlabán. It was an indispensable resting place for trade in past centuries; it was also an important salt producer due to the nearby salt spring. Nowadays, only lovers of special places that deviate from the highway travel there. In addition, it still preserves its medieval air, with ashlar stone houses and coats of arms dating from 1371.

Quejana – Kexaa, Alava – Araba


Quejana – Kexaa (Alava – Araba). | Shutterstock

This tiny village in the Ayala valley, squeezed between mountains, is one of the least accessible in the Cantabrian mountain range, with only a narrow access road. Its glorious past is evident from the palace and other buildings it houses, built by the powerful Ayala lineage, which gave great rulers to the Hispanic monarchy. Through the domains of this family passed – some kilometers to the south of this place – one of the main mercantile routes of the peninsula, the one that united Burgos with the port of Bilbao.

Oñati, Gipuzkoa


Oñati (Gipuzkoa). | Shutterstock

The painter Ignacio Zuloaga gave the name ‘the Basque Toledo‘ to the last of our villages hidden in the Basque mountains, which gives an idea of the magnificence of the architecture of this place. It has a very curious history, as it came to have an important university, was a medieval manor in the egalitarian Gipuzkoa and was the place where the First Carlist War actually ended. In spite of its isolation it is a very prosperous town, being usual that it is the one with the lowest unemployment rate in Spain. Located at the foot of the Aizkorri Natural Park, it is a great starting point for hikers.

Arantzazu Sanctuary, Gipuzkoa

Arantzazu Sanctuary

Arantzazu Sanctuary (Gipuzkoa). | Shutterstock

Although strictu sensu it is not one of the hidden villages in the Basque mountains, since we have reached Oñati we cannot resist recommend following the winding road that climbs up the mountain along the cliff over the river. This road is dotted with small chapels, figures of virgins, etc., which introduce us to the religious atmosphere of the place. Through it we will reach a large square, which is partly used as a parking lot, from which we will see the impressive main facade of the so-called ‘sanctuary of contemporary art‘ by the avant-garde architectural forms and its imposing facades, sculptures and doors. A unique place with which to end this recommendation of hidden villages in the Basque mountains.

About the author