As I sit in front of a roaring fire in Sea Ranch taking refuge from the incessant rain, I am conjuring up memories of our time exploring the Urdaibai Estuary in Spain earlier this year. Located in the Biscay Province, a gulf of the northeast Atlantic Ocean, it was our first port of call in Spain after a brief stop in London. Having never been, I had no idea what to expect, but as with all of our experiences in Spain, it was exceptional.
I had decided to break up our coastal journey to San Sebastián with an overnight stay just a short drive from Bilbao. Poking around the web, I found a Relais et Chateaux medieval castle, Castillo de Arteaga. Traveling with a teen boy means that castles need to be on the agenda as often as possible. This one is just a short drive from Gerniko-Lumo, the town that was tragically bombed on April 26, 1937, by Hitler—with Franco’s blessing—during the Spanish Civil War. The event also inspired Picasso’s painting, Guernica, completed just two months later.
The hotel itself meets any castle-y expectations you might have. Stone walls, spiral staircases, lofty beamed ceilings and heavy wooden doors. It can’t be described as cozy, but nor should it be. The room was well-appointed with heavy brocade curtains, presumably to help keep things warm, and worn, slightly uneven wooden floors. Vistas of rolling green hills could be seen from the large windows.
As with so many hotels in Spain, Castillo de Arteaga boasts a fine restaurant and a decent bar. First, expect the “gin-tonic” to be the size of your head. Served in a goldfish-bowl sized glass, with an entire bottle of tonic (no nasty gun-stuff here), gin is a popular drink in Spain.
We had a delicious dinner—sadly the exact menu now escapes me, but it included some amazing peppers and local seafood—and a wonderful breakfast of meats, cheese, pastries and yoghurt. As with many places we visited, the kitchen was eager and willing to accommodate my gluten-free requests.
The Castillo is located just outside a little hamlet and a morning run revealed that there wasn’t much to see in the local vicinity. Although it was charming to see colorful cloth bags hanging on front doors, filled with the day’s bread requirements, and a couple of neighborhood cats and watchful dogs alerting their owners of my presence.
Urdaibai Bird Center is about a mile away from the hotel and highly worth a visit, even if you don’t fancy yourself as much of a birdwatcher. The preserve is just breathtaking and at certain times of the year is a resting point for migrating birds. The center offers an engaging insight into the life and habits of birds and maps out the staggeringly long journeys they make throughout their life.
Heading north towards the coast we came across the wonderful golden beach at Ibarranguelua off the BI-3234 highway. With a bar and plenty of sand, this is a great place to spend the day, should being a beach lounger be your thing.
Despite a few mis-turns along the way, we also managed to take in a bird’s eye view of the coastal town, Elantxobe (pictured up top), which is precariously built up and down a cliff-face, or so it would seem. Parking seemed nigh on impossible, so after a quick photo-stop, we continued our journey onwards to San Sebastián.
While we didn’t get to linger long in this area, it has much to recommend it and I would definitely love to go back and explore it some more – especially the cute surf towns on the other side of the estuary.