AYALA / AIARA
Abutted against the breathtaking spurs of the Salvada Mountain Range and its natural prolongation, the Gibijo Mountain Range, and divided gently by the Nervión, Izalde and Ibaizabal valleys that link up the Castilian plateau with the seaport of Bibao, the land of Ayala brings to mind ancient riches, deep-seated traditions, a strong attachment to country living and nature. Vested with its own charter since the Middle Ages, dozens of manor houses and fortified towers attest to the importance of its noble lineages and the zealousness with which it was defended.
A landscape that is always green, with cattle pastures, orchards and forests alternating in smooth succession, dotted with farmsteads and rural districts. It is the region of Álava where the everyday use of the Basque language has been conserved the most, and with it, a rich collection of legends and traditions. Restaurants and cider bars offer us the typical Basque gastronomic art of having the region’s most delectable products undergo a minimum amount of transformation in order to enjoy the purity of their flavour.
Dozens of trails cross over hillsides and through forests, including the Natural Parks of Urkiola and Gorbeia, for those who enjoy hiking, horseback riding or mountain-biking. Artificial lakes also give visitors the chance to engage in a variety of water sports.
The close-knit harmony of man with the rural environment is the vestige left by the centuries on these lands whose landscapes are of exceptional beauty. Here we find notable fortifications dating back to every epoch, noble manor houses and popular architecture of remarkable character. There are also important prehistorical and Roman archaeological findings, samples of the finest Romanesque art and the must-see salt works. Nature-lovers can enjoy themselves in majestic Valderejo Natural Park and in the Educational Park of the Ebro, in Sobrón. At the latter venue canoeing is practised and outdoor sporting enthusiasts can also engage in horseback riding, hiking and mountain-biking. Excellent garden-fresh produce forms the basis of the high-quality culinary offerings to be found here.
In the Cuadrilla of Vitoria-Gasteiz we will find such Romanesque jewels as the Basilicas of Estíbaliz and San Prudencio, the formidable Mendoza and Mártioda Tower-Dwellings, shady beech forests in Zaldiaran and Ullíbarri de los Olleros, caves of speleological interest such as Los Goros Cave in Hueto Arriba, and such windows to the future as the Technological Park of Miñano, which brings together companies that have their sights set on the 21st century. Yet all of this recedes into the background in the presence of the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, capital of the Basque Country, full of historical, cultural, artistic, sports and commercial attractions
Egino, on the border with Navarre, is little more than a pass between the Altzania Hills and the Entzia Mountain Range. As we move westwards, the Iturrieta Hills to the south and the Urkilla Range to the north gradually recede to give way to the Llanada (Plain) of Álava, which is really a series of plains separated by hillocks and rises, where the landscape alters imperceptibly from each one to the next. A natural passage between France and Castile, between the Valley of the Ebro and the Cantabrian Sea, with a generous soil, the richness of this land is manifested in its urban and artistic heritage.
Nature has imposed harsh living conditions on the Cuadrilla of Campezo-Montaña Alavesa that have infused all of the manmade structures built there with a rugged quality.
Located between the mountainous backbones of Iturrieta and Entzia to the north, and Cantabria and Codes to the south, all with peaks between 1,100 and 1,400 metres high, it boasts such natural spots as Izki Natural Park, which is among the wildest and most beautiful in all of Álava, a hiker’s paradise.
The majority of its villages are fortified or walled, proudly distinguishing themselves from one another with local traditions. They are crowned by hermitages nestled in idyllic settings that are as inviting for worship as they are for recreation. And they are always open to the world and its new developments: there are two golf courses, agrotourism establishments, equestrian clubs.
Gently lying along the Ebro riverbank and extending to the southern slope of the Cantabria Mountain Range, which protects it from the severe northern cold, the microclimate that its reddish-coloured lands enjoy makes Rioja Alavesa a privileged region for producing the wine that has earned it its well-deserved fame.
And not just wine: it also boasts such fruit and vegetable products as asparagus, peppers, plums, peaches... Its prehistorical archaeological findings, medieval towns and manor houses all constitute a historical heritage that attests to the fact that mankind has reaped the rewards of this rich soil since ancient times.