Euskadi & Navarra (España 4)

Don’t miss the beginning! This article is part of a series that starts >> here <<.

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Last part of this spanish adventure took place in the top right corner of the country, in the 2 Basque speaking provinces of Navarra and the Basque Country (Euskadi).

My first stop there was the capital of the Basque country, Vitoria-Gasteiz. Cities have names in both Basque and Spanish, and sometimes both are used next to each other, at least on maps. It seems to me people use more the Spanish names.

Vitoria-Gasteiz

This industrial city as a nice old centre. At least they obviously work hard to make it stand out and attract tourist who usually skip it and stay in the more famous Bilbao and San Sebastián.

This year, Vitoria-Gasteiz is European Green Capital. I didn’t even know that exists. The all region seems very concerned about environmental issues anyway. Every city I’ve visited in this region is full of bicycle infrastructures, no nuclear power and no fast train signs.

This is the main square, Plaza de la Virgen Blanca :

Vitoria-Gasteiz main square

The historic centre extends behind it and is not only called Casco Antiguo (in Spanish), but also Alde Zaharra (in Basque).

Street in the Alde Zaharra

As it stands on a hill, there are some mechanic stairs to cross it west-to-east. First time I see this kind of urban transit.

public transit

I found some really refined colourful street-art, both historical and political.

historical street art

political street art

The banco de España showed still some marks from the late march strike (probably).

Banco de España - Vitoria

And of course I couldn’t leave without a picture of the street names, often with several different names.

Street names

From this day on until the end of the trip, the weather mostly consisted in heavy showers, wind, and sometimes a bit of sun: a true Scottish weather.

I took a train to the capital of Navarra.

Pamplona/Iruña

Here again both names are used, but the Spanish name is more evocative of travels and crazy bull-runs of the San Fermin.

The city is the less lively at night I’ve seen in Spain, although there are plenty of pintxos bars in the casco viejo, around the Plaza del Castillo.

Plaza del Castillo

The only outstanding façade is on the city hall.

Ayuntamiento

Although located on the camino francese, the cathedral is far outranked by those of León and Burgos.

Pamplona cathedral

What makes the city pleasant is the amount of green spaces, mostly converted fortifications, especially the huge citadel.

Ciudadela - Pamplona

And also the green corridor along the Arga river, which is kind of a stream because the city is at the foot of the Pyrénées.

Arga river

Olite

A few kilometres South of Pamplona is the little village of Olite. Here stands the huge castle of the Navarran kings. It was unfortunately burnt down during the Spanish independence war, but has been greatly restored. The only thing missing is the inner decorations, which were, according to some writers, among the finest in European royal courts.

Olite castle entrance

Olite Santa Maria Church

Olite castle

The castle even hosts a hanging garden.

Hanging garden of Olite

Olite castle

Finally it was time to reach the last stop of my trip, on the Atlantic coast, the city of San Sebastián.

Donostia-San Sebastián

The city has a truly amazing location, with perfectly shaped city beaches, protected from the winds and flows of the open sea by an island and forest-covered mountains, on top of one is a statue of the Christ, making the city looks like a downsized European Rio.

The plaza mayor-like Constitution square reminds you that you are still in Spain.

Plaza de la Constitucion

And the harbour shows the fishermen and whale hunting traditions of the city, before it devoted to tourism.

San Sebastián harbour

On mount Urgull, the mountain protecting the city center from the winds of the Bay of Biscay, stands a statue of the Christ, from which there are nice views on the city and the Concha bay.

Monte Urgull

The center from Monte Urgull

The bay from Monte Urgull

But the view is far more breathtaking from the Monte Igeldo, topped by an odd amusement park, on the other side of the Bahia de La Concha.

The bay from Monte Igeldo

In between, almost no one dares to walk on the golden sand.

Bahia de la Concha

Center seen from the Concha

At some point we wanted to rent bicycles, but the frequent showers had reason of our determination, and we ended up walking and taking the Monte Igeldo funicular. The city seemed really bike friendly, it has the longest bicycle commuter tunnel in the world.

From San Sebastián, it is really easy and cheap to reach the French border with Euskotren, the Basque train company. This is what I did and then a fast train took a little more than 6 hours to bring me back to Paris, 800 kilometres away.

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As promised already, here is a map that locates all the stops I made during those 3 weeks.

Spain 03.23 - 04.14

Some asked me what my favourite city was. But that’s really hard to tell. I gave some clues in the previous articles and there are too many reasons not to give a definitive answer.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures and that it made you want to explore Spain deeper than just Barcelona and Madrid. Next time in this country, I’ll be interested in … all the regions I’ve not been to!

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