Navarra, La Rioja and the Basque Country - highlights and attractions

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Visit Navarra, La Rioja and the Basque Country

Navarra, La Rioja and the Basque Country is beautiful area in the north of Spain with mountains, forests and sea. The beautiful and chic town of San Sebastian on the coast draws large numbers as does the fabulous Guggenheim museum in Bilbao.

Navarra, La Rioja and the Basque Country tourist sites and places to visit

For a summary of the most popular sites in the region see also Navarra, La Rioja and the Basque Country places to visit.

Sanguesa

 

The Spanish Basque country is a beautiful area with great beaches on the north coast of Spain. This area was little affected by the invasions and events affecting other regions of Spain and so has preserved its own individual character and even its own language - Euskara. It is probably best known now for the fabulous modern architecture of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao.

Navarra is a mountainous province very popular with walkers. Pamplona is the capital and is famous for the running of the bulls which takes place every year in July.

La Rioja is of course famous for its wine. Rioja is Spain's most famous wine and wine tasting tours are very popular in the area.

Below we introduce these three regions and offer suggestions and highlights to help you get the most from your trip.

Basque Country

The Costa Vasca as the coast of the Basque Country is known has good beaches, rugged cliffs and coves with a backdrop of tree-covered hills. It has a selection of pretty fishing villages and resorts. Most attractive of all is San Sebastian.

Hondarribia

San Sebastian is a fashionable and attractive resort and home to one of Spain's grandest hotels, the Marià Cristina. The town nestles in a bay with a hill at each end topped by a tower. The Monte Urgull in the East and Monte Igueldo in the West. There is a funicular to take you to the top of Monte Igeldo. The Romantic district and the old town are both quite stunning.

For some of the best scenery take the coast road from Zarautz near to San Sebastian and drive to Bilbao to enjoy the rugged coastline and the picturesque villages along the way. Zarautz has a lovely old town and good beaches. Once you get to  Bilbao visit the fabulous Guggenheim museum, the Vizcaya bridge, and a new futuristic metro system designed by Norman Foster.

Between San Sebastian and Bilbao is Guernica (Gernika) which was made famous by Picasso's painting of the outrage of the world's first saturation bombing raid carried out by Nazi aircraft at the request of Franco.

South of Guernica visit the town of Onati with some good Baroque architecture and a former university with a Renaissance facade.

Tolosa to the south of San Sebastian has a medieval old quarter and a famous carnival in February.

Hondarribia is on the border with France. The old town of Hondarribia is charming with narrow alleys lined with old houses with beautiful wooden balconies and carved woodwork adorning their facades. The castle at the top of the town has been converted into one of Spain's parradors.

In the south of the region Vitoria has an attractive central plaza, the Plaza de Espana and a number of Renaissance palaces and attractive churces. The medieval town of Estella is also worth a trip.

Navarra

In the north of the region are the forested mountains and valleys of the Pyrenees. To the south begin the 'plains of Spain' and inbetween is a rich landscape with gorges, castles and monasteries.

Pamplona

Pamplona, the capital of Navarra is an impressive town at any time of the year but try to be here for the Fiestas de San Fermin from 6 - 14 July when Pamplona has its famours bull running celebration.

South of Pamplona is the pretty village of Olite whose fabulous castle is now a Parador. Nearby is Ujué which is a delightful hilltop village dominated by its thirteenth century church

To the east of Navarra is the attractive city of Sanguesa . It is a very interesting town with lovely old streets, mansions and churches and the remains of a royal palace. It is an important stopping point on the Camino de Compostela pilgrimage.

Also east of Pamplona is the town of Javier or Xavier which is home to the Castle of Xavier with its murals depicting the Dance of Death.

In northern Navarra you will find the Monastery of Leyre which is one of the most important monasteries in Spain.

La Rioja

This is Spain's smallest region and La Rioja region is principally famous for its wine of the same name. The Camino de Compostela pilgrimage also leaves a mark on the region.

The towns of Calahorra, Arnedo, San Millan de la Cogolla, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and Logroño are important stopping points on the Way of Saint James pilgrimage.

The monasteries of San Millan de Suso and San Millan de Yuso both of which are in the village of San Millan de la Cogolla are not to be missed. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Navarra, La Rioja and Basque Country tourism and sightseeing

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Vizcaya Bridge, (Biscay Bridge) Bilbao - The Vizcaya Bridge was designed by the Basque architect, Alberto de Palacio and completed in 1893. It was the first bridge in the world to carry people and traffic on a high suspended cabin - a bit like a cable car.

San Millán Yuso and Suso Monasteries, San Millán de la Cogolla

Route of the Santiago de Compostela

Museums

Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao - one of Spain's best art museums.

Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao - fabulous building designed by Frank Gehry.

Museo de San Telmo, San Sebastian - the displays are in the cloister of a former convent where you can see frescoes by José Sert.

Museo Naval, San Sebastian - history of Basque fishing

Museo de Arqueologia, Vitoria - housed in a 16th century half-timbered house. Exhibits include Roman sculptures.

Museo de Armeria, Vitoria - display of medieval weapons

Artium, Vitoria - display of modern art

Museo de Bellas artes, Vitoria - fine art museum

Monasteries and castles

Monastery of Arantzazu, near Segura - spectacular setting in the ridge of Aitzkorri.

Monasterio de San Salvador de Leyre - an impressive monastery restored by Benedictine monks in the 1950s. Go to Mass to hear the monks singing Gregorian chant.

Santuario de Loiola - this chapel with an attractive domed roof was built around the home of Saint Ignatius of Loiola, founder of the Jesuits

Castillo de Mendoza - 13th century fort now home to the Museo Heraldica, a museum of coats of arms

Paradors of Navarra, La Rioja and Basque Country

Parador d'Argomaniz, Argomaniz

Parador d'Olite, Olite

Parador de Calahorra, Calahorra

Parador de Hondarribia, Hondarribia

Parador Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Calzada

See also:

Map of Navarra, La Rioja and the Basque Country and places to visit