In the heart of the Basque Country, just half an hour from San Sebastian and less than an hour from the other Basque capitals, the Basque Highlands region can be found, known as Goierri. Nature, traditional cuisine, and a culture that includes the legacy of centuries of history all help to surprise visitors, who come to experience the authenticity of this special place. The Highlands have been, since 2015, a “European Destination of Excellence” (EDEN), an award bestowed by the European Union that emphasizes the efforts made for the development of sustainable tourism. The region is made up of 18 municipalities, the best-known and most inhabited of which are Beasain, Ordizia, and Lazkao. This magical place’s proximity to San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Vitoria, its wide variety of restaurants, and its authenticity, all make it the ideal place for getaways of 3 to 5 days.
Idiazabal cheese has made the Basque Highlands famous. This product is made with raw Latxa sheep’s milk through the same artisanal production method as that used centuries ago. Idiazabal cheese has its own Designation of Origin and has received numerous accolades from the prestigious international Cheese World Awards. The region offers the chance to become immersed in the world of Idiazabal cheese by visiting the shepherds’ shanties in the mountains, the dairies, the Idiazabal Cheese Interpretation and Tasting Center, and by doing tastings and pairing the cheese with txakoli, cider, white wine, sparkling wine, Champaign, and Sherry wines.
Another must-see place is the Ordizia Market, the oldest and most important of the Basque Country, held every Wednesday since 1512. The farmers of the region go there every week to sell the products they reap from the land. Local chefs organize guided tours of the market and suggest recipes that use seasonal foods and which are later cooked in expert cooking classes. The “Pasaporte Gastronómico” (“Dining Passport”) and “Goierri Gastronomika” initiatives were created by local producers so that different aspects of the local cuisine could get to be known: visits to traditional cider bars, restaurants, bakeries, and gourmet shops. The Basque Highlands’ range of cuisine options is rounded off by the gastronomic fairs held throughout the year and the D´elikatuz – the Food and Dining Interpretation Center.
The Highlands region is located between the Aizkorri-Aratz and Aralar Natural Parks. Both parks have an Interpretation Center, in Zegama and Ataun respectively, where information is provided on access to the Natural Parks and the activities that can be done therein, such as hiking, climbing, mountain biking, leisurely riding over their bike lanes, and simply enjoying the scenery around the parks by car. These Natural Parks are home to very important sporting events: the Zegama-Aizkorri Mountain Marathon, a test for the World Cup that gets more than 8,500 applications from possible participants who wish to receive one of its 225 runner bib numbers; Ehunmillak Ultratrail, a 167-kilometer race that lasts 2 days and brings together 400 national and international runners; Goierriko bi Haundiak, an 88-kilometer race done in 1 day with the participation of 500 national runners; and Marimurumendi Maratoia, a mountain marathon held during the same weekend as the two Ultra Trail races and open to all runners.
The Basque Highlands have two magnificent paths for hiking: the Cheese Trail and the Green Way. The GR-283, known as the Cheese Trail, crosses the Aralar and Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Parks over a path of 100 km, which is usually done in six stages and allows one to discover the secrets of Idiazabal Cheese production by making stops at dairies and places related with the production of cheese. The Green Way ties together the municipalities of Mutiloa and Ormaiztegi over a 4.2-kilometer path that is recommended for families. This route has a orienteering game for children and a stop at the Aizpea Mines, in Zerain. Goierri likewise has the first National Trail Running Station, which reaches the neighboring region of Tolosaldea. This is a marked area that is equipped for trail runners of all levels.
The Basque Highlands are additionally a place of great cultural relevance within the Basque Country. The Way of Saint James and the “Camino Real” (“Royal Road”) cross over the area’s geography, which is full of places of interest, like museums for historical figures, monuments considered to be Cultural Heritage Sites, and the medieval towns of Ordizia and Segura. To get to know the region’s culture, it is worth visiting these six places: the José Miguel Barandiaran Museum in Ataun, dedicated to Basque mythology; the “Conjunto Monumental de Igartza” Monumental Complex in Beasain, where a palace, a mill, and a foundry can be visited; the Segura Medieval Interpretation Center, which shows the lifestyle of the Middle Ages; the Zumalakarregi Museum of Ormaiztegi, which provides information on the Carlist general Tomas de Zumalakarregi and reviews the history of the Basque Country in the nineteenth century; the Zerain Cultural Landscape, made up of an ethnographic museum, the old water-powered sawmill, the prison, and a shop with handcrafts for sale; and, lastly, the Aizpea Mines, an old mining area.
The Way of Saint James passes through the Basque Highlands, becoming a “Camino Real” (“Royal Road”) as it advances through the region. The San Adrián Tunnel and the Highlands’ mountains make this stage one of the most spectacular of the entire Route. In the year 2015, the Northern Way of Saint James was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and the San Adrián Tunnel was declared a milestone along the Route.
Local traditions are also an important part of the region’s culture: rural sport demonstrations, traditional Basque bowling in Segura and Zerain, etc. These customs, rooted in the Basque Highlands, are being lost in many other places. Also noteworthy are the Holy Week in Segura, the Basque Country “suelto” (“loose”) dance Championship, held each October (also in Segura), and the multiple “romería” celebrations accompanied by the tasting of unique foods at the festivals of the region’s local villages. The old farmhouses, churches, and unique buildings are, additionally, an important part of the Basque Highlands’ heritage. This region captivates sport lovers, couples wishing to rest in a quiet place, and tourists who want to get to know the rural areas that surround San Sebastian.
Tel.: +34 943 161 823