When we consider visiting Álava, the typical questions that always arise are: what are we going to do? where can we go? what places are worth knowing? Questions that seek to make the most of our trip to this province of the Basque Country. The remarkable cultural and natural heritage that this land treasures offers us a great number of options, places that tell us about the history that Araba treasures. Ancestral traditions and mythical legends merge with the impressive landscapes that surround the different places that invite us to visit them. Without a doubt, it is an unforgettable experience.
Choosing what to see in Álava and selecting 8 magic places is no easy task. There are countless places that deserve to be on any list. Ancient sanctuaries, ancestral archaeological sites, colourful dream landscapes are just some of the treasures that Araba offers to those who visit it. A region full of contrasts where the mountains vie for prominence with the vast plains, where ancient traditions and customs have endured to the present day, where the different civilizations that have inhabited these lands have left their legacy. A wide history that is reflected in its monuments and in every step we take in our visit. But Alava also offers us the spectacular nature of its landscapes, where nature merges with, for example, the culture of wine, the passion for the mountains, or with the old craft industries that still exist in the valleys of Alava and its villages. We would like to offer you a small sample of the surprising and sometimes unknown places that await us if we ask ourselves what to see in Alava and decide to visit it.
What better way to visit Alava than to start by discovering the majestic sanctuary that houses the patron saint of Alava, Our Lady of Estíbaliz. This religious enclave, not far from Vitoria-Gasteiz, is visited throughout the year by a large number of people who enjoy not only the magnificent monument that is the sanctuary, but also the natural setting that surrounds it. Different pilgrimages arrive at the sanctuary throughout the year, as well as several hiking routes. Some of them are of the size of the GR 38, the Wine and Fish Route, which crosses Alava from north to south following the old paths that linked the fishing ports with the fertile valleys of the south and which had an obligatory stop in Estíbaliz.
The ancient peoples who inhabited this province of the Basque Country left their mark, not only in the deep-rooted legends of Basque mythology, but also in the different archaeological sites we find in this land. The careful and impressive dolmens that await us in the region known as the Rioja Alavesa are an unbeatable example of this. Thousands of years ago this area of Alava was already inhabited by ancestral peoples whose customs and traditions are told by the different dolmens that we can visit along this interesting route. A route that will also take us to the Village of La Hoya, an archaeological site of great historical and cultural value.
We changed the colorful landscape of vineyards surrounding the dolmens of La Hechicera, or El Encinal among others, for the imposing whiteness of the Añana Valley. Here nature surprises us with a salt water spring, which man has exploited for hundreds of years. An old industry that has come to our days, keeping almost intact their craft. A valley, Añana, that sees how nature and the hand of man have formed a spectacular landscape, where the salt dyes in white the hundreds of salt mines that extend around the town that sits here. A spectacle where besides enjoying the curious landscape that surrounds us we can know the old trade of salt.
The different landscapes that surround most of the places that we can visit in Alava, without a doubt, increase the beauty and value that they have. Our next stop could not be an exception. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Gold has a great patrimonial value that, without a doubt, is increased notably by the spectacular natural place where it is located. There are numerous hiking routes that reach this place from where you can contemplate a magnificent panorama of what surrounds us. The Gorbeia Natural Park, the Llanada Alavesa, are just some of the postcards we can enjoy from this corner of Alava.
The different fortifications that can be found throughout the region tell us about the historical importance that this region had in the past. Unfortunately, many of them are not in a good state of conservation. A magnificent example of this medieval period can be found in Cuadrilla de Añana, more specifically in the town of Villanañe de Valdegovía. There, the Varona Tower-Palace awaits us, whose state of conservation will allow us to travel back in time to put ourselves in the shoes of the noble lords who defended these lands in times past and thus learn a little more about the history that lies behind its walls.
We are already aware of the large catalogue of dolmens that Álava has, but perhaps two of them stand out from the rest, at least because of their size and state of conservation. The Sorginetxe Dolmen and the Aizkomendi Dolmen are located not far from each other, at the foot of the imposing mountains that make up the Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Park, on the eastern Alava Plain. These spectacular dolmens are some of the most visited in the whole of Alava and perhaps the whole of the Basque Country. Their relatively easy access and good condition make them the subject of many photographs, which hide behind them the heritage and historical importance of these megalithic jewels.
Medieval villages, colourful landscapes, slender mountains and famous wineries await us in the Rioja Alavesa, another obligatory stop on our route of the magical places to see in Álava. Wrapped up in the culture of wine throughout this region, we will find ourselves strolling through the streets of towns such as Laguardia, Labastida or Elciego, among others. We will be surprised by the famous wineries located here, many of them true architectural works of art. Or you can take a look at the vertiginous viewpoints from where you can contemplate the magnificent landscape that stretches out at your feet. A region that in its relatively short extension, concentrates attractions like few others and that surely would give us, it by itself, for an excursion.
If we begin this selection of places to see in Alava with a visit to the sanctuary of its patron saint, we will end up doing the same with the sanctuary that houses its co-patron, Our Lady of the Holm Oak. Located on the outskirts of the town of Artziniega, this sanctuary is an architectural and cultural jewel. To the important history that this sanctuary treasures, we must add, as it could not be otherwise, the natural environment that surrounds it, whose best exponent is the colossal holm oak that stands next to it. A centenary tree that forms part of the catalogue of unique trees in Alava and which, together with the sanctuary and the natural area where they are located, makes this place a point of pilgrimage for many people.
There are quite a few places, apart from the ones shown here, that come to mind if we consider what to see in Álava, magical places waiting to be discovered by you.