The outermost Álava.

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En el último capítulo de la serie Vasconia en dos ruedas castigué al lector con una soporífera ración de historia, y hoy quiero regalarlo con un episodio más pictórico y digerible: vamos a viajar en moto por una de las rutas paisajísticamente más hermosas y variadas de Vascongadas hasta el mismísimo confín de Álava, a su rincón más escondido, olvidado y remoto. Buscando el ocaso, pasaremos por la singular Añana y el plácido Espejo, llegaremos hasta Bóveda, allende las tierras de Burgos, y aún recorreremos unos quilómetros más para pisar el límite provincial, “donde da la vuelta el aire”.
¿Preparados?
El día está medio nublado, pero no lluvioso, y la temperatura es agradable. Salgo con Rosaura del centro de Vitoria en dirección Madrid y a los pocos quilómetros, en Nanclares, me aparto de la autovía por una carretera que esconde sorprendentes parajes y hermosos pueblos, de los cuales el menos desconocido es quizá Añana, por su peculiar (y casi único en España) valle salado, de cuyos acuíferos subterráneos, que atraviesan sedimentos salinos, afloran a la superficie salmueras (¡de 240 gramos por litro!) que durante más de mil años, y hasta época muy reciente, se han explotado para extraer su “oro blanco” por evaporación. Junto al pueblo, miles de plataformas o eras, canales, pozos y almacenes conforman el singular paisaje de este valle, si bien el cese de toda explotación a mediados del siglo pasado ha supuesto el rápido deterioro de las maderas y estructuras.

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Valle salado de Añana

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Detalle de las salinas, en proceso de recuperación.

Añana, topónimo de puro origen romano (que ahora quieren euskaldunizar por decreto anteponiéndole la palabra gesaltza, salina en vascuence), es una de las poblaciones más antiguas de Álava, que floreció gracias al mercadeo de la sal, un condimento de gran valor durante toda la edad media; y fue localidad castellana desde sus orígenes hasta el s. XVII, en que se incorporó administrativamente a la provincia de Álava; dato que tal vez deberían tener presente quienes reclaman independencia para el País Vasco por razones históricas (con frecuencia, como es el caso, más imaginarias que reales).
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Añana desde la peña rocosa que la domina. Al fondo, los montes del confín de Álava.

Pero no han sido las salinas –por elevado que sea su valor etnográfico– lo que más me ha cautivado de este bonito pueblo, sino su entorno de pastos y arboledas, el caprichoso trazado de sus estrellas y pinas calles y, sobre todo, el romántico abandono de uno de sus más notables edificios, el palacio de los Zambrana-Herrán.
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Palacio de los Zambrana-Herrán, medio abandonado tras los muros de su huerto.

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Los tristes balcones del palacio, soñando con su juventud.

Son estas viejas construcciones de la añosa geografía rural española las que me invitan a la ensoñación y alimentan mi espíritu nostálgico, mi fantasía romántica, siempre mirando hacia atrás, hacia lo antiguo y pretérito. Tiene para mí el pasado un atractivo irresistible. El pasado digo, que no la historia.
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Armoniosas y cuidadas calles de Añana.

En cuanto al entorno del pueblo, si bien se mira, lo menos bonito son precisamente las salinas. Lo mejor es el campo, las peñas, la arboleda.
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Una franja de la carretera engullida por el paisaje.

Y por esa carretera que se pierde en el paisaje voy a seguir.
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La carretera hacia Castilla se zambulle en el paisaje.

Tras explorar a fondo Añana y sus alrededoes, continúo con la moto hasta Espejo, otro pueblo entrañable y encantador por su pequeñez, por el aire tradicional y el genuino sabor a viejo de sus casas, por la pequeña y anacrónica taberna, increíblemente estancada en el tiempo, que hay junto a la carretera, donde resulta imposible no detenerse a beber un chato de vino junto a los vecinos, ya entrados en años. En las paredes lucen antiguas fotografías y letreros enmarcados dignos de un museo.
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La Copa del Generalísimo 1954-1955. Toda una joya.

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Espejo. Hay una magia especial en la luz tras los cristales, un día gris y otoñal.

Not many things I enjoy so much as these outings back in time, that make me revive the days of my childhood, those bars in my home village with their wooden counters, the damp-dented walls, the old men playing cards on some wine-stained, vintaged table cloth…
Tomando un vino en el bar de Espejo.
Drinking a wine at Espejo’s bar.

But the best of this day is yet to come, when the road goes deeper into a groves landscape that brings forward to the eye the whole palette of autumn colours.
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Palette of autumn colours.

We’re here between Castile and Basque country, the latter shaping a kind of peninsula inside the former, whose limits we cross two times. Formally, the last villages along this valley are Basque, but this is no Basque at all.
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Tobillas village (Basque), under the pine woods and ridge bordering with Burgos province (Castile).

But before the hillock that makes the last geographical boundary, where Álava finally ends, we still find Bóveda, a village almost impeccable in its harmony with the country if it weren’t spoiled by some nonsensical, whimsical modern constructions.
 

Only five kilometres further, after crossing some quite peculiar rocky moorlands, the Basque country officially ends; from there on it’s Castile. This is the true outermost Álava, its remotest and most forgotten part. This is puerto de La Horca (Gallows pass), where the wind turns round.
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In the last chapter of my series The Basque trail I punished the readers with a dull share of History, and today I want to reward them with something more “pictorial and digestible”: let’s do one of the most beautiful and scenic bike routes in the Basque Country, to the very boundary of Álava, its most hidden, remote and forlorn corner. Heading the twilight, we’ll pass through singular Añana and tranquil Espejo, reach Bóveda, beyond Burgos province, and yet ride a few more kilometres until the boundary, “where the wind turns round”.
Ready?
It’s a cloudy, yet not rainy day, and temperature is fine. I take Rosaura, my bike, from downtown Vitoria direction to madrid for a few kilometres, then turn off by Nanclares, along a road that will take me through surprising settings and lovely villages, of which the less unknown is perhaps Añana, because of its peculiar (and almost unique in Spain) salt valley, whose subterranean aquifers, passing through salty sediments, well up brines (240 grams per litre!) that have been exploited during longer than one millennium, until quite recently, for extracting the “white gold” by evaporation. Right by the village, thousands of platforms or farms, channels, wells and stores shape this valley’s singular landscape, though the end of all activity by mid XXth century has meant a severe deterioration of the woodworks and structures.
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Añana’s salt valley

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Detail of the salt mines, now being recovered.

Añana, a pure Roman place name (now artificially changed into a Basque-friendly one by preceding it with gesaltza, meaning salt mine in Basque language), is one of the oldest settlements in Álava, and flourished thanks to the salt trade, a very valuable good along the whole middle ages; and it was a Castilian town since its very origin until XVIIth c., when it was assigned to Álava province; a piece of information that those who claim independence for the Basque country for “historical reasons” (more imaginary than real) should perhaps take into account.
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Añana from its overlooking hill. In the background the outermost Álava.

Despite its ethnographic merit, though, it wasn’t the salt mines what most called my attention about this pretty village, but its milieu of sown fields and groves, the strange layout of its narrow and steep streets, and most of all the romantic neglect about one of its most fine buildings, the Zambrana-Herrán palace.
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Zambrana-Herrán place, half abandoned behind its garden’s walls.

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The sad balconies of the palace, dreaming of their youth.

These old buildings of aged rural Spain inspire my daydreaming and fuel my nostalgic spirit, my romantic fantasy, always looking back, towards former times. There’s something of irresistible in the pass, to me. And I mean the past, not the history.
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Añana’s peaceful and looked after streets.

As to the environment, from an aesthetical point of view, it’s not the salt mines what I like the best, certainly, but the countryside, the hills, the groves…
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A stripe of the road swallowed up by the landscape.

And that’s the road I’m going to follow, diving into the wild.
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The road towards Castile goes right through the landscape.

After fully exploring Añana and its surroundings on foot, I carry on with the bike towards Espejo, another endearing and snug village, with its traditional look and the genuine flavour of its houses, with that little and outdated tavern by the road, unbelievably stuck in time, where it’s almost impossible not to stop for a wine in the company of the locals, quite aged as well. On the bar walls, old photographs hung worthy of a spot in a museum.
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The Generalísimo (Franco) Cup 1954-1955. Quite a treasure.

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Espejo. There’s a special magic in the light behind the window panes on a gray autumn afternoon.

Pocas cosas disfruto tanto como estas incursiones hacia atrás en el tiempo que me hacen revivir los días de mi niñez, aquellos bares de mi pueblo, los mostradores de madera, las paredes desconchadas por la humedad, los viejos jugando al tute sobre algún tapete manchado de vino, en las mesas de formica…
Tomando un vino en el bar de Espejo.
Tomando un vino en el bar de Espejo.

Mas aún queda lo mejor de esta ruta, cuando la carretera se adentra en un paisaje de arboleda que ofrece, a cada golpe de vista, toda la extensa paleta de colores otoñales.
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Paleta de colores otoñales.

Estamos a caballo entre Castilla y País Vasco, pues aquí Álava hace un istmo para engolfar por último a un puñado de minúsculas localidades. Administrativamente es Euskadi, pero esto no tiene ya nada de vascuence.
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La aldea de Tobillas, bajo los pinares del risco que linda con Burgos.

Y antes del collado que hace de frontera geográfica, donde muere por fin Álava, nos encontramos con Bóveda, un pueblo que sería impecable en su armonía si no la hubiese estropeado cierta majadería arquitectónica de antojos modernistas.

Y cinco quilómetros más allá, atravesando unos páramos pedregosos de peculiar geología, acaba oficialmente Vascongadas y comienza Castilla. Este es el verdadero confín de Álava, el rincón más remoto y quizá olvidado de la provincia. Estamos en el puerto de La Horca. Con un poco de imaginación, aquí parece, glosando a Torrente Ballester, que da la vuelta el aire.
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Orduña 2nd part ·

Juan de Garay, conqueror and colonizer, third governor of Río de la Plata, explorer of Paraná river and fouder of Santa Fé and Buenos Aires, was born in Orduña in the year 1528. But before this event took place, the borough was to know endless disputes and rows for the sake of its possession.
Thus I wrote upon cosing the first part of this chapter dedicated to Orduña and, apparently, thus it happened.
The first documented mentions of this settlement date from IXth century and place it as already existing by VIIIth C, when king Alfonso I endeavoured for populating the region. Orduña -it is said- always belonged to its own inhabitants, and could have been founded in the High Medieval times, perhaps by Christians fleeing from Muslim invasions. If this is true, we’d be facing an eminently Castilian foundation, therefore only slightly related to the kingdom of Navarra, not to mention a Basque Country which, strictly speaking, has never existed, in spite of many of its contemporary citizens). The first defensive wall encircling Orduña was so thick that two carts could cross on top.

One of the oldest streets in Orduña, leading to the ancient wall.

When trespassing this stone hall in the wall, if you close your eyes and adequately focus your senses, you can partake for a moment of the sensations of those who lived there millenniums ago; and even, with the help of some fantasy, you can hear the hustle and bustle of the old village: smiths hammering on their anvils, the bray of the donkeys, the hens clucking, the metalic noise of wheel rims on the cobbles, the peasants voicing their merchandise behind their barrows…

Opening in the original wall, revealing its width.



Notwithstanding Orduña’s ancient and seemingly autonomous origin, several centuries after its foundation it would lose forever (until recent times) its independence when king Fernando III, in 1218, granted to the Lord of Biscay, Lope Díaz II de Haro, the possession over the borough. The De Haro line, who weren’t lavish in names, christened their descendants with their father’s surname and, to the utter bewilderment and confusion of to-be historians, surnamed them with their father’s first name, thus forming a hereditary line worthy of some theatrical play. So, when the aforementioned Lope Díaz passed away, Orduña became his son’s, Diego López III de Haro, who in 1229 granted the village the same privileges as those of Vitoria (which served as a reference in such times and lands) and whom, upon ascending Alfonso X the Wise to the throne, gave up his serfdom to the Castilian monarch and went under the king of Navarra; though, willing to withhold by force what was given to his father as a grace, the Castilian troops had to suffocate the upraisal and recover Orduña.

Some of the new streets after the expansion. The mountains in the background.

Later on, by mid XIIIth C., Alfonso X himself authorized an enlargement of Orduña by six new streets, granted it royal privileges, different from the lordly ones it had, and gives them the monopoly over the commerce, thus acknowledging and promoting the growth in market and population that the village was experiencing.
XIIIth century was not gone when the Lords of Biscay (by then, Lope Díaz III de Haro, not to be mistaken with Diego López III, his father) return to disputes and set out their complaints to the Castilian king, who sentences like this “and about what thou say that Orduña must be yours and it was given by king Fernando as a grace to Don Lope and Doña Urraca your grandparents, truth is; but thou has made war from there and from there caused severe harm on earth, and privilege of Castile is that, if war is made from what was given by grace, and harm is done on earth, then Castile can take it righteously by force”, thus denying him the lordship he claimed. But after this king’s death, Lope Díaz III sook the suppport of Sancho IV (who was struggling with his nephews for the Crown) and made fast his power in Orduña and surroundings, granting it “entilement state of Biscay”.

Imposing flank of church-fortress of Santat María.

Of course things were not to remain like that: once Lope Díaz passes away, the king Sancho IV recovers Orduña and, to reinforce such posession and to congratiate himself with its population, Sancho grants a new privilege to Orduña: an annual fortnight fair. By then a new, more ample wall is built, and the old one gets partly embedded in the church of Santa María. It is indeed stunning to walk around the church, more alike a fortress, and to watch upwards to its tall buttresses, its warlike patrol walkway and its sturdy impregnable walls.

Close up of the patrol walkway encircling the church of Sta. María.

Yet, Orduña’s misadventures had but begun. Taking advantage of Fernado IV’s minority, a new De Haro comes into play: he’s Diego López V, brother to the deceased Lope Díaz III, and he confirms the entailment state of Orduña subjected to the Lords of Biscay; but when he himself dies leaving no descendants, Orduña seizes the occasion for going back to the Crown of Castile, for the fourth time now; though not for too long: while dinastic struggles are held between Pedro I and Enrique de Trastámara, the latter delivers Orduña to his brother Tello, the actual Lord of Biscay. And though by 1370, after Tello’s death, the very lordship of Biscay is held by the king himself, Juan I of Castile, years later his heir Enrique IV confirms the privileges of Orduña and gives it back to the Lords of Biscay, who were now the Ayalas; besides, he exempts the village of paying taxes to the powerful Castilian stock societies and, finally, he grants Orduña the title of city in 1467, thus becoming the first and only population of Biscay with such a status.

Dreadful legend under Sta. María’s portico: “To death a judgement must follow, a veredict eternal: either everlasting glory, or a hell everlasting”.

And here we are, dealing again with the ambitious house of Ayala, which we’ve already seen lording over boroughs and towns in other chapters of this series. The Ayalas first won a lawsuit concerning the posession of some of Orduña’s hamlets, with the help of Valladolid’s Chancery, and then the marshal García de Ayala gains from king Enrique IV the positon of Justice of Orduña; nomination that was later revoked by the Catholic Monarchs in 1476, not without violence, because Ayala didn’t accept such decision and was to be fought against. Four years later, among other several provisions on Orduña’s behalf, the Monarchs ratified that the city would never again be parted with the Crown, nor its posession given away, they also revoked any mercy of Orduña granted to the Ayalas and granted its defense and its hamlets’ against the marshall and his son, who continued keeping the mayoralty of the castle; and these two, though being forgiven the uproars when trying to get hold of Orduña, they were commanded to pay a high sum “for the evil it had got by their cause”.

Colourful bar street.

Meanwhile all these ups and downs took place, Orduña had experienced a second expansion thanks to the commercial situation derived by the increase in merchandise contracted between Castile and the Cantabric harbours: once more the city walls were broadened, encircling now the market square; however, when all struggles for the Orduña’s posession seemed to be settled, along with an economical prosperity without uproars, in 1535 part of the city was destroyed by a fire, and its importance declined in the region. Worth mentioning is the customs building, outstanding for its architecture, soundness and situation; built in 1793 costed three millon reales.

This is not the customs building, but the city hall, which is nicer.

As anyone can see, Orduña’s history has little to no connection with Navarre or Basque Country. Its recent basquism is only a matter of political interests (which are, after all, economical interests). But what’s more important yet: anyone can see how absurd is to maintain nowadays privileges whose goal disappeared centuries ago: they were decreed for stimulating population of certain regions and, once this was achieved, the privileges lose all sense; worse yet: keeping them today implies an unfair discrimination against the rest of Spanish regions.
And now, reader, if you’ve stood fast this far, following me along the meanders of Orduña’s history, its repeated and mingled stages, the ceaseless serfdom shifts, I’m sure you won’t mind if I guide you along the other meanders: those bends of the road that take us to its beautiful surroundings, most of all if you’re a motorcycler fond of bends and landscapes; because Orduña enjoys a privileged scenic situation, right in the middle of a wide oval valley, fertile and splendid (as the historian Madoz put it), among high and precipitous hills of a unique natural beauty.

Old house-mill in the outskirts of town.

First, taking a stroll along town, we can find this lovely corner that seems to be anchored in the past; this huge ramshackle house that was perhaps a mill -as it’s erected by a stream- or maybe a guest house, or a farm, and which now looks neglected, inhabited only maybe by ghosts of our great-grandparents’ times.

Close up of some windows opened in the house’s wall.

These windows are also an example of the austere and practical architecture of yore, when people lived mostly in the open and bedrooms were for just sleeping, thus light not being particularly appreciated.

School Compañía de María.

This one is just a nostalgic shot for me, totally meaningless for you: a school of the Compañía de María, a nuns’ order ruling many educational centers in the past century. My sisters used to attend to one back there in our early childhood, when time didn’t exist at all, and the skies always shined a whitish blue, with that special light of the cities in the south, by the sea; a light that forced me to always keep my eyelids halfway closed.
Once out of town, if we keep riding south along the same road we came in, we soon start climbing the steep slopes and U bends going up, up the almost vertical hill of Sierra Salvada until, once upon the summit, we arrive to the province of Burgos. From up here you can behold the most scenic view of all: the green fertile and handsome valley of river Nervión where the founders of Orduña laid their craddle, a treasure coveted by endless kings and lords one after another for generations; sheltered, temperate and fruitful, where such wines are elaborated that may well outstand those in France…

As the evening comes in, the valley gets half in the shadows of Sierra Salvada’s peaks.
Waterfall, one of the park’s highlights. Burgos pours its waters on Biscay, fertilizing it.

What now remains to be said? We’ve been together along the best of Orduña: the roads, the landscapes, the history, the streets. It’s time for a farewell á la Rosaura (my motorcycle): some good pinchos and a superb wine, of the local kind called chacolí.

This pincho, Orduña patent, was awarded a price in the 2012 contest. Absolutely delicious!

That’s all, folks!

Orduña (1st part) ·

Of course, the city of Orduña didn’t need this chapter in my series The Basque trail for being well known in the country, as its beauty, along with its landscape diversity, and even its climate, by their own right play an outstanding role in this part of Spain. But then, a travel journal about the Basque Country wouldn’t be complete without the Orduña route.
Indeed, as was written by the Spanish geographer Madoz around 1840: seven leagues away from Bilbao and six from Vitoria, Orduña is the only city in the province of Biscay. It’s placed on the flat slope of La Peña, where a grassland spreads out 3/4 of a league’s wide and 5/4 long, splendid, fertile and beautiful; climate is mild and very healthy, and most common diseases are rheumatism and common cold[…] Among others, chacolí wine is produced which could outdo that from Bordeaux, if only it were better elaborated. I don’t know how Orduña chacolís were by 1840, but nowadays’ Bordeaux must needs be quite good for not being outdone by ours: as I’ve had the chance of learning along my little trip, extremely tasty wines are fermented in this city. As my readers (if there’s any) already know, wine always plays a main role in my rides… up to where the traffic law allows me.
But let’s kick start, because we’re about to begin one of the finest motorcycle journeys you can take in the Basque region: same the road to Orduña as the city itself, and its surroundings, are good from start to finish. Exiting Vitoria by route N-622, we’ll leave the double laned highway at Izarra, hence taking the bucolic local road A-2521, where the true route begins through invigorating natural settings.

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Artistic milestone under the oaks’ overseeing shades

Little far from the aforementioned junction I pass through a shady and damp grove of oaks and ferns, inviting to get into it for the search of goblins and leyends. Someone, in those times where things were made to last, marked out the road with worthy handcrafted milestones like this in the picture. Yet a little further, past the grove, among fertile prairies some hamlets lie, specking with terracotta shades the greenish colours of the sunny basin. I make a halt in one of them, maybe Goluri, where I park the bike and take a stroll for making some pictures. Behind the church, the peasants have built a fine bolategui (a long sheltered board lane for playing a typical Basque ball game), along whose side they pile wood for warming up their games and gatherings during the long winter months.

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Goyuri’s Bolategui
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Bolategui inside

A mile further, the ancient tower of a solitary chapel by the road, outstanding the treetops, makes me stop again. Since my youth, the retreat of these lonely shrines or hermitages has always awakened my emotions, and it’s but with reverence that I approach or contemplate them. By its northern side there is a small graveyard with the tombs, I reckon, of the valley inhabitants who worked its land and chopped down its trees. Requiescant in pace.

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Goluri’s shrine, nearby the road
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Graveyard behind Goluri’s shrine

Cottages or chapels, though, aren’t the only treasures to be found by the traveler heading for Orduña, but also breathtaking landscapes suddenly coming out behind a turn of the road. Thus, after the last stretch of pavement cuts those prairies like a knife, past a bend there appears the superb, astounding rocky walls of the valley where the Nervión river springs, and on whose bed rises the city we’ve come to visit. Along the ridge of those mountains lies the border dividing Biscay from Burgos.

Valle alto del Nervión. Al otro lado está Burgos.
Nervión’s upper valley. Burgos beyond the mountains.

The sharp cuts made on the rock by the ice, millions of years ago, forming the upper valley of the Nervión, disappear in the distance.

Valle glaciar del Nervión.
Nervión’s glaciel valley.

Now it’s time for having some fun with the motorcycle: here the descent starts along sharp bends of the road taking us to the valley bed, and rounding off with a beautifully balanced final stretch, lined by trees, which leads into Orduña.

Arbolada recta de llegada a Orduña.
Tree flanked stretch leading into Orduña.

Our first sight of the city: the robust and warlike profile of Saint Mary’s church-fortress, which once integrated the walls fending Orduña off its enemies along the many fights in its history.

Iglesia-fortaleza de Santa María.
Saint Mary’s church-fortress of the warlike built.

Bernedo

The afternoon’s blue sky smiles at me between the cumuli, enticing me to a bike ride. Where to? This time of the year, South is usually the safest course; so I dress the attire and, before I can realize, I’m going on two wheels on the road leading to the Earldom of Treviño, that piece of Burgos that got trapped between other districts of Álava. Noon passed a while ago and I don’t have much sun left. Shades start to stretch out on the asphalt when I get to Dulanto’s tavern, a must stop for a coffee to warm up my inside.

Stop at Dulanto's tavern, Burgos.
Stop at Dulanto’s tavern, Burgos.

I don’t really know whither I’m going. As often, I let myself be guided by whim: where I spot a village filling in my sight, perchance the tower of a church among the trees or a town napping on the fields, thither I’ll head my bike.
On a lowland to my left, highlighted against the greengray field under a lowering sun, the tiled roofs of Pariza tempt my fancy; but I let them behind: I feel like more road; I want to have some fun along the bends of the mountain pass.

Pariza, en el camino a Bernedo.
Pariza, on the way to Bernedo.

Eventually, past other Castilian villages, it’s the Basque region again and I find there what I’m looking for.
Six leagues away from Vitoria, at the northern foot of the mountains dividing Álava from Navarra, where the waters of the Ega and the Inglares join Castille, there lies the borough of Bernedo, headquarter as it was of the Basque Provinces by the end of XIXst century: a medieval bordering enclave, compulsory pass for merchants and travelers between Castille and the sea.

Tejados de Bernedo bajo la sierra de Cantabria.
Bernedo under the Sierra of Cantabria.

The Sierra of Cantabria, such is its name, overshadows the valley and draws its silhouette onto the hills north of the river. Beyond them, on the horizon, a layer of leaden clouds dyes the evening light with a tinge of blue and moist, of steel and granite.

Tejados de Bernedo a la luz azul de la tarde.
Roofs of Bernedo under the evening blueish light.

Riding very slowly I climb up the pine slope leading to the plaza, and I feel a dwarf under the impressive northern flank of the fortress-church that can’t hide its once defensive role.

Iglesia dedicada a la Natividad de Nª Señora.
Church of the Nativity of Our Lady.

I park Rosaura in the ample plaza, by the church’s portico and a row of lopped down trees, gnarled and stout. I look around: a few smoke columns of a blueish white outlining against the bare forest give away there’s life within the houses; but I can’t see a soul.

Plaza de Bernedo
Plaza of Bernedo

I walk round the church and get into the empty and shady narrow streets. The ancient origins of Bernedo go as far back as the Greeks settlers, who founded it with the name of Velia; and, as such, it’s listed under the cities of the juridical convention of Clunia. Many centuries later, unknown date, Bernedo would be built on Velia, and the first written instance of the new town found in History appears when, in year 1182, the king Sancho of Navarre, nicknamed the Wise, grants it the fuero de población, a status of borough, as he did with many other towns we’ve already visited. Also, alike those towns Bernedo is erected as walled stronghold, encircling three horizontal streets parallel to the hillsides, communicated by alleys and passageways, and towered by a castle (now reduced to ruins).

Traseras de la iglesia
Houses behind the church
Callejón entre dos de las calles principales
Alley between two of the main streets

A very unusual inscription on the facade of a centric, isolated house by the plaza calls my attention and makes me halt for some minutes. I read it over and over. “The house of Elojura won’t ever be short of misfortune. The curse of the mother roots out, burns and destroyes progeny and house.” It’s the first time I watch an accursed house. Which tragedy those words enclose? Which legend they drag? But there’s nobody around to ask, and I part unanswered.

Casa maldita de Bernedo
Accursed house in Bernedo

Along its history Bernedo had special favours and privileges, such as the banning of duels and common proofs of boiling water and red hot iron, as well as the exemption of customs duties; and, though the Navarre king Carlos II imposed on them a toll, the serfs appealed–successfully–to the king of Castille to intercede for them.

El consistorio de Bernedo
Bernedo’s townhall
Puerta la Sarrea desde intramuros
Sarrea gate as seen from outside the walls

My steps soon led me to Sarrea gate, the only remaining one out of three formerly existing in the wall encircling the town. I keep strolling outside, along the road to the chapel as it smootly climbs up the hillside, whence I can gain a fine view over the town. Now the sun only shines on the summits of the opposite ridges.

Bernedo desde la puerta Sarrea
Bernedo view from Sarrea gate.

It’s a tidied up and gathered up town, as most of the Basque towns are; nice houses well taken care of or restored, peaceful and cozy atmosphere even in such a cold winter evening as this. A town whose stones dream perhaps of past old glories, longing for their wall and their Castilian castle; stones maybe yearning their belonging to Navarre, though by the end of XIVth century Carlos III, king of Navarre, had already given to the Castilian Enrique II the tenure of the stronghold, who handed it over to the town’s majors.

Viejo granero extramuros de Bernedo
Old barn outside the walls.
Curioso balcón sin barandal.
Bizarre balcony without balustrade.

But it was only by the end of XVst century when Bernedo definitely passed to the kingdom of Castille, and the lordship of the town was given to Pedro López de Ayala, the infamous Comunero; the same one who later on–as I already told in my visit to Salvatierra, being lord of this city, rose up against his king Carlos V stirring the war of the Communities, while don Diego Martínez de Álava was major of Bernedo. This one would manage to get for the town, from the king of Castille, the same privileges as those of Vitoria, capital city of the region. However, his villeins paid him ill willedly, as they captured his son and joined the king’s enemies in the aforementioned war. Once this was over, and the Comunero was defeated, the town was ruled again by Martínez de Álava’s kin.

Un umbral bien cuidado.
A random doorstep.
El pórtico de la iglesia de la Natividad, mirando hacia la plaza.
The portico of the Nativity church, facing the plaza.

My head swarming of helmets and swords, battlements and tolls, I turn round towards the plaza and its magnificent church. I glimpse a bunch of kids in the turn of a corner, and I go after them out of curiosity, but there’s no trace of them; I keep walking and come to a romantic nook where a drinking fountain admonishes, since one and a half centuries, a four tuppence fine for those who do laundry there.

Fuente bebedero, con su amenaza de multa.
Drinking fountain.

Before going back home I walk down to the road, where upon arrival I saw an open bar. It’s the only lively place in town. But it’s too late for a tapa, and I order instead a hot chocolate to warm up my body before riding Rosaura on the road, back to XXIst century.

Ochandiano

Plaza principal
Plaza principal de Ochandiano

Tras unos días de fríos nortes, el otoño ha hecho su impetuosa entrada en el valle y la montaña alavesa, pasando una paleta de ocres y sienas sobre la arboleda y la hojarasca. Después, un veranillo de San Martín acompañado de cálidos vientos del sur ha venido a mitigar los rigores climáticos, creando unas condiciones ideales para viajar en moto.
Uno de los rincones del pueblo.
Uno de los rincones del pueblo.

En esta ocasión escojo Ochandiano, un pueblo que ya ha llamado mi atención en otros viajes y al que se llega por una muy entretenida carretera de curvas medias. La ligera cazadora que venía utilizando durante el verano ya se queda escasa, y tengo que echar mano del tres cuartos. No obstante, aún puedo utilizar el casco jet, cuyo tiempo de uso se está alargando más de lo que creía. Ha sido una buena compra. Y allá voy. Primero, unos aburridos quilómetros de autovía que me sirven, eso sí, para calentar el bicilíndrico en línea de la F800, más bien frío al principio. Algunas rachas fuertes de viento azotan de través los cuatro carriles de la autovía y me empujan hacia el arcén. Luego me desvío por la carretera local, protegida del viento por los árboles, que ya van dejando caer su vestimenta de hojas sobre el asfalto y ponen una cálida nota amarilla y ocre sobre la cinta grisácea y fría. Cojo las curvas, heterogéneas en trazado y radio, en alegre y animada sucesión. Siempre alerta, eso sí, porque a la calzada no le sobra anchura, vienen algunos coches en sentido contrario y un error puede costarme una tonta caída.
portico
Vista de la calle principal desde el pórtico de la iglesia

Antes de darme cuenta estoy entrando ya en Ochandiano. Tal es, desde el s XII, el verdadero nombre del pueblo, aunque el actual gobierno autonómico lo rebautizó como Otxandio, que es una evolución fonética relativamente reciente y de popularidad desconocida. Etimológicamente, Ochandiano significa el lugar de ochoa handía (gran lobo).
Casa torre en ruinas. Al fondo, el campanario de la parroquia.
Casa torre en ruinas. Al fondo, el campanario de la parroquia.

Descabalgo de Rosaura en las traseras de la iglesia y doy comienzo a mi visita. La plaza principal, Nagusia, es de un romanticismo y una armonía singulares, toda en piedra, incluyendo la impresionante tapia del frontón; extensa y despejada, guardada por el elegante torreón de la parroquia de Santa Marina, flanqueada por viejas casas, por el soberbio edificio del ayuntamiento y por un cobertizo columnado, lugar de reunión los días de mal tiempo. Copudos y corpulentos árboles dan fresca sombra a unos bancos de granito que podrían, sin duda, contar cien historias de enamorados y otras tantas de peleas entre cuadrillas. Sólo afea a Nagusia un moderno e innecesario panel luminoso informativo.
El campanario de Santa Marina visto desde un callejón
El campanario de Santa Marina visto desde un callejón

En uno de los tablones junto al ayuntamiento leo alguna orgullosa frase sobre el origen y la pureza vascuence de Ochandiano, primera localidad de Vizcaya, entrada a un territorio histórico con fuerte identidad. Nace la villa, dice, en el s XIII a la vera del camino real que unía Castilla con los principales puertos del Cantábrico vascuence, y era la puerta entre las vertientes mediterránea y cantábrica de los montes de Urquiola. Debía ser por aquel entonces no más que una aldea de pastores semi nómadas vascos cuando fue fundada como villa y recibió la carta puebla del entonces Señor de Vizcaya, López Díaz de Haro, con objeto de poblarla y establecer un centro comercial y defensivo como otros muchos en aquella época.
Tipica balconada vasca
Tipica balconada vasca

Luego, durante casi toda su historia, Ochandiano perteneció al Señorío de Vizcaya, de modo que, al recaer tal título sobre Juan I de Castilla en 1379, la villa pasó a formar parte de la corona de Castilla y posteriormente la de España. Un caso más en que se pone en evidencia la falta de fundamento para la independencia de un territorio que ni lo ha sido nunca, ni ha tenido antes de ahora conciencia alguna de identidad nacional. En el mejor de los casos, la de haber pertenecido a otra corona tampco vascuence: la de Navarra.
Caserío en ruinas
Caserío en ruinas

Además de por su plaza, el pueblo me atrae por su trazado en tres calles paralelas norte-sur comunicadas por misteriosos y umbríos pasadizos y cantones, típico de esa época en esta tierra; y también por la armonía y el buen gusto de sus casas, por los recios muros de sus edificios y por ese aire aún algo medieval, tranquilo, de gente amable y sencilla.
Casas de la plaza
Casas de la plaza

Algunas rachas de viento arremolinan las hojas que los árboles han dejado caer. Apenas se ve gente. En el centro de Nagusiahay una fuente de agua fresca y borbotante, con cuatro caños y una imagen de Vulcano, símbolo de las fraguas que supusieron el auge económico de la villa durante la época preindustrial, y consecuencia de las cuales los montes de los alrededores se vieron seriamente deforestados, verificando así el destino de tantísimas sociedades que, por atender sólo a lo inmediato, han forjado (y nunca mejor dicho) su propio declive. Al llegar la mecanización de la industria, y habiendo quedado los montes depauperados, Ochandiano ya no pudo competir y muchos de sus maestros y artesanos se vieron obligados a emigrar. Hubo el pueblo de reconvertirse a la agricultura, con la consiguiente pérdida de riqueza.
Calle principal, con sus bares y tabernas
Calle Nagusia, con sus bares y tabernas

A Ochandiano, como es normal en Vasconia, no le faltan atractivos bares y tabernas, sobre todo a lo largo de la calle principal, Uribarrena. Tras haber explorado los varios rincones del pueblo y fotografiado sus primores, entro a una pequeña taberna en la plaza, de nombre Danoena, donde dos viejos hablan en español y apuran el clarete de sus copas. El camarero es otro viejo, parlanchín y amable, al que pido una copa de lo mismo y me explica: ‘se vende y se bebe muy bien, y no es caro.’ ¿Pero es de la tierra?-le pregunto. ‘¡Ah, eso no sé! Catalán creo que es.’ Sí, era un espumoso catalán. Ese hombre y sus clientes-me dije-no parecen estar muy afectados por el típico chovinismo, y tal vez les importe poco la identidad vasca. Al marcharme, me aconseja un restaurante donde se come bien y a buen precio. Me chocó que, al despedirnos, no me dijera agur, sino adiós. Definitivamente ese hombre no se cuidaba mucho de política.
El consistorio
El consistorio, incumpliendo la ley de banderas por dejadez del gobierno español.

Antes de ir a almorzar, no obstante, recalo en el bar vecino, una herriko-taberna de esas donde, según dicen, recaudan fondos para la causa de ETA. Pero no me importa. No soy tan fanático que eso me impida tomarme un vino. Pido un chacolí con un pincho. Bai, me dice el chaval. Un tipo también agradable, como casi todos en esta tierra. Lleva, eso sí, el uniforme look borroka: una especie de coletilla, pendientes y aspecto jipi. Habla con otros clientes jóvenes en vasco. El local está decorado todo él con motivos independentistas y de apoyo a ETA o a sus presos, que para el caso es lo mismo. El lugar está descuidado, y las moscas revolotean a placer sobre los pinchos. A la hora de pagarle, me dice el precio en español y las gracias en vascuence, más el inevitable agur.
Vista parcial de la plaza
Vista parcial y otoñal de la plaza

Es curioso -me digo- que sean los jóvenes, que no han vivido represión alguna ni conocido los tiempos de la dictadura, quienes más radicales se muestren. Supongo que será cosa del adoctrinamiento recibido. Al salir del bar veo a tres moras cruzando la plaza, disfrazadas con sus túnicas de colores. Esta región ha atraído a una inusitada invasión morisca, que llena las capitales y llega hasta el villorrio más remoto. Tendría gracia que se islamizara la región antes de que los vascos consigan la independencia que tanto ansían.
La reconquista marroquí de Vasconia
La reconquista marroquí de Vasconia

Ochandio está, según su propia publicidad, en plena ruta del vino y el pescado, así que al entrar al restaurante no me pienso dos veces las opciones del menú. Sopa de pescado y lubina a la plancha. Me atienden bien, con amabilidad. La comida es buena, pero el vino, de Rioja, habría servido para teñir de granate las aguas de un río.
La plaza desde la entrada norte. Parroquia de Santa Marina al fondo
La plaza desde la entrada norte. Parroquia de Santa Marina al fondo

El café lo tomo en otro bar, al extremo opuesto de la calle. Me atiende una joven guapa y simpatica, que habla en vasco con algún vecino. Me sirve un café muy aromático que tomo sentado a una de las mesas de fuera. El lugar y la atmósfera no tienen nada que envidiarle a los de esos bonitos y cuidados pueblos franceses. Viajar por aquí es un placer.
Fuente y monumento a las herrerías
Fuente de Vulcano

Un último paseo, unas últimas fotos, y vuelvo a donde tengo la moto aparcada. Me calo casco y guantes, cabalgo sobre Rosaura, arranco y emprendo el camino de regreso, disfrutando el paisaje y las curvas, los colores del otoño y el aroma a tierra mojada.
Tomando el sol del mediodía en un caserío abandonado
Echando una siesta al sol del mediodía en un caserío abandonado
Plaza principal
Nagusia square

After a few cold days, fall has hastily arrived to the valley and mountains of Álava, bestowing its palette of ochres and siennas upon the groves and the earth. Then, an Indian summer along with southernly winds is appeasing the climate harshness, bringing fitting conditions for riding a bike.
Uno de los rincones del pueblo.
One of the borough’s corners.

This time I pick Ochandiano, a borough that had already caught my eye during some other trip. The road leading there is quite entertaining, with an enjoyable series of bends. The light jacket I’ve been using so far for riding is, now, not warm enough, so I catch a three-quarter coat. But I still can use my jet helmet, good enough for this weather. And there I go!
First, a few boring miles on the freeway, good for nothing but warming up my F800’s twin cylinder. A few strong gusts swipe the four-laned road and pushes me to the shoulder. Then, I turn off to a local road, shelterd from the wind by the groves whose falling leaves decorate the grey asphalt with a nice note of yellow and ochre. I take the unpredictable bends in a swift and fun succession, but with due care: the road is not so wide, there is some traffic and a mistake could be fatal.
portico
Main street as seen from the church’s portico

Before I can realize the time, I’m already entering Ochandiano: such is its real name since XIIth century, though the regional government has changed it into Otxandio, which is but a recent fonetic evolution. Ethymologically, Ochandiano means the place of ochoa handía (big wolf in Basque).
Casa torre en ruinas. Al fondo, el campanario de la parroquia.
House-fortress. In the background, the church’s bell tower.

I dismount Rosaura at the church’s back and start scouting the village. Nagusia, its main square has a unique romantic harmony, all stone, spacious and open, watched by the elegant bell tower of Santa Marina church, lined by old houses, by the city hall palace, by the striking stone fronton and by a colonnaded lean-to. Tall stout trees shade a few granite benches that surely might tell us one hundred love stories and factions fights. Only the ugly, modern and unnecessary LED lit information board breaks the beauty of the square.
El campanario de Santa Marina visto desde un callejón
Santa Marina’s tower bell as seen from a lane.

On one of the boards near the city hall I read a proud sentence about the origin of Ochandiano and its pure Basque character, first borough of Biscay, gate to a historical territory. It was founded along the first half of XIIIth century, along the royal way connecting Castile with the main seaports in the Cantabric, right upon the pass through the Urquiola mountains. Before then, it must have been but a Basque shepherd’s small village, until López Díaz de Haro, Lord of Biscay, granted Ochandiano the privileges with the main goal, as was customary in those times, of populating it and establishing a defensive and commercial centre.
Tipica balconada vasca
Typical Basque balcony

Since then, and during most of it’s history, Ochandiano belonged to the Signiory of Biscay, and therefore to Castile since 1379, when king Juan Ist got the title of Señor de Vizcaya. One more example of the lack of foundations on the part of these land for claiming independence of territories which never had it, nor even the notion of being a nation in themselves.
Caserío en ruinas
Hamlet ruins

Besides the main square, I also feel attracted by this village’s street layout, typical in the region: three parallel streets running north-south and connected by misterious, gloomy alleys and passageways; by the harmony and good taste of its houses, by the sturdy walls, and by that almost medieval look, quiet atmosphere and its people’s kindness.
Casas de la plaza
Nagusia square houses

Every now and then a gust whirls vigorously the fallen leaves. There are very few people around. In the middle of the square there is a fountain with four pipes gushing cool fresh water, and sporting the image of Vulcan, who symbolizes the forges thanks to which the borough saw a time of pre-industrial economical splendour, at the expense of a severe deforestation in the surrounding mountains. Such is the doom of so many societies which, caring only about the inmediate future, are the origin of their own downfall. Upon arrival of the industrial mechanization, and lacking more wood for feeding the forges, Ochandiano could not compete, and many of its masters and craftsmen had to migrate. The village went back to agriculture, and therefore got poorer.
Calle principal, con sus bares y tabernas
Uribarrena street, with its row of bars and taverns.

Nowadays Ochandiano abounds, like most Basque towns, in nice bars and taverns, most of all along Uribarrena, the main street. So, once I’ve explored this village’s corners and taken some few pictures, I get into a small tavern where two old men, speaking Spanish, finish off their wine glasses. I ask the waiter, another talkative and kind old man, to be served a glass of the same wine. He explains: ‘it’s quite popular this wine, good and not expensive.’ But is it local?–I ask. ¡Oh!, I don’t know about that. I believe it’s from Catalonia.’ This old man and his customers don’t seem to care much about the Basque identity. Upon leaving the bar, he sees me off and points to a restaurant where, he says, I can eat well and affordable.
El consistorio
The city hall, showing only the Basque flag, thus contravening the law, neglected by central government.

Yet, before going for luch, I stop by a neighbouring bar, one of those so-called herriko-tabernas, where the money for the Basque cause and terrorism is collected, or so the story goes. I order a wine and a pincho. Bai, the waiter replies in Basque (means “yes”). He’s a fine dude, like most people here, sporting a rasta look, some piercings and a hippy look. He talks in basque to other youngsters. The whole premises are decorated with independence signs and symbols, supporting the terrorists. Flies freely swarm around the pinchos. When I ask the bill and pay, he tells the price in Spanish and thanks in Basque.
Vista parcial de la plaza
Main square’s parcial view

Funny -think I- that the most radicals are the youngsters, who never saw any repression nor knew dictatorship times. I guess it’s a matter of the indictrination they go through. When I go out, I see three moors clad in their colourful robes; obviously no tourists. This region has drawn a striking muslim invasion: cities are crammed-full of moors, and you find them even in the remotest village. This land will be eventually Islamized long before the Basques fulfill the cultural immersion they endeavour.
La reconquista marroquí de Vasconia
Basque country re-conquered by Morocco.

Ochandio stands right in the middle of a fish and wine route; so, when entering the restaurant, I already have in mind what I’m going to order: fish soup and grilled bass. The staff is kind and serviceable, food is good, but the wine… could have dyed a whole river.
La plaza desde la entrada norte. Parroquia de Santa Marina al fondo
Main square. Santa Marina paroch in the background.

For a coffe I go to yet another bar, in the other end of the street. A young, pretty and very nice waitress tends to me. She also talks in Basque with the locals, while serving me a very aromatic coffe. I drink it outside, sitting at one of the street tables. The place, the temperature and the atmosphere make me feel like in one of those beautiful and tidy French towns. Only cheaper and closer.
Fuente y monumento a las herrerías
Vulcan’s fountain.

A last walk, a few more shots, and I go back where Rosaura is waiting for me. Helmet, gloves, starter, and I take the way back home, enjoying the landscape, the road bends, the autumn colours and the sweet scent of wet earth.
Tomando el sol del mediodía en un caserío abandonado
Napping under the noon sun.