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Basque Country

  • 7 Night Route

    Price From: £805
  • 6 Night Route

    Price From: £715
  • 5 Night Route

    Price From: £630

Castille to Bilbao along the ridgeways

Back to Routes
Meadow near Espinosa

Meadow near Espinosa

Ilso peak from Balgerri

Ilso peak from Balgerri

A tower near Espinosa

A tower near Espinosa

Walking from San Martin to Bilbao

Walking from San Martin to Bilbao

Above Posada Real

Above Posada Real

Carranxta

Carranxta

On the way back to Olga's

On the way back to Olga's

Bucolic scene near Quintanilla

Bucolic scene near Quintanilla

View from the climb out of Lanzas Agudas

View from the climb out of Lanzas Agudas

The caves of San Bernabe

The caves of San Bernabe

View of Ilso peak from Sobrepena

View of Ilso peak from Sobrepena

Your view of Bilbao

Your view of Bilbao

Price: £805
(2018 price: £835)
Nights: 7
Grade:
Walk: 4 - 8 hr/day
Max. party size: 10

Travellers Reviews

A great selection of accommodation and some fantastic walking.

I loved the views from the ridges, and the arrival in Bilbao was a treat.

Jonny Summerskill, Edgbaston

The Basque Country I never knew.

San Sebastian and Bilbao of course I know but these hills are lovely, and remote too. Olga at Quintanilla was really helpful with the transfer when the train forgot to stop!

Vincent Keneally, Dublin

We thought the walk over the hill down to Lanzas Agudas the best.

But that dog! He was so friendly he followed us back up the hill and we had to send him back with the luggage the next day. A lesson learnt. We thought Posada Calera the best accommodation - really simple and so friendly, and Jose-Vicente's attempts at explaining the menu in pictures was a hoot. He joined us for an aguardiente later.

Norman Fiske, Melbourne

More independent feedback
About the Route

At a glance

Full 7-night route (6 days walking). Consider extra nights in San Pelayo and Bilbao.

How much walking?

Full days: 16 - 28 km per day, 4-8 hrs
Using shortening options: 16-20 km per day, 4-5¾ hrs using shorter versions on two days

Max. Grade:

Two cultures, two landscapes

From “real” Spain – vast, dry, formal – to the micro-region known as the Basque Country, is a journey in the mind and heart.  The apparent anarchy of the Basque language is mirrored in the relaxed and friendly manner of the Basque people, yet gainsaid by the ordered drama of the hill country that characterises “Euskadi”, and by its history as one of the powerhouses of the Spanish industrial revolution.

The best way to get to the start of the walk from Bilbao is by train – one a day from Bilbao – or from Burgos and the south by bus and a short taxi ride. The walk proper starts in Quintanilla del Rebollar at Olga’s beautiful “Posada Real”, located in a valley whose craggy cliffs accompany you for your first three days. After a limb-reviving circular walk (two nights at Olga’s make a great start), you head east along the valley via the historic town of Espinosa de los Monteros, whose eponymous knights vowed to protect the king with their lives, and whose decorated mansions form the basis of a fascinating walk around this pretty town. The following day you head for the hills, to the ridges that will lead you to your destination, Bilbao. From San Pelayo to Lanzas Agudas to La Matanza (an island of Cantabria surrounded by a Basque sea) to San Martin, the ridges are the best way to see this beautiful green landscape, and the little villages in which you stay, down in the valley at the end of each day’s walk, are all different and charming in their own Basque and Cantabrian ways.

Finally Bilbao, the real capital of the region, even if not the official one, approached from a hilltop with a direct line to its heart, its river, tapas bars, old town and of course the Guggenheim (nb- closed Mondays!).

Walked by On Foot staff: Simon and Debbie.

You may need to have a night in Bilbao at the start if your flight arrives too late for the train. If coming from Madrid, you could add a night in Burgos at the start (we have devised an easy transfer to Quintanilla), and extra nights at the end in Bilbao. Thursday starts in Quintanilla should be avoided if possible.

Self-Guiding introduction by Aznar (subject to his availability) – accompanying you on your first one or two walking days, or guiding services for whole walking route.  Contact On Foot Holidays for prices (priced per day).

REVIEWS: For independent walker reviews of this route submitted to the Association of Independent Tour Operators visit AITO.com.

TRAVEL ADVICE: To find the latest travel advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for UK citizens travelling to Spain, click here. Citizens of other nations will also find it useful, but should always check their appropriate local agency.

Route Highlights

  • Castillian hospitality at Quintanilla and San Pelayo
  • Espinosa and the mansions of the Monteros
  • The Ordunte ridge and views for miles
  • Swimming in the pool at Lanzas Agudas
  • Crested houses of the minor aristocracy
  • Castillian, Cantabrian and Basque culture
  • The hill above Bilbao with the city laid out before you
  • Bilbao, tapas bars, haute cuisine and the Guggenheim (nb. closed Mondays!)

We Recommend

A trip on the Bilbao to Leon railway at the start, or alternatively a night in Burgos. Extra nights in Bilbao.

How much Walking?

Full days: 16 - 28 km per day, 4-8 hrs
Using shortening options: 16-20 km per day, 4-5¾ hrs using shorter versions on two days

Paths and tracks, some waymarked. Stretches of quiet asphalt. Highest point on route: 1,334m.

Average cumulative uphill stretches (CUSs) 724m per day (355m-1130m).

GPX file available for handheld GPS or smartphone App for complete route.

Important note: Times given for each day are  walking times for an “average” walker and exclude stops.  “CUSs” stands for “Cumulative Uphill Stretches” and measures the aggregated ascents in each day, expressed in metres of climb.  See “Walk Grading” for more information.

When to go?

The best months to walk: May, June, September, October

Other possible months: April, July, August

Enjoy these Basque hills at their best in May and June, but you can walk right through to the end of October (accommodation availability permitting – late July and August difficult).

Start Dates

Recommended
Possible
Unavailable

Weather Chart

 

Temperature and rainfall chart for Bilbao

Itinerary

About the Route

Day 1 - Arrive in Quintanilla

After a possible overnight in Burgos (for those coming from the south), arrive at the Posada Real and treat yourself to Olga's hospitality. Those coming from Bilbao will have taken the once-a-day train to Redondo station, just a 600m downhill trundle to her door.

Day 2 - Quintanilla circular walk

A limb-loosening walk in the valley, with a pretty climb up to a viewpoint and down to the Cueva de San Bernabe, which you can explore (opening times vary – the cave system is one of the largest in the world) and visit the shrine of Saint Barnabus before a gentle ramble home. (Medium: 4 hrs, 15km, CUSs 355m).

Day 3 - Quintanilla to San Pelayo

A day of two halves. The morning walk is a delightful stroll through woodland and dairy farmland to Espinosa de los Monteros, with its striking towers and heraldically-emblazoned buildings. A tour of the town taking in the best examples is recommended, as is a good lunch! If your stamina can take it, the 3 hour afternoon walk takes you further down the valley, with views to the limestone crags opposite while strolling through bucolic farmland. If not, a taxi may be the only answer, though remember that you dine late so you can walk well into the early evening (7pm or beyond). (Medium: 5¼ hrs, 20km, CUSs 450m). Option: Stop in Espinosa and taxi the rest of the way.

Day 4 - San Pelayo to Lanzas Agudas

A magnificent day of high ridge walking with views on both sides. After a stiff climb to gain height, the bulk of the day’s walking is along the ridge that separates Castille from the Basque Country, before a pretty zigzag path brings you down again to your next accommodation – Maika’s Casa Rural at Lanzas Agudas. (Hard: 5½ hrs, 18 km, CUSs 1130m).  Option: Ride with the luggage, this should be arranged the night before with Mari-Cruz. (When riding with the luggage a tip is appreciated.)

Option

Note:  This day can be missed completely, and the Lanzas Agudas night,  by a short transfer to start the walk to La Matanza below, thus shortening the route by one day and substituting two hard consecutive days with one. Check with On Foot Holidays if you would like to consider this option.

Day 5 - Lanzas Agudas to La Matanza

The first hour’s ascent retraces the previous day’s steps but then you stay high above the valley, with the odd steep climb, along the same ridge, before turning inland to meadows and ancient woodland, and a tree-dappled descent to La Matanza, a Cantabrian island surrounded by Basques! Treat the final 2 km quiet asphalt stretch as some winding down time … (Hard: 6½ hrs, 23km, CUSs 825m)

For those who would prefer a lesser challenge today, a short transfer to the start at the bullring in the tiny village of Suceso – a different but equally appealing route.  The path climbs steeply up for twenty minutes or so but after this it’s contouring, easy walking on very clear paths around the twin peaks of Armañon and Sopuerta, with fabulous views. The long descent to La Matanza is easy also, and mainly on surfaced, but very quiet, roads. (Medium: 4 hrs, 15km, CUSs 500m).

Day 6 - La Matanza to San Martin

After a pretty walk down the Valverde valley on quiet lanes to Trucios La Iglesia, your route heads off again up into the hills for a glorious view-laden day, including, if you are lucky, the Bay of Biscay, from which the province of Bizkaia takes its name. A descent to the Mercadillo offers more views of this pretty valley, but the final 3km along the road to Mila’s agroturismo will demand a stop at one of several bars (public buses also run along this stretch). (Medium-hard: 5 hrs, 20km, CUSs 700m).  Option: Ride with the luggage courtesy of José-Vicente.

Day 7 - San Martin to Bilbao

San Martin to Bilbao. The final challenge, and a long day to boot.   For the purists, a 28km door-to-door walk, but for lesser mortals a start after a short taxi transfer, at the Ermita San Cosmé, where you could arrange to meet your more heroic partners, as here the two starts join. Then a tough climb up to the ridge (yes!) and a long walk in varied terrain to the heights above Bilbao for your panoramic grand finale. Again, if you are tired, you can walk down to the medieval bridge at Kastrexana and take a train to the centre – or if not, it’s a further 1hr walk into the centre of the great city. (Ermita start: Medium: 5hrs, 18km, CUSs 600m. San Martin start: Hard: 8hrs, 29km, CUSs 1250m)

Alternative: Other than the Ermita shortening option, just a ride with the luggage courtesy of Mila and her daughter (a tip of €10 would be appreciated but is not mandatory) – option available to groups of 3 or less people (taxi for larger groups).

Departure day

Return home – or maybe stay another night or two in Bilbao to appreciate all that this great Basque city has to offer.  Please note that the Guggenheim is closed on Mondays.

Travel Information

ARRIVING BY AIR

The best “local” airport is Bilbao. Intercontinental flights use Madrid, enabling our recommended overnight stay in Burgos after a direct bus from the airport or train.

Land by: Bilbao – 12:00 for daily train (c. 3½ hrs) – later arrivals up to 13:00 possible with taxi to Bilbao-Abando station (~€20) OR stay a night in Bilbao if arriving late (see Where you’ll stay and Prices). Madrid – 13:30 for direct bus to Burgos (2 ½ hrs) for overnight stay (arrivals up to 17:15 possible, missing supper in Burgos, or overnight Madrid), alternatively 09:15 for bus to Villarcayo (4½ hrs change Burgos) then short local taxi.

Return flight earliest: Bilbao: No limits with local taxi. Madrid: 15:00 (direct bus from Bilbao 4½ hrs)

Flight information can change rapidly and not all flights run daily. Please do check directly with the airlines’ websites or Skyscanner (see below) before finalising any booking with us. Do not book your flights until we have confirmed that we have provisionally reserved accommodation for you.

For up-to-date schedules and flights from all airports check Skyscanner.

ARRIVING BY TRAIN

Nearest railway station:
Start: Redondo (for Quintanilla) or Bercedo-Montija (for San Pelayo)
Finish: Bilbao

Typical rail journey:

via Paris from London: Eurostar to Paris (N), transfer by RER to Gare Montparnasse, then TGV to Irun and local Euskotren from there to Bilbao. Daily train at 14:30 Bilbao to Quintanilla/Bercedo-Montija . Overnight stop required Irun or Bilbao.

Look at www.seat61.com/Spain for times and other information on the stretch from London to Bilbao;
visit www.renfe.com/EN/viajeros/feve/ for Bilbao to Redondo/Bercedo-Montija

 

Getting to the start of the walk

The first hotel is in the village of Quintanilla (or San Pelayo for 5-night option), and the last in Bilbao. Transfer times and methods are suggested for Bilbao and Madrid airports below. For train arrival transfers see below.

BILBAO AIRPORT:

Outward: Shuttle, 700m walk then 14:30 train: 3½ hrs. Allow 1½ hrs from touchdown at airport to train departure from Bilbao Abando. Arrivals after 12:30 should get taxi from airport to station to catch the daily train; those after 13:00 should overnight in Bilbao.
Return: Airport bus from central Bilbao every half-hour.

MADRID AIRPORT (with overnight in Burgos on outward journey):

Outward: Bus from Terminal 4 2½ hrs to Burgos (10 departures daily), or train to Madrid Chamartin then Avant express 4 hrs. Bus Burgos to Villarcayo 1¼ hrs (4 daily) then pre-booked taxi to Quintanilla or San Pelayo 25 mins (€20 pay locally).
Return: Direct Bus to Madrid Airport T4 4-4½ hrs

Full transfer advice, including timetables, is provided in your Walkers’ Pack. Contact us if you would like additional pre-booking information.

Where You'll Stay

In Quintanilla (6 and 7-night start point) you will stay at a superb Posada, and in San Pelayo (5-night start point) at a beautifully restored farmhouse. Lanzas Agudas is a wonderfully sited pension with a swimming pool, and at La Matanza you stay in a friendly roadhouse, and will drink with the Cantabrian locals. At San Martin is a high-quality modern agroturismo. Our accommodation in Bilbao is a selection of carefully chosen B&Bs – or you can book your own accommodation (see “prices”)

Quintanilla – Posada Real El Prado Mayor (Dinner, B&B)

Night 1 & 2

Quintanilla – Posada Real El Prado Mayor (Dinner, B&B)

Boutique hotel with comfortable rooms, drawing room and library, and food from Olga's garden.

San Pelayo – Casa Zalama (Dinner, B&B)

Night 3

San Pelayo – Casa Zalama (Dinner, B&B)

Restored farmhouse with Basque home cooking from Mari-Cruz.

Lanzas Agudas – Gailurretan (Dinner, B&B)

Night 4

Lanzas Agudas – Gailurretan (Dinner, B&B)

Village pension in lovely position with swimming pool.

La Matanza – Posada Calera (Dinner, B&B)

Night 5

La Matanza – Posada Calera (Dinner, B&B)

Bustling roadhouse with the industrious and friendly Jose-Vicente at the helm.

San Martin – Lezamako Etxe (Dinner, B&B)

Night 6

San Martin – Lezamako Etxe (Dinner, B&B)

Large modern agriturismo with comfortable rooms. Dinner at nearby restaurant included.

Bilbao – Caravan Cinema: (B&B)

Night 7

Bilbao – Caravan Cinema: (B&B)

Highly rated and wacky movie-related B&B. Breakfast at cafe nearby.

Prices

Price: £805 (2018 price: £835) for 7 nights

Total 7 nights in double/twin room, all breakfasts, 5 picnics and 6 evening meals, luggage transfers between all hotels on walking route; full Walkers Pack with route directions, maps, transfer and background information; local telephone support.

All prices are per person unless otherwise indicated (e.g. for taxis), and may vary with season and exchange rate fluctuations – check with On Foot for your guaranteed price. Please note also that our standard Bilbao accommodation charges a supplement for Friday/Saturday night stays from end May to September.

Savings and supplements

Single Room Supplement : From £190

Lone Traveller Additional Supplement: From £110

Larger party saving (on identical itinerary) – £50 off per person (except first two)

Self-booked accommodation in Bilbao – Save £42 pp

 

Add Ons

Extra nights possible throughout the route: Contact On Foot for ideas and prices

Taxi from Villarcayo (meeting bus from Burgos) to Quintanilla: €25 pay locally

Travellers Reviews

A great selection of accommodation and some fantastic walking.

I loved the views from the ridges, and the arrival in Bilbao was a treat.

Jonny Summerskill, Edgbaston

The Basque Country I never knew.

San Sebastian and Bilbao of course I know but these hills are lovely, and remote too. Olga at Quintanilla was really helpful with the transfer when the train forgot to stop!

Vincent Keneally, Dublin

We thought the walk over the hill down to Lanzas Agudas the best.

But that dog! He was so friendly he followed us back up the hill and we had to send him back with the luggage the next day. A lesson learnt. We thought Posada Calera the best accommodation - really simple and so friendly, and Jose-Vicente's attempts at explaining the menu in pictures was a hoot. He joined us for an aguardiente later.

Norman Fiske, Melbourne

More independent feedback
Reserve your dates Add to shortlist
Aznar Fernandez de Pinedo

Route designed by:

Aznar Fernandez de Pinedo

Aznar was born and grew up in Bilbao, where he soon developed his love for nature (he is a keen naturalist), hiking and the rural environment in general. He studied Business and has worked for many years in multinational corporations in the IT sector, living in both Barcelona and Madrid. But in 2014 he decided to change his career to work on what he loves most:

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