Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I think this word - staycation - became popular at the beginning of the reccession when people still wanted to take a vacation but didn't want to fork over all the cash and instead started becoming interested in seeing the beautiful sights in thier area so as to not spend so much but still have a great time away from home.  Joseba and I enjoyed a lovely staycation this weekend in the neighboring county of Bizkaia.  While most people know this county for its biggest city - Bilbao - we were lucky enough to spend time along the coast in the little pueblos and in the countryside.

For a wedding present, Joseba's brother and our sister-in-law bought us a weekend getaway at an agroturismo called Lurdeia.  Agroturism is a movement that seems to be catching on and is quite popular here in Basque Country.  It is a niche type of tourism that brings the visitor to a country home - be it a farm, ranch, etc - where they sleep and get to take part in the country life.  Lurdeia, in Basque is a compound of the word Earth (lur) and call (deia), so this amazing farmhouse literally means 'called by the Earth', and during our stay we did feel the beauty of nature in many forms.  After spending the afternoon at a gorgeous beach nestled next to a rugged cliff on the Bizkaian coast, we traversed the winding roads up to the place for our first glance.  As soon as we saw it, we were astounded.  The house is incredible - all stone with dark wood accents and flowers spilling over the balconies and out of the window-boxes.

With a max occupany of 16 and a 'no children under 12 allowed', Lurdeia claims to 'sell tranquility' and that they do.  The typically Basque farmhouse style was the most well-kept I have ever seen, and the oh-so-ubiquitous purple blooms put the extra touch of warmth on the house.  Through the entrance we were in awe at the beauty of the wood that made up the lobby, dining area and lounge.  The stones and wood were accompanied by Basque handicrafts and hand-sewn doilie-like curtains. We were shown our room on the 3rd floor and learned that each room in the house has a name and that ours was named Eguzki, which means sun in Basque.  Being the top floor of the house, our room had skylights and those two arched windows you see in the photo which let in massive amounts of the rising sun.  In Spanish there is a phrase they use a lot that says 'cambio del chip', meaning 'change of the chip/mentality' and that's what we did as soon as we entered the room.  From the first week back at work, daily house tasks and errands, we 'cambiamos el chip' to complete relax.  From the agroturism's website, here is a link of our room. 

The agroturism isn't only a bed and breakfast type hotel, but also has a large garden on the grounds.  As guests we were able to request whatever we wanted from the garden to use for cooking meals.  Being completely organic and straight from the garden, our salad of crisp lettuce, big juicy tomatoes, sweet red onions and some store-bought Tuna was delectable that evening.

The next morning the breakfast that was served was equally delicious.  Dressed up in local Basque dress, the workers served us tasty ham with thier own cherry tomatoes, a vanilla pudding from a local artesin bakery, homemade coffee cake and fresh bread with butter and organic jam along with coffee and just-squeezed orange juice.  From the window we were able to enjoy the scenic view and see the fishing town of Bermeo below.

Seeing as good weather was predicted for Saturday but not Sunday, we tried to take advantage of the forecast and do the outdoorsy stuff right off the bat.  We jumped in the car and headed to Gernika (Guernica in Spanish) to the Fiesta de Conejo y Sidra (Rabbit and Basque Cider Celebration).  Although we got there at 11:45am they were offered a plate of rabbit meat along with all-you-can-drink cider.  However we did manage to stop by a liquor booth at the market and try blackberry liquor, creme liquor and patxaran.  This last liquor is unique to Basque Country and is made with and named after the plum-like berry called Baso Aran in Basque.  With a 25-30% alcohol content it is incredibly strong and in the middle ages was originally used as a remedy for digestive problems.  By the 14th century it was being used by Queen Blanca I of Navarre to cure any and all illnesses and as a festive beverage.  Now served as an after-dinner drink at many Basque tables, it only gained popularity in the rest of Spain in the 1950s.  Too strong for my liking, I tried it anyways and felt like I threw gas down my throat, but the salesman was so charming I couldn't say no.  When he offered us the café liquor, he somehow mentioned the Spanish saying 'If you were a coffee machine, I'd love to drink your coffee' which got a chuckle from me.

We left with some Basque sheep cheese (it is inevitable that we buy this at almost every open air market) and a Basque cake without even trying the rabbit, which was the whole point of coming, and set off to the Santimamiñe Caves a few minutes away.  Named the most important caves in Basque Country, archeologists have found evidence of human life in them from 14,000 years ago.  Discovered in 1918 by some local boys running around in the hilly area, the kids found the entrance and dared to go in over 200 feet into the cave until they saw ancient cave paintings, got scared and left running down to thier village to tell about thier find.  Soon after an excavation team too to the cave with pick axes and chisels and catologued 40,000 items which told about the lives of the early inhabitants.  Only until about a decade ago did the Basque Government shut down the major part of the cave to the public to start a reevaluation project to look further into the prehistoric activity in the cave.  However, when Joseba was young he took a class trip to the caves and was able to walk the whole thing - getting glimpses of paintings ('moving' horses, bulls, goats), seeing the stalactites and venturing as far as the boys in 1918 did.  On our visit we were only able to take a few steps into the cave and admire a bit of excavation work but were treated with a 3D experience as if we were walking in the cave.  With steep ladders and massive interior caves we even the sound effects of your boots crunching the thousand-year-old rocks.

The small port village of Elantxobe was next on our good weather day.  Founded in 1520 the location was selected for being protected by the harsh north winds and its small inlet that seemed great for a port.  While it has a good coastal locale, the steep hills make this town more vertical than any I'd ever seen.  Houses built at such angles that it seems they should just tumble down the cobblestone road that isnt even big enough for a car.  At the entry of the village is a one-lane road that both incoming and outgoing traffic use.  The entrance is so small that the buses that come each hour have to stop on a rotating part of the cement that turns them in a 180º to leave!  A completely pedestrian city, Elantxobe only has 439 actual residents but all the charm in the world.  Once a successful fishing village it was also known for its whale hunting skills.  With a man designated to sit watch for coming whales, he would sound a whistle to the village far below and they would quickly man thier rowboats to paddle out and make the kill.  With whale hunting illegalized and fishing not so popular, Elantxobe has turned into one of the gems of the Bizkaian coast of an enchanting step in history.

Another special coastal spot is the fishing town of Bermeo, about 20 minutes West.  For a Saturday afternoon, we expected the street to be packed with lively fisherman drinking Basque white wine and eating pintxos like no tomorrow, but it seemed more like a ghost town.  We passed a few people here and there and I tried to pick up on thier Euskera, but Joseba told me that their dialect is sooo different from what I am learning that it is quite difficult.  It would be the equivalent I guess of Texas cowboy speaking with a British monarch - different pronunciations, weird spellings, even different sounds!  And, while I normally love the hustle and bustle of the crowded Basque streets the absense of rowdy men did allow us to test out a new skill - panoramic photos!

The majority of the rest of the weekend was spent at the agroturism, chatting with the extremely friendly hosts, checking out thier gardens, enjoying the little lake they have and walking the grounds. We spent each nice with a glass of wine on a wooden bench overlooking Bermeo and the sea below through the night sky. Our favorite activity though was, and don't laugh, walking through the grass barefoot.  I honestly cannot remember the last time I did it, and with my feet in the grass made me realize how much I miss it.  It is something you just CAN'T find in a city but something I think we each need.  While we don't live in a skyrise or a super polluted city, it is still always nice to get out once in awhile and 'cambia el chip'.


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