Viewed from above, the Old Town of Vitoria-Gasteiz looks like an almond-shaped eye watching everything. Seen at ground level, while I wandered around, it appeared to me to be what it is, an extremely well-conserved medieval gem, which is why it has received three Europa Nostra Awards.
I wandered aimlessly around its streets, looking for traces of the guilds of artisans who once worked there: Herrería, Zapatería, Cuchillería, Correría (Names of streets meaning Blacksmith, Cobbler, Knife maker, leatherworkers). Along these streets you can find some of the oldest and most unique buildings in the city, including a medieval thieves' den, now a restaurant called El Portalón. I imagined knights and soldiers sharing a table and wine while the innkeeper brings out the roasts... In Calle Cuchillería I went into the Casa del Cordón, which owes its name to the doorway framed with the rope belt worn by the Franciscans. Inside is a beautiful starred dome that has made the building famous. I woke up from my medieval meanderings when I reached the Torre de los Anda, an example of Gothic and Renaissance style. Built in the 15th century, this is one of the city’s oldest buildings, once forming part of the city wall together with the Cathedral of Santa María.
It is currently inhabited so it is not possible to look inside, but the exterior is impressive in itself. Two Renaissance palaces caught my attention, Escoriaza-Esquivel and Montehermoso. The latter is a cultural centre and I made my way towards it. On the outside it has a surprising stately elegance. Exhibitions, workshops and other activities are held inside the building, filling it with life. There are thousands of nooks and crannies to see, but first, I decide to sit down in the Plaza de las Bullerías, after giving the statue of friend Ken Follett a hug, to contemplate the ancient wall of Gasteiz and once again, immerse myself in a medieval daydream.
A visit to Artium, the Basque Museum-Centre of Contemporary Art opened in 2002, is a must for any art lover. The permanent collection, to which I was drawn like a magnet, includes legendary names such as Picasso, Dalí, Oteiza, Chillida, Miquel Barceló, Cristina Iglesias and Bill Viola. There are also interesting exhibitions of all types: paintings, documentary, photography, art videos... as well as interesting concerts, interactive talks and conferences. It also offers courses and workshops for all ages. It is a good idea to check the web site for what's on and make the most of your visit. Sometimes they relate the works on display to gastronomy and after visiting the exhibition you can enjoy the dish in question at the Cube Artium restaurant.
As I entered the museum, I looked up and marvelled at the huge bulb of glass pieces that dominates the lobby of this modern museum in all its senses. One thing I love about Artium is the space, its generous size, yet one more element that allows you to enjoy the work. It is quite an experience to wander around the centre and feel those emotions that only art can make us feel. To give it a name might take all day and it will always be worth it. Want a tip? Sit down and upload photos and write comments on the social networks about all the marvellous places you have seen; there is free wifi at Artium.
Instead of walls, the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz is surrounded by parks. This is a statement of intent from a city that is committed to the environment and a sustainable future. It is also the best welcome you could offer the visitor: a “Green Belt” currently consisting of six parks of high ecological value, Armentia, Olarizu, Errekaleor, Zabalgana, Zadorra Parks and Salburua wetlands, each with its own personality.
There will be more, as this is an ongoing organic project that grows together with the inhabitants and the trees themselves. The six parks are linked together by eco-recreational corridors, together offering the best possible protection for citizens: a clean green environment.
I suggest visiting them by bike, although of course, it is also a pleasant and accessible walk. But I’d rather take advantage of the numerous cycle paths and the 47 streets where traffic has been reduced to 30 km per hour, and feel the clean air of this eco city on my face. It is a pleasure to wander around this city. There was a reason why Vitoria-Gasteiz was named "European Green Capital" in 2012. There is nothing I like better than Nature.
Maybe that's why I fell in love with Vitoria-Gasteiz, a city that knows how to embrace nature and sustainable development better than any other.
“Ataria” Interpretation Centre is the best place to begin to learn about the natural wealth of the Salburua Wetlands, the largest of the parks in the Vitoria-Gasteiz “Green Belt”, in the east part of the city. I went to the centre to find out about the best route to take in this natural treasure, a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and a Site of Community Importance (SCI) in the European Natura 2000 Network. At “Ataria” I was given a lot of information.
There are a number of itineraries to visit the park, which has an area of 206 hectares. It has two bird observatories, a paradise for bird lovers, and is formed by several lagoons of which Arkaute and Betoño are the main ones. In addition, Salburua fulfils a primordial function as a powerful filter system, eliminating harmful substances from the waters of the quaternary aquifer on which it is established. The wealth of its flora is more than obvious and includes a large area of pond sedge (Carex riparia), considered to be the best conserved in the Iberian Peninsula.
Except for a herd of deer, introduced artificially for the control of the vegetation, all the fauna in the wetland is wild. Salburua, with 108 species, has one of the most important communities of Carabid beetles in the Iberian Peninsula and endangered dragonflies such as Coenagrion mercuriale. It also has one of the most complete communities of amphibians and reptiles in the Basque Country, including autochthonous turtles and, in particular, the Agile frog, a small beautiful amphibian that lives in the undergrowth of the oak forests and which is an endangered species on an Iberian scale. Another inhabitant includes one of the most delightful and endangered mammals, together with the Iberian Lynx, in all Europe: the European bison (Mustela lutreola). Its conservation is one of the priority objectives of the park management.
While I rode along the Paseo de los Humedales walkway over the water, I pondered on the importance of this place for environmental protection and, undoubtedly, for the enjoyment of all those lucky enough to visit it.