Todas las entradas de bizipozatours

Be a Traveller not a Tourist


Bizipozatours is an insiders guide to the curious country and culture that is Euskal Herria (The Basque Country). It is about connecting visitors to the wealth of unspoilt, often undiscovered, country and culture which exists here.

 It is not about the well trod tourist trail where you choose your meal from a menu with photos, shuffle round the sights and return home with a sombrero and a bottle of dodgy plonk.

No it’s not about that.

Bizipozatours is about stepping off the beaten path and taking time to explore the less trodden tracks that twist this way and that. Those are the tracks that lead to the crystal fountain where you meet friendly folk with time to pass the day and a restaurant serving beans grown locally, washed down with a bottle of Rioja, “sin etiqueta”.

Bizipozatours is about travel. It’s about stepping outside our routine, observing that there are other ways, other customs, that there’s always another point of view and that really anything could happen!

 The following photos and text recount some highlights from a five day trek that took us across Navarra travelling from west to east and passing to the south of Iruña, the capital of Euskal Herria, before ascending into the pre-Pyrenees.

At Bizipozatours it is nothing less than a great pleasure to facilitate people’s exploration and discovery of this place.

All the same there comes a point in the year when the guide needs a holiday too.

What to do?

Where to go?


The answer came with the chance arrival of a friend from Madrid. He’d walked the 400km in three legs of a month each and he was currently on the final section which would take him to the occupied villages of the Navarran Pyrenees. Javier’s route in the previous days had taken him over the Sierra de Toloño and down into the ocean of oak forest that is Izki National Park. He’d taken three days to cross that. Camping under a tarp and cooking on an open fire where his preferred dish was “rice and…».While Javier’s tales of camping in the forest and sleeping in church porches in sub zero temperatures provoked a certain horror they also held considerable appeal. The appealing simplicity of life reduced to the contents of a rucksack. He also exuded a deep vibe of calm a strong smell of wood smoke and there was no doubt that I would be joining him on the next leg.

There is something tremendously special about starting a long journey on foot from your own front door. A sense of departure and a certain longing for the slippers and pipe that lie by the still hot embers of the hearth.

I was leaving the comfort zone.

All the stuff I had been fretting about until that moment of departure evaporated to be replaced by a rather heavy ruck sack.

After crossing the Sierras of Iturrieta and Urbasa our first port of call was the village of Etxauri in Nevarra.

As two off season pilgrims travelling the wrong way on The Camino de Santiago I guess we stood out as an oddity. We quickly fell into conversation with the locals in the bar and when we explained our intention to pass the night in the church porch they were quick to offer us floor space. We may be ‘ard as nails but we ain’t stupid either.

The storm clouds of the previous day had moved on by sun up the following morning. Turning westward into those warming rays we picked up a winding trail that stretched on through vineyards to the far horizon and our destination the snow clad Pyrenees.





The day unfolded and the kilometres eased by at a leisurely pace. The early morning frost lingered only in the shade and the air temperature soared with the rising sun. Stops were frequent as we adjusted clothing, stripped off layers bringing welcome cooling but unwelcome weight to the packs on our backs.

There’s a meditative quality in the rhythm of walking. The mind chatters but what are you really going to pay attention to when the pressing concern is how to adjust the weight on your back so that that tensioning pain in your shoulders might find ease?

Mid morning and a stop for “hamaikatako” elevenses. Cheese and some of Oianha’s organic bread, baked locally from “masa madre” made with locally grown and milled flour. Simple food well earned after a mornings walking.

The road lead on through rolling farmland linking every three or four kilometres, one village with another; Otazu, Larraya, Galar, Esparza,… Unremarkable villages when seen from a speeding car but filled with interest to the pilgrim’s eye. When there’s only one or two people in the scene you’re rather obliged to interact. Folk out and about or tending huertas (gardens) would pause in their tracks and exchange a “buenos días” or “Egun on”. And more often than not we’d fall into conversation.

Turning Pamplona by the broad plain that lies to its south we joined the Camino de Santiago for some twenty kilometres. We were of course travelling away from Santiago. Something which people we met took delight in informing us. Nonetheless, it was an insight into the Camino and its history. This corridor linking Santiago in Galicia with France and the rest of Europe via the Pyrenees has seen the passing of inconceivable numbers of pilgrims, traders, nights templer, and crusaders since the midle ages. The record of their passing is preserved in the chiseled stone of buildings with their distinctive Navarran arches and cryptic inscriptions.

But there are layers of history here. Iruña was founded by the Roman commander Pompey in 75 B.C.. He named it after himself “Pompaelo” and it presumably evolved into Pamplona over the milenia. Iruña is the Basque name for the town.

Beyond the Romans you’ve got the neolithic period and this whole area is dotted with neolithic stone circles. This is a place that has seen the passage of civilizations. Makes you wonder about the permanence of our own.

It took us three days to cross Navarra and we spent most of the nights in church porches and always found a space to make a fire and brew up a pot of «rice and…» The nights were fresh with the temperature falling to around 4 below.

Arriving in the village of Itzagaondoa with fading light we were dismayed to find that the church didn’t have a porch. There were a few folk around and we asked if they new of anywhere that might provide rudimentary shelter for the night. A key was produced, the local community centre was opened and the central heating was cranked up. “ Aye, this is the life!” What’s more, having arrived on foot there was a certain sense that the people of Itzagaondoa were after all just neighbours. We spent a few hours with them drinking patxaran and discussing this and that. So many things in common. Concerns about rural depopulation a shared sense of injustice and indignation.  A notion that a more local, collaborative approach might be the salvation we are looking for.

They opened the church for us explaining that some builders had discovered a freeze under the plaster. The freeze is dated around 1460 and depicts a medieval calendar. Things like that abound here. The church is an otherwise unremarkable replica of so many others in so many other almost uninhabited villages. Soooo much history!

From Itzagaondoa we made our way to Aoiz and there began the ascent into the foothills of the Pyrenees. We spent one more cold night in a hunter’s shelter at around 1200m before descending to the occupied village of Arizkuren.

Arizkuren was first inhabited in the 12th century had its heyday in the mid 18th century and was abandoned half way through the 20th century. It’s hard to imagine what the original inhabitants gleaned from those forested hill sides at an altitude of 800m. But they must have found something and they certainly built some beautiful houses out of the stone they quarried.

Some eighteen years ago Arizkuren was occupied by a group of folk who have repopulated the streets of this medieval village. I can easily imagine the enthusiasm and romanticism that fuelled their initial experiments in building a community. I can also see how hard it has been to match idealism with the reality of living in such a remote spot. But they’ve done it or better said, are continuing to do it as this level of community requires constant attention and a very clearly established system of conflict resolution.

It was inspiring to be there. This is a level of communal living that is based on a collective economy and while it is certainly no picnic it is a system which currently supports twenty one people. The nearby village of Lakabe has been operating for around forty years and is respected world wide.

These are communities of people who have stuck their courage to the sticking post and opted consciously for a way of life where they accept responsibility for their actions and live by and large with a minimum of impact. Out of respect for them and their privacy I won’t add more here but if you wanted more information you would know where to ask.

In one way or another this trip represents the spirit of a Bizipozatour. Having said that most of our clients opt for accommodation in luxury rural, guest-houses complete with spas. I hope you might be inspired to join us.

Ondo Ibili;)


The Cider House Rules

There is a strong tradition of cider making here in the Basque Country.  Sagardotegies (cider houses) are very typical in the province of Guipuzkoa but cider is also made here in Araba and the «Sagardotegia Iturrieta» was inaugurated in 1998 with a view to reviving that tradition.

This is a very small family run cider house.  It has it’s own orchard with around 600 apple trees which they hope to double in the next few years.  Any additional apples are sourced locally in the valley of Aramaio and nearby.  The trees are all traditional Basque and Asturian varieties.  These are trees which would simply have vanished if it wasn’t for initiatives such as «Sagardotegia Iturrieta»
We have lived for too long by an economic system whose principal philosophy is, «business is business and business must grow».  This has created a perilous situation where we have literally placed all our eggs in one basket.  The brewing industry is a perfect example.  Only fifty years ago there were thousands of little breweries and cider houses all over the world brewing all sorts of delights.  Now there are just a handful.  We have moved from a  situation where there was lots of choice to one where there is no choice at all.
At «Sagardotegia Iturrieta» there is lots of choice and I was tremendously lucky to be invited to an event to mark the inauguration of this years cider.  I tried five different organically-produced ciders each with their own particular characteristics.  These ciders  must be «broken» before drinking.  To break the cider it is poured from a height into the glass.  The glass is only filled with a little cider.  To fill it up to the top would be very bad form.
Glasses are chinked with a shout of «Txotx!»  /chotch/ (Cheers!)
The cider was accompanied with tortilla (Spanish omelette), morcilla (black pudding) and sopa de ajo (garlic soup).

A typical menu at «Sagardotegia Iturrieta» starts at 12€ and includes three courses and a bottle of cider.   Traditionally people eat cod omelet, T bone steak, cheese and quince jam, washing it all down with copious amounts of cider direct from the barrel.
This is what Bizipozatours is all about, connecting you with the authentic Basque experience and promoting a sustainable future for all of us!

You can sample the atmosphere at Sagardotegia Iturrieta in this short video


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Three Basque Peaks

The first time I crossed the mountain pass of Urkiola and saw the parched white lime-stone peaks of the Duranguesado I figured, «yup, this is a place I could happily spend some time».  That gut feeling lead to a decision and today almost fifteen years later,  my passion for this singular land known as Euskal Herria has only deepened.


Euskal Herria (The Basque Country) is a jumble of craggy peaks forming the western edge of the Pyrenees.  The Basque mountains are around 1000m in height, the ideal size for a day trip and there are enough to keep any hill-walker or Munro bagger happy for many life times.

Of all the Basque mountains the three best known are Gorbea (1481m) Anboto (1331m) and Aitzkori (1550m).  I’ve climbed them all many times but with little else to do this Christmas figured on doing all three in as many days.








As you might expect there are those who do all three in a day.  The itinerary covers just over 100km, 5000m of ascent and 5000m of descent.  This year was the eighteenth edition and 1560 runners set out at midnight on a Friday.  The fastest ones were crossing the finishing line at  10.30am the next morning.

But that’s just being silly really.  I climb mountains because I love them.  Other than climbing the only thing I do that would come close to training would be standing as opposed to sitting at my local bar.

Our expedition started on December 23 with an easy ascent of Anboto from Urkiola.  It’s a five hour round trip with 700m of ascent.  Beautiful day although the wind was blowing at well over 100km per hour.  Made for some hair raising moments on the ridge and I had to rope up with Tximis.

Met  Eder at the start of the ridge and within five paces we’d identified that we knew all the same folk.  The Basque Country’s like that.



Two figures struggling with the wind on a steep descent




The «Buzon» (letter box).  Mountaineers leave cards here which others then send back to the club to vouch for the ascent.  This one has the form of an axe.



Christmas day on Gorbea and a turn in the weather.  I ventured out nonetheless enjoyed deserted roads and a festive tin of sardines on the summit with Tximis

Also visited this curious feature, The Cornisa de Atxuri.  Anboto is visible in the distance.

A reasonable day though. Five hour round trip and 900m of ascent.

Day 3 Aitzkori  I chose a less frequented route here up the east face ascending 1000m in a very short distance and was seven hours on the hill.

Tximista on the summit eager for more





Here’s a 360º panorama of Euskal Herria from the summit of Aitzkori.
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Making chutney with a chain saw

Organic-Garden Produce
Organic-Garden Produce

The first frosts arrived with October and the garden is entering a new phase.  The plants are dying back but at the same time in peak production.  It’s just not possible to eat it all so you have to find some way of preserving it.  Some things you can freeze but the result is often a bit of a let down.   To my mind one of the best ways to lock all the summer’s vitamins, nutrients and flavours away for the winter ahead is by pickling.


The word «chutney» is derived from the Sanskirit word caṭnī, a term for a class of spicy preparations used as an accompaniment for a main dish.  Like so many Indian recipes it has been absorbed into British culinary-culture and has evolved into something quintessentially British.  It is unheard of in Euskal Herria but hugely popular among my Basque friends.  At least they appreciate that British food goes beyond egg ‘n chips!

The recipe

There are millions of recipes with all sorts of peculiarities.  Over the years I have reduced it to the essentials.  Weigh your ingredients and calculate on adding 10% weight/volume of sugar (brown is best) and vinegar.  I try to balance sweet fruits such as apples and plums with the other ingredients.


The recipe you can see in this video contains;

Ripe tomatoes 4Kg

Apples 2Kg

Aubergines 500g

Pumpkin 2Kg

Onion 1kg

Peppers 500g

Vinegar 1l

Sugar 1Kg

Tie a selection of spices into a piece of cloth.  This chutney has black pepper, ginger, chile flakes, mustard seeds, cardamon and ginger.  Chuck your spice bag in with the rest of the ingredients and boil gently till you get a jam like consistency.  Jar in sterilised jars and store until around December.

Having completed the task of «chutneying» such a large quantity of veg I found myself reflecting on a process which required; the planting and maintenance of a garden, the felling, cutting and transporting of wood for the fire, the chopping of the veg and the jarring of the chutney.  I also had to build a new stove which you can see here.

It’s always a good exercise to reflect on the origins of what we find in our surroundings.  I can say that we are 100%self sufficient in chutney.  But as someone once said, «man does not live by chutney alone».  Neither is this an exercise in self sufficiency, survival-ism or any of that individualist doctrine.  It is a collaboration with nature and a bunch of other folk who live near by or happen through.
Is it worth it?  If I apply the economics of money to it, probably not.  If I apply the economics of «bienestar», well being or Bizipoza.  It is beyond doubt, sustaining and sustainable.


Red Hot Chile Peppers

Late september and we’re in pepper season.  I’d love to be able to say that these peppers are from our «huerta«.  They’re not.  Fact is they grow better 17km down the road in the neighbouring province of Navarra.  Picked up a crate for 12€ and set too with some folks to jar ‘em.

They’re not the spicy kind either.  They offer a hint of hot  but are otherwise the sweetest and simply pepperiest peppers you’re ever likely to taste.

The best way to preserve and enjoy these peppers is «asado» roasted over a slow flame.  The roasted flesh is then jarred and sterilised in bain marie.

The process goes something like this…


Crank up the barbie




gently toast your peppers.  The smell is intoxicating.




Let the hot peppers rest a while under a damp tea towel.  This allows the skin to detach from the flesh.




Peel of the skin, pack into jars and sterilise.



Thirteen jars of pimientos asados that will accompany many dishes through the coming winter.


The pleasure of working with friends to jar produce is recompense enough.  However, if you want the hard economics a small jar of this delicacy costs nearly 4€.  We  got thirteen large jars for 12€




Times are tight and if you’re waiting for a handout to launch your next big project you’d better not hold your breath.  Better to just get on with it and do it anyway.  That seems to be the spirit that lies behind Atauri Art.

This event, organised by Bapatean Zirko who are based in Atauri,  along with the help of Atauri’s Junta Administrativa and Arratiandi Cultural-Association brought together eight extraordinary acts over three days.  The event was not publicly funded and all acts volunteered their services.

Events kicked of with Los Pardos a hilarious and highly original double act mixing clowning and improvisational music to remind us that really, nothing is as it appears…

Odei of Bapatean Zirko takes an eccentric look at domestic life in «Tenderete»





Full of surprises






The crowd went wild!





Atauri art concluded with a bold, thought provoking and darkly comic stroll in «King Kong Theory».  This monologue by the controversial feminist author Virginie Despentes begins;

“I speak as an ugly one for the ugly ones: the old hags, the dykes, the frigid, the unfucked, the unfuckable, the neurotics, the psychos, for all those girls that don’t get a look-in in the universal market of the consumable chick.”









Que Guapa!

La Chica King Kong with her entourage of caged Barbie Dolls.


More Photos here

For a wee village with a population of around twelve Atauri Art kicked ass!

What’s for dinner?

Those Bizipozatourists who have passed through Leorza this summer have little choice but to get involved in life here. That it would seem, is part of the charm. We manage an organic garden and the very least that you will be expected to do is water it. Watering the garden on a warm summers evening is always time well spent. Other travellers who have happened by this summer have sometimes found themselves involved in trickier tasks though.






Where do lentils come from?

A friend with an organic farm supplied us with eight sacks of lentil plants.  I knew that the lentil belongs to the pea family and that the lentils presumably come in a pod.  I was rather more surprised to discover that each pod contains one or sometimes two lentils.  This poses a bit of a problem when it comes to shelling them.  We tried everything and in the end came up with something approaching a system.

The plant





First trample the plants to release the lentils…





Pick out all the stalks…






Sieve and let the wind blow away the chaff







Lentils for dinner.  The best you ever tasted!





I guess that looks easy.  It wasn’t!  It was however, a pleasant way to spend an afternoon amongst friends with the common intention of eating well.  We got around 25kg of lentils out of the eight sacks of plant material.  I guess we won’t be buying lentils for a while!

Other mental lentil facts…

With about 30% of their calories from protein, lentils have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any legume or nut, after soybeans and hemp. Proteins include the essential amino acids isoleucine and lysine, and lentils are an essential source of inexpensive protein in many parts of the world, especially in West Asia and the Indian subcontinent, which have large vegetarian populations. Lentils are deficient in two essential amino acids, methionine and cysteine.  However, sprouted lentils contain sufficient levels of all essential amino acids, including methionine and cysteine.

Lentils contain dietary inhibitors but soaking the lentils over night reduces the concentration considerably.  On egin!

Mining Adventure

A curious feature in these parts is the presence of «asphalt mines». We’re all fairly familiar with the idea of oil and gas wells but there are all manner of hydrocarbons under the earth ranging from light gasses such as methane, through heavier oils to the extremely heavy and sticky tars and asphalts. You may never have stopped to think about it but all those roads we are so used to driving about on are made of hydrocarbon namely, asphalt.

In this region there has been a long history of asphalt extraction going back over 150 years. Mining stopped in the 1980’s and nature has pretty much reclaimed the mines. Now they are a haven for bats and the occasional Bizipoza tourist that happens that way.

Our adventure began with a bit of a scramble up to the entrance of the mine. It was a hot day and the going was sweaty so we were glad to arrive in the refreshingly cool air that blew softly out of the mine shaft.

Entrance to the aspahlt mine
Entrance to the asphalt mine








This mine was probably abandoned around forty years ago. There is one entrance point which runs horizontally and leads to a large gallery.








Our resident Bizipozatours Geologist, Ibabe Urzelai was on hand to explain the geology. She tells us that this region was at the bottom of a tropical sea around about 50 million years ago. Plankton and mineral sediments that drifted to the bottom of that sea became compacted and over the millennia the minerals formed the characteristic white limestone which we see today. Within that limestone some of the dead organic material became trapped and remains there today as hydrocarbons.

I should imagine that as the price of oil fell these mines became economically un workable. Now that the price of oil is increasing oil companies are once again investigating the possibility of extracting «tight gas» in this region by «hydraulic fracturing». This is highly controversial due to concerns about contamination of underground water quite apart from the dubious economics of extracting such small quantities of a non renewable energy source. For more information see

Apart from all that the mines are a great opportunity to experiment with the camera…

Here you can see some video footage of the area (in Spanish)



Basque Rural Sports «Herri Kirolak»

The Montaña Alavesa is a mountainous and sparsely populated region in the southern reaches of Alava.  It is home to a couple of thousand people scattered around the numerous little villages.  These villages have changed little in the last few hundred years and you might think that not much happens in these parts.  But where there’s folk there’s an opportunity for a fiesta…

Kabredo can be found the edge of the Sierra De Cantabria just below Leon Dormido (935m).  Over the last three years we have been celebrating a day of Basque rural sports, Herri Kirolak or Highland Games.  Kabredo won last year and hosted this years event.

We anticipated around one hundred people for the popular lunch.  Quite a task but this is an event where everyone is expected to take part and many hands make light work


In no time at all the table was set and the festivities began

Basque food is second to none and today’s spread was no exception.  All food locally supplied and washed down with quantities of Rioja and Patxaran for good measure.

The mood was relaxed and lead to a long period of «sobre mesa» (The chat and banter that follows a good feed)  I began to wonder if we would be in any fit state to take part in the Herri Kirolak.


So with a belly full of food and a head full of Patxaran the competition began.

Basque sports are brutal and generally involve shifting heavy things from one place to another as fast as possible.



Events such as these are priceless in any community.  There was an element of competition in the Herri Kirolak but to be honest I don’t even know who won.  This is about including everyone and cementing friendships.  It was also an opportunity for us to show our support for Txiki Antia who stands accused of having belonged to D3M  (Democracia 3 Millones). D3M was declared illegal on February 8, 2009, as the Spanish Supreme Court considered that it was linked with the separatist organisation ETA.  A more gentle giant than Txiki you are unlikely to find.

The Herri Kirolak Fiesta in Cabredo was organised with the intention of having a good time and promoting Euskera (Basque language) by Amezti Euskera Elkartea,  XVII Mendea Kultur Elkartea, Mendialdeko Mintzalagan Taldea and people of the various villages

The Alboka

In the small, sleepy, Alaves village of Otazu you can occasionally hear the curiously mournful sound of the Alboka.  The Alboka is a uniquely Basque instrument which sounds a little like a sharper version of the Scottish pipes.

In the shade of some chestnut trees you can find Osses’s Alboka workshop.  Osses has dedicated the last twenty years to researching and making Albokas.  He now gives classes and is without doubt responsible for the revival of interest in this instrument.


The Group «No Hay Prisa» (There’s no hurry) comprising Trikitixa (Squeeze box) Bodhran and five Albokaris



Osses’s work shop is immaculately tidy.  The home of a craftsman and artist.  He built it with the help of friends and neighbours.  It’s one of those places where the good vibes of many a jam session seem to have infused the very walls.



The name Alboka comes from Arabic «al-bûq» (البوق) meaning simply, the trumpet.  The instrument certainly dates from the twelfth century when the Iberian Peninsula was under Arab rule.  Today similar instruments can be found in Tulun in Turkey and Chivoni in South Georgia.

The Alboka comprises a cows horn connected to twin pipes made of «granedillo» or «cocbolo»  both extremely hard woods, harder even than ebony.
The handle is made of «yugo»
The twin pipes connect to the mouth piece which houses two aluminium tubes.  These tubes are fitted with reeds prepared from a standard Clarinet reed.


If you like this kind of thing you won’t find better than Bidaia Duo and Ó Euskadi go hÉirinn» (The Basque Irish Connection)