On Monday 3rd October we took an early morning flight to Bilbao (north-west Spain), to begin our walking holiday. On arrival, we went through the passport control channel for EU citizens, and wondered sadly how long we’ll be able to do that.
We’d never been to Bilbao before, but were impressed by our first views of the city. The weather – warm and sunny – probably helped! We had three hours to wait before our bus to Haro, but could find nowhere to leave our luggage. So we established ‘base camp’ in a pavement café near the bus station, and took it in turns to have a preliminary stroll around the city. We shall spend longer there at the end of this trip.
Haro is an attractive town, bigger than we expected, with some picturesque buildings that looked beautiful in the late afternoon sun. We had the first wine tasting of our trip, and enjoyed the quirky architecture (Disney meets Swiss chateau) as well as the produce. Later we had dinner (also included in the tour) at a local restaurant: good atmosphere, and they coped well with our dietary requests. We had four courses, a bottle of red and two glasses of white: hard work, but somehow we managed to struggle through.
Haro to Abalos
Before setting off on our official walk, we had a large breakfast, another stroll around Haro, and another wine tasting. This comprised a full glass of cava and generous samples of five other wines. We were beginning to think that this would be a staggering holiday, rather than a walking one.
The weather was surprisingly dull and murky at first, but later the sun came through and it was bright and sunny for the rest of the day. We walked a total of 17+ kilometres, mainly on dirt roads, passing though fields and fields of vines. We saw grapes ready for harvesting, and had no doubt where our Rioja came from! With a stop for coffee, and one for cold drinks, we arrived in Abalos around 6.30pm. Our accommodation was on a vineyard, some way out of the village, and soon after arriving we had yet another wine tasting. The vineyard did not provide food, so we had to return to the village for dinner, but the kind owner gave us a lift both ways.
Abalos to Laguardia
Today was our longest walk (20+ km) but as breakfast was not until 9am, we could not make an early start. Unfortunately the directions were not clear, and we wasted a lot of time trying to find the right route. After asking directions several times, we finally found our way to the village of Villabuena de Alava, much later than expected. We had coffee at the strangely designed Hotel Viura (a series of concrete blocks), and continued on our way.
Again, we had problems with the directions, and ended up walking along a minor road. We reached a village, and were relieved to discover it was Elciego, where we were booked for lunch at 2.30. It was past 3 when we arrived, but nobody seemed to mind. We had a nice 3-course veggie meal, with bread, coffee and of course a bottle of Rioja.
On leaving Elciego we at first took the wrong direction, and had to retrace our steps. After that the path was clear, although it did not quite correspond to our instructions. We could see the village of Laguardia from some distance, so we knew we were on the right track, but when we arrived we had a steep climb up to the village centre and our hotel. Having had a large late lunch, we were satisfied with tapas tonight.
Laguardia to Azofra
We thought today would be more straightforward. First appointment was for a 10am tour at a winery just below the town, which is situated on a hill. We could see the winery down below, and estimated that we could walk there in ten minutes. So we set off at 9.45, along a road that seemed to lead directly there. It did lead to the winery – but not to the entrance. We had to walk miles around the edge of the vineyards before we could actually find a way inside. So we arrived 20 mins late – but fortunately they had started the tour only a few minutes before, and we were able to join in.
After the tour (and of course, the tasting) we were collected by a car and taken to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, where (after a brief visit to the cathedral) we were to begin the day’s walk.
Santo Domingo is on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, and most of today’s walk followed the camino – but in the opposite direction. We passed a continuous stream of pilgrims, all obviously wondering why we were going the wrong way! We walked through rolling hills, but with no signs of any vines which seemed strange after the past couple of days.
In the village of Cirueña, we hoped for a bar but found none. However, back on the camino we passed a golf club, and discovered that the restaurant and bar were open to non-members, so we were able to have a snack lunch sitting in the sun. On the latter part of the camino we saw some vineyards, so felt more at home! Finally we reached the village of Azofra, our base for the night. It was a small village, but fortunately a bar close to our hotel provided excellent (and amazingly cheap) food and drinks.