The Arteaga Castle (Castillo de Arteaga) majestically rises from the fertile valleys of Urdaibai Natural Park, a biosphere reserve nestled in Spain’s Basque country. Its neo-Gothic tower dates back to 1856; it was French Emperor Napoleon III who commissioned it for his Spanish wife, Empress María Eugenia de Montijo.
The castle is today a superb luxury boutique hotel of only seven rooms and six suites, surrounded by gentle gardens. Each room has been carefully refurbished maintaining the property’s historic value. Without loosing an ounce of charm, and paying utmost attention to every detail, the hotel recreates the experience of living in an old castle with all the comfort and privileges of the 21st century.
Each room is different, but battlements and stone masonry walls surround all of them. In the two towers we find four circular rooms – completely independent from the main building – decorated with antiques and period fixtures tastefully combined with modern contemporary pieces. The Napoleon suite has access to a private swimming pool; another tower-room is adorned with beautiful frescoes by the painter Lazcano that mirror the beautiful views from every one of its windows. The rooms are equipped with oversize Jacuzzi tubs, which alongside the aroma of scented candles, embroidered bathrobes and stone walls, make the guest feel as the master of his/her own castle. The Castillo de Arteaga Hotel is part of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux hospitality group.
Hotel owner Garbiñe Azkuenaga paid close attention to the culinary delights served at the restaurant, taking into consideration the world-renown gastronomic movement called “Nueva Cocina Vasca”, a concept that has paved the way for a contemporary understanding of traditional Basque gastronomy. It has been so successful with diners and food critics that restaurants from this region, such as Mugaritz and Arzak, currently occupy the fourth and eight places, respectively, in San Pellegrino’s list of Best Restaurants in the World.
The hotel’s restaurant, under the helm of expert chef Estíbaliz Mekolalde, offers fine, creative cuisine with emphasis on excellent local products. Guests can choose from different tasting menus to create their individualized dining experience, and get a more complete idea of the lauded gastronomy of this corner of Spain. Creamy rice with wild mushrooms and caramelized quail leg; grilled turbot atop candied vegetables; chocolate truffles; Pecorino cheese emulsion; and green apple sorbet, are but a few of their most emblematic dishes.
The hotel also has an underground cellar with ideal conditions for the conservation of the best wines in the world, where the guest can schedule a private wine tasting with a sommelier or participate in one of the hotel’s wine tours.
In addition, the castle’s location lends itself to leisurely walks along rugged coastal cliffs, rivers, marshes and meadows. Follow the advice of the friendly hotel staff: they can organize your stay, and guide you through a wide range of activities such as golf, hiking, cycling, horseback riding, sailing, water-skiing, diving and canoeing in nearby rivers. You can partake of all the amenities alone or with children in tow, since the hotel has its own childcare center.
The hotel also offers daytrip packages to nearby places of interest such as the city of Bilbao, with its magnificent Guggenheim Museum, designed by award-winning architect Frank Gehry. The lovely city of San Sebastian, considered one of the most beautiful in Spain, is a short distance away. In San Sebastian cuisine is elevated to art status in the hands of chefs like Pedro Subijana (3 Michelin Stars) in his lavish Akelarre restaurant, located on Mount Igueldo, overlooking the sea. You can also opt for a visit to the historical village of Guernica, the inspiration for Picasso’s homonymous masterpiece.
Before you part, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the fishing villages of Bermeo, Mundaka or Lekeitio, charming outposts where you can stroll down cobbled medieval streets and take lunch at one of their excellent, unassuming restaurants, serving the best Basque cuisine. ■