Vitoria, 45 miles south of Bilbao, is the capital of Alava province in the Basque region, but was founded as Gasteiz by a Visigoth king, Leovigild, in celebration of a Basque defeat. Like many cities dating from the Middle Ages, it stands on a hill. The cathedral of Santa Maria, first completed in 1180 AD and rebuilt in the 1300s, rises high over the city from its perch on the apex of the hill. It is near this cathedral that you’ll find the older part of the city.
The streets still maintain much of their medieval character. Mansions and Renaissance palaces rise near the Casa del Cordon, an ancient tower. The Fournier Museum of Playing Cards is housed in the Palacio de Bendana. You’ll stumble across sections of the old medieval wall periodically, particularly near the Cathedral of Santa Maria, which was constructed in such a way that it contributed to the city defenses. You can still see its martial history in the guard towers, slitted windows for defense, and general castle-like air.
In the 18th century, the city grew outside the walls; this is when Vitoria’s Plaza de Espana was built. The south part of the city is now the place to shop. It’s very pedestrian-friendly and has so many sculptures scattered about it’s almost like an open-air gallery. Calle Paz to the east of this part of town is the best street to shop on.
What to Do in Vitoria
Besides the Cathedral of Santa Maria and the medieval walls, you should certainly visit the Fine Arts Museum, located in the Palacio de Augusti on the Paseo Fray Francisco. A historical panorama of Spanish art awaits your discovery here, works dating as far back as the 14th century and as recently as modern times. In the gardens here you’ll find sculptures by Basque artists as well.
The Archaeological Museum in the Casa Armera de los Gobeo, a 16th century home, is excellent. And the Artium Museum specializes in modern art. The Torre de los Anda is a very nicely preserved 9th century fortified home with a tower.
Three excellent plazas lined with cafes and shopping are worth visiting: the Plaza del Machete, Plaza de Espana, and Plaza de la Virgin Blanca. These busy plazas are excellent for people-watching. For a quieter treat, try Florida Park behind the parliament building, where you’ll find tranquil and beautiful gardens filled with streams and flowers as well as bars and a restaurant. The nearby promenade leads to the Basilica de Armentia; it’s a shady walk lined with museums, mansions, and parks.
You’ll also find some treats very nearby Vitoria; over 400 historic monuments and structures can be visited, and several natural parks are within a short drive. You’ll also find the Rioja wine region to the south of Vitoria, with some wineries dating back over a thousand years.