When the winds start blowing and the air gets chilly, there is nowhere we’d rather go than to the villages in the mountains. San Sebastian is ringed by low-slung mountains and foothills, and by traveling just half an hour inland, you can reach some of the most beautiful landscapes, charming towns, and cozy villages. Travel a bit further, and you’ll reach the Goierri (literally, the “highlands”) and Tolosaldea, two of our favorite spots to explore, hike, and--of course--to eat!
These areas are easily reached by the half-hourly commuter train, but it’s generally best to travel by car to be able to explore all the nooks and crannies of the region.
The Goierri and Tolosaldea are both residential, agricultural, and industrial areas deep in the province of Guipuzcoa. Residents are largely concentrated in several large towns with the rest in farmhouses scattered here and there. The iron-rich mountains and tree-filled forests created development opportunities. A huge influx of new residents from other parts of Spain in the 1950s and 60s, grew villages into towns, created the potential for wealth, and a service industry to cater to it as the many boutiques, gourmet shops, and fine restaurants can attest. The rest of the area is green, green, and more green interrupted only by farmhouses, sheep, and the occasional grazing cow. There are two natural parks, Aizkorri and Aralar, frequented by locals and visitors alike for hiking, mountain biking, and soaking up the beautiful views.
Some notable towns in the Goierri are Idiazabal, ground zero for the famed sheep’s milk cheese of the same name; Ordizia, whose 500-year-old vegetable market sets the prices for the rest of the region; and the tiny village of Zegama, which is nestled against the Aizkorri mountain range and hosts the annual Zegama-Aizkorri Mountain Marathon, an off-road, high-altitude race which attracts some of the best elite trail runners in the world. In Tolosaldea the most famous town is, of course, Tolosa, the one-time capital of the province and famous for its black beans and pastries (not to be taken together, of course). For those interested in local arts, you can visit the forge where famed Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida made his large-scale steel pieces. The new film Handia (the giant) is based on a true story which took place in the region a century and a half ago.
There are no Michelin stars but locals and longtime residents know where to find the best: wild game, mushrooms, steaks, and legumes fill the menus here. Wine cellars are filled with classic reds from the Rioja Alavesa just to the southwest. There are off-the-radar fine dining restaurants in the area, hidden gems beloved by locals, and even the occasional farmhouse whose doors will open to receive visitors for a midday meal.