Ea Astei

Near Guernica, The Basque Country, Spain Book from

Reviewed by Tom Bell
A little bit of heaven in the hills above the coast, with a shimmering pool and a clutch of gorgeous self-catering boltholes for 2-6
OK, let’s do away with objective reporting and frankly declare our hand: we had the most marvellous time at Ea Astei. There were 2 reasons for this. First, the country here is gob-smackingly lovely, with forested hills zooming off for miles and sun-kissed beaches peppering the coast. Then there is Mertxe and Peio, the loveliest people you could ever hope to meet, who welcome you into their small patch of heaven with open arms.

This land is theirs. Peio works above the main house in his very swish sawmill, making the most beautiful prefab houses out of glass and wood, a couple of which stand in the garden for lucky people like us to stay in. Mertxe potters about making sure everything is ready for your arrival, her keen eye for rustic charm as good as any. You either stay in the main house (2 enormous apartments, each utterly gorgeous) or you decamp into the garden (rustic cabin or super-cool grand design). It really doesn’t matter where you end up as long as you end up here. It's ideal for groups of friends, and even better for families. Ea Astei loves kids and kids love Ea Astei. Bilbao and Guernica (Gernika) are close, but you may just spurn them for all those lovely beaches.

Highs

  • The countryside here is gorgeous, with oodles of light bouncing off vivid green hills and fragrant eucalyptus forests. Signed walks start from your front door
  • The half dozen beaches within 10km - some sandy, some for surfing, some for families
  • A choice of cool accommodation: a rustic cabin on stilts with an open-air sitting room below, gorgeous old apartments in the main house, or the slick boutique-style Vita and Okana with their impressive eco credentials
  • The swimming pool with its terrace, sauna and hot tub, plus lovely views
  • Kitchens are well kitted out for self-catering (buy wonderful cheeses, cider and honey at Guernica's market), and there are simple and smart restaurants a short drive away

Lows

  • You’re lost in the hills, so you’ll need a car
  • Entire bathrooms behind walls of glass in Vita and Okana won’t be to everyone’s taste
  • The swimming pool gets rather busy in high season, and children will need supervision
  • This is a seriously peaceful spot, but we’d guess you occasionally get noise from other properties in busy periods, or even from the sawmill every now and then

Best time to go

The Basque Country has a mild year-round climate, but it is the cloudiest region of Spain and prone to rainfall. The upside of this, though, is its lush green landscape. Spring is the nicest time to visit - sunny days and less chance of rain. Summer is hot and lovely, though the towns can get very busy with tourists during July and August. Autumn and winter are wetter but not cold.

Our top tips

Peio, your host, has a sawmill above the house, where he makes some very cool prefab houses out of glass and wood. He makes about 200 a year and sells them mainly through southwest France and northern Spain. It's the smartest sawmill we have ever seen - it looks more like the HQ of some wildly successful IT company in Silicon Valley. He will gladly show you round it one day. It’s a fascinating place, well worth seeing.

Great for...

Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Cabins & Apartments
  • 6 houses/apartments (sleeping 2-6)
  • Self-catering (restaurants nearby)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Heated Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen
Room:

Rooms

Etxeaundi (sleeps 2-4) is a ground-floor apartment in the main house. It’s huge, 170sq.m. It’s also extremely attractive, with stone walls, an open fire, wooden ceilings, terracotta tiles and a fine old kitchen table. Windows overlook the garden and hills, and doors open onto the garden, where a couple of tame rabbits live; there's a pergola, too, perfect for a glass of wine in the evening. Unfortunately, there's a lovely kitchen, so you will feel obliged to toil over a hot stove. Bedrooms are elegant, simple, nicely uncluttered; both are doubles, and they share a shower bathroom.

Sabai (sleeps 2-4) is upstairs, another apartment but a mere 95sq.m. One bedroom is at the back. The other isn’t a bedroom at all, but a bed on a raised platform in the corner of your huge sitting room; we loved it. There’s a sofa in front of a wood burner, a dining table overlooking the hills, and a neat little kitchen in one corner. It has a vast wooden ceiling that slopes down to the window with attractive cross beams that add lots of rustic charm. We can attest to the comfort of the bed, the power of the shower and the overall gorgeousness of the apartment.

Garaixe (sleeps 2) is a romantic cabin in the garden. It’s 35sq.m, stands on stilts and has an open-air sitting room below (sofas and armchairs and sweet-pea walls). Upstairs, you have balconies on 2 sides and colourful flowers dripping from window boxes; the views are rather good. Inside you find pitched pine panelling, a corner kitchen and a breakfast table that takes in the view. It’s all open-plan with a double bed in one corner. There’s a compact shower room, too.

The lovely big Garden House, split into 2 apartments, is the first zero-energy house in Spain; screens show you how much energy the house is using at any given moment. Peio designed and built it, almost entirely from glass and wood. Downstairs, Okana (sleeps 2-4) has a wall of glass on one side, which opens onto a terrace and garden. Inside, there's a huge open-plan kitchen/sitting room. Expect sleek lines, a wood-burner and a sofa in front of a flat-screen TV. There are 2 smart bedrooms, both with fancy shower bathrooms standing behind walls of glass. Upstairs, the first-floor apartment, Vita (sleeps 4-6), has better views and a wraparound balcony. There are 3 bedrooms, one with a round bed, another with a fancy bathroom behind an old-fashioned wall; the other 2 bathrooms are on show behind glass. Both apartments have white-washed walls to soak up the light, floors made from local oak, and state-of-the-art kitchens with black granite surfaces and deep chrome sinks. There are laundry rooms too. If there are enough of you, take both apartments and have the house to yourself.

The mini garden house, Etxola (for 2 + 2 children), was occupied when we visited so we couldn’t have a peek, but it’s the smallest of the lot with a bunk room for kids and a separate double bedroom for parents, plus a shared shower bathroom. There’s a tiny kitchen, a dining area and a small balcony, but no lounge.

Features include:

  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fridge
  • Hob stove
  • Kitchenette
  • Microwave
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Tv
  • WiFi

Eating

All the apartments/houses have kitchens. Those in the bigger properties have built-in ovens and large fridge/freezers (Sabai, Etxeaundi, Okana, Vita). Those in the smaller cabins have hobs, microwaves and fridges (Etxola, Garaixe). All have pots and pans. There is also a large stone barbecue by the pool which is available for all guests to use.

The nearest town for shopping is Guernica, 15 minutes by car, but Mertxe will point you in the direction of local producers: the area is known for its cheese, cider and honey. Guernica’s market takes place every Monday, and on Saturdays from June to December. It’s always busy with lots of stalls. You can taste the cheese and hams before you buy. The Monday market has always been considered a holiday in the town, when people from far and wide come not only for the food, but to catch up with friends and eat lunch in a restaurant. It has huge symbolic importance as Franco arranged for the Luftwaffe to bomb the town on a Monday. The first Monday market in October is the most important of the year: produce is judged, honour gained.

There are some good local restaurants in which to eat traditional Basque food. We ate in Arita Berri, a country tavern where tasty fish and meat is simply grilled and served with chips and peppers. It’s only 1km from the house, the food is good, and you'll meet the locals.

There are several smart restaurants in Guernica. Bolina cooks local seafood with contemporary flair. Zallo Barri offers modern Basque cooking (steak with walnut sauce). As for Rementxe, great wines are served by Spain’s Sommelier of the Year.

In high season restaurants along the coast serve fish straight from the water: the towns of Bermeo, Lekeito, Mundaka and Elantxobe are all worth trying. Finally, there’s pintxos and beer all day at Laga Beach.

Features include:

  • Fridge
  • Hob stove
  • Kitchenette
  • Microwave
  • Restaurants nearby
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Head for the beach - there are several close by. On weekends locals pour onto them, but during the week they are much quieter. Ea is good for children as the water is shallow for quite some distance. Laga is very pretty, with big hills dropping dramatically into the sea. Surfers head over to Mundaka for serious waves, while north of Kanala the mouth of the Urdaibai estuary reveals vast tracts of sand. Laida at the top is particularly pretty and you can hire kayaks and paddle about
  • Make a picnic, head up to Elantxobe and hike around Cape Ogoño - huge watery views wait. Then head down to the painted forest at Kortezubi, where the trees are rather more beautiful than nature intended
  • Visit Guernica for its history, its restaurants and its Monday market. This is a hugely symbolic town for Basque people and has been for centuries. Its parliament, where wise old men would meet and discuss the pressing topics of the day, is a must (and free). Check out the debating chamber, the extraordinary stained glass windows and the famous Tree of Guernica. The town was bombed in April 1937 by the Luftwaffe on Franco’s request. It was the first use of saturation bombing on a civilian population. Picasso’s famous painting, which bears the town’s name, was his response. A mosaic copy stands on the streets near the parliament. There’s a beautiful park in town, too
  • Bilbao is less than 40 minutes away by car. It’s famous these days for the Guggenheim museum, Frank Gehry’s iconic eruption of glass and titanium. It stands on the left bank of the river Nervión, and you can follow the water round to the Old Town for a bite to eat. Also, head up to Getxo for its lovely beach. You’ll also find the oldest transport bridge in the world. You can cross it in gondolas, quite some journey
  • Head east to Getaria for grilled sardines overlooking the beach, then drop into the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum; the fashion designer grew up here. And don’t miss San Sebastián, the loveliest city in the north

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Kayaking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Shopping / markets
  • Surfing
  • Swimming

Kids

Children are very welcome. Cots and extra beds are available in all apartments and cabins for a small additional cost. Mertxe is a mine of local knowledge and knows the best local attractions for families. There are laundry facilities for guests plus a big shady garden with two pergolas, hammocks, rabbits hopping around, and al fresco dining areas, plus the heated pool.

Family friendly accommodation:

All houses can take families apart from one-bedroom Garaixe into which a baby cot can be added. Etxeaundi has two double bedrooms but can also take a rollaway bed and cot. Etxola has a double bedroom and a bunk room with 2 beds, but no lounge. If you want more space, and swank, go for Vita (sleeping 6) or Okana (sleeping 4), but note that all beds in these apartments are doubles.

Kids Activities on site:

  • Heated pool
  • Basketball hoop
  • Table tennis
  • Feeding the rabbits

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Beaches - 10 minutes away
  • The painted forest at Kortezubi
  • Surfing lessons
  • Kitesurfing

Families Should Know:

Supervision is required around the swimming pool.

Distances:

  • Airport: 40 minutes
  • Shops: 10 minutes
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
10/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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