“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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Supervision is required around the swimming pool.