Urune Hotela

Biscay, The Basque Country, Spain Book from

Reviewed by Tom Bell
Chic farmhouse set high on a hill in a nature reserve, with huge views, delicious breakfast, great prices - and beaches nearby
OK, let’s start with the essentials. Views to the front stretch for miles - hill, sky and valley. The feel is deeply rural, yet you’re less than 20km from Bilbao. The silence is magnificent - and the only noise you are likely to encounter is birdsong, a distant tractor or cow bells clanking in neighbouring fields. The house, rescued from neglect in 2009, shines triumphantly. Beautiful interiors mix exposed stone and wooden ceilings with white leather sofas and cool design. As for the 8 lovely bedrooms, they’re an absolute steal.

This was a labour of love. You’d guess a fancy architect did all the work, but owner Alberto renovated with the help of his father and friends. He has left the building to speak for itself. There is very little adornment, but it works a treat. Simplicity and restraint are the hallmarks, along with a strong sense of peace. At the back a shaded terrace offers sanctuary from the heat, though there are loungers in the garden for those who seek the sun. Come to escape the world. Wonderful.

Highs

  • The serene setting: in the lush Urdaibai biosphere reserve, on the highest slope of the Atxeli Mountain. Fantastic views stretch for miles and there are hikes leading out from the farmhouse
  • Great prices, which include afternoon tea (though not breakfast)
  • Alberto and his staff are warm and genuine
  • You feel lost to the world, but you're only 30 minutes from Bilbao with its airport, excellent restaurants and world-famous Guggenheim, and just 4km from historical Guernica (Gernika)
  • Popular with couples, though families are welcome too

Lows

  • Breakfast isn't included in the room rate, and there are no lunches or dinners served; cold platters and salads are available on request in the evenings
  • We've had feedback that bedroom walls are thin and noise can travel between rooms
  • Top-floor rooms can get hot in high summer
  • There’s no pool, but lovely beaches aren’t far away
  • You’ll need a car

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. If you’re around on the last Monday in October, head to the market in Guernica. It’s the day judges dish out prizes to the best producers across a whole range of products, not least honey, txakoli (wine) and cheeses, all of which are made locally. The whole town turns out, and prizes are awarded at midday. Afterwards, you tour the stalls and buy the spoils.

Our top tips

Mix up the places you eat - simple one night, smarter the next. The taverns may not have extensive menus, but they grill really good fish and meat. The wine is cheaper too. We ate well in these very authentic places.

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
Family
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 8
  • Breakfast
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room: room 14

Rooms

There is not too much to say about the 8 rooms: elegant simplicity rules. Some have whitewashed walls, some have exposed stone, some have both. Views to the front shoot off for miles, those at the back climb up the hill. You get comfy beds, shiny wooden floors, flat-screen TVs, and lovely bathrooms with showers and fancy lotions (some larger rooms have baths, too) .

Rooms at the top have smart pine ceilings and white leather armchairs. There’s an open-plan sitting room up here, too, with a couple of sofas and some games for children. If you want space, opt for a Superior or Twin Room (22 sq.m); otherwise the standard Double (17 sq.m) will serve you well. The Duplex Junior is split-level with wonderful views. It sleeps 4 in a double bed and 2 single daybeds, so is perfect for families. All rooms have attractive prices.

Features include:

  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer (on request)
  • Mini fridge (on request)
  • Phone
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Tv
  • WiFi

Eating

Breakfast (not included in the room rate) is laid out in the dining room, but you can nip onto the terrace if you want. Lovely local produce is beautifully presented: plates of cheese and charcuterie, and irresistible chorizo. You can have bacon and eggs if you like, or txistora - chorizo cooked with eggs. You get freshly squeezed orange juice, slices of pineapple, bowls of fruit. There’s locally baked bread and homemade jam, too.

No lunches or dinners are served, but complimentary afternoon tea is laid up in one of the lounges: a couple of homemade cakes, tea and coffee. While in the evening, cold platters and salads are available on request.

There are several good restaurants in Guernica (4km away). Bolina serves local seafood cooked with contemporary flair. Zallo Barri offers modern Basque cooking - think steak with walnut sauce. And there are various pintxos (Basque tapas) bars.

You’ll find great wine from Spain’s 'Sommelier of the Year' at Remenetxe just south of Guernica. You’ll also find restaurants in the surrounding villages that grill fish and meat and serve them simply, but most satisfactorily. For something a little different, try Gorotxika, a local cider house. Cider is a Basque speciality. The idea here is that you eat grilled fish, then wash it down with a glass of the local brew.

In high season, restaurants along the coast open to serve fish straight from the water: the villages of Bermeo, Lekeitio, Mundaka and Elantxobe are all worth trying. And there’s pintxos all day on Laga beach.

Features include:

  • Afternoon tea
  • Breakfast
  • Organic produce
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • The hotel is set in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, a Unesco site of wetlands and the river Orca as it flows into the sea. It's a beautiful place to hike and bird watch; keep your eyes peeled for migrant waterbirds including the spoonbill

  • Head to Guernica (4km) for its history, restaurants and Monday market. This is a hugely symbolic town for Basque people, and has been for centuries. Its parliament, where wise old men would discuss the pressing topics of the day, is a must (and free). Also check out the debating chamber, the extraordinary stained glass, and the famous Tree of Guernica. The town was bombed in 1937 by the Luftwaffe on Franco’s request, the first use of saturation bombing on civilians. Picasso sketched his eponymous painting in response. It was removed to New York for the Franco years, but now hangs in Madrid; a mosaic copy stands near the parliament. There’s a pretty park, too

  • Beautiful beaches get busy with locals at weekends in summer; they're less crowded in the week. Ea is good for children as the water is shallow for quite some distance. Laga is very pretty, with hills dropping dramatically into the sea. Surfers can head to Mundaka to ride some big waves. 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

  • Take to the hills for hiking. Or bring your bike, pull on your yellow jersey and join legions of cyclists climbing the big hills. Alternatively, take refuge in your car and tour the pretty coastal villages - Bermeo, Mundaka, Elantxobe. All will provide a good lunch

  • Bilbao is less than 30 minutes by car - you can hop over the mountain and spurn the motorway. The Guggenheim, Frank Geary’s iconic eruption of glass and titanium on the left bank of the river Nervión, is the big draw. After you’ve seen it, follow the water round to the Old Town for a bite to eat

  • While you’re there, head up to Getxo and check out the oldest transporter bridge in the world. You can cross it in gondolas, quite some journey. There’s a lovely beach, too

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Kayaking
  • Mountain biking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Shopping / markets
  • Surfing
  • Swimming

Kids

Children are very welcome, and cots are available for babies.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Toddlers (1-4 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

There's a family room (the Duplex Junior) with a double bed and 2 single daybeds. All rooms can fit a baby cot.

Kids Activities on site:

There are games in the top-floor sitting room.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
7/
Food
9/
Service
8/
Value
8/
Overall

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