Not by chance does the long distance footpath GR-38 bear the name “Route of Wine and Fish”, its roads have been travelled by muleteers for centuries, taking fine Rioja Alavesa wine to the north and bringing fish in brine from the ports of Bizkaia. In Arbulo, this road is still known as “Camino de la Boyería” and “Camino de los Arrieros” (way of the teamsters).
From sea and marsh to the foothills of the Sierra de Cantabria, passing through the rocky lands of Urkiola, the diversity of landscapes that appear along this route will not fail to impress the visitor.
Covering a distance of 166 km, the route starts in Oyón and heads towards Laguardia amid a vastness of vineyards. Having crossed the rocky faces of the Sierra de Cantabria, the route dips towards Lagrán and Albaina, crossing the gorge of Okina and entering the Plains of Álava via Estíbaliz. It continues in search of the Ullibarri Gamboa reservoir, then proceeds along the old Vasco-Navarro rail route. After crossing Legutiano, the reservoirs of Urrunaga and Albaina it finally bids farewell to Álava, welcoming Bizkaia at Otxandio.
With several relatively demanding stages, the route can be adapted to suit the fitness levels of each hiker by hiking intermediate stages among those mentioned here. By doing this walks that are long and demanding as well as easy and relaxing can be made and which will undoubtedly allow the visitor to soak in the essence of this historic road.
The first steps along this great footpath will show us the extensive vineyards that characterize the Rioja Alavesa. Starting off from Oyón, we head to the town of Laguardia, passing through Assa and enjoying cultural and natural elements of special interest such as the Roman bridge of Mantible or the Laguardia Lake Complex along the way.
Leaving Rioja Alavesa and its extensive vineyards behind, we face the mountain barrier of the Sierra Cantabria-Toloño and discover part of the landscape that goes to form the Cuadrilla de Campezo-Montaña Alavesa. We stop at Lagrán to visit the Traviesa Interpretation Centre for the GR-38, a space where technology and audiovisual simulations provide an insight into the reasons behind this route.
Then onward deep among the leafy beeches that separate Lagrán from the lands of Treviño. The border is marked by the Mojón del Avellano (the Hazelnut Boundary Stone), which indicates the entrance to the County of Treviño, providing a beautiful view of its farmland. Before the end of the stage, in Albaina, we come across one of the most interesting places in the valley: the hermit caves of Laño.
Between Albaina and Estíbaliz, the GR-38 crosses two very interesting natural enclaves, the gorge of the Ajuda river and the High Mountains of Vitoria The Sanctuary of Estíbaliz, jewel of Romanesque Álava, provides a good reason to make a stop. The temple sits on a hill above the village of Argandoña and next to it is a Benedictine monastery.
Carrying on we come up against the toughest part of the GR-38: the 28 kilometres that separate the monastery of Estíbaliz and the village of Legutio, crossing the Plains of Álava along paths that make it possible to enjoy the beauty of the landscape and the contrast with its reservoirs.
To finish the stage in the lands of Álava land and to reach the gates of Bizkaia at Otxandio, we can visit the isolated lake of Albina and the pollarded woods of Mirugain. The waters from the numerous streams, centuries-old beech woods and the remote marshes of Albina will be the stars on this short stage which, with just 10 km left, unites the town of Legutio with Otxandio.
The Traviesa Interpretation Centre
Next to the interpretation centre is the La Traviesa restaurant from which access to the centre gained.