Accessible adventures in the País Vasco!

On the terrace, Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

The adventure started at Heathrow. As previously, we stayed at the Hilton T5 and met up with my brother, this time for a fabulous meal at Mr Todiwalah’s Kitchen – the most delicious Indian food you can imagine! We’ve had the odd hassle with accessible rooms at this hotel in the past but last time and this, they’ve given us the sort of room we wanted, with a proper wet room style shower.

Some months previously, BA had contacted us to say that the flight had been put back a couple of hours, which meant that the next day we had loads of time to kill, so we had a very leisurely breakfast, packed up then did some reading until it was time to go to the airport.

A week or so earlier, we had phoned the airline, as they suggest you do,  to check that there was no problem with them transporting my Powerchair (this was the first time we’d travelled with it, having previously taken my Luggie scooter with us). They assured us that this was fine, so we were slightly annoyed if not entirely surprised when we went to the Special Assistance check-in desk to find that they had no record of the details we had given over the phone and did not know much about this particular sort of battery. They even suggested we rang the manufacturers to get more details! Eventually, after two different more senior members of staff had been summoned they decided it was fine and even gave us a code to identify the battery for future journeys, which did in fact prove useful on our return. Seriously could have done without the stress though!

There was so little time between the gate being announced and boarding commencing that I didn’t get to board first, but ended up being transported past everybody who had been asked to wait. A while ago, I might have felt rather embarrassed about this; now I just tend to think that if this is how it has to be, then so be it! This was in an airport wheelchair from which I was then transferred to the on-board wheelchair which they then lift onto the aircraft, having strapped you in as if you are about to do a parachute jump! Not great, but it gets you to your seat.

Arrived at Bilbao, we then had to pick up the hire car. I have no idea why picking up a hire car has to take so long, – they were taking about 30 minutes per person so we must have waited at least an hour plus of course the time it took to deal with us. We had specifically requested an ordinary, low car and an estate because of having to lift the Powerchair in and out. Despite a member of staff when we booked saying the details of our request would be passed on, there did not appear to be any record of this but they did their best to accommodate us and at least we ended up with a low car.

Terrace and gardens, Parador de Argómaniz
Terrace and gardens, Parador de Argómaniz

Off we set, armed with our AA directions which had served us well before in Spain. However, we should have consulted a map at the same time! Lesson learned! Knowing we were fairly likely to be late, I had e-mailed the hotel, the Parador de Argómaniz, sometime before to explain and they had said to ring them if we were going to be later than 11 as that’s when the restaurant closes and they would save us some food. I rang them once we were on our way and gave them an idea of when we might arrive and they asked what food we would like them to have ready for us. This was before we went haring off on the wrong road and had to come back, eventually getting ourselves back on track and arriving at 12:20. This of course isn’t particularly late for Spain, but even so, we were quite tired by then so the omelette and huge plate of chorizo, jamón etc and of course a drink were very welcome indeed!

Our room was a decent size and comfortable, with wide doorways and a few grabrails in the bathroom, although the shower stool was just an ordinary stool and not the most supportive thing!

Parador de Argómaniz
Parador de Argómaniz

Breakfast was varied – eggs, cold meat, cereals, bread, fruit, yogurts, served in the restaurant on the top floor, with its amazing wooden beamed ceiling. We spent the next day mainly relaxing out on the terrace enjoying the peace and quiet and looking at the wonderful view except when it got too hot – but that’s why they invented siestas! They may be dying out but when you’re on holiday…

Terrace, Parador de Argómaniz
Terrace, Parador de Argómaniz

Dinner was also in the fabulous dining room with plenty of choices of local food and wine and pleasant staff who were quite happy to provide me with a copy of the menu to bring home to show my students!

View from the Parador de Argómaniz
View from the Parador de Argómaniz

The next day, after another great breakfast we checked out and headed for Vitoria to find a supermarket which we had previously looked up on the internet. According to Google maps it was accessed via a service road but after several fruitless steps to find this and asking directions from people who didn’t know where it was, somebody finally told us you reach it via a slip road off the main road! Then it was very easy to find, so we stocked up and headed for Getaria. This time Google maps and Streetview had been really useful as we knew exactly which road to take and which landmarks to look out for and found Epotx Etxea easily. We sat on the terrace in the shade (it was over 30°) and marvelled at the view, before the owners’ son arrived and showed us around, then it was time for a cuppa and a relax!

Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco
Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

In the morning we were up early and there was the most stunning sunrise – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a sunrise as red as a sunset! The plan was to do no driving that day so we simply revelled in the lovely surroundings, the amazing view and the sunshine. The most strenuous thing we needed to do was wave at the owners as they came and went in their car!

The view from the terrace of Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco
The view from the terrace of Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

Andrés, the owner, who I had corresponded with over the booking, came and introduced himself and we chatted about the house and surroundings. There are vineyards all around, in fact, Mahastí is the local Basque word for vineyard and there was a home produced bottle of the local white wine, txacolí, in the fridge. In the gardens there is a lemon tree, an orange tree, (I thought it was a lime as the fruit was still green!) a fig and a grapefruit tree. Andrés said to help ourselves so dinner one night involved lemon juice with the smallest carbon footprint imaginable! Thunder and lightning heralded some cooler weather.

The garden, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco
The garden, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

Andrés also recommended where to go to get postcards, so the next day we headed down to explore Getaria (spotted the restaurant featured in The Trip to Spain, I think!) and to buy postcards. Getaria is definitely a working port and, I have to say not the most beautiful place in parts although it does have an old town but I’m not sure how accessible that is and a lot of it is cobbled. It also has a small beach and even beach wheelchairs.

Beach wheelchairs, Zarautz
Beach wheelchairs, Zarautz

Then it was on to Zumaia where we parked and explored the riverside promenade, clearly a popular place for a stroll. During the afternoon, back at the house, Maikar, Andrés’ wife came and introduced herself – we couldn’t have asked for friendlier hosts – happy to chat and to advise when asked but not intrusive: just perfect!

By the river, Zumaia
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The next morning it was raining again but it cleared up and we headed for Zarautz to see what it was like, post some cards and buy some more. At first I thought we’d go after lunch then I remembered that of course small shops in Spain don’t reopen until about half past four, so that’s when we went and, yes, they were just about reopening by then – quite reassuring to find out that some things don’t change! At one point, naughtily, we parked by a bus stop (not blocking anything, I hasten to add) while Pete ran into the tourist office and the police came over and nearly gave us a fine. Playing dumb and asking for some directions got them onside and they let us off!

The next day, Friday, was our final day and quite hazy and warm. We went back to Zarautz, parked in the car park near the front as recommended by the tourist information lady the previous day and went out onto a terrace overlooking the sea. From there we could see the long promenade or Malecón, so we headed there via a pedestrian street and realised that this area of the town at least is very wheelchair friendly.

Café at Zarautz, Pais Vasco
Café at Zarautz, Pais Vasco

The Malecón is very accessible, mainly smooth and with plenty of benches and cafés along its length. Apparently there is some sort of accessible wooden boardwalk – we didn’t manage to spot it, but there was plenty of promenade to explore anyway. We couldn’t resist having a pintxo of tortilla de patata and freshly squeezed orange juice at an outdoor café, looking at the sea and the ratón, the mouse-like promontory at Getaria.

The 'ratón' at Getaria, from Zarautz
The ‘ratón’ at Getaria, from Zarautz

That evening, Andrés and Maikar made a point of coming to say goodbye and explained that we were their first booking ever through Handiscover, a website of accessible properties that puts you in contact with the owner. It was useful for finding Mahastí, but if we were to go again, I’d book directly as it would be cheaper.

Promenade, Zarautz
Promenade, Zarautz

Saturday was check-out day. We hadn’t done very much on this holiday but that actually suited me fine! Last time we visited Spain, we stayed in five different places, but this time I didn’t fancy all the packing and unpacking and getting used to new places that that would involve as it is rather tiring.

Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco
Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

I had investigated online an accessible nature reserve that wasn’t too far away which we might have done, but when it came to it, just exploring the local towns was quite enough. People often make the joke that you sometimes come back from holiday so tired you need another holiday, which was what I wanted to avoid and what with the airport hassles and getting lost it wasn’t quite as smooth as I had imagined, but of course you don’t remember those things afterwards. I’m mainly remembering the lovely view and the warm welcome from Andrés and Maikar.

On the terrace, Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco
On the terrace, Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

Anyway, we packed up and drove to the airport with no problems. Dropped off the car and went to the Special Assistance desk where the code we had been given at Heathrow for the chair proved useful and we didn’t have too much of a wait to get checked in. On the way out, we had had to pay extra for one of the bags (we were so dismayed that we hadn’t realised you have to pay in advance – perhaps this was why they let us off paying for both bags!). This time, I had gone online and paid for the bags in advance which cost slightly less. It had somehow passed us by that this ruling had been brought in.

The return flight only required one wheelchair transfer, from mine to the in-flight chair and we were boarded first. Off last of course but this can’t really be helped. My brother picked us up from the airport and we all had a cuppa and cake at the hotel! Rather poor selection of cakes for a Hilton on a Saturday afternoon but you can’t have everything – the restaurant at this hotel seems to have gone upmarket since we last here and our evening meal was delicious.

When we checked out a week before we had mentioned that one of the folding grab rails in the bathroom didn’t stay upright when you wanted it to and of course they said they would get it seen to but when we were allocated the same room on our return, guess what? It hadn’t been fixed!

Drove home the next day: no problems, stopping just once at Donnington service station – very civilised indeed, much less crowded than a lot of service stations and it even has some outdoor seating at the back away from the carpark. On the way down we had stopped at Tibshelf and Northampton services, both of which were very good. I never used to remember which services were better or worse than any others but I do now. Whether that’s because I have an eye to reviewing things or simply because I notice things like easy entrances or user-friendliness more now that it is a bit more vital, I don’t know! Donnington had an M&S, so we even arrived home with milk for a cup of tea and something for dinner!

I suppose if you want to go somewhere on holiday that’s green you may get rain but on the whole I think it’s worth it. I would rather look at lush green countryside than parched, arid countryside which can be impressive but isn’t quite so pretty. Also, there’s something very relaxing about being at the seaside! I certainly recommend this area as a place to visit and definitely recommend Epotx Etxea for somewhere to stay and Mahastí if you need it to be accessible.

The garden and barbecue at Epotx Etxea
The garden and barbecue at Epotx Etxea

I’ve reviewed the Parador and Mahastí both on my blog and on Euan’sGuide if you would like more detail on its accessibility and more pictures.

The terrace, Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco
The terrace, Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

Lovely cottage, fabulous view!

On the terrace, Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

Mahastí is a wonderful little single storey cottage at Epotx Etxea, home of Andrés and Maikar and their family, high above Getaria in the Pais Vasco or Spanish Basque Country.

Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco
Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

Mahastí sleeps four in two bedrooms, and there is the bathroom and a kitchen-dining-sitting room combined, plus the terrace where you can sit in the shade of the wide eaves and gaze at the fabulous view of the sea and the coast and also eat meals as there is another dining table and chairs there.

The view from the terrace of Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco
The view from the terrace of Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

It’s all very neat and clean and beautifully done with pretty tiles and curtains and very well-equipped for basic cooking, plus there was a bottle of home-produced txacolí (white wine) in the fridge! Unusually for Spain, it has an oven as well as a microwave, although no kettle – but who wants abroad to be just like home?!

On the terrace, Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco
On the terrace, Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

The garden is lovely, with lots of birds, flowers and trees, including a lemon, an orange and a fig tree, plus more outdoor furniture on the lawn and a serious barbecue!

The terrace, Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco
The terrace, Mahastí, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

The adaptations for accessibility are discreet – the level entrance and wide doors you would barely notice, plus a few grabrails in the bathroom and a free-standing shower stool. You can park right alongside and the terrace is smoothly tiled. Obviously, everyone has different needs; for me, being quite short, the loo was rather high and the shower, even on its lowest setting, was out of my reach. I mentioned this to Andrés – he was happy to take suggestions, the family are clearly really keen that you have a good time and that the place is comfortable for you. I’ve also reviewed the place on Euan’sGuide, including more photos to illustrate access issues.

The garden, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco
The garden, Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

Although walkers passed up and down the road that leads to Epotx, it is quite a trek to Getaria and involves a few hairpin bends – you would probably want to go by car. Getaria itself is on quite a slope and although it has some beach (including beach wheelchairs) it is a working port. For more of a resort, pop along to Zarautz to the east, which has a great long promenade with cafés (and two different kinds of beach wheelchair!) and is a very accessible place all round, what with dropped kerbs and smooth surfaces.

Beach wheelchairs, Zarautz
Beach wheelchairs, Zarautz

It also has some sort of wooden beach walkway, although we didn’t actually seek it out, as there was plenty of prom to explore anyway.

Promenade, Zarautz
Promenade, Zarautz

Zumaia, to the west also has a prom, this time by the river and very pleasant.

I booked Mahastí through Handiscover, but if we were to go again or if you wanted to book either of the properties in the main house (above Andrés and Maikar’s flat) it’s cheaper to book directly. Andrés and Maikar are incredibly friendly and can provide lots of useful information but they do not intrude – the perfect hosts! It also meant I got to have lots of conversations in Spanish which is all good practice!

By the river, Zumaia
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Mahastí is a lovely house and Epotx Exea a wonderful setting – I really can imagine going there again!

Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco
Epotx Etxea, Getaria, Pais Vasco

See other places in Spain that I’ve reviewed!

Relaxing at the Parador!

Terrace and gardens, Parador de Argómaniz

We loved our two night stay at Argómaniz! We arrived ridiculously late (long story) but the staff didn’t turn a hair. I knew we might not arrive before the restaurant closed so had e-mailed them well in advance and they suggested I rang if that was the case, and they would save us some food, so when I did they asked us what we would like! Finally arriving at 12.20, we were provided with omelette, bread, a huge cold meat platter and a very welcome drink – and relaxed!

Terrace and gardens, Parador de Argómaniz
Terrace and gardens, Parador de Argómaniz

The room, an accessible one on the first floor, was a decent size and comfortable. Breakfast was varied – eggs, cold meat, cereals, bread, fruit, yogurts. Meals were served in the top floor restaurant with its amazing wooden beamed ceiling. Dinner the next day was delicious too with plenty of choices of local food and wine.

We spent the next day mainly out on the terrace looking at the wonderful view. There are lawns and trees and even a discreet children’s play area. You can order drinks and snacks of various types whenever you want.

Specific accessibility issues: some of the disabled parking spaces were on a slope and would have been impossible to use in conjunction with a wheelchair but others were fine, plus they are happy for you to pull up by the door to drop off/pick up, which is what we did.

Terrace, Parador de Argómaniz
Terrace, Parador de Argómaniz

Our room was spacious, with wide doorways and there is lift access to all floors and step-free access throughout. There is the occasional uneven flagstone but they are easily avoided. The restaurant, bar and terrace all have ample room and good solid tables.

In the ensuite bathroom, there were grabrails by the loo and wet-room style shower, but only an ordinary stool to use in the shower, which wasn’t as supportive as a proper shower stool would be. Also, the hairdryer required the button to be pressed continuously while operating it, which I’ve always found irritating!

View from the Parador de Argómaniz
View from the Parador de Argómaniz

The blend of old buildings and modern comforts is something that Paradors do very well and this was no exception – despite the age of the main buidling, the whole place was accessible and comfortable and the food and the staff were great. After the slightly hassled journey there, it was a wonderful place to chill out before journeying on.

Parador de Argómaniz
Parador de Argómaniz

 

Other Paradors we’ve stayed at recently include Alcalá de Henares,  Tordesillas, and La Granja, all of which were accessible. All Paradors are individual and not all are accessible, so it needs a bit of research before you book!

League of Historical & Accessible Cities

Avila

Who knew there was a League of Historical & Accessible Cities? The city walls of

Avila
Avila

Avila are fully accessible – amazing! I’d love to see how they achieved that. There is of course a debate to be had about how far you alter a historic building to make it accessible and of course, here in York it is particularly relevant.  Other European Accessible cities are Salzburg (Austria), Turin and Lucca (Italy),  Mulhouse (France), Sozopol (Bulgaria) and Viborg (Denmark).  Each city has its own page on the LHAC website with information, promotional videos etc. Great to know that there are moves out there to make places accessible to everyone!

http://www.lhac.eu/?i=accessible-cities.en.home

http://www.accessibletourism.org/?i=enat.en

Parador de Alcalá de Henares, Spain

We stayed here for the last night of last year’s holiday in Spain – it’s pretty convenient for Madrid’s Barajas airport. The parador is based around an old convent but generally is very hi-tech and modern, almost too much so: a panel at the bedside allowed you to switch off the lights in the whole room, but you couldn’t have one bedside light on without the other being on too – not really a technological advance! The whole place was completely accessible apart from, I think, a tiny step down into the courtyard but I might be misremembering and the bedroom had both a wet-room style bathroom and also a bath with shower over too.
It is in the town centre and has a courtyard rather than any gardens so not as relaxing/get-away-from-it-all as some but peaceful nonetheless. The staff were pleasant, the food good with plenty of choice at breakfast and the town is very pleasant and historic too. I would definitely recommend this for a brief stop.
http://www.parador.es/en/paradores/parador-de-alcala-de-henares

Parador de Tordesillas, Spain

Some of the reviews of this Parador talk of it being a bit past its best, but having stayed in several other Paradors on last year’s holiday in Spain as well as lots of others at other times I would say it holds up well – they are all different and have different qualities. This one is good at being relaxing, child-friendly and laid back. It didn’t particularly seem in need of smartening up so far as I noticed. What was an issue for me was that while you could enter the lobby on wheels (I use a mobility scooter when there is lots of ground to cover), you couldn’t then access the rest of the hotel. That required entering through the door that gave access to the pool and garden – not a big problem, it was a doorway people used to access the garden, so not a ‘tradesman’s entrance’ but not ideal. To use the sitting room off the lobby we would have had to go out through this door then around to the front and it would still have meant a few stairs so we didn’t bother and didn’t need to as the weather was lovely and we sat out in the garden all day, where people were using the pool and sunloungers, all surrounded by pine groves..
The staff were friendly and helpful, the food good with the usual choices of local and national dishes in the evening (although with a distinct lack of vegetables unless you chose very carefully, which is so odd in a country that produces an abundance of great veg!) and plenty of choice at breakfast: Spanish omelette, hams and cheeses, pastries, fruit, yogurt etc.
We really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and the historic town of Tordesillas where the C15th treaty was signed to divide up South America between Spain and Portugal is just down the road.

http://www.parador.es/en/paradores/parador-de-tordesillas

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Gardens, Parador de Tordesilla
Pine woods, Parador de Tordesillas
Pine woods, Parador de Tordesillas
Tordesillas
Tordesillas

Posada Camarga, Santiago Millas, León

We stayed a night here on our way to Asturias in northern Spain because the place we were supposed to be spending the night at, in a spirit of helpfulness, had swapped our ground floor room for a second floor one so we would be away from the noise of a wedding that was going on, forgetting that we had booked a ground floor room because I have poor mobility. The manager rang a couple of other places and got us booked in at this charming place that was much quieter than the original place would have been and we felt we had really struck lucky!
Posada Camarga was wonderfully quiet, beautifully converted and decorated and we were welcomed with tea and biscuits! There are ground floor rooms and ours at least had a walk-in shower. The proprietress is Spanish but her English is so fabulous you wouldn’t guess; she is an ex-business consultant who has created a lovely hotel and produces the delicious meals available in the evening, from a menu with 3 choices each for each course. The courtyard was full of flowers and we could hear birds singing – a vast improvement on the slightly sozzled renditions of Abba going on at the place we would have stayed! I was able to use my scooter as there was a ramp leading from the rooms to the main house where dinner and breakfast were served. The countryside around was nothing special but if you were on your way somewhere like we were and wanted somewhere quiet and relaxing, with a friendly welcome and simple, delicious food, I recommend this place wholeheartedly.

http://www.camarga.es/esp/entorno-camarga.html

Parador de La Granja

Parador de La Granja, Spain

Here’s a review I wrote after our holiday in Spain last year. After flying into Madrid, we picked up our hire car and this was the first place we stayed.

We stayed two nights here at the start of our holiday and got thoroughly relaxed which was the plan. My mobility is bad and I was hoping to use my scooter around the building so was really pleased that I could – a member of staff explained where to park around the back and met us there and showed us the way in. There was some issue with our booking both here and at another Parador – they asked if I had booked through an agency when in fact I had booked directly through their website; I don’t know what the issue was, plus they had missed the fact that I’d requested an accessible room but they sorted that out and showed us to the room that was really spacious and comfortable.

The breakfast did not seem to be quite as good as I remembered Parador breakfasts to be – no tortilla or hard boiled eggs, for example, but it turned out you could order scrambled eggs. Food in the evening: the first night I had fish with lots of bones – rather off-putting – but the second night had the tastiest beef dish I have ever had!

The building is great – old but sympathetically modernised. Staff were great too – really helpful when we wanted to look online for directions to our next hotel. We had a bit of difficulty finding this place, actually, as did other people – the signs are not that obvious but you turn left as you enter the gates of the complex.

http://www.parador.es/en/paradores/parador-de-la-granja