This immaculate Neo-Gothic castle, which was restored by Napoleon III in 1856 from its original 14th century fortifications, is straight out of a fairy tale. Its classic four-tower design, with the imposing central keep rising up high over the surrounding UNESCO biosphere reserve, was later converted into a luxury boutique hotel for a unique lodging experience unlike anything else in the region. (And history buffs will love its rich history that explains how a neo-medieval palace befitting of France or England ended up in the Basque Countryside.) Rooms are drenched in imperial opulence, a sunken solarium houses an exquisite restaurant below, and a rooftop terrace atop the keep provides stunning views of the green landscapes beyond.
The Napoleon suite, which takes up all three floors of one of the castle’s corner towers, has its own private castle-top pool and terrace…yes, a pool…on top of a castle…did someone say honeymoon?
The castle’s 13 rooms, ranging from a double room up to the Napoleon Suite, are each uniquely designed and all a sumptuous feast for the eyes. The lavish rooms are exceptionally spacious, with meter-and-a-half thick stone walls, exposed wood-beamed ceilings, gilded mirrors, rich antique decor, and splendid beds. The only hints that you haven’t been reborn into the upper 19th century aristocracy are the flat-screen TV upgrades, free Wi-Fi, AC, and the mini-bars hiding in antique cauldrons.
We are personally enamored with the suites that take up multiple floors in each of the castle’s four watchtowers; spiral staircases lead to private circular terraces located on top, surrounded by the tower’s archetypal crenelated parapets (and equipped with outdoor Jacuzzis!). Given that the price jump from standard to suite is not an enormous difference, we’d highly suggest the upgrade.
These are without doubt some of the most uniquely enchanting bathrooms you will find in a hotel. Airy yet intimate, the sumptuous spaces evoke a sense of old-world grace with no two being quite the same. Bathrooms located in the main keep are dressed in marble and wood and a noble elegance while the ones in the corner towers feel as if they are carved right out of the stone itself, with circular stone baths and showerheads that have been designed to seem like waterfalls streaming out of the wellsprings of the ancient arched enclaves above.
Guests pass through the castle’s majestic courtyard before climbing the stairs to the reception area, a cozy space with high ceilings and renaissance rugs along its wood floors. Beyond reception is a hidden gem of a public space: the original library of the palace. Guests can take coffee or a drink here while reading a book or simply marveling at the inscribed roofs and crystal chandeliers and 19th century grand fireplace.
YOU SHOULD KNOW The courtyard and surrounding castle grounds are popular for weddings and events, and for good reason. Check in advance to make sure there isn’t anything too chaotic happening during your stay.
The Napoleon Suite comes with its own private pool atop its tower, while two other suites offer private tower-top Jacuzzis.
Guests will be pleased to learn that the hotel’s restaurant is a sought after destination in itself for many in the region. The main dining room, open for lunch and dinner, is housed in a sunken solarium where natural light pours in from above and the stone ramparts rise along the perimeter. The excellent menu is constantly changing to reflect the best seasonal ingredients of the region and offers creative, modern takes on Basque cuisine. Dinner is occasionally offered in a more intimate dining room inside one of the palace’s classic salons reminiscent of a French Chateau. Breakfast, which is taken in the main dining room, is included in the stay.
A cozy little bar and café, with original black and white stone floors, sits adjacent to the restaurant and guests can take their coffee or drinks on the courtyard patio as well.
The castle contains an extensive underground wine cellar; guests can organize tastings in the cellar itself or simply know that they are in good hands when asking about which local bottle to uncork.
The castle is a bit off the beaten path in the tiny village of Gautegiz Arteaga and the adjacent natural reserve adds to a sense of seclusion; its definitely for those looking for a luxury retreat who don’t need to be able to walk to nearby restaurants and bars. Luckily, Guernica and the many charming seaside villages in the region are just a 10-15 minute drive away, and you can make it here from Bilbao in just over a half-hour by car. Parking is complimentary for guests. Also, the hotel can help arrange canoe excursions through the nearby nature reserve for a creative means of seeing the wetlands.
The historic town of Guernica is a short drive away. There are plenty of restaurants to be found there. Restaurante Boliña El Viejo (11-minute drive) is a family-run establishment that serves up traditional homemade Basque dishes and delicious pintxos.
For those enamored by the sea, Toki Alai (15-minute drive) is a gorgeous oceanfront restaurant that offers tremendous local seafood dishes at reasonable prices.
In Guernica are a plethora of bars but we love Arima Rock and Blues (11-minute drive), its a fun little drinking establishment that is both a blend of campy yet charming; the music stays true to its name and they actually serves up a pretty solid cocktail.
In the other direction, both literally and thematically, is Mentrame Taberna (11-minute drive), a quaint seaside bar and café overlooking a tiny fishing village perched above the ocean.
WHY WE LIKE IT
Castillo de Arteaga is an unforgettable way to live like royalty for the night. The utter romance of a Neo-Gothic castle, in all of its exterior and interior splendor, is made even more satisfying thanks to the rooftop terraces, modern gastronomy, and other contemporary creature comforts of the 21st-century. And its proximity to the nature reserve, beautiful beaches, and the town of Guernica make the castle an excellent outpost for regional explorations.