Vitoria (‘Gasteiz’ in Basque) is in the province of Araba (‘Alava’ in Basque), the southern (non-coastal) one of the three provinces of Euskadi. Alava is the most rural, least populated and least industrialised of the three provinces, and the one-hour journey south from Bilbao is beautiful, through many unspoilt valleys with wonderful mountain views.
Vitoria’s decline was halted in the 70s and 80s, after Franco´s demise, by significant industrial growth and the building of substantial new suburbs – and by the decision to make the city the capital of Euskadi rather than Bilbao or San Sebastian. The modest parliament building is here in Vitoria, and it´s where the President (the ‘Lehendakari’) lives. Tourists do come here, but not that many.
You can see why Vitoria might be more appropriate as the capital than the other two cities. Its old town is certainly the most interesting of the three, and it has a genteel hill-town charm that the others don´t really have.
The entrance to the old town is the beautiful square of the White Virgin (Plaza di Virgen Blanca), lined with cafes below classic northern-style ‘miradors’ (enclosed balconies), and with a huge memorial to the Battle of Vitoria in the middle….
One of the old palaces in the old town has been turned into a great museum complex, comprising a superbly designed history and archaeology museum…