Vitoria-Gasteiz is both the capital city of the province of Álava/Araba and of the autonomous community of the Basque Country (País Vasco/Euskadi). It is the second largest Basque city. It is a medium-sized city, and the municipality comprises the urban area, with a population of 235 445, plus 64 small rural hamlets in the surrounding countryside. Vitoria-Gasteiz held the title of European Green Capital until the end of 2012. Vitoria-Gasteiz is comprised of concentric circles, with the city itself at the centre. Its “green belt” is a semi-natural green area that surrounds the city.
Because Vitoria-Gasteiz is at the crossroads of two biological climates – the Atlantic to the north and the Mediterranean to the south – a huge diversity of ecological environments coexist close to the city. Citizens have access to a range of natural habitats, from meadows and wetlands to beech forests and mountains. The city has a high proportion of green public areas, so the entire population lives within 300 m of an open green space. A Green Belt of five large suburban parks with recreational areas surrounds the centre, linked by a network of 33 km of pedestrian pathways and 90 km of cycle routes, effectively bringing nature into the urban heart.
Its medieval district (an almond-shaped core), dating back to the 12th century, is one of the best preserved in the north of the Iberian peninsula. Many examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings are found there. In the ancient city center, most of the streets still have the medieval name of the jobs developed in those streets (Cuchillería, Zapatería, Pintorería, Herrería…).
One of the main places is the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca (White Virgin Square), presided over the Battle of Vitoria monument. Renaissance palaces such as Villa Suso, Casa del Cordón, Escoriaza-Esquival, Portalón and Montehermoso are worth a visit. The Fournier Playing Card Museum holds one of the most important collections of playing cards in the world. Located at the top of the hill, the Cathedral of Santa María, a 13th century Gothic temple, is one of the main attractions in Vitoria-Gasteiz. In 1994 it was closed because of “structural problems”. A guided tour of the restoration process offers a privileged perspective from every angle, from bowels to bell tower. The writer Ken Follet decided to base the second part of his novel “The Pillars of the Earth” on this building after visiting the restoration work that is being carried out.
The South part of Álava/Araba province is called La Rioja Alavesa, where the visitor can test ones of the best red wines of the world.