A walk through the origins of Elorrio

This walk takes around 1 hour, and includes some very interesting local features and insights into how the area’s outlying hamlets and districts functioned as communities in the past.

From June to September this trail can be taken as a guided tour, on which you will have the chance to see the inside of a flour mill

and ask the owner, Dori, any questions that you may have: she knows Elorrio better than almost anyone else.

Elorrio tourist information office: 946 820 164 /  info@elorrioturismo.eus

The Baños Viejos spa


Olazti – Stone dragging

The Zenitaolea washing place


The Fuente Ferruginosa iron-rich well

BASERRIA: farmsteads

Grain stores (garaixe)


The Baños Viejos spa, Elorrio

The Baños Viejos spa

Elorrio lies in a valley that contains many sulphurous springs. The properties of these waters led to several spas being built in the area.


The Baños Viejos spa dates back to 1826, when the local waters were declared to be of public utility (though they had already long been used for medicinal purposes).  The building has now been turned into a school.


This spa enjoyed great renown and popularity because it offered its distinguished customers transport to make it easier for them to access the benefits of its waters. Travellers could take the main line train from Atxuri station in Bilbao to Durango, from where carriages departed for the spa at noon and 4:30 pm every day.

In 1877 it received more visitors than any other spa in Bizkaia. Its waters were prescribed especially for respiratory, skin and liver complaints.


The old tubs from the spa can still be seen at the entrance to the garden, where they are now used as plant pots.

Baños Viejos, Elorrio
Molino Bekoerrota, Barrio Zenita


The flour mills in each hamlet were communally owned. The Bekoerrota mill (the name translates as “bottom mill”) had 12 stakeholders, i.e. it was jointly owned by 12 farmsteads. The regulations and turns for its use and the time allocated to each one were set down in writing and had to be strictly observed so that other owners were not detrimentally affected.


A board announcing the turns was placed on the stone sill beside the door.


Flour has been milled since the Stone Age. In ancient times hand mills were used to grind grain with stone against stone. The Roman army carried one such mill (manuealis) for every ten men, for cooking purposes.


Whoever controlled the flour mills had control of the population, so they were confiscated or sealed up in times of war.



DAM: a small dam on the river to direct water into the channel.

CHANNEL: a channel that diverts water from the river to the millpond.

MILLPOND: a deep trough where water is held before it flows into the mill itself.

MILL: mill wheels driven by water power.

OUTFLOW CHANNEL: the channel by which water is returned to the river.

If you want to see the inside of a mill, book the guided tour available at the tourist information office.

Dori, the mill owner, will answer all your questions and more.

Olazti – Stone dragging
Olazti – Stone dragging

Olazti – Stone dragging

The earliest records of stone dragging contests in Elorrio date from 1895 and 1896. The town is the proud owner of the oldest dragging stone in Bizkaia, which is inscribed with the date 1859.


In this meadow (Olazti) in a native oak wood, local people held contests in which stones were dragged by animals. Cows or other animals were usually used, as not many people owned oxen.

The wagers placed were modest, but winning was important. When the stakes were high the contests were sometimes moved to Elorrio’s main course (where the cattle fair is now held) and staged in front of the whole town.


This was a game for the menfolk. A few wines after mass on Sunday would lead to bets being placed on their animals.

The women did not like to see animals essential for farm work being used in contests in which they might be injured. The loss of an animal could have dire consequences for a farmstead.


Records suggest that a contest between the men of Zenita in 1956 was one of the last.

Stone dragging contests are still held in the Ferixa Nagusikoak festivities in Elorrio. Check out the DIARY and make a note of the dates.


To learn more about Basque rural sports follow this link: STONE DRAGGING WITH OXEN

The Zenitaolea washing place

The Zenitaolea washing place

The number of washing places increased from the 19th century onward, when a typhoid epidemic led people to realise the importance of hygiene. They were normally located outside farmhouses and were used for washing clothes.


Some were privately owned and others were communal, which made them favourite places for women to gather and gossip.

Growing in the area around the washing place there is sure to be common horsetail (Equisetum arvense, known in Basque as azeri buztan), a plant with medicinal properties.

Cola de Caballo

This primitive plant is related to ferns, and reproduces by spores.

​It is believed to be an excellent purgative and is used in the treatment of obesity, high uric acid levels, arthritis, gout and urinary tract infections.

Fuente Uratsa, barrio Zenita


In Basque uratsa means “stinking water”. This sulphurous well was constructed by Casto de Zabala in around 1900 in a final attempt to find an additional spring with which to extend the Baños Viejos spa, also known as Baños de Galartza. The waters of this spa were awarded a bronze medal and an honourable mention at the Paris Exposition of 1878.

The inns and farmhouses of the town provided lodging for 300 bathers (not counting those who stayed at the spas themselves).

The waters were prescribed especially for skin, respiratory and liver complaints. Why not try some before you go?

The design for the first Gorbea Cross was also drawn up by Casto de Zabala.

The Fuente Ferruginosa iron-rich well
The Bolintxo stone

The Fuente Ferruginosa iron-rich well

The waters of this well have a clear reddish colour which is due to oxide forming as they come into contact with the air.


These waters are prescribed for anaemia (lack of iron). They have an unpleasant, metallic taste but are worth drinking for their restorative properties.

The Bolintxo stone

On the path towards the Zenitaldekoa farmhouse grindstones and mill wheels can be seen.

They are from a mill which was called Bolintxo. The Basque word bolua, which means “millstone”, derives from the Latin mola. The form bolintxo is a diminutive, reflecting the fact that this mill used smaller stones than its neighbours.


BASERRIA: farmsteads

BASERRIA: farmsteads

The type of farmstead typical of the Basque Country is known in Basque as baserria.


These were single family, detached, multi-purpose farmsteads which were highly self-sufficient.


But baserria means much more than just building: it is a stable, a workshop, a storehouse and a cider press as well as a home for the people and animals that live in it. The term also implies certain duties towards the community and certain rights (access to common grazing and woodland, a seat on the local guild, a stake in a flour mill, a place of burial, etc.).


The main entrance to Basque farmsteads always faces between the east and the south, even if this means facing away from the neighbours.

They are the perfect homes for their intended purposes in their local setting. They are the best rural homes in the world. They were built by specialists, with plans drawn up by architects who oversaw the entire building process. They were modern, professional design projects.


There is no single prototype Basque farmhouse: many different layouts can be found depending on each family’s financial resources and specialist production requirements.

Grain stores (garaixe)

Grain stores (garaixe)

These grain stores were built up to the early 17th century, which makes them the oldest in the world. They were subsequently turned into haylofts (arnagas).


They were used principally to store cereals, though these were later replaced by maize brought back from the Americas. The price of wheat grew so high that it ended up being used only as payment for rent.

The typical grain stores of Bizkaia (garaixe in Basque), as described by local historian Balendín de Lasuen, looked like this:

Necrópolis de Argiñeta



The Chapel of San Adrián was rebuilt in the 16th century and has been renovated several times since. Its outstanding stone paving, which has great artistic value, dates from the 17th century.

In early settlements chapels were not only used for religious services: they also provided a place to bury the dead and a meeting point where the community could discuss civil matters and problems. This religious and civil community forum became known as a “guild” (in Spanish cofradía, deriving from frade, meaning “brother”).

Churches were elements that bound hamlets together. They provided a collective reference point, the only safe public building where local people could all gather together as a group after religious services to discuss issues and make joint decisions. 

This early form of social organisation underwent major changes between the years 1050 and 1200, with the first steps towards setting up parish councils, the immediate forerunners of today’s municipalities.


This is one of the most important funerary monuments in the Basque Country in terms of both numbers and dating: it contains tombs built between the seventh century and the upper Middle Ages. It is located in the hamlet of Zenita in the municipality of Elorrio, and comprises the necropolis itself (21 tombs including a striking double sarcophagus and five grave marker stones known as stelae) and the chapel of San Adrián, which was rebuilt in the 16th century and has undergone several renovations since.


The sarcophagi were made to be used in the necropolises of the various hamlets in the area (Mendraka, Miota, Berrio), but were gathered together in their current location in the 19th century by the then priest of the parish, Father Retolaza, creating an evocative, romantic setting.


The astral signs with which the stelae are decorated give one the feeling of being transported to a bygone age. This unique spot is so magical that it is hard to tear oneself away from it.

This trail can also be taken as a guided tour, in which case you will have the chance to see the inside of a mill and have any questions answered by a person who knows Elorrio better than just about anyone.

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