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The Region of Las Encartaciones

The first stop on the route through Las Encartaciones is the town of Güeñes, only 20 minutes by car from Bilbao (Vizcaya). Here you'll find the Torre de la Cuadra, a tower that dates from the late 15th century and is the best preserved example of a fortified tower house in the whole region. You'll see other monuments during your visit to Güeñes, such as the Renaissance church of Santa María and the Town Hall, based in the so-called Chalet or Villa Urrutia, an "Indiano" house built in 1910, with Modernist and Art Nouveau decorative details.

To see more villas like this one, your best bet is to go to the town of Gordexola, 7 kilometres away. The next stop on your journey is Zalla, 10 kilometres away, where you can see the Baroque palace of the Murga family, built in the 17th century and now the Town Hall, and the Torre de Terreros, a stately tower-house that dates back to 1420.

Your journey continues towards the region's main town, Balmaseda, a 10 minute car drive. Among other places, don't miss the Convent of Santa Clara, built in the 17th century; the Gothic church of San Severino; the Casa Consistorial, a 17th century former palace built in the Castilian-mountain style; and the Old Bridge, otherwise known as La Muza bridge, built in the Lower Middle Ages and used as a customs post. If you're also lucky enough to be there in May, when the popular Medieval Market is held, your stroll around the town will be even more pleasant.

Your final stop on the route is very close by: the Abellaneda council building. This splendid fortified palace dates from the 14th century and is home to the museum of Las Encartaciones, where you can find out about the region's history.

You can do this route in two days, but if you have time there are plenty of other cultural, leisure and nature activities to be enjoyed in this area. For example, it's well worth climbing up to the rural chapel of Buen Suceso, in the Karrantza valley, and gazing at the fabulous views; or you could visit the Pozalagua cave, a natural grotto packed with stalactites and stalagmites, set in the Armañón nature park.

Other things you might want to do are to follow the Haizko megalithic trail and see the Fuentellano dolmens, the necropolis at La Cabaña and other prehistoric remains, or you could follow the last surviving stretches of the old Roman road that once ran past Balmaseda, the Avellaneda council building and Sopuerta.

For people travelling with the family, another alternative is the "Karpin Abentura" ecological park, a large natural area run as an animal conservation and recovery centre, where you can see bears, deer, wild boar and wolves.

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