In Iruña de Oca (12 km from Vitoria), there’s a mystical place where visitors can lose themselves in nature and history.
There are few more magical places to enjoy nature than at the magnificent Santa Catalina Botanical Garden. Visitors can discover thousands of flowers and a thousand different plants from the five continents – including 400 native species – on 32,000 square metres of lush parkland. Primroses, crocuses, mimosas, daffodils and orchids create a riot of blazing yellows, pristine whites, alarming purples and sizzling reds.
Santa Catalina is a living, changing landscape so every day in the garden is different. Young visitors will particularly enjoy the Santa Catalina comic and dramatized guided tours of the gardens featuring a series of historical characters.
Apart from the garden’s wonderful range of plants, it also boasts a series of unique features, such as the over one hundred chasms and potholes in the Badaia mountain range and the hundred-year-old holm oak forests.
One of the garden’s highlights is the view from the top of the old church bell tower which is accessed by climbing a spiral staircase. One look at the Alava plains is enough to understand why history stopped there, as if unwilling to leave. Eventually, when the time came, the beauty of the holy ruins remained.
Originally a 13th-14th-century fortress, the complex was later used as a convent by the Hieronymite and Augustinian orders, before becoming privately owned and falling victim to fire in 1836, during the Carlist Wars.
After it was abandoned, it became overgrown, remaining derelict for over a century. Eventually, in the mid-1990s, someone realized its potential and stepped in to save it. With government support, a landscape of plants, trees, and flowers was created to shroud the mysterious ruins and forgotten secrets. The Santa Catalina Botanical Garden, which took four years to complete, was finally opened to the public in 2003.
Thanks to the garden’s privileged environment, it is home to dozens of butterfly species that have established colonies there over the last few years. Santa Catalina is committed to butterfly conservation and has created a new area which is devoted to these Lepidopteran insects. The dedicated area includes a range of host plants and information panels about the life cycle of butterflies and the importance of their contribution to our ecosystems.