In 1491, on the once much humbler site of this enormous and ornate Mudejár-style shrine that is the Sanctuary of Loyola, a family of minor nobility welcomed its 13th child, who would one day change the world. San Ignatius Lopéz de Loyola, a soldier turned to the priesthood by his strange visions, founded the Brotherhood of Jesus, or Jesuit order, whose radical interpretation of Catholicism left its mark on both the New and Old World.
A place of pilgrimage and wonder for the devout and secular alike, San Ignatius' former home has been transformed with Chirriguerresque flair into a grand compound. In addition to the basilica and shrine, there is an art museum displaying a few of his belongings and writings, as well as religious objects collected over the centuries. Shrines to other Jesuit saints are also arranged around the grounds.
The gardens and surrounding mountains make a fine backdrop to the scene, and you're welcome to stay on at their inexpensive hostel.
The best time to visit is July 31, the feast day of San Ignatius. Buses run between Apeita and Azkoitla, stopping off at the Santuario. To get here by car, take the A-8 between Elgolbar and Zarautz, exiting south to Azpeitia and Azkoitla; the sanctuary is signed.
Tours & Tickets
Location: Bilbao, Spain
Duration: 9 hours