Green treasures of the Navarran Pyrenees


The autonomous region of Navarre is, without a doubt, privileged. Nature has worked wonders on its abundant lands. Now protected, the mountains of Urbasa and Aralar, the caves of Mendukilo, Urdazubi/Urdax and Zagarramurdi and the Iratí forest are a spectacle of tranquility which have borne witness to the passage of time for thousands of years

Urbasa-Andía Natural Park

gc_parque

The Sierra de Urbasa mountain range forms, together with the Sierra de Andía mountain range, an extensive Natural Park to the west of the autonomous region. Leafy beechwood forests, which cover 70% of its surface area, junipers, pines and extensive meadows dress the land of this great plateau, spectacular at any time of year.

It ends abruptly at the Valle de las Améscoas, forming a stunning natural viewpoint from which to see the Nacedero glacier cirque in Urederra. The Sierra de Urbasa mountain range also has lavish open spaces, plains rising to a thousand metres. On the largest of these, called Raso, is a 17th century palace, currently closed to the public. 

The natural park has a number of information centres, providing guidance for visitors. It also has recreational areas and signposted paths, to ensure that visitors can interact safely with nature. 

Sierra de Aralar

gc_aralar

The more capricious nature is, the more wondrous its work. The Sierra de Aralar mountain range, to the northeast of Navarre, demonstrates this point well. Here you will find spaces for hiking, caves such as that of Astitz, valleys and small hills for less demanding climbs. It is a mixture of forests, pastures, beechwood forests, oak and hazel trees with rocky areas typical of the karstic massif of which Aralar is made. It is therefore a land of contrasts which needs to be experienced to the full. 

Sheep, mares and horses are dotted across the bucolic landscape of the pasture lands. Beautiful rambling houses such as Madotz, Astitz and Baraibar, mills such as the one at Aitzarrateta or chapels such as the Ermita de Santiago de Itsasperri have brought time to a standstill at some unknown point.

The heart of the mountain range, opened to visitors since 2005, is home to the Mendukilo Caves in Astitz, three spectacular rooms adorned with stalactites and stalagmites. The cave's visitor's centre has an audiovisual room, an exhibition room, a bar and a small shop.

In winter the snow and ice reshape the landscape as they choose. This is when it's time to open the ski slopes.

Ikaburu Caves

Hidden beneath the green prairies of Cantabria in the Pyrenees town of Urdazubi/Urdax are the Ikaburu Caves, a cavern formed 14,000 years ago as a result of the erosion of the calcareous rock by the Urtxuma River.

The flint remains found inside the caves show that they were inhabited by prehistoric man, although they were also used as a shelter by the rogues of legend and as a hideout during the War of Independence and the Carlist Wars. For mythology fans, they were home to lamias, mythical beings which were half fish, half woman.

During a thirty-minute visit you will discover the capricious forms sculpted by the water in the cave's three main chambers, the "Salón de Recepciones" (Reception Room), the "Sala de los Tres Reyes" (Three King's Room) and the "Sala de las Columnas" (Columns Room), lulled by the ever-present sound of the flowing river.

Urdazubi/Urdax is also home to the caves of the San Salvador de Urdax monastery, a 12th century monastery which was used as a hospital for pilgrims on the Baztanese route of the Way of St. James.

Zugarramurdi Cave

gc_zurrama

Zugarramurdi, in the Western Pyrenees, is a witches' town, where it is well worth blurring the boundaries between reality and fantasy.

It's simple cave, which contains no stalagmites, stalactites or cave paintings, has a very unique charm: until the 17th century, it hosted akelarres (witches' sabbath), pagan rituals, magical and mystical rituals linked to nature. Visitors go up a flight of steps to the main cavity, a large natural chamber lapped by the waters of the "Infernuko erreka" stream (river of hell). In the upper part are the witches' caves (Sorgin Leze), while in the narrowest part you find the "Akelarre Leze" (akelarre cave).

The inhabitants of Zagarramurdi were mercilessly punished by the Inquisition, accused of practising witchcraft. Thus, in 1610, 31 people from the area - most of them women - were prosecuted. Their names are listed on a panel at the entrance to the cave. Some survived after confessing their sins and begging for mercy, but thirteen died as a result of the torture to which they were subjected in Logroño prison. The remaining six were burned alive in the main square in Logroño.

Iratí Forest

gc_irati

The Iratí Forest, situated in the Western Pyrenees of Navarra, is the second-largest and best-preserved beech and fir tree forest in Europe, covering 17,000 hectares which are still in almost primeval condition. The forest is an immense natural treasure, home to the protected areas of Mendilatz and Tristuibartea and the Integral Reserve of Lizardoia. 

The Iratí Forest is also home to a number of bird species such as goldcrests, chaffinches, robins, black or white-backed woodpeckers and other types of animals such as foxes, wild boar, roe deer and deer. If you tread quietly, you may be able catch a glimpse of a number of these. Harder to see is the king of this land, the mythological Basajaun or king of the forest, though nothing is impossible. 

There are a number of places of interest around the Forest: the Orbaitzeta arms factory, the Virgen de las Nieves chapel, the Muskilda sanctuary and the villages of Valle de Salazar are well worth a visit. 
 

Acceso a Confianza online