Lagunas de la Mata y Torrevieja Natural Park

  • Region: Valencian Community
  • Province: Alicante
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1996
  • Park surface area: 3,743 hectares
  • Towns and villages: Guardamar del Segura. Los Montesinos, Rojales, Torrevieja

Points of interest

The Lagunas de la Mata y Torrevieja Natural Park is located in the Vega Baja del Segura region and together with El Hondo lagoon (close to the town of Elche) and and the Santa Pola salt flats, they form a triangle of wetlands with international importance to birdlife.

The two lagoons are separated by an anticline (a raised fold of the earth’s crust formed by tectonic effects) called the Chaparral and they are artificially connected to the sea by a channel known as the Acequión which was built for the exploitation of the Torrevieja salt flats.

Salt extraction has been in operation here since the 13th century and continues to present day so for this reason, much of the protected area is closed to the general public. (There are, however, good access points, footpaths and observatories for birdwatching)

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Flora

Plants that live here are adapted to high concentrations of salt and they are usually succulents, such as salt grass. The scrubland and the Mediterranean forest is made up of arboreal and shrub species such as Aleppo pine, lentiscus, juniper and kermes oak. Also myrtle, thyme, gorse, rosemary, European fan palm .

Fauna

The bird fauna is the most important fauna group in the Lagunas de la Mata y Torrevieja Natural Park with almost a hundred species recorded. Together with El Hondo and Santa Pola, the area constitutes an enclave of wetlands of crucial importance for the development of the biological cycles of numerous species that use it both in their migrations, nesting and wintering.

The flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) feeds and rests in La Mata with concentrations of up to 2,000 individuals. Around 3,000 black-necked grebes (Podiceps nigricollis) have also been recorded during migration.

Among the nesting sites, stilt (Himantopus himantopus), common shelduck (Tadorna tadorna), Montagu’s harrier (Circus pygargus) and avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) stand out and also noteworthy are the populations of kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), common tern (Sterna hirundo), little tern (Sterna albifrons) and stone curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus).

The most characteristic invertebrate of the lagoons is the brine shrimp (Artemia salina). This small crustacean, which together with the larvae of the chironomid mosquitoes constitutes the fundamental diet of the numerous birds of these wetlands and thrives in waters with a high level of salinity.

Birdwatching and walking

There are a couple of easy walks that take you through the various habitas and also a cycling route. Apart from these the other important places to visit in the area (especially for birdwatching) are:

  • La Cigéeñuela observatory
  • El Zampullín observatory
  • El Fumarel observatory
  • La Avoceta observatory
  • El Chorlitejo observatory
  • Zampullín viewpoint
  • Old watchtower ruins
  • Isla nueva and viewpoint
  • El Acequión
  • El Altillo

Information/Visitors Centers

Lagunas de la Mata y Torrevieja Natural Park Interpretation Centre

The Visitor Center is located in the old Forest House in the hamlet of La Mata (Torrevieja), located about 400 m from the N-332 Alicante – Cartagena, at km 64.5.

Here you will find plenty of information about the wildlife and walking/access routes in order to get the best out of a visit to the area.

The official website for the Lagunas de la Mata y Torrevieja Natural Park is here: https://parquesnaturales.gva.es/es/web/pn-lagunas-de-la-mata-torrevieja


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Turia Natural Park

  • Region: Valencian Community
  • Province: Valencia
  • Declared a Natural Park: 2007
  • Park surface area: 4,480 hectares
  • Towns and villages: Quart de Poblet, Manises, Paterna, Riba-roja de Turia, l’Eliana, Vilamarxant, Benaguasil, Llíria and Pedralba

Points of interest

The Turia Natural Park hosts a valuable Mediterranean riparian woodland along the banks of the river Turia with Aleppo pine, Mediterranean scrub and an important representation of typical Valencian agricultural farmland. It holds a richness of biodiversity within a highly-populated and industrialized area making it one of the last remaining forestry lungs in the metropolitan area of Valencia.

The declaration as a protected area was quite a success and came after many years of pressure from local people and various wildlife protection groups.

The area has some important elements of geological and historical heritage. Among them are sites from the Bronze Age (Poblado de la Loma de Betxí) and, from the Visigothic period the fortified fortress of Valencia la Vella. There is also a great architectural infrastructure made up of dams, ditches, aqueducts and reservoirs that have been in use for many years in order to take advantage of the water flow for agriculture.

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Flora

The vegetation of the Turia Natural Park presents great biodiversity with almost 1,200 taxa recorded between species, subspecies and hybrids. However the area has not been without a few issues such as changes in land use, the proliferation of invasive alien species, forest fires and the felling of trees for charcoal and firewood.

The existing forest formations are made up of Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) located in most of the hills that make up the protected natural space. In the pine forests there is a shrub layer with a great diversity of species, among which rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Mediterranean buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), lavender (Lavandula latifolia), kermes oak (Quercus coccifera), gorse (Ulex parviflorus) and mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus). The presence of holm oak (Quercus ilex subsp. Rotundifolia) is less common, while wild olive (Olea europaea) and carob (Keratonia siliqua) are much more abundant. In addition, species such as strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), white heather (Erica arborea) and lavender (Lanvandula stoechas) are also present.

The riverside vegetation and, in particular, its woodlands have been confined to small groves and isolated stands of trees and shrubs that are connected by reedbeds (Arundo donax). The most representative species of the riparian woodland are black poplar (Populus nigra; Populus deltoides), white poplar (Populus alba), willow (Salix neotricha, Salix purpuera, Salix eleagnos, Salix atrocinerea, Salix fraglis), tamarix (Tamarix canariensis ), elm (Ulmus minor), blackberry (Rubus ulmifolius), oleander (Nerium oleander) and myrtle (Myrtus communis).

The Iberian-Valencian endemisms or species with different degrees of protection in the “Catalog of Endangered Flora Species of the Valencian Community” are abundant in the different ecosystems of the natural park with birthwort, (Aristolochia clematitis) and the Cartagena cistus (Cistus heterophillus subsp Cartaginensis), listed as endangered species. Garidella nigellastrum and Lupinus mariae-josephae are cataloged as vulnerable and some orchids such as Serapia parviflora and Anthyllis lagascana are included as highly protected.

Fauna

The fauna of the natural park is very rich in biodiversity with biologists recording more than 400 animal species including 32 species of mammals such as stone marten, genet, hedgehog, rabbit, otter and bats.

107 species of birds nest in the area with the iconic Bonellis eagle a highlight.

Amphibians and reptiles within the area are Iberian water frog (Rana perezi), Iberian spiny toad (Bufo spinosus), Iberian wall lizard (Podarcis hispanica), Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus), Spanish sand racer (Psammodromus algirus), Ocellated lizard (Timon lepida), Viperine snake (Natrix maura), Ladder snake (Elaphe scalaris), Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus), Horseshoe whip snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis) and Lataste’s viper (Vipera latastei).

Walking and footpaths

In the area you will find a few well signposted and color coded routes that take you through the various habitats of the protected area. (Ask about them in the Centro de Visitantes del Parque Natural del Turia)

  • Yellow footpath (ruta amarilla) Les Rodanes – Distance: 13 kilometers. 4 hours 30 minutes. Difficulty: Medium, Circular.
  • Red footpath (ruta roja) La Pea – Distance: 12,8 kilómetros. 4 hours 30 minutes. Dificulty: Medium, Lineal.
  • Blue footpath (ruta azul) El Palmeral – Distance: 11,9 kilómetros. 3 hours 30 minutes. Dificulty: Medium, Circular.
  • Green footpath (ruta verde) Ruta Fluvial del Turia – Distance: 27 kilómetros. 7 hours Dificulty: low. Lineal (follows the river and can be accessed in various places).
  • Violet route (ruta violeta) Agua – Distance: 9 kilómetros. 2 hourss 30 minutes. Dificulty: Medium. Lineal.
  • Pink route (ruta rosa) La Vallesa – Distance: 3,1 kilómetros. 1 hour. Difficulty: Low. Lineal

Information/Visitors Centers

Centro de Visitantes del Parque Natural del Turia

The Turia Natural Park Office is located on the CV-50 road at kilometre marker: 87,2. (Pont de la Barca. Vilamarxant).

Plenty of information on offer and exhibitions covering the wildlife of the area. Also information on walking routes in the area

The official website for the Turia Natural Park is here: http://parquesnaturales.gva.es/es/web/pn-turia


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Tinença de Benifassá Natural Park

  • Region: Valencian Community
  • Province: Castellón
  • Declared a Natural Park: 2006
  • Park surface area: 25,814 hectares
  • Towns and villages: Pobla de Benifassá, Ballestar, Boixar, Coratxá, Fredes, Castell de Cabres, Rossell, Bel and Vallibona.

Points of interest

Located at the foot of the Massif de los Puertos de Tortosa-Beceite the wild and mountainous environment of the Tinença de Benifassá Natural Park is located in the extreme north of the province of Castellón, bordering the Catalan regions of the Ports of Tortosa and the Aragonese of La Matarraña.

The bio diversity and variety of natural habitats in this area such as freshwater, heathlands, temperate scrub, sclerophyllous scrub, herbaceous formations, peat bogs, rocky habitats and forest are a haven for wildlife

Two heritage elements in the protected area are also well worth a mention. The first are the Cave Paintings from the Rossegadors Cave in La Pobla de Benifassà which are accessed by the CV105 road next to the Ulldecona reservoir dam. The paintings are located in a rock shelter of 10 meters long by 5 meters high and the images represent hunters in action, archers, goats, two deer and four big wild boars.

The second is the Royal Convent of Santa María de Benifasar which is one of the first founded in the Valencian Community.

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Flora

There are abundant forests of Aleppo pine, black pine and wild pine, evergreen oaks, Valencian oaks and riverside woodlands and these areas are specially protected as “floral micro-reserves” which give an extra layer of protection to threatened and endemic species such as the butterwort (Pinguicula dertosensis) or the sandwort (Arenaria conimbricensis).

Fauna

Given such a diversity of habitats, it is no surprise that the fauna of the park is abundant and quite rich in species. There are birds of prey nesting in the area such as golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), short-toed eagle (Circaetus gallicu), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) and large colonies of griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus).

Mammal species include Spanish Ibex (Capra pyrenaica). common genet (Genetta genetta), European wildcat (Felis silvestris), beech marten (Martes foina), wild boar (Sus scrofa) and European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus).

Places of special interest for birdwatching and wildlife observation

  • Scavenger bird observatory – Mas de Boix rubbish tip! (yes, rubbish tip)
  • Ballestar-Ulldecona Reservoir (head for the dam)
  • Pallerols Sanctuary
  • Fredes-Mas de Pixón-Solà d’en Brull-La Tenalla Forest House (La Tenalla)
  • El Boixar Country House – La Roureda Country House

Information/Visitors Centers

P.N. de la Tinença de Benifassà (Centro de Interpretación) – C\ Trascasa, 2 El Ballestar – 12599 Castelló

In the Interpretation Center located in the town of El Ballestar you can obtain information on the natural and cultural values of the park, as well as guides and maps for walking routes and other activities such as bird watching, cycling etc

The official website for the Tinença de Benifassá Natural Park is here: http://parquesnaturales.gva.es/es/web/pn-tinenca-de-benifassa

The Castellón tourism website has a good amount of information in English here: https://turismodecastellon.com/en/que-hacer/naturaleza/parqueNatural/show/2


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Sierra de Mariola Natural Park

  • Region: Comunidad Valenciana
  • Province: Alicante, Valencia
  • Declared a Natural Park: 2002
  • Park surface area: 17,257 hectares
  • Towns and villages: Agres, Alcoy, Alfafara, Bañeres, Bocairente, Cocentaina, Muro de Alcoy

Points of interest

The Pico del Montcabrer dominates the mountainous limestone Sierra de Mariola Natural Park at 1390 m above sea level. This part of the Sierra Bética mountain range has been torturously shaped by tectonic activity, creating 9 peaks over 1000 metres.

The scenic quality is captured in the “Barranc del Sinc” (a ravine which is approached from Alcoi). There are many natural springs in all areas of the mountains which provide moisture for the rich variety of fauna and flora. Snow which falls briefly during the winter months was once collected and placed in “Snow Caves” on the mountains, from where it could later be transported to the towns as ice blocks.

Many herbs grow wild on the mountainside and have been collected and used for perfumery, gastronomic and medicinal purposes over centuries. One of the traditional crafts kept alive is the distillation of these herbs to make alcoholic beverages. The “Herbero de la Sierra de Mariola” is one such drink flavoured with thyme, sage, fennel and lemon verbena amongst others. The “Cantueso Alicantino” is flavoured with an endemic species of long flowered thyme (Thymus longiflorus subsp. ciliatus). Seeds of Anise (Pimpinella anisum) are used to create “Anís Paloma de Alicante”.

The area has long been an important centre for textiles and dying. Of the 350 or so dye plants traditionally used in Valencia, only 50 are in cultivation today, with a plan to increase the variety of these useful plants.

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Flora

The Sierra de Mariola Natural Park is a treasure for botanists and Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis) are the dominant tree species along with shrubs of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Gorse (Genista scorpius), Rockroses (Cistus sp) and Heather. Other tree types are Holm oak (Quercus ilex), Portuguese Oak (Q. faginea), Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus), Maple (Acer opalus ssp granatense), Field Elm (Ulmus minor) and Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) intermingled with Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) and Honeysuckle. A wood of Yew trees (Taxus baccata) at “Teixera d’Agres” is protected as a micro reserve, no longer a common species for the area it is the most southern of its kind in Europe.

Open scrub areas have a covering of low growing Kermes oak (Quercus coccifera), Rockroses, Gorse, Spanish Juniper (Juniperus thurifera), Buckthorn and Mediterranean daphne (Daphne gnidium). Dispersed between these shrubby bushes are many aromatic and medicinal herbs such as Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Common agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), Thyme (Thymus piperella), Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas), Narrow-leaved sideritis (Sideritis leucantha), Spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia), Fennel (Foeniculum piperitum) and Shrubby savory (Satureja fruticosa).

There are around 1200 species of plants that have been identified within the Sierra de Mariola Natural Park. Many of these are endemic to Valencia and some to this Sierra alone. One such endemic herb is the Mariola sage (Salvia blancoana subsp. mariolensis).

Fauna

There are many species of raptors to look out for, the endangered Bonelli’s eagle, Golden, Booted and Short-toed eagles, Common buzzard, Peregrine falcon, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Goshawk. Nocturnal raptors include Eagle, Long-eared, Tawny, Scops, Barn and Little owls. Griffon vultures have been reintroduced to the area and are now breeding successfully. Common birds of the locality are Chaffinch, Serin, Robin, Great-tit, Red-legged partridge and Green woodpecker.

Mammals are less likely to be observed as they are generally nocturnal, never the less within the park are Wild boar, Wild cat, Badger and Fox, smaller ones include Stone marten, Weasel, Genet and Rabbit.

Amphibians and reptiles within the area are Iberian water frog (Rana perezi), Iberian spiny toad (Bufo spinosus), Iberian wall lizard (Podarcis hispanica), Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus), Spanish sand racer (Psammodromus algirus), Ocellated lizard (Timon lepida), Viperine snake (Natrix maura), Ladder snake (Elaphe scalaris), Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus), Horseshoe whip snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis) and Lataste’s viper (Vipera latastei).

Also in the area

  • There are remnants of civilizations in the area such as the Neolithic mountain cave “Cova La Sarsa” (near Bocairent) with its galleries and halls which cut back some 200m.
  • Cova del Bolumini” at Alfafara, from which ceramics can be seen at the Camilo Visedo museum in Alcoy.
  • At “El Salt de Alcoy” various flint tools, animal bones and also teeth of Neanderthal man have been discovered.
  • Mola de Serelles” and “Mola de Agres” are remains from Bronze age villages. Double perimeter walls, sloping on the interior, gave protection. Within the enclosure ceramics have been uncovered.
  • Archaeological finds from the Iberian culture have been discovered near “Alberri”, “Castellar” and “El Cabeçó” de la Cova de Mariola.
  • There are several towers and castles, mostly now in ruins, from the Arab era. Ones which have been restored are at Banyeres and Cocentaina.

Information/Visitors Centers

Mas de L’Ull de Canals Centro de Información

The Information Center and the management office of the Sierra de Mariola Natural Park are located in Mas d’Ull de Canals, located at kilometer 17.5 of the CV-795 road (Alcoi – Banyeres de Mariola). There is plenty of information for walking routes in the area and an exhibition showing the fauna, flora and customs of the area,

The official website for the Sierra de Mariola Natural Park is here: http://parquesnaturales.gva.es/es/web/pn-serra-de-mariola


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Marjal de Pego-Oliva Natural Park

  • Region: Valencian Community
  • Province: Alicante, Valencia
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1995
  • Park surface area: 1,255 hectares
  • A listed Ramsar wetlands site
  • Towns and villages: Pego, Oliva (Nearby cities of Gandia, Denia and Javia)

Points of interest

A crescent shape of mountains curves around the marshy area of the Marjal de Pego-Oliva Natural Park. The sand bar and fixed dunes close in the coastal extreme therefore creating a basin with a gentle slope to hold water from the two rivers. The Río Vedat / Bullens at the northern edge collects water from the mountains and flows to the Mediterranean sea, with much of its waters entering the marshes. The Río Racons / Molinell runs through the southern part of the marsh, connected by a network of irrigation channels and also has an outlet to the sea.

There are also fresh water springs which rise within the park area. Salinity in the water is variable, but highest close to the sand bar and river outlets.

The mountains, Serra de Mostalla, to the north and Serra de Segària to the south are mainly limestone. This allows water to drain freely, therefore feeding the reed beds, pools, scrub land, rice fields, citrus orchards and livestock grazing. The park, which is shared between Valencia and Alicante, attracts a varied list of bird species and many ornithologists enjoy the area for photography.

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Flora

This wetland has Tamarix, Rushes, Grasses, Reeds and aquatic plants in the natural areas with citrus orchards, rice fields and damp pastures in the parts that are farmed. The submerged species include, Spiked watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), Common hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum), Fennel pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus) and Long-leaved pondweed (Potamogeton nodosus). There are many floating weeds of the Duckweed family (Lemna sp.).

White water-lily (Nymphaea alba), Lesser Bulrush (Typha angustifolia), Branched bur-reed (Sparganium erectum), Yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus), Creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera) and Water couch grass (Paspalum distichum) grow in the irrigation ditches. Sea club-rush (Scirpus maritimus) tolerates the brackish water. Uncultivated land holds extensive reed beds including the Common reed (Phragmites australis), white flowering Brookweed (Samolus valerandi) and Saltmarsh morning glory (Ipomoea sagittata) in the damp pastures

The dunes are home to a set of plants that are salt tolerant and also help to stabilize them, Golden samphire (Inula crithmoides), Sea rush (Juncus maritimus), Great Fen-sedge (Cladium mariscus), Beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria), Sea bindweed (Calystegia soldanella) and Sea daffodil (Pancratium maritimum) are amongst them.

Fauna

In the water are Valencia toothcarp (Valencia hispanica), Spined loach (Cobitis taenia), Common goby (Pomatoschistus microps) European eel (Anguilla anguilla), Mullet species, Common carp (Cyprinus carpio carpio) and the introduced Black-bass (Micropterus salmoides). Freshwater shrimps include Dugastella valentina, Athyaephyra desmaresti and the endemic Paleomonetes zariquieyi plus the freshwater mussels Anodota cygnea and Unio mancus.

There are two forms of terrapins that inhabit the marshes, European pond terrapin (Emys orbicularis) and the Meditteranean pond terrapin (Mauremys leprosa).

This is an important breeding ground for an endangered species of duck, the Marbled teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris).

There is a vast array of breeding birds in the marshes, here are just a few: Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea), Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus), Little grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis), Whiskered tern (Chlidonias hybridus), Savi’s Warbler (Locustella luscinioides), Reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus), Great reed warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus), Squacco heron (Ardeola ralloides), Black-crowned night heron (nycticorax nycticorax), Grey heron (Ardea cinerea), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and Purple gallinule /swamp hen (Porphyrio porphyrio). Over head you may see Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Booted eagle (Aquila pennata), Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) and Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos).

Also in the area

  • In the marshland there are remains of Neolithic palafitte settlements, these were buildings on stilts to raise them above the water level.
  • Nearby lies Font Salada, a spring of thermal water with medicinal properties for the skin.
  • The “Castillo de Ambra” was reportedly built around the 13thC by the Muslims. It is set on a rocky escarpment.
  • La Cova del Rull” is a cave discovered in 1919 and open for visitors to view the stalactites and stalagmites.
  • Museo contemporáneo in Pego (Museum)
  • Museo etnológico in Pego (Museum)

Information/Visitors Centers

The Punto de Información Ambiental Muntanyeta Verda is well signposted and easy to find and has information about the wildlife to be found in the area.

The official website for the Marjal de Pego-Oliva Natural Park is here: http://parquesnaturales.gva.es/es/web/pn-marjal-de-pego-oliva/noticies-del-parc/-/asset_publisher/0QJBfObxj00l/content/punto-de-informacion-ambiental-de-la-muntanyeta-verda-



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Armañón Natural Park

  • Region: Pais Vasco
  • Province: Vizcaya
  • Declared a Natural Park 2006
  • Park surface area: 3,519 hectares
  • Towns and villages: Carranza and Trucíos

Points of interest

The Armañón Natural Park is the ninth and most recently declared protected area in the Basque country. Located in the region of Las Encartaciones in Vizcaya here you will find the Torca del Carlista cave which is one of the the largest underground systems in Europe and a refuge for the main breeding colony of the Mediterranean horseshoe bat.

Pozalagua cave

The Pozalagua cave is made up of a single room 125 meters long, 70 meters wide and 12 meters high and has one of the the highest concentration of eccentric stalactites in the world. (They grow in every direction seemingly defying gravity).

The Pozalagua cave is made up of a single room 125 meters long, 70 meters wide and 12 meters high
The Pozalagua cave is made up of a single room 125 meters long, 70 meters wide and 12 meters high

The cave was discovered by sheer chance on 28 December 1957 after an explosion at a nearby dolomite quarry (The dolomite was used, among other things, to make fire bricks, which were key to the Basque country’s industrialization, as they were employed to cover the structure of the blast furnaces. Dolomite bricks were extraordinarily resistant and, properly treated, could withstand the huge temperatures of such furnaces.)

The blast opened a hole in the mountain that is now used as the entrance to Pozalagua. The cave was prepared and opened to the public in 1991. See the official website for visiting, prices and opening times: https://www.cuevadepozalagua.eus/home-en

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Information centres

Centro de Interpretación del Parque Natural de Armañón (in Carranza)

The Armañón Nature Park’s Interpretation Centre, also known as the Park House (Parketxea, in Basque) is Located close to the Pozalagua cave, in former facilities of the Dolomites del Norte mining operation, the Armañón Natural Park Interpretation Center, the Dolomites museum and the tourist office can be found. There is also an auditorium in the Pozalagua quarry but it is the cave that is the main attraction of this protected area.

The official website for the Armañón Natural Park is here: https://turismo.euskadi.eus/es/espacios-naturales/parque-natural-armanon/aa30-12375/es/


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