Category Archives: Natural Parks in País Vasco

Gorbeia Natural Park

  • Region: País Vasco
  • Province: Álava and Viscaya
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1994
  • Park surface area: 20,016 hectares
  • Towns and villages: Areatza, Artea, Cigoitia, Urkabustaiz, Orozko, Zeanuri, Zeberio and Zuya

Points of interest

The largest protected area in País Vasco, Gorbeia Natural Park is formed around mount Gorbea and the altitude of this area gives it a typical mountain climate: the massif acts as a barrier that stops the humid winds that come from the bay of Biscay, which generates important differences between the north slope, more humid, and the south slope, more dry and sunny. Gorbeia has, consequently, an exceptional wealth of mountain ecosystems with a good state of conservation.

The limestone rock (formed by old coral reefs from the warm seas of 110 million years ago) eroded by water is mainly covered by beech woodland gives rise to a unique landscape, a labyrinthine of special beauty that changes with the seasons.

The Ojo de Atxular, the great central crevasse, the Axlaor sinkhole and the Supelegor cave stand out along with the 130 other cave systems such as the Urrikobasoko Lezandi chasm at 301 m. deep and the Otxabide Lezandi complex with around 14 km of galleries.

Close to the village of Gujuli, the river Jaundia cascades more than 100 metres over a spectacular limestone cliff where there is a viewpoint that provides an impressive vantage point to view the waterfall.

Culturally, the landscape around what is now the Gorbeia Natural Park has given rise to a high number of legends and mythology with characters such as the Basajaun (Basajaun or Baxajaun, the so-called “Basque Yeti”, is the Lord of the Forest or the “Wild Lord”. These are characters from Basque and Aragonese mythology of prodigious size and strength that the first settlers of those lands found living in the mountains and more remote forests. His wife is called Basandere (Lady of the Forest or “Wild Lady”).

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Flora

The Gorbeia Natural Park is home to some important deciduous forests, especially on the Alava slope (Altube area). and the tree species that occupies the largest area is beech mixed with various oaks. Also, areas of Cantabrian holm oak and strawberry trees reveal that centuries ago the climate was much more temperate. Alder, willow, ash and poplars form the riverside woodlands.

The excessive fellings that took place from the 18th century for use in the ironworks, shipbuilding and even the production of paper led the Vizcaya County Council to decree that the felled areas be repopulated, these repopulations were carried out with commercial species such as Monterey pine (Pinus radiata), Lawson’s cypress and Black pine (Pinus nigra).

Fauna

Due to the humid and shady climate this is the ideal environment for amphibians such as Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra), Iberian spiny toad (bufo spinosus) and the Iberian frog (Rana perezi)

Among the birds, those that have adapted to hunting in the forest, such as the goshawks and the long-eared owl stand out. Also, those that live in more open spaces such as the Eagle owl, peregrine falcon, black and red kite whilst on the river banks the dipper and kingfisher are present in good numbers.

Among the mammals look out for otter, stone marten, genet, red dee, roe deer, fox, deer and badger.

Short video of Gorbeia Natural Park

Information/Visitors Centers

There are several fully-equipped recreational areas and two visitor centres in the Gorbeia Natural Park. The Alava visitor centre is located in Sarria (Central de Baias), the Bizkaia visitor centre is found in the village of Areatza. Both centres are equipped with Interpretive panels, multimedia projections, maps and guides for the many walking routes in the area.

La Casa del Parque is located a kilometer and a half from the town of Sarria next to the recreation area and parking.

Centro de Interpretación del Parque Natural de Gorbeia (in the Gudarien plaza, Areatza). Take the N-240 road that connects Bilbao with Vitoria-Gasteiz until the Areatza exit, the centre is located in the town square, next to the town hall.

The official website for the Gorbeia Natural Park is here: https://gorbeiaparkea.eus/es/home


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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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Izki Natural Park

  • Region: Pais Vasco
  • Province: Alava
  • Declared a Natural Park 1998
  • Park surface area: 9,143 hectares
  • Towns and villages: Arraya-Maestu, Bernedo, Campezo, Antoñana, Apellániz, Arlucea, Atauri, Bujanda, Maestu, Marquínez, Quintana, San Román, Urarte, Urturi, Vírgala and Corres which is the only village inside the park limits.

Points of interest

Located 31 kms from Vitoria-Gasteiz, Izki Natural Park is a vast forest area surrounding the Izki river and flanked by mountains on either side. Standing at 1,176 m, Kapildui is the highest peak and the area is home to Europe’s largest Quercus pyrenaica woodland, covering around 3,500 hectares. There are also wide areas of beech, Portuguese oak, silver birch, English oak and holm oak populations.

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Top places to walk and visit

Ask about these walks in the tourist office.
  • San Román to Mount Muela
  • Antoñana to Soila through the forest
  • Bujanda to Corres
  • Marquinez to Mount Belabia and the visit to the artificial caves.
  • Apellaniz to Arluzea passing through the San Cristóbal and San Justi mountains

InformationVisitors Centers

Izki Natural Park Visitor Centre

The easy to find Izki Natural Park Visitor Centre is located in the small village of Corres which is the only village within the boundaries of the protected area. This is the place to head for for all the information regarding the network of footpaths in the area.

There is also a permanent exhibition about the variety of ecosystems (rivers, woods, wetlands and crags) and the fauna and flora present in the protected area.

Opening hours
  • Tuesday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.(1st of October to 31st of March).
  • Tuesday to Friday from 10:00 – 19:00 every day (1st of April to 30th of September)
  • Closed on Mondays

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Sierra de Aralar Natural Park

  • Region: País Vasco
  • Province: Guipuscoa
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1994
  • Park surface area: 10,596 hectares
  • Towns and villages: Abaltzisketa, Amezketa, Ataun, Zaldibia and Bedaio

Points of interest

The Sierra de Aralar Natural Park is known for its beech forests that were pollarded in the past and used to make charcoal. It is a place of true scenic beauty and there are some fantastic walks in the area such as the plateaux of Ataun, created by the peaks of Jentilbaratza, Aizkoate, Aizkorrandi, Arastortz, Agautz, Leizadi, Asundi, Loibideko Mailoak and Ikarandieta. Txindoki is the most widely known and visited peak in the range whilst Intzeko Torrea or the tower of Intza, also called “Irumugarrieta”, is the highest mountain in the protected area.

The varieties of birds include griffon vulture, egyptian vulture, golden eagle, bearded vulture, Alpine chough and the elusive black woodpecker. Mammals include european mink, roe deer, wild boar, Pyrenean desmans and the european snow vole.

Between May and November, livestock, especially latxa sheep which provide the milk for Idiazabal cheese, dairy cattle and herds of wild horses graze the area whilst durng the winter months livesock is kept closer to the small villages in the area.

The Sanctuary of San Miguel in Excelsis, built in 1098, is a Romanesque church located in the southern part of the range near the town of Uharte-Arakil and mount Altxueta. Records about the church date from the 11th century and it contributes to the history of Christianity in northern Spain. San Miguel is one of the oldest saints of the Basques.

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Information/Visitors Centers

Sierra de Aralar Natural Park Interpretation Centre (Parketxe Lizarrusti)

Close to the town of Ataun, this information centre is located at the mountain pass of Lizarrusti and from here you will find the start points for some of the most popular walking routes. the centre also covers information about the fauna, flora and geology of the area.

Museo Barandiaran

Located in the town of Ataun, here you can learn about the life and extensive work of the famous Basque priest, anthropologist and ethnologist, José Miguel de Barandiaran. Ataun, the town where Barandiaran was born and lived most of his life, has a unique natural environment that houses incalculable historical treasures and from his birth in 1889 until his death in 1991 at the age of 101, the famous researcher dedicated his life to carrying out excavations of numerous dolmens and caves, studying history and the magical folk legends of the area.

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


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