In north-west Navarre lies the Pyrenean valley of Aezkoa
, which contains the villages of Garaioa, Aribe, Garralda, Aria, Hiriberri/Villanueva de Aezkoa, Orbara and Orbaitzeta, Abaurrea Alta and Abaurrea Baja; they will captivate you with their scenary and architecture. Its singular relief, overlooked by a sinuous mesh of gullies and mountains, means that four of the ten highest villages in Navarre are located here: Abaurregaina/Abaurrea Alta
, at 1,035 metres above sea level is the highest of them all. You can get some fabuluous views of the Pirineos
from this natural viewpoint.
Another essential place to see the area from the heights is the Viewpoint of Ariztokia
. Two kilometres down the road from Aribe to Oroz-Betelu, this spot offers a fantastic panoramic view over the deep valley cut out by the river Irati below the dense Robledal (oak wood) of Betelu, one of the most interesting Sessile oak (Quercus petraea) woods in Europe. In addition to the viewpoints, the valley has severeal attractions to enjoy such as the Irati forest, the route of the hórreos (granaries), the munitions factory or the garden of the steles
, among others.The Selva de Irati
Among the main attractions of the Aezkoa valley is the Selva de Irati, one of the biggest beech-spruce forests in Europe
. It covers 17,000 hectares to the north of the Aezkoa and Salazar valleys, and has been much appreciated over the years for its beauty and its timber resources. It is the habitat of many bird species such as listed goldcrests and more common chaffinches, robins, etc; also other species such as foxes, boar and roe deer. The deer can be heard in autumn, during the mating season.
There are three protected areas
within the Selva de Irati: the Nature Reserves of Mendilatz and Tristuibartea and the Integral Nature Reserve of Lizardoia. The last-named is the area of greatest environmental interest because it conserves large tracts of virgin forest (beech and spruce) and is also home to a range of animal species.
At the north-westerly boundary of the forest stands the Roman tower of Urkulu
, built in the 1st century to commemorate the incorporation of Gaul and Hispania into the Roman Empire. Nearby is the megalith complex of Azpegi
At the north-eastern end of the Selva de Irati stands Mount Ori
, the westernmost "two-thousand-metre peak" in the Pyrenees.
A whole range of sports can be enjoyed here, for example trekking, ice climbing, gorge descents, and Nordic skiing. Thematic routes are also available to get to know the Pyrenean woods and valleys. The Tourist Offices in the area have comprehensive information on these activities. The munitions factory at Orbaitzeta
From the village of Orbaitzeta a road leads up to the Irabia reservoir in the Selva de Irati. Turning left off the road, you reach the ruins of the old weapons factory that was built in the 18th century
to supply the artillery of Carlos III (VI of Navarre). Its location is due to nearby iron ore and lead deposits and an abundant supply of water and wood. The factory was plundered and set on fire several times, and finally closed in 1873. Walk through the ruins and enjoy the surroundings and the image of the river running under a stone arch.
The Irabia reservoir
, built in 1921, is hidden in the heart of the forest and is a large lake surrounded by trees. A path runs round the reservoirs as far as the Casas de Irati, to the west of the lake. The route of the hórreos
Of the 22 hórreos (outdoor granary stores) that are conserved in Navarre, 15 are located in this valley and are declared to be an Asset of Cultural Interest
. They have a gable roof without eaves and are rectangular in shape. The walls are of masonry and are built on pyramidal or conical stone pillars rounded off with circular slabs. These rural structures were used to store grain. There are interesting examples of these constructions in Orbaitzeta, Aribe, Aria, Hiriberri/Villanueva de Aezcoa and Garaioa. Aribe also has a beautiful mediaeval bridge over the river Irati.Gastronomy and traditions
Do not leave Aezkoa without trying its rich and varied cuisine
. Beef, boar or trout, dairy-based desserts, among which are sheep's cheese and abia (cranberry) jam.
If your visit coincides with the month of May, get to know the romerías
(popular pilgrimages) that leave the villages in the valley every weekend to venerate the Virgin Mary of Orreaga/Roncesvalles.