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The Roncal Valley

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Roncal Valley
Monument of the almadia
Roncal Valley - ski
Valle de Belagua
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Roncal Valley
The Roncal Valley, situated high in the Pyrenees, on the border between France and the Spanish province of Huesca, has a striking character forged on the basis of ancient traditions, delicious gastronomy and nature in its purest form. Seven unique villages of acclaimed beauty make up this valley, the main resources of which still continue to be forestry and livestock, complemented significantly in recent decades by tourism. Burgui, Vidángoz, Garde, Roncal, Urzainqui, Isaba and Uztárroz are the seven pearls of this valley.

The river Esca crosses the valley from north to south, washing the banks of its stony villages full of carefully-tended steep traditional houses, steeply sloping roofs and smoking chimneys. Its fast-flowing waters, which have created impressive natural spectacles such as the gorge at Burgui, were used for centuries by almadieros (rafters who used to carry goods as far as the river Ebro), to whom a tribute is paid every spring.

Woods, cross-country skiing tracks, unique traditions, such as the Tributo de las Tres Vacas(Homage of the Three Cows) or the Día de la Almadía (Day of the Raft), quality gastronomic products such as Roncal cheese or migas (shepherd's breadcrumbs), museums dedicated to famous figures such as the tenor Julián Gayarre, paths of varying difficulty such as the Camino de Zemeto, high mountain peaks such as the Mesa de los Tres Reyes (the highest in Navarre), prize-winning sculptures such as the Tomb of Julián Gayarre, village squares full of flowers, towering landscapes such as Larra in Belagua and fairy-tale like spots. It is a valley to be visited unhurriedly and with a camera… a valley to experience.

Everyone has its identity. In villages like Burgui or Isaba the echoes of 'swallows' and rafts can still be felt and heard. Swallows is the nickname given to young alpargateras from the Roncal valley that used to walk to the factory in Mauleon (France) every autumn, where they stayed until the spring. This phenomenon, and the black dress rounded off by a white taffeta, justify the nickname. Nowadays, their memory is recalled in the ethnographic museum of the valley in Isaba. Isaba is also the major town in the valley and a place chosen by many excursionists to explore the nearby Belagua valley.

The almadías (rafts) were no longer used from the mid-20th century onwards following the construction of the Yesa reservoir. However, every year in spring, Burgui pays tribute to this ancient trade in the Día de la Almadía, which has been declared a Festivity of National Tourism Interest. The descent of several rafts along the river ends with the spectacular 'dive' down the weir at Burgui, right next to its majestic mediaeval bridge. The Roncal valley has been able to conserve its historical memory zealously. Ancient trades are very much present in Burgui, which even has a signposted-route indicating many of them.

Near Burgui, Vidángoz is small, charming village, located off the main road. Every year, at the end of August, it commemorates the celebrated witches' akelarres (covens) in the festivity in honour of its patron saint. In former times, these characters were common to various towns in the valley and significant recorded documentation still exists on many other legends that have been passed down from father to son.

At the geographical centre of the valley sits the town of Roncal. It is worth visiting it to marvel at its treasures: stony streets in a Y-shaped layout around the river Esca that drop down steeply from the parish church, from where there is a splendid view of the town. Very close to the church is the museum and house of Julián Gayarre, where a number of objects related to the famous tenor are stored together with extensive documents on his life. By the road you will find the Wildlife Information Centre, which brings local flora and fauna to life through audiovisual displays. Outside the centre of the village, the town's cemetery is home to the Gayarre mausoleum.

Uztárroz seals the northern end of the valley; its precipitous streets lead to St. Engracia Church, which houses an organ considered to be the best Baroque example of its kind in Navarre. However, this place is mainly known for being home to the Museum of cheese and transhumance, a tribute to the life and work of shepherds and one of the most outstanding products of the valley, Roncal chees with Designation of Origin.

Common characteristics of the the Roncal include its traditions and its numerous opportunities for sports. On festive occasions, the people of the valley proudly wear their magnificent local costumer, for example every 13th July, when they celebrate the Tributo de las Tres Vacas (Homage of the Three Cows), fiesta that brings it together with the neighbouring Baretous Valley in France and dates from the 14th century. Every 13th July thousands of people gather round the Piedra de San Martín (St. Martin's Stone) to re-enact the centuries-old ritual, which takes place at an altitude of over 1,750 metres above sea level.

One of the most striking areas in the Roncal valley is the Belagua valley. It is the most important ecosystem in Roncal, with mountains ranging between 1,100 and 2,428 metres high. It is an enclave where nature and history blend together. Discover it by visiting the dolmen of Arrako, a funereal monument surrounded by a cromlech. It is also an area where sports lovers can carry out a wide range of activities: hill walking, cliff descent, cross-country skiing, climbing, potholing, etc. You can either do these activities on your own or through one of the specialist companies in the area.

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