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The Aralar Dolmen Routes

Megalithic monuments

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Dolmens - Etxarri-Aranaz
Dolmens - Etxarri-Aranaz

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Dolmens - Etxarri-Aranaz
Stepping back thousands of years in time is a possibility in the Sierra de Aralar, where you can find one of the most fascinating megalithic collections of the Iberian Peninsula. A halo of mystery surrounds the 44 dolmens and one menhir which are dotted over a landscape of spectacular drops, tracts of barren rock, soundless beech woods and gentle meadows where sheep graze. With their milk, the cheese with the Idiazábal Designation of Origin is made following ancestral techniques, in a region where tending pastures goes back to Neolithic times. There are various signposted itineraries to help you discover this prehistoric legacy; we propose three of them here.

Routes from the campsite at Etxarri-Aranatz

There are two paths of different lengths, signposted with wooden arrows and white and yellow markings, which run among oak and beech woods. Both of them leave from the campsite at Etxarri-Aranatz, a town in north-west Navarre at the foot of the Sierra de Aralar in the Sakana valley.

The longer trail, 15 kilometres, is recommended as a full-day excursion. It leaves from the campsite's car park and if you take the track on the right-hand side you will come to a crossroads at kilometre 1.8. Continue straight on. The first section features lovely settings of oak and beech woods and panoramic views of the Sierra de Andía. Continue up, and between kilometres 4.7 and 9 you will find seven of the ten dolmens that dot the route: Beitzeta, Iruiturrieta, Jentiltzulo, Benintxar, Irumugarrieta, Zalatamuno, Mintegitxuta and Txaradigorri. From this point, the route begins its return journey with a gentle descent.

On the Olano hill, at kilometre 9.6, you will see the ruins of a livestock pen. Continue ascending Mount Pagamendi through the beech woods and after leaving the track, go up a steep slope on the right until you reach the Pagamendi dolmen. Take a break to enjoy the magnificent views from this spot and the surrounding scenery. The last dolmen on the route, Maitzgatu, stands at kilometre 11.5. This section of the trail, between here and the car-park, is very pleasant, as it is a gentle zigzag running down through a leafy wood of American oaks.

If you would rather do a half-day excursion, opt for the shorter trail of 9.7 kilometres which includes two of the ten dolmens on the long route. From the campsite's car park, take the track which runs on the right-hand side and at the first crossroads turn to the right. The route goes up through a beautiful oak wood in an area dotted with zotolas (refuges for pig herds). At kilometre 3.7 you will come to a crossroads. Keep straight on, going over an iron bridge and heading for the track on the right. At kilometre 4.8, leave the track and head for the right, until you start ascending Mount Pagamendi. At this point, the route joins the longer one.

Route from Lekunberri to Aralar

At the heart of the Sierra de Aralar there is a very comprehensive route that enables you to see 10 dolmens while at the same time enjoying the rocky peaks and pasturelands that make up the landscape. To get to this route you need to take the road that goes to the Sanctuary of San Miguel from Lekunberri. At kilometre 9.7, take a track towards the north which leads you to the pasturelands of Aralar, where a route of around 12 kilometres begins which involves a certain amount of difficulty.

The first section of the route is the most difficult part, as the dolmens are very scattered and off the forest track. If you prefer to follow the signposted track, continue towards the west and you will come to a pool. Here you will find six of the ten dolmens on the route, all of which are at altitudes of over 1,100 metres. There are some really exceptional views from here. We recommend you go down along another forest track which leads to the Pagomari car park and, a few kilometres lower down, to the Aralar forestry house. The last dolmen on the route is located between these two points. This section of the route is particularly attractive as it enables you to get into the leafy beech woods that cover the area. Once you have reached the forestry house, you should continue along the road until you get back to the starting point.

If you would like to see a dolmen without making a long trek, take the road that goes to the Sanctuary of San Miguel of Aralar and stop at kilometre 12, at the Albi fields next to a car park. The Albi dolmen, one of the most well known dolmens on the Sierra, stands in the nearby pine wood. It comprises a burial mound of around 15 metres in diameter by one metre high, consisting of three slabs on the sides and a huge slab on top over the chamber. There are also tracks leading to dolmens on the outskirts of Madotz and Iribas and a route that leaves from the road linking Uharte-Arakil with the Sanctuary of Aralar.

Pasturelands

The Sakana valley is characterised by its shepherding traditions and so, after your walk, what better treat could there be to get your strength back than to sample its Designation of Origin cheese, Idiazábal, made from the milk of the latxa sheep, indigenous to the area.

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