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Bidasoa valley and surrounding area

Valleys

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Bidasoa
Bera de Bidasoa
Etxalar
Vídeo Regata del Bidasoa
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Bidasoa
The Regata del Bidasoa (river Bidasoa valley) includes the territory crossed by the salmon-rich river Bidasoa, which gives it its name and ends up in the nearby Bay of Biscay. At the southern end is the area of Malerreka, made up of the valleys of Santesteban and Basaburua Menor. Both zones are located in north-western Navarre, where the Navarrese Pyrenees are at their gentlest, where the mountains gradually lose height until they reach the sea. The evergreen slopes of these areas are covered with fern and scattered with traditional farmhouses where mysterious woods of beech, oak and chestnut are crossed by streams and brooks.

In addition to its memorable scenery, this is the part of Navarre where ancestral legends and customs survive, such as the centuries-old pigeon shooting at Etxalar or the curious Carnivals of Ituren and Zubieta. This is the Navarre of "the Tranquil Valleys". It is worth visiting all its villages, some of them home to illustrious families such as the Baroja in Bera. The rural architecture of this area blends perfectly into the natural surroundings. Stone and wood mould traditional houses with large balconies and eaves, mediaeval palaces and towers of noble families such as the Kasherna or Zabaleta from Lesaka.

The area's proximity to the Basque Coast leads to a gentle climate that is ideal for growing kiwis or palm trees. Basically, it is the perfect place for trekking, tranquillity and culture.

The Regata del Bidasoa is located right in the north of Navarre to the west of the Atlantic Pyrenees. The river Bidasoa runs through it from south to north. This trout and salmon river is short and fast-flowing. Its source is at Erratzu and as far as Oronoz-Mugaire it is called the river Baztan. As it flows northwards it picks up water from other rivers and streams, which are abundant in this area of the Pyrenees. After leaving Navarre, it forms the border between Guipúzcoa (on the Spanish side) and France for ten kilometres. It finally flows out into the Bay of Biscay between Fuenterrabia/Hondarribia and Hendaye.

In the river Bidasoa you can fish trout and salmon. Although the salmon season usually runs from mid-March until mid-July, it automatically ends with the capture of the 50th fish. Following the course of the river, a natural attraction is the Bidasoa Greenway, a route that follows an old railway line through the valley. It is flat and paved in some of the sections along the 27.7 kilometres that link Endarlaza and Doneztebe/Santesteban. The route goes through 8 lit tunnels and does not represent any difficulty for walkers and cyclists.

There are beautiful villages along the way, characterised by their large traditional farmhouses scattered in an intense green landscape of leafy pine, beech or chestnut woods. Picturesque villages combine nobility and tradition in their architecture, and they are worth a visit for the colour and appearance of their houses, usually with a gable roof and façades covered by carefully-tended balconies and large eaves.

We now in the area of Cinco Villas or Bortziriak: Bera, Lesaka, Igantzi, Etxalar and Arantza. Five villages with the historical status of 'villas' (towns) whose character has been marked by their proximity to frontiers and the existence of the first smithies.
Bera has interesting noble buildings such as Casa Itzea, owned by the Baroja family, where the writer and historian Julio Caro Baroja wrote a large part of his works. Lesaka stands out thanks to its beautiful collection of houses, farmhouses and the parish church of San Martín de Tours, a structure with Renaissance and Baroque features that dates from the 16th century.

Igantzi, the smallest of the five villages, jealously guards a precious treasure: the chapel of St John the Baptist, whose interior its a cave located in the Nature Reserve of San Juan Xar. Popular belief attributes curative powers to the water that issues from here. It is a reserve full of fresnos, oaks, tilos and hazelnut trees and is the only place on the Iberian Peninsula where the Carpe is born naturally.

Arantza is an ancient noble village, and then there is Etxalar. Remarkable for its carefully-preserver traditional houses, the steles in the atrium of the church of the Assumption, the most mysterious cemetery in Navarre, and for its palomeras (pigeon hunting posts), which attract crowds of enthusiasts to witness the passage of the pigeons across the mountains... or to hunt them.

Malerreka
To the south of the Bidasoa is the area known as Malerreka. This territory, bathed by the rivers Ezcurra and Ezpelura, is characterised by its oak and beech woods and several winding streams. The villages in Malerreka are: Beintza-Labaien, Doneztebe/Santesteban, Elgorriaga, Ituren, Zubieta, Urrotz, Oiz, Donamaría, Sunbilla, Ezkurra, Eratsun and Saldias.

Between Urrotz and Beintza-Labaien are the Leurtza reservoirs. They were built in 1920 and became a natural leisure area twenty years ago. A path around the lakes allows the visitor to get to know this beautiful mountain landscape, dotted with picnic areas and beech woods.

In Zubieta you can visit a mill that has been in operation for centuries. Now converted into an ecomuseum, it continues to make flour for everyday consumption in exchange for alaka (payment in kind). Close by is Donamaría with its imposing Jauregia granary tower, topped with an interesting wooden roof.

Gastronomy

The common trout and the very scarce salmon are two of the delicacies of this area. Meat, especially beef, is also highly appreciated here. We should not forget game such as boar, hare or pigeon; the last-named is the 'star' of the hunting season that takes place every year in Etxalar in October and November. Finally, another distinguishing feature of the area is its Idiazabal designation of origin cheese, which is strong, greasy and has a slightly spicy taste.

Fiestas y tradiciones
The people of these remote valleys have conserved their traditions, and celebrate the past in festivities as picturesque as the Carnivals of Ituren and Zubieta. The zantpantzar chase away evil spirits and bless and purify the land...

A good example of this love of ancestral customs is the pigeon hunting at Etxalar. It is a singular spectacle in which the art of trickery plays a major role. Guided visits are organised to the palomeras in the autumn. All the Saints' Day festivities in the area have music, culture, dance and rural sports, the last-named being the usual tasks of work in the fields converted into sports. As for traditional dances, the one along the balustrade of the river Onín in the festivity of San Fermín de Lesaka is quite spectacular.
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Location

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