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The Sakana valley

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P.N Urbasa-Andía
P.N Urbasa-Andía
Bakaiku
Sakana
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P.N Urbasa-Andía
This valley is located in north-west Navarre in Temperate Navarre. Between the Aralar mountain range and the Urbasa-Andía Natural Park, the Sakana valley covers approximately 306 square kilometres. The river Arakil runs through it and it is surrounded by spectacular mountains full of beech and oak forests such as Beriain-San Donato or La Trinidad. The territory covers three historical areas: La Burunda, Aranatz and the Arakil valley. Its major towns and villages include Altsasu/Alsasua, Etxarri-Aranatz, Uharte-Arakil, Irurtzun, Bakaiku, Arbizu and Olazti/Olazagutía.

In any of these places - with centuries of traditions, history and art behind them - you will find the traditional houses of the area with their ashlar stones on view in the corners and windows, and coats of arms on their façades. Many of them are an excellent place to stop, enjoy a good meal, buy traditional products from the area in weekly markets or enjoy trekking and mountaineering in spectacular scenery.

Unforgettable landscapes, charming farmhouses, beautiful Romanesque churches such as Santiago Itxasperri at Egiarreta with its strong belfry, good cuisine, traditions that have become festivities, and many services. That is how the essence of Sakana can be summarised. It is a corridor that runs parallel to the A-10 highway from Irurtzun to Vitoria and is protected on the north side by the Aralar mountain range and on the south by the Urbasa-Andía Natural Park. Both offer a wide range of excursions for mountaineering and trekking enthusiasts.

The Sierra de Aralar is a large karst massif with two access routes, one from Lekunberri and the other from Uharte-Arakil. If you take the second you arrive at the Romanesque monastery of Zamarce, a 12th-century historical-artistic monument and a fine example of rural Romanesque architecture. A cemented track starts here towards the left, leading - along a 17-kilometre-long path - to the Sanctuary of San Miguel de Aralar. The small church contains treasures such as a Baroque image of San Miguel (St Michael) and 12th-century Romanesque altarpiece that is considered one of the best examples of enamelwork of its type in Europe.

Following the Arakil valley we reach Etxarri-Aranatz, home to the Route of the Dolmens. There are two circular routes through oak and beech forests and along cool streams. The difference between them lies in the distance and the number of dolmens you can visit. The longer (over 15 km) includes 10 of these prehistoric monuments, with the other (9.7 km) just having two.

TheUrbasa-Andía Natural Park combines meadows and leafy beech woods. The landscape is karst and there are several chasms and crevices, sources of turquoise-blue water and viewpoints over fantastic scenery. The land recalls the lives of people who lived here over the centuries: hunters, shepherds, lumbermen and charcoal burners. It is worth starting the visit in the Park Interpretation Centre to get information about its flora and fauna and its numerous paths.

One of the most popular excursions in the park is the ascent of Monte Beriain (1,493 metres above sea level), also known as San Donato for the chapel on its summit. Its imposing profile can be made out from far away. The mountain recalls a gigantic ship that has run aground and has the highest peak in the sierra de Andía. Although it can be climbed by several routes, the most used one starts at Unanu. The street of the church in this village leads to a forest track that takes you up to the south-west face of the mountain. You need to be quite fit because there are some steep slopes to be climbed. (Approximate time needed: 3 hours 30 minutes).

Gastronomy
Do not forget to try the most typical traditional products of the area. Its sheep's cheese is protected by the 'Idiazabal' designation of origin, shared by Navarre and Guipúzcoa. Txistorra, a sausage meat made from pork, can be roasted or fried, and Sakana produces the best txistorras in the country. The selection of gastronomic products is completed by other delights such as succulent meats or refreshing cider.

Festivities and traditions
In Altsasu/Alsasua the main festivity is in honour of Santa Águeda and is characterised by youthful exuberance and music and dances such as the zortziko. Then there is the carnival, with the momotxorros - characteristic figures that seem to come from a prehistoric ritual - or the livestock fair in October, among other things. Another well-known festivity in the valley is the Artzai Eguna [Day of the Shepherd] at Uharte-Arakil, which includes the Sheepdog Championship of Navarre and a competition to choose the best cheese.

We should make a special mention of one of the most outstanding features of the culture and idiosincrasy of the area: euskera (the Basque language). It has been transmitted down through the generations and has official status along with Spanish in this area.
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