Etxalar is a village of 850 inhabitants in the north of Navarre at the westernmost edges of the Pyrenees
, about 25 kilometres from the Bay of Biscay. It belongs to the administrative area of Cinco Villas (Five Towns) made up of Arantza, Igantzi, Lesaka, Etxalar and Bera
. These picturesque towns and villages have their historical designation as "villas" (townships) in common, and their character has been forged by their proximity to the French border and the existence of ironworks between the 16th and 19th centuries.The palomeras and the hunt
Etxalar is mainly famed for its palomeras; tall towers from which an ancient form of hunting is carried out that dates back to the 15th century, which tradition has managed to preserve despite the fact that this method is banned elsewhere on the Iberian Peninsula.
Between 1st October and 20th November, when the pigeons are flying southwards from France, the followers of this ancient form of hunting launch decoys, which imitate birds of prey, to make the pigeons descend so they can entrap them in nets. Hunters from both sides of the border take part in this activity, which reaches a peak on the third Sunday in October with the celebration of the 'Day of the palomeras (dove hunting posts)
The palomeras are positioned on the hillsides between the mountains of Larrun and Pena Plata, between Etxalar and the French town of Sara, and on the slopes of Mount Iarmendi.
To witness this traditional activity, or at least to see the palomeras standing in their magnificent surroundings of oak, beech and chestnut woods, you need to take the local road from Etxalar to France via the Lizarrieta pass. Eight kilometres along the road you reach the top and their positions in five minutes, from where there are some fantastic views.
During the hunting season there are guided tours every day, but it is essential to book in advance by calling 690 26 77 56.
If you come in November, the Gastronomic Game Week
offers the opportunity to enjoy some wonderful flavours in the local restaurants. You can sample, amongst other dishes, pigeon in sauce or with wild mushrooms and venison or wild boar stews at very reasonable prices.A stroll around the village
Etxalar has an interesting variety of civil architecture featuring houses built between the 16th and 17th centuries. These houses, generally large and constructed with ashlars, are adorned with wooden balconies. There is also the medieval tower of Gaztelu which was once the armoury of the Kingdom of Navarre.
As well as a leisurely stroll around Etxalar, you should be sure to visit the steles of the Church of the Assumption
. Around the church you can see the remains of an ancient cemetery with discoid steles
cut from stone from the sixteenth century. These stone funerary monuments are formed by a disc on a trapezoidal base which is set over the tomb to commemorate the dead.