The Valley of Lana is located n western central Navarre 72 kilometres from Pamplona. Its isolated location and cold winters have earned it the nickname of Russian Navarre
. It is one of the most hidden and unknown valleys in the region, a place where time seems to have stood still. Overlooked by the limestone crests of the Lokiz
range of hills, the valley is made up of five hamlets around their churches: Viloria, Narcué, Ulibarri, Galbarra and Gastiain. An excellent way of discovering Lana is taking a walk starting at any of the five hamlets.
At the entry to the valley is the main settlement, Galbarra. From there, you can reachUlibarri, a village with a special charm with its carefully preserved stone houses and an old washing place. However, Viloria is undoubtedly the best known of the five. It was chosen as the setting for the film Tasio by Montxo Armendáriz, a story about the hard lives of the charcoal burners who used to spend several months a year up in the hills. It was not by chance that the filmmaker chose this place, because the ancient trade continues to this day in that charcoal is still produced in the valley using the traditional method. To celebrate it, every summer "las eras" (flat land) outside Viloria are filled with the smoke of charcoal piles.
Although they were a common sight in the Pyrenean valleys y and the Urbasa-Andía natural park until the mid-20th century, the valley of Lana is the last place where the craft is still practised. The method has remained the same for centuries. It starts with the collection of the wood and ends with the sale of the fuel. The charcoal that used to supply blacksmith's workshops is now mainly used in restaurant grills and barbecues. Another difference is that the charcoal piles are now erected in the villages and not on high ground, so the huts of the carboneros are now empty, and their occupants have a more varied diet than before. As they say "we used to eat beans for breakfast, lunch and supper".
The secret involved in getting good charcoal is in letting the wood 'cook'. If it burns the only thing left is ash. The best wood is holm oak. To build a carbonera, first the trunks are placed in a circle of earth, with the thickest trunks in the centre and the thinner ones above, leaving a gap in the centre to be lined with straw, leaves or earth. Burning embers are then placed inside so that the wood can be consumed. The bigger the diameter of the pile, the longer it takes to 'cook' the wood. The colour of the smoke and the burnt earth indicate the best time to take the charcoal out. It is then left to cool for a few days and the pile is later taken apart and the trunks - turned into charcoal - are removed. It is an incomparable spectacle that makes the valley of Lana a unique and different place.