Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Park
Aizkorri-Aratz lends its name to a long mountain range, running east to west, which features the highest mountains in the Basque Country such as Aitzuri (1,550 meters) and others that form an extremely eye-catching massif and a reference point for Basque mountaineering.
This mountain chain separates the Cantabrian and Mediterranean slopes, and produces a natural border between the historical territories of Álava and Gipuzkoa. The Natural Park covers some 16,000 hectares of this strip divided between the two provinces.
From a geological and scenic perspective the two areas are clearly distinct: the steep, rocky limestone ridges, with lowland pastures in some of the valleys such as Urbia; and a series of sandy hillocks and hills heavy with vegetation, making the rock barely visible.
In the first instance we have the high ridges of Aloña-Aitzkorri-Aratz, an extremely important landmark on the landscape. To get a true feel of it, just travel along the N-1 via the Plains of Álava and Etxegarate or head for the Valley of Oñati in Gipuzkoa.
In the second case, the long, gentle crest of Urkilla-Elgea, visible in its entirety from the roads on the Plains of Álava.
Lovers of hiking and mountaineering have a wealth of routes and paths from which to choose. The village of Araia in Álava is the starting point for climbing to the summit of Aratz (1,443 meters), while the trails that lead to the pastures of Urbia, its refuge and hermitage start at the Sanctuary of Arantzazu in Gipuzkoa.
Most of the substrate in the area consists of Urgonian limestone, the erosion of which has created spectacular Karst phenomena: ridges, sinkholes, chasms, channels and ravines, etc.. Notable among these are the basin of La Lece, the tunnel of San Adrián, the depression of Urbia, and the Arantzazu ravine.
At Elguea-Urkilla the substrate changes and outcrops of sandstones and clays occur, resulting in an undulating landscape of rounded slopes.
Furthermore, there are numerous outdoor sites, dolmens, tombs and monoliths, to which can be added an interesting array of historical-architectural heritage, represented by a good number of hermitages, hamlets, etc.
The Natural Park boasts magnificent and extensive examples of native forests: beech trees, oak groves of sessile oaks (Quercus petraea), etc. The tree population drastically diminishes towards the highest parts of the mountains giving way to grasslands where the latxa sheep graze .
The countryside of the northern slope features the typical mosaic landscape associated with the Basque hamlet, where meadows, vegetable gardens and orchards alternate with small groves of Monterey pine. On certain slopes the conifer plantations have become remarkably extensive.
On the rocky limestone outcrops grow some unique flora, endemic to the high Cantabrian-Pyrenean mountains. Other habitats of great botanical interest are the developing peat bogs linked to sandy substrates, such as in Arbarrain (Altzaina).
The Aizkorri-Aratz Park House (Parketxea), in the village of Araia, informs visitors about routes, places of interest, educational programmes, guided tours for groups and activities, and it also offers three spaces for promoting environmental awareness about this protected space and the environment:
- Natural Park Interpretive Exhibition: model of the Park, information about the fauna, flora, culture, ethnography …
- Area dedicated to renewable energies (Araia mini hydroelectric power station).
House of Mitxarro: Guided by our friend the Grey Dormouse and through the use of interactive and audiovisual games, to learn more about the municipality of Asparrena, as well as the biology of this rodent.
- The mountain routes are not suitable for people with mobility problems.
More information at the website and at the Aizkorri-Aratz Park House, in Araia (Asparrena).
Entry to the park is free, however, the Park House has its own opening times and calendar.
The Park House/Parketxea is located in the village of Araia, which can be reached by car via the A-1 (exit 385 Araia/San Román), or regular bus and train service to the town of Albéniz, which is about 3 kilometres from Araia..