Routes - Navarre   
   

ATLANTIC PYRENEES
I
n the Baztan valley, the magic that is typical of the North of Navarre crowns some fascinating scenery, villages full of simplicity and with an extraordinary gastronomy.
      

The richness of its always green extensive pasturelands are reflected in the cattle of this idyllic spot. The oaks and beeches predominate in the leafy woods. The mountains gradually drop in height as they approach the Bay of Biscay.
The Baztan Valley, where it frequently rains, is noted for the greenness of its scenery. You must cross the mountain pass of Belate, which is now much smoother thanks to the recently built tunnel, although there are still some bends and steep slopes.
    

Leave Pamplona along the Avenida Baja Navarra, with Burlada on your right take the N121A road towards France. At the following roundabout and the next crossroads, take the same direction again. You will pass close by Lanz, on the slopes of the Saioa hills, which is famous for its carnivals. On your right you will pass by the Venta de la Ulzama (inn), on your return journey you should try its home-made cuajada or junket.

Along the road you will come to the entrance to the Señorío de Bértiz, a magnicent spectacle of beautifully cared-for gardens and wild woods.

The scenery of the mountain pass, with many gullies and hills, is awesome, but the road is wide and you can stop at several points to admire the beauty of the view.

If you continue along the N121B, you will soon reach Elizondo, a beautiful town with wooden beamed houses sporting coats of arms, located on either side of the river and separated by various charming bridges. Some houses seem to come out of the river Baztan itself.

Now proceed up the mountain pass of Otsondo, and, on reaching the summit, you will have a spectacular view. Start the gentle 7km descent until you reach Urdax and its popular quarters of Dantxarinea. Here turn left along a narrow road until you reach the caves of Zugarramurdi, where stories of witches and Sabbaths still exist.

Returning to the main road, you can take the turning to Urdax and the Caves of Ikaburu, a paradise of stalactites and stalagmites. It is a wonderful excursion.

   

El Señorío de Bértiz
The Señorío de Bértiz occupies 2,000 hectares that can be enjoyed right down to the last centimetre: its spectacular botanical garden, the palace buildings and the wild woods surrounding this magnificent place make it a beautiful place of vital importance to Navarre.

Today it is a Nature Reserve, but in times of old it was the territory granted to the nobles of the valley in compensation for maintaining the neutrality of Navarre in the face of France and Castile.

Pedro Ciga y Mayo was the last owner. He acquired it in 1889 for 650,000 pesetas of that time in gold. This wealthy lawyer had a passion for nature and he managed to create a botanical garden with more than 120 species from all the different continents.

On his death in 1949, Pedro Ciga donated Bértiz to the Navarre Government with just one condition: they must preserve the estate without altering its characteristics.

   

Its carefully looked after gardens and arbours enable us to pass through many different countries, botanically speaking. There are more than 120 species, all carefully signed, for the visitor to see, all located in a dream-like area crossed with bridges, fountains, pergolas, paths and ponds. Some of these bushes and trees were brought by Pedro Ciga during his innumerable voyages. We would highlight an exotic Ginkgo with fan-shaped leaves, a palm tree from Java and a surprising jungle of bamboos.

If this weren’t enough, the Señorío has also a Nature Interpretation Centre located in the country house of Tenientetxea. A modernist style chapel completes the ensemble of the Señorío.

And there is still the hills. On foot, by bicycle or on horseback, you can take the path leading from the garden and become immersed in vegetation that overcomes you with its wild beauty. It is an impenetrable wood of beeches, oaks and chestnuts, crossed by an 11 kilometre path which terminates in the palace of Aitzkolegi, a real whim that Pedro Ciga gave his wife and which offers an impressive view. This wood is home to many different animal species, some in extinction. We would draw your attention to the 50 species of birds located at Bértiz. Enjoy yourself!

   

Elizondo 
The beautiful town of Elizondo is the capital of the Baztan Valley, and a commercial and administrative centre. The whole valley is just one municipality and the communal property can be used by any of the inhabitants. Elizondo, a place chosen to hold fairs and markets, is a lively place with constant activity.

The northern country houses of Elizondo stand on the banks of the river Baztán or Biadasoa. The houses are usually large, with double pitch roofs and large eaves to protect the beautiful wooden balconies. The doors, made up of an arch and entry, draw the passer bye’s attention.
You will be struck by the many country houses and palaces in Elizondo, particularly in the main street or Calle Mayor.

   

At one time the inhabitants of these lands had to emigrate to America. Others made themselves a life as noblemen at the Court of Madrid and obtained titles. Some of these noblemen and emigrants returned bringing their fortunes with them.

Amongst these noble houses, we would highlight the Baroque Palace of Arizkunenea. It was built in 1730 by Miguel of Arizkun, an important server of the Court of Felipe V. During the first Carlist war its illustrious guests were no other than the pretender to the throne in Spain, Carlos de Borbón, Zumalacárregui and General Espoz y Mina.
  
       

The Town Hall is of a framed construction, 18C Baroque style. In its interior it still preserves the old flag of the Valley, which according to the saying, waved in the battle of Navas de Tolosa in 1212.

Other famous constructions are the house of Istekonea, the palaces of Cabo de Armería Arozarena and the one of Arretxea, the house of Francesenea, the Palace of Datue, the House of the Viceroy and the Church of Santiago.

For those with a sweet tooth, you cannot go wrong. The Malcorra confectionery shop prepares delicious hazelnut chocolate. But that is just the start. In Elizondo, the rich land offers products of an extraordinary quality: the beef, lamb and pork are magnificent, the salmon trout is exquisite and you will take your hat of to the deserts such as junket, or cottage cheese. A typical dish is the Txuri-tabeltz, a stew prepared with lamb sweetbreads and which is very good.

   

Caves of Urdax or Ikaburu
Although the caves of Zugaramurdi are more famous due to their connection with witchcraft, those of Urdax are even more spectacular and beautiful.

Located almost on the border with France, Urdax is a pretty cattle village, and is on the Way of St James. This was how it originated. Since 1221 the town was under the powerful control of the monastery of San Salvador of Urdaz, a former pilgrim hospital until 1789. 

Of this monastery, burned and looted in the War of Convention and abandoned in 1839, we can see its impressive church. Other parts, such as the cloisters were later made into houses. The rest of the quarters are 16 and 17C.

  
On the road to Zugarramurdi, next to the country house of Matxingonea, you will find the caves of Ikaburu. Here, they say, the lamias lived, a being which was half woman and half fish. There are 350 metres of grotto, with various smaller cavities all with the sensation produced when you observe how the stalactites and stalagmites, grey in colour due to the limestone and polished by the magnesium, develop and die.

Incredible rooms fork off, retaining the sound of a little river, the Urtxuma. This cave has been fitted out for tourism with good lighting and stairs.

Moreover, Urdax has two prehistoric sites, the cave of Alkerdi and that of Berroberría.

You can also see the country house of Axular, which gave its name to Pedro de Aguerre, a great classic Basque writer. A legend relates that the devil gave him classes in black magic in exchange for his soul. But Pedro Axular changed his mind when the moment came to “pay” and fled. Satan pursued him, but could only catch his shadow. For this reason, Axular was known as the “man who lost his shadow”. There are many other legendary tales of sorcerers or itxikos, fruit of the villagers’ imagination, that fly over the scenery surrounding Urdax.

Moreover, at Urdazubi-Urdax, you can enjoy an excellent cuisine: tasty mushrooms, green beans, leeks, chicory as well as succulent beef, lamb and, once you get to the sweet course, home-made junket and cottage cheese made from goat’s milk.

   

Caves of Zugarramurdi 
Zurragamurdi began as a farm for the Monastery of San Salvador de Urdax. It is located in an area of Navarre with deep-rooted pre-Christian customs, a breeding ground for witch-craft, particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries. Historically, we should go back to the Auto-da-fé of 1610 in which 31 inhabitants of the Baztán valley, Urdax and Zugarramurdi were accused of witchcraft and taken to Logroño.

The Holy Inquisition charged them with participating in black masses and orgies, being in possession of the devil, committing acts of vampirism and black magic, giving curses and provoking storms. 

   
Some confessed and were saved. Thirteen died in the cruel prisons of that time and six were burned alive and a further five died at the stake before thirty thousand spectators.

The grottoes where these witches’ Sabbaths were supposedly held are located 400 metres from Zugaramurdi next to the Berroskoberro or Akelarre meadow. They are accessed by a cavity excavated by the channel of Hell or Infernuko erreka. The water goes 120 metres along the tunnel which reaches heights of 12 metres, interrupted by two galleries of l an even greater height. One is called Sorgin-leze, the witches’ cave.

So the story goes, those who wanted to meet Lucifer, went either on broomsticks or converted into animals. They gave themselves up in a ceremony to worship the devil, who presented himself in the form of a ram or human being. After a ritual, where they ate the dead, there were wild orgies.

Amongst so much magic and legends, probably many malicious neighbours took advantage of this to blame people from the village for any misfortunes. After being tortured, they would plead guilty. Probably these meetings would be no more than the desire to break the monotony of life and enjoy the forbidden, with nothing to do with devilish acts.

On the 18th August, during the village festivals in honour of the patron saint, there is a sumptuous feast in the so called Cueva Grande or big cave. Over a fire, roast mutton or ziriko-jatea is cooked on skewers. This is accompanied by a piperrada or cooked peppers and tomatoes, and soup. It is a traditional act that gathers together many of the inhabitants of the area as well as those from the neighbouring country.

   

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