Routes - Navarre   
   

RONCESVALLES - IRATI
T
his gives you a chance to go along part of the Way of St James, although in the opposite direction. The Way of St James in Spain starts from this fascinating set of monuments. It is a route immersed in the beauty of the leafy green scenery and the hospitality of the lovely villages along the way.
    

Leave Pamplona through Burlada and, at the crossroads at Villava (the birthplace of Miguel Indurain, the cycling champion), take the N135 road to France. 

Go through Huarte and continue towards France and Zubiri, a welcoming place with a medieval Gothic bridge offering a beautiful view.
Take the N138 road and, 7 kilometres along it, you will come to Eugui.

   

It is a very small village made up of scattered but large country houses located next to the Eugui reservoir. This began to collect water for the Pamplona area in 1971. Bathing is not permitted as the water is for human consumption. This artificial lake assiduously reflects the village of Eugui and the Quinto Real hills, 5.900 incredible hectares of beeches, maples, holly, boxwood, wild boars, foxes, deer... At the beginning of autumn, you can hear the bellowing of the male deer.

Return to the N135 to pass the simple mountain pass of Erro (801 m) and Mezquíriz (922m). You will cross through Burguete, a town on the Way of St James that maintains a pilgrim street-path and impressive country houses with their coats of arms. You will then reach Orreaga-Roncesvalles, a vital European enclave for several centuries and an incredible place with a tremendous historic significance for Navarre.

Once more, go back along the route and take the NA140 road. You will pass through Garralda and reach Aribe. At this point, take the turning to Orbaiceta and continue along it until you reach the beautiful Arms Factory located there, set amidst the impressive scenery of the Irati Forest. It is surprising to visit an arms factory. When you see it, you will understand why it is a magical place.

Return to Aribe and take the turning to Villanueva de Aézkoa, in a 925 metre high valley  where you will find its famous granaries, and the church of San Salvador.

A final word of warning: take care with the roads in winter, snow and ice are frequent.

   

Orreaga/Roncesvalles
In Roncesvalles, at the start of the Way of St James, you can feel the history and the legends that abound in this mythical place.

It was a vital European enclave during the Middle Ages. Thousands of Pilgrims came from all corners. The Song of Roland, the oldest epic poem in France (11C) went near and far relating the history of the legendary hero who lost his life in that spot during the battle in which Charlemagne was defeated by the Basques of Navarre in 778.

In 1127 a hospital was built on the summit of Ibañeta, but the snow and the cold caused it to be moved five years later to Roncesvalles. The collegiate church soon began to receive the favours of noblemen, pilgrims and European monarchs, and those of Sancho VII the Strong in particular.

The Royal Collegiate Church, 13C French rural Gothic Style, with five magnificent stained glass windows, is composed of three naves, with no transept, some 17C cloisters and a beautiful chapter house, also the chapel of San Agustín or Preciosa, where the remains of King Sancho VII the Strong and his queen are to be found. This mausoleum is the actual size of the king. It’s no joke. A study of his femur has proved what the chronicles of the time had stated: he was 2.25 metres tall.

The Collegiate Church has also a beautiful 14C image of Our Lady of Roncesvalles, completely plated in silver except for the face and hands. The expression of her wide eyes contemplating the Child, is surprising.

In the oldest building, the Chapel of Sancti Spirtus or Silo of Charlemagne (12C), the pilgrims who died at Roncesvalles are buried and, according to the saying, the twelve peers of France who died in the battle of Roncesvalles. According to the legend, it was constructed on the stone on which Roldán sunk his sword, Durandal, after the defeat.

The museum preserves items of enamel, silver work, sculpture and painting and, in particular, the painting of the Sacred Family of Luis de Morales, a Flemish triptych and the Gospel of Roncesvalles, and Charlemagne’s chessboard.

Roncesvalles is completed with the Chapel of St James (Santiago) and the Pilgrims’ Cross which has been on the road leaving Roncesvalles since the 16C.

   

Factory at Orbaiceta
There is no doubt that this is a special enclave. The Arms Factory at Orbaiceta has not been operating for over a century now and nature has conquered much of the building. Bushes and leafy vegetation merge into the iron and stone structure, the building’s arches, with scenery that is more in accord with a nature reserve than one of industrial activity. There is something unreal about this place, the strange beauty and silence of some of its corners make them awesome.

It was named the Royal Arms Factory. It is located in an area rich in deposits of copper, mercury, iron, silver, zinc and lead.

There was formerly a medieval ironworks here. We must go back to 1784 when king Charles III of Spain bought this ironworks. By that time the mineral resources had been exhausted, and the material was brought from the mines of Vizcaya.

    
This factory constructed artillery bombs and iron ingots. Due to its production and the closeness to the border, it was subject to numerous attacks, plundering and fires until it finally ceased to operate in 1873. It was then abandoned for many years until some restoration work brought to light part of what it once was.

You cannot often visit an example of industrial and commercial architecture of that period and the Factory at Orbaiceta can tell us a lot about what life was like during its period of activity. You can observe the workers’ houses around the square and part of the arms manufacturing process: the workshops, the deposits, the foundry ovens.. the heart of the factory.

Moreover, there is the canal built to harness the power of the Legarza river, a conduit which still preserves its solid walls and the remains of some surprising vaults.

From this factory there are excursions to visit the dolmens and Roman remains of Urkulo and the nearby mountains, Ortzanzurieta and Mendilaz.

   

The Irati Forest
The Irati Forest has always been linked to the world of legends. It is not surprising. In this beautiful spot, where the silence shares its space with indecipherable sounds, it is easy to imagine you can see the mythical Basajaun, a tall being with long hair, leaning on a stick. If you should find him on your path, you should neither run away nor anger him. If you do as he tells you, he will be your harmless guide.

The Irati Forest is the greatest forest in Navarre and has the second largest concentration of beeches in Europe. It is located in a depression furrowed by the river Irati and its tributaries, with a wooded area of 12,400 hectares.

Of these, 6,250 are on the Irati hill and 1,800 on the Cuestión hill. It is mainly made up of beeches and firs, autochthonous species. In autumn it is fascinating to observe the unlikely colours created by Nature itself.


For a long time the Irati Forest was not touched. However, in the 13C it was the subject of bitter disputes between France and Spain. The wars meant that its wood was desired to build the fleets of ships and its fir trees provided the best masts. In 1856, the Treaty of Limits conceded the territory to Spain and also during that century the government was granted the right to cut trees gratuitously for the Armada. During the 20C it was exploited even more.

But, even after all this, there is still a small parcel of virgin woods in the Hill Monte La Cuestión. 20 hectares of unchanged wood called the Reserve of Lizardoya or the Parque. The firs reach heights of 40 meters and the trunks are over a meter in diameter. Leafy tree tops occasionally block out the sky. A real delight.

To the north, the Irabia reservoir is of extraordinary beauty. You can go on foot or by bike around the 9 kilometres of this reservoir. Also in Irati there are magnificent oak woods, such as those of Tristuibartea and Aritztoki.

Without going off the forest track, you can feel the life in the forest: flinches, robins, wild boars, foxes. If you are silent, you may even discover roes and deers.
   

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