Elizondo is the capital town of the Baztan Valley. It will surprise you with its many noble houses and palaces.
Its vernacular architecture is characterised by houses with white walls and red ashlar decoration, taken from the nearby quarries of Almandoz, pitched roofs, wooden balconies along the top floor and coats of arms with the shield of the valley. Elizondo is known for the many noble houses and palaces of its old neighbourhood, between the Jaime Urrutia and Braulio Iriarte streets. Most of these buildings once belonged to inhabitants of the town who emigrated to the Americas and, on their return, wanted to show that they had made a fortune.
The most distinguished building is the Baroque palace of Arizkunenea, although there are other interesting artistic monuments such as the Town Hall, the Datue Palace, the Ascoa Palace, the Viceroy House and the Church of St James.
With idyllic natural surroundings, Elizondo is full of life and bustle, making it the place chosen by the valley’s inhabitants to hold fairs and markets.
One of the oldest traditions is the Baztandarren Biltzarra, a festival with dances and colourful parades that brings people from all the towns and villages in the area. The food, agricultural, craft and cattle fair, , held on the Friday after Easter, is another event not to miss. In your visit to Elizondo, don’t forget to try its famous urrakin egina or hazelnut chocolate.
9 kms from the hotel is the Señorío de Bertiz Nature Reserve, the legacy of Pedro Ciga Mayo, a nature lover.
Why not spend a day in a peaceful wood, walking along its marked paths, meeting squirrels on your way, hearing the singing of blackbirds and the rattle of the woodpecker? Or wander in a beautiful botanical garden and discover such unique species as Chinese Gingkos, California redwoods, chestnut trees native to the Balkans and water lilies? Do you want to visit palaces surrounded by woods, see charcoal kilns and discover nature with all your senses?
You can do all this in the Señorío de Bertiz Nature Reserve, 2,040 hectares of luxuriant vegetation, including a botanical garden with 126 different species, an information centre about nature and with beautiful palaces.
Bertiz invites you to enjoy a day surrounded by nature at its best in this pleasant, green and quiet corner of the Navarrese Pyrenees.Photos courtesy of the Government of Navarre
Only 20 km. away is Zugarramurdi, a town where you can find a large rock cavity known as The Witches’ Caves.
In the Western Pyrenees, after passing Baztan and not far from the French border, is Zugarramurdi, the town of witches, where fantasy and reality merge and take your imagination back in time.
Its cave, which is very close to the town of Zugarramurdi, can be visited until nightfall. It has no stalactites or stalagmites, its walls have no cave paintings; however, it has a unique attraction: until the 17th century it was supposedly the site of akelarres, pagan meetings in which men and women (considered to be witches at the time) escaped from monotony by celebrating wild feasts, dances around bonfires and orgies by moonlight.
Once inside the cave, some stairs take you down to the main cavity, a spacious natural tunnel more than 100 metres long that runs along the Infernuko Erreka (“Stream of Hell”). The upper part houses the Sorgin Leze (witches’ cave) galleries.
Imagine how those feasts were, the dances around the bonfires and the rituals - whether real or perhaps imagined by an Inquisition that harshly punished the inhabitants of Zugarramurdi. For example, in 1610 it tried 31 locals –most of them women- who were accused of witchcraft and whose names are recorded on a panel at the cave’s entrance. Some of them survived after admitting their guilt and begging for mercy, but 13 of them died because they could not bear the torture they endured in prison in Logroño. The other six were burned alive in the main square in Logroño. 30,000 people witnessed the event.
Every 18th of August, the past is relived on the last day of the town’s festival. The traditional zikiro jate, a popular meal attended by 800 people, with roast lamb as the main dish, is also celebrated on this day. You can also take pleasant walks from here to the caves of Urdazubi-Urdax and Sara.
The caves of Sara are the result of the slow work of water, millennium after millennium… Everything started 100 million years ago. A warm sea covered what is now the Basque Country. Fifty million years later, the earth’s crust folded, forming the Pyrenees. The sediment from the seabed was pushed to the surface and became limestone. Despite its hardness, water wore away the limestone and, little by little, the stream dug into the mountain…
The most important of Sara’s natural cavities is the cave of Lezea. It opens into a large arcade that extends along hundreds of metres of galleries. The first level, the former bed of an underground river, was once home to terrible cave bears, while the upper galleries sheltered humans.Photos courtesy of the Government of Navarre
At present, the best known and most recommended access point from the French Way of St James is the one entering Navarre at Luzaide-Varcarlos, a place full of history and legends surrounded by a typically Pyrenean landscape. The town owes its Spanish name to Charlemagne, in memory of the Battle of Roncesvalles in which Roland, along with the most distinguished French noblemen, was defeated by the Basque people. The event inspired the 12th-century Song of Roland. After crossing the Ibañeta heights, we can discern in the mist the legendary Orreaga-Roncesvalles, one of the most important stopping points on the Spanish Way of St James. History tells us that it was always a travellers’ route. However, today it invites visitors to stop, to delight in the beauty of the surroundings and see the buildings related to the Way of St James, including its beautiful collegiate church, one of the best examples of French Gothic on the Spanish peninsula.
Just 30 km. away is the French border. Cross it and visit places like Bayonne and its fantastic cathedral; Saint-Jean-de-Luz with its historic centre; the beautiful Biarritz with its streets and squares full of history, its pleasant beach, historically chosen by the European aristocracy as a place to spend their holidays; Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, where three of the European Ways of St James meet. Welcome to the French Basque Country.
The Irati Forest is the second largest and best preserved beech-fir forest in Europe, an enormous green area of about 17,000 mostly unspoilt hectares. Located in the Western Pyrenees of Navarre, this is a natural treasury that includes the protected areas of Mendilatz, Tristuibartea and the Reserve of Lizardoia.
Sit in the middle of the forest, enjoy your private communion with nature, let yourself be caressed by a silence that is only broken by the sound of wild water running among beeches and firs. Admire the clear currents of the River Irati, whose water turns turquoise in the reservoir of Irabia; listen to the far-off sounds of animals and walk on the smooth blanket of grass that covers the Irati Forest. The smell of wood will surround you.
Home to many birds, such as the goldcrest, the chaffinch, robins, black woodpeckers, white-backed woodpeckers and to other species, such as foxes, wild boars, roe deer and other types of deer. You may come across some of them if you walk, slowly and silently, in the woods.Photos courtesy of the Government of Navarre