Aiako Harria: nature in all its glory
If you are a nature lover and enjoy hiking, you are in luck. Gipuzkoa is one of the greenest Basque provinces, and one place you cannot miss on your visit is the Aiako Harria Natural Park. Every year, more than 17,500 people visit the park and are overawed by the impressive landscape.
Aiako Harria Natural Park
The Aiako Harria Natural Park is divided into three zones: the oak and beech woods that surround the famous Añarbe reservoir, the characteristic rocks that form the peaks, and the Aitzondo and Endara streams. The geological landforms are some of the oldest in the Basque Country, and the woods are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna that delight hikers in the area.
The Aiako Harria Natural Park covers almost 7,000 hectares and boasts 3 peaks of over 800 metres: Irumugarrieta, Txurrumurru and Erroilbide. All three are granite peaks formed by some of the most ancient elements to be found in the country. The area has a spectacular natural beauty which makes it ideal for hiking. Between Mount Urdaburu and the banks of the Añarbe reservoir, you will find leafy, almost jungle-like, woods that are prime for exploring and enjoying nature in all its splendour. You will discover many rugged gorges and steep cliffs typical of the landscape in the Aiako Harria Natural Park.
If you love animals, keep an eye out for European mink and the semi-aquatic, mole-like desman close to the streams. The rivers are teeming with salmon. If you are very lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of a peregrine falcon or a griffon vulture.
The most popular way to get to the peaks of Aiako Harria is on foot on the Pikogarate Bidea trail, from Irún to Oiartzun, although cycling the route is becoming increasingly popular.
The history of Aiako Harria
300 million years ago, in the Paleozoic Era, a mass of magma formed underground. Over time, this mass turned to granite, and after several tectonic movements and other external erosion prosesses caused by the wind and water, the current massif of Aiako Harria was formed. All throughout the area we can find minerals such as goethite and siderite, both of which are essential for iron production.
Arditurri: mining tradition
Visiting the old mining complex of Arditurri in the Aiako Harria Natural Park is a unique experience. You’ll travel back in time to see how the miners used to work in the old days. It’s a great day out for all the family. There are also guided tours available to provide more details about the conditions in the mine and how people lived in the local area.
But there’s even more to see than that. The park also boasts many cromlechs, like those of Oianleku, burial mounds and dolmens which stem from a long-forgotten past. There are many networks of galleries and ancient tunnels.
In the 1960s, an open-cast mine was created to extract the minerals from the Santa Bárbara and Otsamentegi seam. Large piles of waste stone gradually built up around it, forming a singular landscape.
The best way to learn about the story of the Aiako Harria Natural Park is by visiting the Parketxe Interpretation Centre, in Arditurri. The centre provides a wealth of information about the flora and fauna in the area, as well as the quality of the deposits.
Where to eat in Aiako Harria
You’ll want to charge your batteries mid-trek, so head to one of the restaurants in Aiako Harria Natural Park for some wholesome Basque cooking. A favourite restaurante is Pikoketa. Aesthetically it resembles a typical roadside restaurant, and it serves flavourful no-nonsense homemade food. It is situated deep in the natural park, so it’s a great point to stop for a break. Order the famous bean casserole. You’ll eat like a king without having to dig deep. The friendly service, the beautiful natural surroundings and the clean, fresh air on the terrace make eating at this restaurant an amazing experience.
A night in the woods
The park is popular with hikers, and many decide to take a few days to explore it. The natural environment is of great ecological value and all five senses come into play as you explore the park’s majestic landscape.
To fully disconnect from the hustle and bustle, why not stay for a night or two in the Oiartzun municipal hostal, where you will meet other mountaineers and enjoy the peace and quiet of the woods. If you prefer a little more luxury, book a room at the Eizaguirre country house in the foothills of Aiako Harria.
If you are looking for a short break or longer holiday surrounded by nature, a visit to the natural park and peaks of Aiako Harria is a must. They are gradually becoming a major pull for tourists in search of pure mountain air and healthy exercise. You will have the chance to learn about a little-known side of Gipuzkoa – its awe-inspiring mountains. They are too enchanting to miss.