Located to the west of Bilbao, Enkarterri is one of the most extensive regions in Bizkaia and is home to the Cadagua and Carranza Valleys. While the former is an industrial and mining area of medium-sized towns, the Carranza Valley, which borders Burgos, Cantabria and Alava, conserves a magnificent, unspoilt landscape of meadows, woods, and mountain hamlets.
There are few places where nature reaches the splendour of Enkarterri. In addition to numerous forest and mountain hiking trails, the area boasts over two hundred underground caves. The Pozalagua Caves contain the world’s largest concentration of eccentric stalactites, millimetre-thick formations which grow in a seemingly whimsical way, twisting around each other and challenging the laws of gravity. Australia is the only other place in the world where a similarly impressive example of this phenomenon can be seen.
The Pozalagua Caves are located in the heart of Armañón Natural Park, among the karstic massifs that characterize the landscape of the Enkarterri region and include the iconic Zalama, Ganekogorta and Kolitza mountain peaks. The caves, grottoes and caverns of the area are known by potholers all over the world.
The quaint town of Lanestosa is located the westernmost tip of the region, in a wet, wooded plain that stretches as far as the mountain ridge that separates the region from Spain’s Inner Plateau. The layout of the old town follows the stream and trails that lead down from the ridge. It seems as if time has stood still in this town of cobbled streets and houses with windowed galleries, a medieval bridge and ancient limestone furnaces.
Much nearer to Bilbao, visitors will find a range of attractions including the world’s largest private collection of Rolls-Royce which is on display in a magnificently restored old tower; the last surviving 15th-century iron forge, which still in operation; and scores of mansions built by successful emigrants who realized their dreams of returning home to build an estate with the fortunes they amassed in the Americas.
Make sure to find out about the Montes de Hierro Greenway. The longest trail in Bizkaia, it follows a stretch of the old railway line once used for transporting iron ore to the shipping port of Itsaslur. It continues along the cliffs overlooking the Cantabrian Sea and offers unbeatable views of the over one-kilometre-long La Arena Beach between Muskiz and Zierbena.
From the coast to the mountains, from the Cadagua Valley to the confluence of the Carranza and Asón Rivers, and from the bottom of the deepest karstic chasm to the highest peak, the Enkarterri region is a treasure trove of surprises.
Balmaseda, the town with the bridge
When Don Lope Sánchez de Mena, Lord of Bortedo, granted Balmaseda the city charter in 1199, he was honouring a crossroads between Santander, Burgos and Alava which had been popular with merchants and traders since ancient times.
Built in the 13th century, the delightful ‘Puente Viejo’ or ‘Puente de la Muza’ bridge over the Cadagua River was an obligatory crossing on the old road to Castile and is the undisputed symbol of Balmaseda today. On the far side of the bridge is San Lorenzo, the town’s former Jewish quarter.
The Santa Clara Monument Complex, occupied by a community of sisters until 1985, currently houses the San Roque Hotel. Attached to the convent, the Church of Santa Clara houses the Interpretation Centre of the Balmaseda Easter Procession, one of the biggest events in the town the most popular procession in the area.
Further along on the left stands the Horcasitas Palace. Built in the 17th century, the building was used as the town’s Royal Customs House until it closed in 1841. The late fourteenth-century Gothic Church of San Severino is located in the square at the end of the street.
The La Encartada Beret Museum is situated on the riverbank at the edge of the town. The museum occupies an old txapela or beret factory which went into operation in 1892, manufacturing traditional Basque berets for a hundred years.