The provinces of Bizkaia and Araba join at the tip of the nigh on 1,500-metre-tall Mount Gorbea. The mountain also separates the coast from the inland province and is an important mythological landmark and a popular recreational attraction thanks to its unusual karstic rock formation. It is traditional in the Basque Country to climb the Gorbea on New Year’s Eve and the Feast of St. Ignatius, but anytime is a good time to enjoy Gorbea Natural Park as long as you take the necessary precautions.
Mount Gorbea is closely connected to many towns in the south of Bizkaia, including Orozko, Zeanuri, Ubidea, Otxandiano Dima and Areatza (where the Gorbea Park interpretation centre is located). The surprisingly varied karst landscape features sheer rock faces, rolling pastures, beech and oak forests, as well as almost 500 listed caves.
The Itxina Massif, which is located in Gorbea Natural Park, covers an area of almost 500 hectares and represents a magnificent example of a karst system where rainwater has dissolved the calcium carbonate-rich limestone of the Itxina Massif, creating large cracks on the surface of the rock and a network of galleries below ground, the oldest of which have turned into large dry caverns.
The highest peak on the Itxina ridge is Lekanda (1,302 m) which is located on the eastern flank. The easiest way to visit the karst terrain is to access it from the north east, via the mythical “Atxular Eye”, a spectacular natural gateway in the rock which has been used by Basque shepherds and woodcutters since time immemorial. Exploring the area without a guide is not recommended and walkers should never do so under foggy conditions.
Otzarreta and Saldropo
Another major attraction on Mount Gorbea is the beech forest at Otzarreta, which is accessible by car from Zeanuri. A trail from the carpark at the Barazar mountain pass leads into an almost dreamlike forest where the trees have stood for centuries, witnessing ancient traditions and ways of life like the charcoal burners of old. The unique and picturesque burbling brook that flows through the forest attracts photographers from all over Europe throughout the year.
Nearby, at the bottom of the Atxuri mountain range, are the Saldropo wetlands. Although the entire area is covered in marshy fields and meadows, the official wetland only occupies three hectares. Visitors can learn about the area’s history, flora and fauna at the wetlands’ interpretation centre.
The most common route in Bizkaia for climbing Mount Gorbea starts in Areatza. Hikers will need transport to get to Pagomakurre where the wide path that leads up to the Arraba meadows starts. From there, it continues past the Gatzarrieta Rock and Egiriñao Church, and takes walkers over the hill at Aldaminoste where the steep climb up to the steel cross at the top of Mount Gorbea commences. The reward at the summit is a spectacular view.
Other exciting adventures, depending on the time of year, include horse-trekking, mountain-biking, pot-holing, and rock-climbing, among others. And what better way to spend a fun, interesting few hours than visiting a cheese, honey, junket or other local producer? Or why not stop for a bite to eat in Areatza, Orozko, Zeanuri, Ubidea, Otxandiano or Dima? The towns are quaint and the people are friendly.