At 1482 metres, Gorbeia Peak rises among limestone peaks and canyons, framed by the green mountain of Anboto. This is one of the five Montes Bocineros (beacon mountains) in Bizkaia, on which they used to light bonfires and sound sirens to call Local Council Meetings. This magical spot between Alava and Bizkaia has impressive views, beech and oak forests containing prehistoric constructions, and a broad diversity of flora and fauna. This is a favourite spot of the more hardened Basque mountaineers, which is saying a lot.
This area of 19,400 hectares contains the peaks of Altzania, Aizkorri, Urkilla, Zaraia and Aitxuri, and is home to the headwaters of three of the most important rivers in Gipuzkoa: the Deba, the Urola and the Oria. An area of limestone rock, containing the Arantzazu Santuary with the simple yet beautiful Gothic sculpture of the Virgin of Arantzazu on a thorn-bush, and a cow bell which, according to the legend, was found by the shepherd Rodrigo de Balzategi in 1469, bringing heavy rain after a long drought. The megalithic site with nine monuments can also be found in this region: five dolmens (Aizkorritxo, Artzanburu, Gorostiaran Oeste, Kalparmuñobarrena and Pagobakoitza), three burial mounds (Gorostiaran Este, Malla and San Adrián) and the Zorrotzarri menhir, all at more than 1100 metres above sea level.
Here you can climb to the top of Mount Muela, from where you can admire the beech forests and the dense undergrowth dominated by box, forming thick bush-like masses due to the extreme weather conditions here. Or try to stretch your arms around the Santa Teodosia Ash, the Lime or the Antoñana Ash, all trees with a perimeter of more than five metres, conserved and cared for like the treasures they are. This park, representative of the Alavese mountains, is inhabited by some 775 middle spotted woodpeckers (Dendrocopos medius), a bird measuring 20 centimetres long with red plumage on its crown, making it easily recognisable.
The largest colony of griffon vultures in the Basque Country lives in Valderejo Natural Park. The rocky crags are the perfect habitat for nesting and this is why they fly across the skies in a wonderful show. Nowadays, this bird is living through happy times, no longer a threatened species thanks to environmental protection and recovery plans. Other birds found in the zone include the Egyptian vulture, the peregrine falcon, the Alpine swift and the rock thrush. It is magnificent area for bird lovers and animal lovers in general. The wildcat, the roe deer and the stone marten also live in this western region of Alava.
Armañón or Ranero Natural Park is located at the western end of Bizkaia, on the border with Cantabria, a mountainous massif with spectacular limestone relief. More than 200 caves and chasms, such as Torca del Carlista, one of the largest caverns in Europe at more than 400 metres long, 250 metres wide and 90 metres deep, are hidden away in this land of hills and mountains. Armañón peak (854 m) is the highest of the massif, which has other mountains including Ranero (737 m), Surbias (638 m) and Los Jorrios (837 m). Balgerri beech forest and the megalithic monuments in the Valley of Karrantza are impressive.
In the south-west corner of Bizkaia, the park is formed by the Aramotz-Eskubaratz mountain range, the Duranguesado Mountains and Aragio mountain range. Often visited by climbers, this mountainous landscape is also the land of birds of prey, martens, stone martens and stoats, among others. More than half of the forested land is covered in native beech, oak, Holm oak, birch and Pyrenean oak, offering stunning landscapes which change colour with the seasons. The wood from the coppiced beech trees of Aldazitala, close to Urkiola pass, provided a significant income to the charcoal burners until the mid 20th century, and today form a magical landscape with their long branches reaching to the heavens.
In the foothills of the Pyrenees, at the eastern end of Gipuzkoa, between the Bidasoa and Urumea rivers, rise the Peñas de Aia (Aiako Harria). Their characteristic silhouette, barely ten kilometres from the sea, dates back to the Primary or Palaeozoic Era and is the only granite massif in the Basque Country. The beauty of the place is impressive, and permission can be requested to camp here and experience the zone in the most natural way possible in the vicinity of the Arritxulo refuge. It is well worth sleeping there to wake up in such a beautiful spot. Coming down Peñas, you will find streams that form intricate canyons such as that of Aiztondo, with a spectacular waterfall with a drop of 100 metres, or Endara, surrounded by oak forests.
In pure harmony between the rural and urban environments, this Gipuzkoan park of 2860 hectares, has much to offer in terms of museums, nature, heritage and trekking. To find out about the park and decide what to do, it is best to visit the 18th century Iturraran farmhouse, also a visitor reception centre offering interactive educational workshops where both young and old will have fun discovering the area and its peculiarities. The spectacular fauna includes the Betizu cow, the Pottokak horse, the grey dormouse and, curiously, a pair of Egyptian vultures that come from Africa to nest here every year.
This used to be a mining town where iron was extracted from the bowels of the earth. Now, the ancient mines are reservoirs creating a green landscape that stretches across the Triano mountains, at the highest part of the district of Valle de Trápaga-Trapagarán along a windy, 7.5 km path leading to the town centre. It is best to go up in the cable car, which dates from 1926, and enjoy the views across the Abra de Bilbao as far as La Reineta. From there, you are only a kilometre away from La Arboleda, which has a hostel where you can stay the night and where you can do several different activities. This area, by the way, is the perfect place for a plate of bean stew to get your strength back.
The wine is culture and pure nature. The wine from Rioja Alavesa merges with its vineyards to form a colourful postcard that you can almost smell, and of course, drink. Herbal plants add colour to the fields, while the river Ebro flows gently past and birds fly across the sky. This is a special place waiting to be discovered by wine lovers, sip by sip. The fields of vines, cereals and olives are a sure promise of the best food and drink. There are few places where the fruits of nature exist in such perfect harmony with the inhabitants and their traditions. You can also visit the Laguardia Lagoons, a Protected Biotope in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa, close to the walled town of Laguardia. This complex of lagoons comprises four small unique wetlands. In summer, Carravalseca and Carralogroño lagoons turn into dry, flat depressions covered in a white salty crust formed by the evaporation of the water. A beautiful landscape reminiscent of the moon, well worth a visit.