Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve occupies a surface area of 230 km², 10% of the territory of Bizkaia. It is formed by the Urdaibai estuary at the mouth of the river Oka, which flows through towns of great beauty such as Gernika. It is worth having a look from above. For example the Mount Oiz viewpoint, at 1036 m high, is ideal for getting an idea of its beauty and size. Or from San Miguel de Ereñozar or San Pedro de Atxarre, both spots said to offer the best views of the reserve. Or, for lovers of out-of-this-world experiences, try the Vizcaya Balcony (Mendata), on the side of Mount Oiz, under Astogana peak. A figure of the Virgin protects the brave as this spot is said to be a former witches' coven (akelarre). The witches certainly had good taste and excellent views.
Legends apart, without a doubt, Urdaibai has a huge ecological wealth making it a unique spot. Also known as the Mundaka or Gernika estuary, it is the most important wetland in Euskadi, and a delight for bird-lovers. In fact, it has been a Special Protection Area for Birds since 1994. More than 200 species pass through the area during their migration, some rarely seen in the rest of the Peninsula, such as the Brent Goose, the whooper swan, the long-tailed duck or the eider duck. The most important colony of sea birds nests on the Isle of Izaro, the largest island on the Basque Coast. The island is not freely accessible but there are boats which run trips to discover the island and go whale watching, another of the impressive activities in the zone.
Urdaibai also has twelve very different beaches to suit all tastes, from the long sandy beaches of Laida or Laga to the small cove beaches of Antzoras or Lapatza, tucked away into the cliffs. Mundaka beach is the most famous, known internationally as a surfers' beach, where the mythical left-hand barrel wave attracts a great number of surfers from all over the world, giving it a lively atmosphere. Near Urdaibai, we also have San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and the town of Gernika, with its symbolic oak tree and the Casa de Juntas de Gernika (General Assembly House), both well worth a visit. Also worth the a trip is a visit to the Gaztelugatxe Protected Biotope, which covers the stretch of Bizkaia coast between Bakio to the west and Cape Matxitxako, where you can find communities of resident species such as the storm petrel, the smallest sea bird in Europe.
Right in the heart of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, the Urdaibai Bird Center is dedicated to scientific research and dissemination of information on birds, their migratory habits and habitats. From the observatories on the wetlands, visitors can observe the researchers working on their projects. The centre is run by the Aranzadi Science Association, and facilities include rooms with audiovisual modules (the Euskalmet meteorology dissemination room and the scientific dissemination module), three viewpoints, a conference hall and reception zone, where visitors will find the map that places Urdaibai on the East Atlantic Route.
Want a tip? Visit Santimamiñe cave, the most important prehistoric site in Bizkaia, the Roman town of Forua and of course the Forest of Oma, a work of art by the Basque painter and sculptor Agustín Ibarrola, in which the painted pine trees change shape depending on the angle at which you look at them. Yet again you will feel as though you have walked into a fairy tale.