Guipuzcoa Natural Reserves
Aitzgorri is about to be declared a Natural Park. This Park contains the highest massif in the Basque Country and is called after the peak of the same name. This natural vantage point with peaks of over 1000 m is formed by the Aitzgorri, Elgea, Urkilla mountain ranges and the Altzaina mountains. Some of its most important natural features include its geology (the carbonated nature of its materials that have given rise to a wide range of different morphologies), the variety of its vegetation, etc.
To the east, the crests of the mountains fall vertically towards Zegama, bathed by the river Oria, and merge towards the west with the open fields of the Campas de Urbía, “the paradise of the Basque Country”, where a large number of dolmens scattered all over the valley bear witness to the presence of prehistoric man in this area. Nowadays, the Campas de Urbía are dotted with modest shepherds' huts.
Aitzgorri is the most visited summit in this mountain range and can be climbed from the Sanctuary of Arantzazu or from the village of Zalduendo in Alava. Nearby you will find the caves or "tunnel" and medieval roadway of San Adrián, used by pilgrims making their way along the Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James).
Aiako Harria Natural Park
The Aiako Harria Natural Park is located on the foothills of the Pyrenees, in the eastern part of the province of Guipúzcoa. It includes a Palaeozoic massif containing outcrops of the oldest materials in the Basque Country. Eruptions of volcanic rock metamorphosised the Palaeozoic materials on the surface and today, erosion has revealed the vivid granite mass of Aiako Harria. This singular arrangement of layers of different materials represents one of the geological marvels of the Basque Country.
Aiako Harria comprises a series of narrow, steep-sided valleys, ravines and waterfalls. In spite of the fact that some areas of the Park are covered by conifer plantations, there are also stretches of natural forest such as the mixed forest of oak and beech of Añarbe, the forest of Pendulate and Pyrenean oak of Endara and the beech wood of Oianleku. In addition to these woods and forests, the most singular types of vegetation due to their biological interest are the small areas of sphagnum or peat moss, which grow between silica rocks, and communities of plants in protected areas close to small streams.
The fauna found on the Park corresponds basically to the Euro Siberian type. There are 147 species of vertebrates, the most important of which are forest species such as roe deer and wild boar, Griffin vultures that form colonies high up on the crags and cliffs, and aquatic animals such as salmon.
Aralar Natural Park
The Aralar Natural Park is set in one of the most mountainous areas in the Basque Country. This Park, famous for its stunning landscapes, is located in the southeast of the province of Guipúzcoa, sharing a border with the neighbouring province of Navarre.
The centre of the massif is dominated by extensive pastures used for grazing large flocks of sheep of the "latxa" breed. Almost fifty shepherds farm in this area and live in huts scattered all over the mountainside where they attend to their flocks for much of the year (normally from the end of May to November). This sheep-breeding tradition goes back several thousands of years and the large numbers of megalithic monuments are elegant proof of this: dolmens, burial mounds, cromlechs and menhirs.
Inside the Park there are nature reserves of exceptional importance, such as t is a he beech woods of Akaitz, famous for the large number of yew trees, the Pardarri lapiaz and the hillsides and valleys of the northern face of Txindoki, with very singular species of flora and fauna, the crests of the "domo de Ataun", the Arritzaga valley and the glacial circus of Pardelutz of exceptional geological interest, large, leafy forests, etc.
The centre of the Park is formed by two estates, Pagoeta and Altzola, which belong to the Provincial Council of Guipúzcoa. Other features include the headwaters of the streams Manterola and Almizuri and the foothills of Mount Pagoeta.
This area, situated between the coast and the inland valleys, is characterised for its very rugged terrain, with dramatic fluctuations in height. The Park has two main types of vegetation: natural forests and scrubland. There are also extensive pastures high up in the mountains and around the farmhouses. The areas of reforestation are also important, especially those on the left bank of the Altzolaras erreka.
Due to the existence of a wide variety of different habitats on the Park, there are many different kinds of fauna. There are several species included in the Catalogue of Threatened Species of the Basque Country, such as the Egyptian vulture, the grey dormouse, the honey buzzard and the short-toed eagle.
For several years, the estate belonging to the Provincial Council has been operated like a Forestry Park in which a large number of nature conservation and environmental courses are given. There is a wide range of facilities, the most important of which is the Iturraran reception centre, the hostel and nature school, an apiary used for teaching purposes, an arboretum with more than 1300 species, several recreational areas and the old Agorregi ironworks.