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malagacar

Las Encartaciones: An "encartado" corner, holder of a chart

Located in the westernmost part of Bizkaia, and disguised under the name of Las Encartaciones, this region is still very much unknown to people and it zealously keeps its landscapes nearly intact. It misterious name with feudal reminiscences has its origin in a "fuero" charter containing privileges and a code of law for the region establishing the annexation of the region to the Dominion of Bizkaia. This circumstance made the inhabitants of the area "encartados", or holders of the charter, keepers of treasures like engravings, prehistoric tumbs, stalactite and stalagmite formations, prairies and cliffs inhabited by eagles and vultures.

The course of the Kadagua river, which is followed by the BI-636 road, is the best way to access Las Encartaciones from Bilbao. At the junction with the road to Sodupe, take the turnoff to Gordexola, where the Oxirando tower and San Juan de Molinar church stand out.

The road to Zalla climbs up the Height of Berbikez and then takes us to Aranguren. At this point, the best thing to do is follow the road to Bilbao for a few kilometres to Güeñes, a town with beautiful monuments like the gothic church of Santa Maria and the Saratxaga palace.

From Güeñes, continue towards Zalla and Otxaran, and take the turnoff to Avellaneda, where a visit can be made to Las Encartaciones Hall of Meetings, the old meeting centre for the representatives of the "encartado" valleys and councils. The building houses a small museum, which includes the
room of arms and the place where the magistrate used to administer justice. The old prison is another interesting place to visit, where old dramatic stories can be evoked.

To retrace one's steps is not a waste of time in this case, as it will allow us to return to Otxaran, and from there, take the BI-630 road to enter Balmaseda, the heart of Las Encartaciones. In this active town through which the Kadagua river flows, there are some buildings worth noticing, like the gothic church of San Severino, in the main square, or the Town Hall. However what is doubtless the best-known architectural landmark in Balmaseda is the Old Bridge. This emblematic bridge, which joins the two banks of the river, is built in the gothic style and dates back to the 13th century. It has a magnificent main arch, flanked by another two smaller arches.

Through the same road we have travelled on so far, in the direction of Carranza, we take the exit for the valley of Arcentales, and from there, to the valley of Trucios. In Villaverde de Trucios we take the turnoff to Trucios-Turtzioz, to visit this corner of Las Encartaciones. From Villaverde de Trucios we go up over the Mountain pass of Escrita, a unique opportunity to enjoy the exceptional panoramic views of the Carranza Valley.

Carranza hides a dream spot: the Pozalagua caves. Access is from the road which goes from Ambasaguas to Gibaja, taking the turnoff for Santecillo and Ranero. The grotto is 225 metres long and is in an advance state of karstification, but what is particularly impressive is the eccentric stalactites, the most peculiar in Europe. In the main gallery, called Versalles Room, we can contemplate a surreal show with a concentration of hanging rows. However the oneiric emphasis takes place in the central part, where we can see the bottom of a currently dry lake.
Reality greets the visitors again when they take to the road and return to Otxaran to take the road to Avellaneda, past the Valley of Sopuerta. After going through Mercadillo and Las Ribas, we will take the BI-2701 road to Somorrostro and Muskiz, where it is worth having a look at Muñatones Tower-Castle, currently being restored. Through the neighbourhood of Pobeña we can access La Arena beach and the small port of Zierbena.

The large industrial port at Santurtzi and its traditional fishing port are a must for the visitor. A short walk will take us to Portugalete, a town with a strong personality due to the well-known Bizkaia Bridge, the first hanging bridge ever built in the world, which is over a century old.

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