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Valley of the Higher Oria: Industrial greenery

From below everything looks green. The country houses, dotted along the fields, look like small white dots in a predominantly green landscape, full of pastures, with cows liying down on the grass, and leafy woodlands. However, if we lower our eyes towards the banks of the Oria river, the idyllic setting turns into a grey mass. The proximity of the N-1 road has led to enormous industrial growth throught the 20th century, and this has resulted in a lack of attention to the preservation of such a beautiful environment. The valley of the Higher Oria is a place of contrasts, and it reflects better than any other place the most traditional rural environment existing side by side with industry, only a few metres away.

To arrive at the valley from Donostia-San Sebastian we must take the N-1 road in the direction of Madrid, until we arrive at Tolosa. This town, famous for its beautiful beans, was for more than eleven years the capital of Gipuzkoa during the Carlist times. It is the most important town in the valley, the capital of the region, and the most important cultural and trade centre. Places to visit include Santa Maria's church, San Francisco Convent, Idiakez Palace, Diputacion Palace, the Provincial Historical Archive, or Euskal Herria square surrounded by an arcade.

The N-1 road takes us to Ordizia, passing through Alegia and Ikaztegieta. Ordizia is an industrial town which experienced a tremendous demographic boom. This is an old-established town, famous for its traditional weekly market, well known around the Basque Country. The Barreneche Palace, the Ibarbia House, the Town Hall and the Our Lady of the Assumption church, dating back from the 16th century, are a must for any visitor. Only a few metres away, and also due to the increase in the industry, is Beasain. Here we can contemplate monuments like the Assumption church, dating from the 16th century, with its rustic portico, or the Basilica of San Martín de Loinaz.

Before going up the Etxegarate mountain pass, we arrive at Idiazabal, after which Euskadi's best known cheese is named. From amongst its green fields rises the monument to the Basque Shepherd, near San Miguel church. The church has a beautiful Romanesque portico, of transition to Gothic, and an interesting baptismal font, or pre-romanesque origin. Going up the Etxegarate mountain pass can be a real adventure, in particular when there are a lot of trucks on the road, however the view as we rise delights our senses. Once we get to the top we must take the turnoff for Beunda. Without even noticing, we enter the old Way of St. James and continue to San Adrian natural tunnel, which in former times joined Alava's Plains and Gipuzkoa.

From here, and after going past Idiakez, we arrive at Zegama; the town where General Zumalakarregi died, the Carlist war hero. At the parish church of San Martin de Tours we can visit the general's mausoleum, sculpted in Carrara marble. A few kilometres away is the town of Segura, one of the most important monument centres along the Way of St. James in Gipuzkoa. In Calle Mayor, which still preserves its medieval design, it is worth noting the Ardizaharra, Txakarra and Balanzegi houses, and the Guevara ancestral home.

Continuing on our route we arrive at Zerain, a place that has managed to recover its cultural-historic heritage through a very interesting ethnographic museum, the mining preserve and the old sawmill, which have been recoverd as a cultural complement to the museum. A bit further on, and going up the mountain pass of Liernia, is Ormaiztegi, General Zumalakarregi's birthplace.
There one can visit the museum-house of this historical celebrity or a pretty railway bridge attributed to Gustave Eiffel, however other versions say that it was Olagibel who designed it. In any case, the bridge has undoubted artistic value. Also worth mentioning is St. Andrew's church, with its Romanesque facade and an interesting baptismal font.

The difference between the more rural Gipuzkoa and the more industrial Gipuzkoa becomes blurred in the area surrounding the Oria: the most important industrial urbanisation of the 20th century in this province combines with the most idyllic spots of Gipuzkoa's geography. Also, the recent processes to improve the quality of the rivers have made it possible for the fauna which disappeared in the middle of the 20th century to come back to its habitats and life has returned to the river-beds.

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