Urkiola, the place where goddess Mari lives
Urkiola Nature Park: Rough mountains and valleys, beautiful landscape, and Basque mythology.
Urkiola Nature Park is a natural area of mountains, rocks and valleys on the border between Álava and Bizkaia. Spanning 5768 hectares, it includes two mountain ranges – the Durangalde Mountains and the Aramotz-Eskubaratz Sierra –, plus all the ingredients for a perfect recipe for nature lovers.
The mecca of mountaineers in Bizkaia is also in this nature park: Mount Anboto (1330m). It is in the northern slopes where goddess Mari lives, protecting our environment and administering justice.
In the heart of the park you will find a chapel dedicated to St Anthony of Padua and St Anthony the Abbot – a pilgrimage site drawing crowds all year round. Urkiola is a protected natural area, where myth and nature come together for an unforgettable experience.
Hinterland of Bizkaia
Mountain traditions not far from the city
Nature is at its best in Urkiola. As you climb your way up, the leafy forests give way to the meadows and their grazing animals. At the summit, the trees are replaced by rocks, which creates a landscape with powerful contrasts.
What makes Urkiola unique is the geography itself: a perfect blend of mountains, rocks and valleys. The rugged terrain is home to 137 animal species and 700 different plants and trees.
The park’s main meeting point is the Shrine of San Antonio Abad and San Antonio de Padua, aka Santuario de Urkiola. It is visited by hundreds of pilgrims every year. If you are single and walk three times around the giant rock in front of the chapel, you will meet your significant other soon. You can leave your car at the nearby car park.
Hiking and climbing are the two most popular outdoor activities in Urkiola. There are trails for all ages. Best known are those with starting points in Saibigain and Urkiolagirre, but you can also try others, like Atxarte-Asuntze, Atxarte-Txakurzulo-Atxarte or Astitxi-Alluitz. Footpaths are divided into Gran Recorrido (GR, long distance), Pequeño Recorrido (PR, short distance) or Senderos Locales (SL, local trails), for all kinds of hikes.
The vertical slopes in Atxa, Urresti and Alluitz are the most popular among mountaineers. Legend has it that when Mount Anboto is wrapped in clouds, goddess Mari is back home, in the caves of Bolinkoba and Baltzola, or by the Jentilzubi Bridge.
For a hike in full contact with nature, try climbing Mount Urkiolagirre (1008m) –a three-hour walk affording stunning views of Urkiola’s forests, mounts and grasslands.
When you reach the summit, take your time to soak up the splendour of nature in Urkiola Nature Park and its wonderful landscape
The hike begins at the chapel. Get to the fence and set off on your way up, amidst silver birches and meadows commanding breathtaking views of the park and the majestic summit of Mount Alluitz. You will reach the top in about 30 minutes.
Take your time at the top. Breathe in some fresh air and enjoy the show of nature around you. Then walk down Asuntze Hill, where you will spot the trail leading to the chapel of Santa Bárbara de Larrano (15 minutes’ walk). The chapel affords great views of the Atxondo Valley and the towering peak of Alluitz.
Back from Asuntze, drink some of the icy water from the Pol-Pol fountain. Follow the path around the southern slopes of Mount Urkiolagirre to get back to the starting point.
How to get there
Urkiola Nature Park can be accessed from three local roads. Driving is probably the best way of coming here, as you can stay as long as you want.
Take Bizkaibus line A-3923 (Bilbao-Durango-Elorrio). Get off in Durango. Then you can take the private bus from Durango to Vitoria. It stops at Alto de Urkiola.
Best way of coming to Urkiola. Take motorway A-8, exit for Durango. Then, road BI-623 leads to the nature park.
Where to eat
There is a restaurant next to the Santuario de Urkiola chapel serving pintxos and meals. It can get crowded, though. You can always make your way down to Durango, where you will find a wide array of bars and restaurants.
In addition to seafood, in Urkiola you can try some hearty inland dishes, like porrusalda (vegetable soup) or alubias con todos los sacramentos (bean and chorizo stew). They are perfect to keep you warm in winter. Most vegetable dishes are made with local produce.
Where to sleep
There are no accommodation facilities within the nature park. If you want to spend the night in the area, find a hostel, a hotel or a lodge in Durango, Otxandio or other nearby villages.
Make your booking in advance. Urkiola is very popular with tourists, so the area can get crowded at some times of year.