Nature havens at arm’s reach
While Bilbao is the heart of Bizkaia, the nature parks and Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve are Bizkaia’s green lungs
Bizkaia’s nature reserves are the ideal destination to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and come into contact with nature. In Urdaibai, instead of hearing traffic noise, you will hear the sounds of songbirds. This beautiful area dominated by the sea, the mountains and the rivers can deliver pleasurable experiences for all five senses.
As to the nature parks, they are the real hosts of inland Bizkaia. Gorbeia, for instance, welcomes you with meadows and forests. Urkiola awaits you with legends, traditions and magic. And on the border with Cantabria, Armañón hides its beauty under the ground, in a maze of caves and caverns.
Nature at its best
Caves, mounts and valleys filled with magic
Many visitors coming to Bizkaia head directly to Bilbao, the capital city and major cultural, architectural, culinary and urban development hub. They tend to overlook the stunning beauty hidden inland, a unique region that takes loving care of our natural heritage.
Nothing in the world compares to Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. It is a natural sanctuary with such extraordinary places as San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Izaro Island, Mundaka’s mighty wave or the shrine of San Miguel de Ereñozar. Also, in Urdaibai you will get the chance to go surfing, kayaking or biking along the coast, as well as taking a stroll through the Painted Forest of Oma, created by the local artist Agustín Ibarrola, or traveling back in time to the Prehistoric Age in the Santimamiñe Cave, in the interior of Bizkaia.
Gorbeia offers a completely different landscape from coastal areas. It is a great place to understand rural lifestyle and lives of shepherds. Also, you will be able to see Latxa sheep – the sheep whose milk is used to make Idiazabal cheese, one of Bizkaia’s best-known foods. Do not miss the climb to the top of Mount Gorbeia, crowned by a legendary cross. The so-called roof of Bizkaia offers a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.
In Urkiola, tradition and myth come together, amidst mountains, rocks and valleys of outstanding beauty. The goddess Mari and other characters of Basque mythology live in the park, which is also a site of religious pilgrimage. Urkiola is home to one of the most relevant buildings for Christian worship in Euskadi: the Shrine of San Antonio Abad and San Antonio de Padua, aka Santuario de Urkiola.
Armañón Nature Park, on the border with Cantabria, is not as well-known as the other nature parks in Bizkaia. On the surface, its rock massif is impressive, but it is under the ground that its true wealth is to be found: 200 caves, like Pozalagua, open to be explored by curious visitors.
The nature reserves in Bizkaia feature a host of hiking trails and routes, of which we will mention only a few. Only in Urdaibai, there are 11 routes for hikers and bikers, either in the hinterland or by the sea.
You cannot miss the climb to the top of Mount Gorbeia (1482m), spanning Bizkaia and Álava, where its emblematic cross stands
The inland paths cut across green landscapes and are quite challenging. The most popular of them is the route to Mount Gorbeia, spanning Bizkaia and Álava, which leads to the summit (1482m above sea level) from Pagomakurre, in the village of Areatza.
In Armañón Nature Park, you can walk across Encinar de Sopeña, at the foot of the mountain. Once in the forest, you will feel the Mediterranean while still facing the Cantabrian Sea. The rocks provide shelter to the holm oaks, heaths and oaks in a mild microclimate.
Urkiola is a land of contrasts. The most popular routes lead to the top of the Saibigain and Urkiolamendi mountains, but you can also pay a visit to Toki Alai, the visitor centre in Abadiño to get information about all the trails and their characteristics.
How To Get There
Where to eat
In the villages that are part of Urdaibai, gastronomy is based on fresh-off-the-boat catches. In their bars and restaurants, you can order baby squid, cod, marmitako (Basque fish stew), sardines or anchovies cooked in different styles. Besides, you can try fried bell peppers from Gernika with a pinch of salt.
Far from the coast, seafood is not that common. Instead, in the interior you can order dishes made with garden produce – beans, leek, tomato – and meat – beef, pork or poultry. Typical dishes are alubias con todos los sacramentos (beans with bacon, black pudding and chorizo), steak, porrusalda (vegetable soup), and pisto (vegetable paste).