There are countless plans to choose from in Enkarterri
Enkarterri gives you the chance to enjoy matchless landscapes, explore unique caves and walk along the history of Biscay
Located at the westernmost point of Biscay, the region of Enkarterri is full of surprises. Its valleys, surrounded by karstic mountain ranges, are covered with the types of forests that can usually be found in warmer latitudes. Under the surface, hundreds of caverns are hidden, astonishing underground labyrinths created by water erosion. The Pozalagua Cave, with its singular helictites, is the perfect example of the magnificence of the caves.
Some of the first towns in Biscay were set up in this region. Such is the case with Balmaseda and Lanestosa, towns whose medieval charm can still be felt in their streets, churches and monuments. Enkarterri was also home to the thriving foundries that, powered by the strength of the water and the heat of the fire, transformed the iron minerals from nearby mountains back in the day.
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Mythical mountains, enchanting towns and villages, a rich artistic heritage, dreamy cars, wild animals, or even dinosaurs are some of the features that make Enkarterri one of the most special places in Biscay.
The sanctuary of Our Lady of Buen Suceso, a place for pilgrimage and festivities, marks the entrance to Karrantza. There, Armañón Natural Park welcomes us with its imposing karstic scenery, where the unique combination of valleys and calcareous peaks creates an atypical microclimate that cannot be found anywhere else in this area. It is due to these unusual conditions that Mediterranean plant species have flourished in these lands. The holm-oak forest Encinar de Sopeña, at the foothills of Mount Armañón, is a clear example of this type of environment where eagles, vultures, or even some endangered species of bats patrol the skies.
Hidden under the ground, there are over 200 caverns and chasms. The most famous, Torca del Carlista, is thought to be the largest in Europe and its access is restricted to experienced speleologists. Despite not being as big as Torca del Carlista, Pozalagua Cave is the most iconic of all the caves, a truly masterpiece formed thanks to a constant infiltration of water through the cracks in its rocks during millions of years. Inside it, there is a 125-metre cavity covered with stalactites and stalagmites in the most astounding shapes, some of them as thick as giant columns. However, what makes this cave one of a kind – and the reason why it’s called ‘the underground cathedral’ – is the great concentration of helictites it has on its walls. These are rare formations that seem to defy gravity by twisting and growing upwards.
Wild animals also have their space in Karrantza. Karpin Abentura is a wildlife rescue centre where all the animals that cannot be taken back to their natural habitat are taken care of. Panthers, lynxes, bears, wolves, monkeys, kangaroos, or birds are some of the 55 species that can be seen in Karpin Abentura. Here they make every effort to raise awareness of how important it is to look after all kind of animals as well as to protect their environments. To complete the visit, nothing can beat a walk among life-size dinosaur replicas accompanied by palaeontology experts who can tell you everything there is to know about the most popular dinosaurs’ habits and behaviour.
Mount Kolitza, one of the five ‘montes bocineros’ from which the Juntas Generales (General Councils) were summoned in the past, towers over Balmaseda. This was the first town to be founded in Biscay in 1199 as a result of the emerging trade between the Castilian plateau and the northern territories. The town retains much of its medieval legacy in landmarks like the Puente de la Muza (also called the Old Bridge), built in the 13th century. As part of its rich architectural heritage we can distinguish buildings like the Gothic church of San Severino or the monumental ensemble of Santa Clara, together with Baroque palaces and the town hall (known as ‘la Mezquita’ – the mosque – because of its Mudejar style). Also located in Balmaseda, we can find Boinas La Encartada Museoa, a factory that had an essential role during the industrialization of the textile sector in the 20th century and has now been turned into an Industry and Basque Beret Museum.
Lanestosa is the smallest municipality in Biscay. Time seems to have stopped there. Gorgeous palaces and traditional country houses lie on both sides of the cobbled streets that run parallel to the Calera River. These streets have not changed much since the town was founded in the 13th century thanks to the strategic location for trade it occupied. The Puente Viejo (old bridge) and the Horno Calero (lime kiln) are two of its most interesting attractions.
Sopuerta has played an important part in the history of both Enkarterri and Biscay too, especially for being home to the Casa de Juntas de Abellaneda, the place where the representatives of all the surrounding municipalities used to hold their meetings. It is also the symbol of the freedoms that were enjoyed in the region, which were protected by their own charter. The building now accommodates the Museo de las Encartaciones, a museum that shows the evolution of Enkarterri and its life through the centuries.
Not far from there, in the town of Galdames, we can find the largest private Rolls-Royce collection in Europe. The incredible Torre Loizaga museum, a tower house that dates back to the 12th century, has all the models manufactured by the British maker between 1910 and 1998 on display. Automobiles from other renowned brands such as La Hispano-Suiza, Isotta Fraschini, Delaunay-Belleville, or Ford are also on exhibit together with sports cars manufactured by Ferrari, Lamborghini or Jaguar.
In Enkarterri, where the iron industry began hundreds of years ago, the mineral that was formerly mined from the Montes de Hierro has left an indelible imprint. The banks of the rivers were once filled with foundries that transformed the metal extracted from the nearby mountains. Built at the start of the 16th century in Muskiz, Ferrería de El Pobal shows us how the Barbadún River has been powering the machinery to mould iron into nails, tools, agricultural implements, or weapons for quite a long time.
Another example of the importance of the mining industry in Enkarterri is the Museo de la Minería del País Vasco. The museum houses an interesting and extensive collection of mining tools collected in the area and exhibits them didactically. It is situated just on top of one of the huge craters that were made in Abanto-Zierben, at the Concha II mine, a few kilometres away from the mining town of La Arboleda. The funicular of La Reineta can take you there if you are keen on exploring the former open-cast mines, now transformed into small lakes. In Ortuella, the Apold-Fleisner furnace that was used to enrich the minerals and the mining neighbourhood of La Orconera are equally witnesses to the mining past of the area.
The Vía Verde Montes de Hierro is a 42.5-km scenic route that follows the tracks of the trains that once transported the mineral from Traslaviña, in Artzentales. Mining remains, calciners and loading platforms will surprise you along the way until you get to the old ship loader in Kobaron, Muskiz.
There the path joins the Vía Verde de Itsaslur, a spectacular route that runs alongside the Cantabrian coastal cliffs, among the vestiges of the past mining industry, for about 2 kilometres. The trail ends at La Arena beach, where we can still see the foundations of the longest aerial tram in Europe. Located on the other side of the beach, near Zierbena’s charming fishing pier, is Punta Lucero, a vantage point with splendid views over the coast where the remains of the old fortifications that defended the entrance to the Nervión Estuary can still be found.
Follow the routes of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) that cross Enkarterri both alongside the coastline and across the mountains, enjoy a wine testing and savour the wide variety of fine txakolis produced in the area, try a kidney bean stew cooked in a putxera the way railwaymen used to do it in the 18th century, take pleasure in the natural beauty of Ordunte or Triano mountain ranges, reach the summits of Mount Ganekogorta or Mount Pagasarri departing from the town of Alonsotegi, marvel at the houses built in Gordexola or Güeñes by the migrants who returned from America or ‘indianos’, discover how people lived in the traditional country houses in Turtzioz or the Valle de Villaverde, travel back in time to the sixth century BC thanks to the Castro de Bolumburu and have a walk at the monumental ensemble of Bolumburu in Zalla, or just come and see The Passion Play in Balmaseda.
There’s always a good reason to visit Enkarterri.