Last days of 2012, after a few months of hard work and no little stress, I imagined a Christmas break in a remote corner. I had in mind mountain, cold and a good fire place to share talks and drinks with friends (and play Risk game too!). I had long wanted to visit the Pyrinees of Navarre, as along with the Basque Country, were the only areas of the mountain range I still had to visit.
We stayed in a lovely borda in Etxalar, an old sheperd’s house typical from the Pyrinees. According with its mission, these houses normally are set in areas quite far from the population centers. Wooden floors and ceilings, stone walls and a carefully selected decoration made the house an special and welcoming place. As I said, these “bordas” served as a refuge for the sheperds, to protect livestock or storing products such as hay. Usually consisted on two floors: the ground floor for the animals and the second floor for utensils and agricultural products. With the growing interest in rural tourism, many of these bordas have been transformed into cozy hotels or rural houses. I leave the link to the house were we stayed: http://www.iguzkiagerreko.com/virtual.html
The day we arrived, in the afternoon, we left all our belongings in the house and after checking the comfort of the dining room we went to the town to dinner. Extalar was a typical village of the Pyrinees of Navarre, clean and neat, where it couldn’t be missed its old church in the middle of it. From what I had read in a tourism guide, Extalar is one of the most well preserved towns in the Bidasoa Valley, also known for its discoid stelas surrounding its church. Strolling through the streets was really nice, as besides its typical architecture, the village is nestled among forests full of fog, and next to a river whose sound accompanies us as we walk around.
The second day, we decided to visit a place famous for its legends of magic and witchcraft, a remote site where still today its difficult to access: Zugarramurdi. Some of the last comdemned for witchcraft in Spain were from here: it was a terrible trial settled in Logroño from 10th June 1608 to 8th november 1610. The episode took place in a setting that provided several elements to give the imagination free rein. One of the elements that made special Zugarramurdi was his great underground cave called Devil’s Cathedral, crossed by a river called Infernuko Erreka or “Race of Hell”. Maria, a young from the village, began to tell their neighbors that she had attended some extraordinary covens (akelarres) in Zugarramurdi. Emigrant for a few years in the French town of Ciboure, there she had witnessed a witch hunt conducted by the inquisitor Pierre de Lancre. Perhaps this fact helped her imagination. Her story became more complicated when she started giving names of other atendees to the covens, something that had serious consequences for the villagers. According to the official website of the Zugarramurdi Witches Museum:
“As a result of the intervention of the inquisitors 53 people in the region were prosecuted and brought to Logroño. Most of them died in prison or in the road. The 7th November 1610 was held the “Auto de Fe”, and as a result, 21 arrested were charged with misdemeanors, 21 were pardoned and 11 were comdemned to the stake”.
Señorío de Bertiz Natural Park
The day after visiting Zugarramurdi, December 31, we had scheduled a tour in the Señorío de Bertiz Natural Park. The truth is that it was a great way to spend the last morning of the year, specially thanks to our guide Juan Goñi. While touring the Park, he explained with great passion a multitude of things about the forest and its inhabitants, told in a way that allowed us to see with new eyes the trees and all the nature around. I strongly recommend this tour! I leave the link with all the contact details:
It’s winter, the trees are completely bare, but each season has its why. Anyway, I was eager to see the coppiced beechs of the woods of Bertiz in all its glory. It is said that then Bertiz resembles a fairy-tale-forest, where all kind of magical characters live. We didn’t see Basajaun neither, the Lord of the Forest in the Basque mythology, a huge being with human form and long flowing manes, wise and protective. Maybe another year…