The Baztan valley is a stunning region in northern Spain with rolling hills, lush pastures, livestock and quaint villages. It’s an area we’ve driven through before but we didn’t stop to explore so this time I planned some hikes. We’re in the midst of a cold snap, it’s unseasonably cold for April but the good news is we now have three days of dry weather and sunshine. The snow we received a couple days ago is still covering the landscape and anywhere above 500m elevation is still coated in a layer of white powder.
We were surprised such a big road with truck drivers passed through this region. It seemed a shame to have it so close but luckily it was easy for us to pull off and be transported into the countryside. Our first stop was the village of Berroeta which was postcard perfect. The houses in this region are all a typical basque style. They’re humongous detached farmhouses with wooden frames and balconies and there are strict rules that any new builds are designed in the same manner. The houses are all painted white but they have a key feature which is pink granite blocks (hewn from the quarries in the valley) used to outline the windows, doors and edges of the house. Colourful shutters and overflowing flower boxes give each house a different look. They’re 3-4 stories high with the downstairs having huge wooden entrance door and the highest floor being built in the eves of the house. Traditionally the livestock would sleep downstairs but nowadays most people seem to use the downstairs as a garage.
Apparently most of the buildings were built in the 17th and 18th century when an influx of families returned with pockets full of money from America. It’s similar to what happened in the other northern regions of Spain that we’ve visited, where they had the ‘Casa Indiana’s’ with colourful mansions.
They speak Basque in the baztan valley and I read that they take their culture and traditions very seriously. It’s an area that’s seen very little immigration and all of the inhabitants are either past smugglers or descendants of smugglers. The basque language is mostly spoken so deals are sealed with a handshake instead of written confirmation. The ‘Euskaldun Hitza’ (the basque word) forms a binding contract and I even read that when a dad asked his daughter what would happen if she didn’t keep her ‘Euskaldun Hitza’ she replied “it would mean that I was Spanish”.
Compared to many of the towns and villages in Spain that look like ghosts towns in winter, these villages were all lived in year round so we were excited to have a look around. Our walk led us through the village of Berroeta and up a country lane to form a 4.5km loop through the rolling hills. I really love the look of lush green pastures with a backdrop of snowy peaks, especially if there are animals roaming the land, but we couldn’t help but laugh because this freak weather had turned all my pastures white. On the plus side we were seeing this area at a really unique and beautiful time so I was still very happy and I’m sure more will melt over the next couple of days.
We passed a couple of swings which were handmade with a branch and some rope. They were located in the most beautiful spots with a view of the snowy mountains and clouds drifting by. One swing had a bit of a jiggle to it, when I say ‘a bit’ I mean it literally swung us in zigzags and I was in hysterics watching Craig frantically swinging as if ghostly spirits where tugging at the swing.
Further up the track was a group of miniature ponies which I was very excited about. They were tiny, probably smaller than Shetland ponies with stumpy little legs and whacky hairstyles. I think they’re used to maintain the land and keep the grass at a good length. They’re all owned but they roam freely with just a bell around their neck incase the owner needs to find them.
After that enjoyable walk we headed back to Helga for lunch and then did a second walk in the opposite direction. This route was a 7km loop that would lead us through the countryside to the little village of Aniz. We had fabulous views down the valley with patchwork fields occupied by sheep or cows. The trail led us to a cow farm and standing ahead of us were two tiny calves. The metal gage holding all the humongous cows was a couple feet off the ground so the babies were able to just walk out and roam freely. One was absolutely tiny and probably only a few days old. She was quite nervous of us and walked back under the gate to her mum but the slightly bigger calf stayed out. Occasionally she felt brave enough to come a little closer to me so I began taking a selfie when I heard this splatting noise and diarrhoea was spraying out of her and onto the floor beside me.
We stopped at a bench along the trail for some coffee but some idiot had built it with the back to the view so we decided to sit the wrong way around and poked our legs beneath the backrest. The walk ended in Aniz which had more fabulous farmhouses. I’d love to see inside, is it old fashioned or a modern country vibe and what style furnishings do they have. This village had a sort of centrepiece house that sat in the middle of the village with a road circumnavigated it.
Considering how pretty the area was there were very few options for free camping. We didn’t want to stay near the main road but away from it was all private farmland. We ended up in a nice enough spot outside a village in a huge carpark with locals walking laps around the green as they never seem to have a destination, they just walk in circles.
The next morning we drove to Arizkun which is said to be one of the prettiest villages in Baztan. To be honest it wasn’t any nicer than the other villages in our opinion. There was a huge monastery which didn’t really fit in with the traditional farm houses so Craig actually mistook it for a prison as there were gates and fences around it. Some of the houses had intricate wooden detailing carved into the roof which overhung the top of the building like an umbrella.
Today we were following a 10km loop trail to Xorroxin Waterfall. Except for a field of cows which Craig ran from when they so much as looked at him, we barely saw any other animals which was a shame. The scenery was nice along the way but very similar to what we saw the day before. After a picnic atop a hill we descended down the valley to the village of Gorostaplo which was full of feral cats. They were scared of us so I assume the locals just have them to keep the mice and rats under control.
The waterfall wasn’t anything special, I don’t know how it’s become so well known but apparently in peak season people need to prebook a parking space to be able to do this hike. The hike we were doing was a big loop and luckily the route back led us past a field of miniature ponies. A few of them were brave enough to come our way and eat dandelions and grass that we passed through the fence. It was quite a contrast seeing these ponies in a huge lush field because right behind us was a shed filled with pigs. The screeching was unbearable to hear and it didn’t look like they had any light. The sound seemed familiar though and I realised it’s the exact noise zombies make in movies.
We passed a lovely farmhouse with a pristine garden full of flowers and a hens and nearby was a massive field for just one cow. She had a lovely set of curved horns but as I moved a little closer she began to act aggressively. There was a fence between us so I felt safe but I still backed away very quickly and we soon realised why she was acting like that; a tiny calf emerged from the tall grass and began walking towards her which explained why she was being so aggressive.
Ironically the best animals and views we witnessed were when we got back to Helga. There was field with about 20 miniature ponies including tiny babies that looked like little labradors. There was a mountain backdrop and traditional farmhouses so the scene was just perfect and we even got to witness a baby zooming around the field, bouncing with excitement.
That evening we drove closer to the french border and turned up a quiet country lane. I’d spotted a place on google earth which looked like a lovely spot to camp and thankfully my research paid off. It was a wide pullout beside a very quiet road with views of the snowy mountains and lush farmland. It was due to be another chilly night below zero so we wrapped up warm and got an early night as we had plans to see the sunrise tomorrow.
Luckily the clocks changed recently which means sunrise is at a very acceptable 7:50am but the walk up the highest hill in our area took longer than expected. We arrived just after the sun had risen which was a shame but still a very beautiful sight with the sky glowing orange behind the layers of mountains. From the hill we had a vantage point across France which looked rather flat and dull. When we headed back to Helga for some breakfast we tried to have pancakes but our gas canister was too cold to function. We ate one rather depressed looking pancake before giving up and having cereal.
It was a beautiful, sunny day but we didn’t have much energy so we enjoyed sitting in Helga who was lovely and toasty and we went for a short afternoon stroll up the road which offered fabulous views. It’s our last day in Spain so even though we were having a fairly chilled day we wanted to make it a memorable one so we headed back to walk up a hill for sunset. We saw a fox jumping down a hill away from us and there were always some bells dingling nearby, from sheep or free-roaming ponies. We had a lovely sunset with candy pink clouds and the silhouette of vultures flying through the sky. What a perfect way to end our three months in Spain.