Craggy mountains surrounded by green meadows and valleys, rugged cliffs beaten by the Cantabrian Sea, deep-rooted traditions reflected in its villages and people, these are just some of the features that characterise Biscay. Signs of identity that can undoubtedly be found along the Urdaibai estuary, adding to the magnificent attributes that have made this place a unique natural space. Catalogued as a Biosphere Reserve in 1984, the Mundaka or Gernika estuary, as it is also known, extends around the mouth of the Oka River between these two towns. Its ecological wealth and the mark that man has left on this territory throughout history make it a magical place where nature is the main protagonist.
To visit the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, its secret corners, its villages and its landscapes is to take a journey through its history in which we will find ancient archaeological sites, sands of an intense golden colour, carefully tended villages of a maritime nature or spectacular viewpoints from which to contemplate the uniqueness of its landscapes or the fauna that lives in Urdaibai. A fauna that, as in the case of some migratory birds, is only found in this nature reserve. This ornithological importance, together with the development of the estuary and its wide sandy areas, the peculiarities of its rugged coast, which make it one of the best places for whale watching, and the undeniable imprint that man has left on Urdaibai, summarise the natural, scientific and cultural importance of this region. A land that, in addition to its unquestionable natural attributes, also offers us a rich history as witnessed by its people, its monuments and its customs and traditions. Towns that have seen untamed pirates sail their coasts, illustrious characters walk their streets, and that together with the surrounding landscapes we can discover when visiting the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve and its secret corners.
The right bank of the mouth of the Oka River, more specifically the magnificent Laida Beach and its golden sand, is the starting point for this route through some of the charming corners of Urdaibai. Sands such as Laida or Laga Beach are part of the identity mark of the natural area we are going to visit. After walking around the dune complex of Laida Beach, we put on our hiking boots and climb to the top of the mountain where the hermitage of Saint Peter of Atxarre, or as it is really called in Saint Peter of Aguirre, awaits us in its spectacular setting. The Atxarre mountain can only be reached on foot from the Akorda district or by the path that goes up from the vicinity of Laida Beach. Once at the top, in addition to this mystical chapel full of legends and traditions, one of the best panoramic views of the entire Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve awaits us, covering almost the entire Mundaka estuary and the villages on its banks.
Once we have enjoyed this active start to the itinerary, we set off for our next stop, going up the Mundaka estuary to the town of Gautegiz Arteaga where the Castle-Palace of the Empress Eugenia of Montijo awaits us, or as it is also known, the Castle of Arteaga. Built on the remains of an old defensive building, its unique architecture, together with its illustrious promoter and, of course, the exceptional environment that surrounds it, in the middle of the Urdaibai estuary, make this a place that is worth visiting, even if it is only in its immediate vicinity, to discover the diversity of attractions that the Urdaibai reserve treasures, since it is not only notable for its important natural value, but also for architectural and cultural jewels such as this one.
Throughout its length and breadth, Urdaibai surprises us with the splendour of its natural sites, places where the hand of man has also left its mark, as witnessed by archaeological sites as important as those found in the Cave of Santimamiñe, our next stop. We say goodbye to Arteaga and head towards the nearby Kortezubi, more specifically towards the Basondo neighbourhood where we will find the car park and the welcome centre of the Cave of Santimamiñe. A short, but demanding path takes us to the entrance of the cave. Inside, we will find the most important prehistoric site in the whole of Bizkaia, with a large number of cave paintings, in addition to the impressive formations formed by the stalactites and stalagmites that have grown inside the cave over the years.
To get to the next place we are going to visit in the Urdaibai Reserve, we will not have to use our vehicle because the path that will take us to the Oma Painted Forest starts from the parking lot of the Santimamiñe Cave. Therefore, once again we will have to put on our hiking boots to prepare ourselves to walk along one of the many paths that run through the reserve and that on this occasion will lead us to a magical forest. The animated forest created by the artist Agustín Ibarrola awaits us on the slopes that mark the valley of Oma. The pine trunks are the canvas chosen by the artist to capture his work. These works use the perspective provided by the pine trees on which they have been painted to show us an endless number of figures and drawings loaded with symbolism whose intense colours accentuate even more the unique beauty of this open-air museum.
After this new hiking tour, we prepare to immerse ourselves in the valleys and mountains that make up the Urdaibai biosphere reserve, saying goodbye for the moment to the inspiring marsh of Mundaka. From the town of Gernika, whose visit we will postpone for the moment, we will start the different options we have to get to the next stop on this route. We can choose to put ourselves in the shoes of the countless pilgrims who follow the Jacobean route that passes through here and go up the valley where it runs to the town of Muntibar and from there head for the incomparable Balcony of Bizkaia. A legendary spot from which to contemplate Urdaibai effortlessly and calmly, under the watchful eye of the Astogana on whose hillside we stand, before continuing with our route.
We leave this viewpoint behind and return to Gernika-Lumo, choosing the route well and taking advantage of the opportunity to visit beautiful towns, such as Mendata, before setting foot in the illustrious town of Gernika-Lumo. The House of Assembly and the Guernica Tree are part of the incalculable historical and cultural heritage that we will find when we visit Gernika-Lumo. The Church of Santa María, the Park of the Peoples of Europe and, of course, the Guernica Mural are a must for anyone visiting the town. But Gernika-Lumo, like any Basque town that prides itself, also offers us the exquisite pintxos and typical dishes that characterise the renowned Basque cuisine with which to replenish the energies spent during the journey.
Once again, the marshes, the sandbanks and the nearby Cantabrian Sea take centre stage on our route through Urdaibai. We follow the course of the river in its search for the sea to go to the beautiful town of Mundaka, famous among other things for its renowned cuisine and for its no less famous Mundaka wave, considered to be the best in all of Europe. The chapel of Santa Catalina or the Cross of Kurtzio, also known as the Cross of Calvary or the Cross of Mendekano, without forgetting its old town, envelop us during the visit to this town of marked seafaring character. Its history and legends accompany the town of Mundaka and a large part of its corners, such as the film island of Ízaro, located off the coast of the town, but which does not really belong to Mundaka since, according to the local people, it was won by the nearby town of Bermeo in a disputed rowing boat race.
We said goodbye to Mundaka and continued to walk along the wild stretch of coast that separates it from the next town we are going to visit. Founded in 1236, Bermeo was very important in the times of the Señorío de Vizcaya, a historical importance that can be seen reflected in the monuments and buildings that are still preserved today. The San Juan Gate, the Ercilla Tower, the Convent and Church of San Francisco or the Church of Santa María de la Asunción rival the striking architecture of more modern buildings such as the Batzoki, the Kikumbera House, the casino building or the town hall. But in Bermeo we also have a full agenda of cultural events, traditional festivals, fairs and markets, a heritage that is undoubtedly of great historical importance.
We leave Bermeo behind to continue touring this part of the Cantabrian coast along which the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve extends, with Cape Matxitxako being its unbeatable frontier on this side of the coast. A magnificent end to our tour of Urdaibai if the nearby Saint John of Gaztelugatxe did not tempt us to come and visit it. Outside the limits of the Urdaibai Reserve, we should not miss the opportunity to visit the protected biotope of Gaztelugatxe. The islet on which the chapel of Saint John of Gaztelugatxe stands and its spectacular and immortalised access have been the scene of countless historical and cinematographic events. This is one of the unmistakable symbols of this part of the Basque coast, a place loaded with customs and traditions almost as much as with legends, a perfect place to end this route.
Map of the route
This map is a sketch made as an example of the route, in no case represents the best or the only itinerary to follow. Its development has not taken into account the current rules of circulation or the state of the places through which it passes and that could affect its layout.
¿Did you know that...
There is a wide network of paths and routes that allow you to travel on foot or by bike to Urdaibai. Short and long-distance trails such as the GR 98 which runs through the whole reserve or the GR 38 which runs through part of it.
Don't miss out...
The observatory of marine birds and cetaceans that you will find in the old lighthouse of Matxitxako, being in the case of the cetaceans the months of January and February the most propitious for their sighting.
Distance of the route
74 km. This figure may vary depending on the route we follow.
Duration of the route
From 2 to 3 days
Time of year
All year round
Landscape and cultural. This route gives us an insight into a large part of the Urdaibai reserve.
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Route information updated on 18-01-2018. The route may vary greatly depending on the time of year, weather conditions and terrain, as well as the actions of third parties and the evolution suffered in the natural environment where it is located. All opinions, advice and/or assessments made by SENDITUR in their descriptions are for guidance only and are subject to and/or refer to the specific conditions of the specific day of the route, referring to that specific day, taken from trained people, with the appropriate experience and with a high level of physical and technical preparation as a reference, as well as correctly equipped.
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