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The Irati forest

What to see?

Forest of IratiThe Irati Forest is the second largest and best preserved beech and fir forest in Europe, an immense green mantle of some 17,000 hectares that is still in an almost unspoiled state. Standing among the western Pyrenees of Navarre, the Irati Forest is accessed from the picturesque villages of Ochagavía and Orbaitzeta and is a natural treasure in which you can find the protected areas of Mendilatz and Tristuibartea and the Lizardoia Integral Reserve.

Sit down in the heart of the forest and enjoy communing with nature; let yourself be enveloped in a silence broken only by the wild rushing of water between beeches and firs. Admire the crystalline currents of the river Irati that turn turquoise in the Irabia reservoir and listen out for the elusive sounds of the fauna and stroll across the soft blanket of grass that covers the Irati Forest. The scent of the woods will impregnate itself in your skin.
The Irati Forest, which is accessed on the western side from Orbaizeta and from the east via Ochagavía, is a habitat for countless birds such as goldcrests, chaffinches, robins, black woodpeckers and white-backed woodpeckers, as well as other species such as foxes, wild boar, roe deer and stags. You may come across some of them if you take a quiet walk through the middle of the forest and around its protected areas: the nature reserves of Mendilatz and Tristuibartea and the Lizardoia Integral Reserve.

Mendilatz and Lizardoia can be circled along a hiking trail but it is advisable to get information first from one of the information booths at the two entrances to the Irati Forest, which can be reached by car. The booths stand next to the chapel of the Virgen de las Nieves (Virgin of the Snows), if you come from Ochagavía, and in Arrazola if you come from Orbaitzeta. They are open between Easter and November.

The Mendilatz Nature Reserve stands on the mountain of the same name in Orbaitzeta and covers 119 hectares at an altitude of 1,100 metres. There are abundant chasms and crevices here as well as beech, ash, wild cherry, hazelnut, maple, lime and other trees, and you can encircle it on a signposted hiking trail of 14 kilometres which leaves from the old munitions factory in Orbaitzeta and is relatively easy-going.

The Tristuibartea Nature Reserve lies on the northern slopes of Mount Petxuberro in Villanueva de Aezkoa. Standing at an altitude of 940 metres, the reserve covers 55 hectares of well-developed oak and beech woods.

The Lizardoia Integral Reserve is one of three integral reserves in Navarre and lies on the mountain of La Cuestión at an altitude ranging between 850 and 1,125 metres. The 65 hectares of Lizardoia make up the most interesting part of the Irati Forest in environmental terms, with swathes of virgin beech and fir woods that are a refuge for dozens of animal species. Here you can find giant trees more than 40 metres high, a natural paradise for birds and particularly woodpeckers. In the area around the reserve, at the tail end of the Irabia reservoir, there is a hiking trail which is open to the general public known as the Contrasario; it is a fairly easy walk of just over 7 kilometres.

Whatever time of year you visit, the Irati Forest provides a natural spectacle that arouses every sense. In autumn, the wood turns into a blanket of ochre leaves which crunch delightfully with every step, but if you stop walking for a moment, you might hear the bellowing of rutting stags.

In winter, the snow blankets the forest in immaculate white, outlining the footprints of animals and transforming the trees into sculptural shapes.

The awakening of spring is accompanied by birdsong, swift torrents of water and the scent of strawberries. Search them out and savour them.

In summer, lose yourself in the heart of the wood to enjoy the wonderful sensation of freshness.

Some unusual and beautiful buildings encircle the Forest: the Orbaitzeta Munitions Factory, the chapel of the Virgin of the Snows, the chapel of Muskilda, the villages in the Salazar Valley such as Ochagavía, Ezcároz and Esparza, and those in the Aezkoa Valley: Orbaitzeta, Villanueva and Garralda.

If you are a fan of nature-based sports you can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing or simply walking along the nine kilometres on the edge of the Irabia reservoir. Among the most famous peaks in the area is the Ori (2,021 metres) from where you get an incredible view over the green blanket of Irati and the soaring peaks of the Pyrenees. The ascent on foot from the Larrau pass takes around 45 minutes.

Given that the Irati Forest is a wetzone, we recommend taking protective clothing in case of bad weather. And take care on windy, stormy days, because the witches and lamias take advantage of them to promenade the ghost of Lady Juana of Labrit -the Huguenot queen who was poisoned in Paris- and make anyone they find on their travels disappear.

Don't forget, too, that this is where Basajaun, the Lord of the Woods, has his dwelling; he is a tall spirit with long hair and prodigious strength who is even more agile than the deer. If you happen to cross his path do not run away, just obey his orders and he will guide and protect you during your visit to the forest.

Route recommended to get to know the area around the Irati forest.

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