Walking through the Basque Switzerland: Aramaio, a fairy-tale valley

Mountains touching the sky. Birdsongs flying over the streams. Landscapes so bright and green that they stay with us forever. This is the Aramaio valley, a gorgeous natural canvas that immerses us in one of the most charming sceneries in the Basque Country. Aramaio is a tale about love at first sight, and just like it happens with these kinds of loves, one simply cannot resist the urge to come close to it, taste it, explore it and feel amazed at each and every detail we discover within.

This place is known as the Basque Switzerland due to its marvellous fairy-tale landscapes. The valley lies at the foot of the Urkiola Natural Park, in the province of Araba. The mountains and wide pine forests make it the ideal destination for excursionists and nature lovers. However, Aramaio is more than that. Much more, indeed. In the following lines, we will go over the wonders of this enchanting place.

Contrasts, mountains and legends

Fog in the valley, a mountain in the background

The morning mist. | Shutterstock

When one arrives at Aramaio for the first time, the first thing that strikes them is the changing colours of the forests. Green and brown shades blend in a fascinating colour palette. Sometimes, we can also see low-lying clouds creeping through the valley. The village of Ibarra lies between its high mountains and steep slopes. This is a picturesque postcard of traditional houses that seems like the perfect starting point for exploring the area.

In the north of the valley, the mountains Arangio and Gantzaga welcome experienced excursionists that leave the green forests behind, wandering through the rocky trails that reach the mountain tops of Orixol and Izpizte, which are more than 1300 metres high. In order to follow these paths, it’s recommended to be in good shape and have hiking experience. Near these mountains we have Anboto, one of the most beautiful mountains in the Basque Country. This place plays an important role in Basque mythology, being home to one of the most remarkable myths in the Basque Country: the legend of the lady of Anboto.

According to Basque folklore, Mother Earth is a woman with long, golden hair, and she lives in a cave in the mountain Anboto. This deity called Mari had control over the region’s weather, hence shepherds used to make offerings to the goddess so that the crops and weather were good to them. Every seven years, Mari changed hideout and some believed they had seen her cross the sky on a chariot of fire.

Opposite Anboto, there are more easily accessible mountains such as Murugain and Jarindo, less high and equally beautiful. The mountain pass of Cruceta offers a beautiful panoramic view of the valley and the villages scattered through the hills. It’s easy to get there, which makes it a good option for enjoying nature in a nice family trip.

Exploring the villages in Aramaio

Some houses and a mountain in the background

Ibarra. | Shutterstock

One of the most beautiful views in the valley consists of red-tiled white houses standing between Aramaio’s green hills. Some are isolated in the landscape; others gather in small villages. For example, Ibarra is a picturesque stone village with a lookout point that is perfect for contemplating the valley and the church of San Martín, as well as having excellent Basque cider houses called “sagardotegi”. Ibarra is a central point in the area, and in its outskirts spread the traditional Basque “baserri” or farmhouses, displaying the rural life of its inhabitants; the most important ones are Erdikoa and Arriola Bengoa, in the village of Arriola.

If the weather is good, one might enjoy a lovely walk through a circular path which links Ibarra, Arraga, Arriola and Errotaberri. Each of them mirrors the slow and laborious lifestyle of the valley. In its cider houses we will be able to breathe the most welcoming air, and all their delicious dishes taste like the true essence of Basque cuisine.

Living Aramaio

A road and some houses in the countryside

Villages in Aramaio. | Shutterstock

You might ask yourself: how would it feel to actually live in Aramaio? This valley hosts little ateliers that organise activities for anyone who likes to experience the Basque rural life. Some farms even provide tours showing how milk and sheep cheese are made, among other things. Certainly, this is the best way to understand country life.

Apart from the countless hiking possibilities here, the most adventurous ones might want to check out the three reservoirs spreading in the region. There, water sports such as kayaking, rowing or light sailing are considerably popular. It’s the perfect plan for enjoying some magical days in this fairy-tale valley.

About the author