Noticias en ‘Navarre’

October 21st, 2009

The Irati Forest

While we were in Navarre we couldn’t resist a visit to the Irati Forest, one of  Europe’s most important woodland areas whose 17,000 hectares stretch westwards into the Basque Country and over the Pyrenees into France. The forest is most notable for its abundance of beech (Fagus sylvatica) and silver fir (Abies alba).

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The approach to the Forest along the banks of the Irati river is verdant enough, with meadows being increasingly engulfed by woodland. But the road suddenly leaves the valley and climbs towards a cleft in the ridge.

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Here the Forest’s ‘secret’ nature is apparent and it is easy to see why it has remained isolated through time, maintaining an air of magic that spans the centuries and gave rise to numerous myths and legends!

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Once under the canopy, however, the range and beauty of the habitat easily overwhelms the ominous sensations we had on our arrival – helped by the glorious August sunshine illuminating the new green foliage!

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Timber extraction is both a pillar of the local economy and an essential element of forest conservation, however. Although the forest is relatively young, at 12,00 years it emerged after the last great ice age, it has had many stages in its development. Originally composed of oak this gave over to the predominating fir trees from the middle-ages. This in turn has been overtaken by beech in recent centuries due to the increasing lumber trade.

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As with most forest areas, it is interesting to observe how fragile the habitat is, and how little material is required to support such apparently huge vegetation. A forest trail blasted through the surface reveals the scant soil on which the canopy evidently thrives.

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Inside, it is easy to believe that the woods are endless, but climbing back out of the Forest its ‘spell’ is broken by the sight of the distant peaks of the Pyrenees on the far side.

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Back at the picture-post-card village of Ochagavia it is easy to guess how close we are to the French border – time to head home to Catalonia!

The Valle de Roncal – Navarre

The Valle de Roncal, in the extreme east of the Autonomous Community of Navarre, runs due north and  is deep and dark, with dense, seemingly impenetrable forest lining the steep mountainsides. But at the extreme head of the valley, beyond its ‘capital’ Isaba (Izaba in Basque) the valley of the river Belagua takes a turn for the east and opens out very markedly.

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This area, known as the Macizo de Larra is based on karstic rock formations, one of the most important in Europe. The formation has been widened by the effects of glaciation that allows long daylight hours and encourages the growth of deciduous trees at higher altitude than is usual. The area is notable for its virgin forest, especially with the presence of beech (Fagus sylvatica) and we walked among them, following a marked trail, the Mata de Haya, in the Reserva integral del barranco de Aztaparreta nature reserve.

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The dark, dense and damp forest made a sharp contrast to our home in Catalonia; the other end of the Pyrenees does not benefit from the Atlantic weather systems and by July we yearn for the temperate climate enjoyed by lands on the Atlantic seaboard – including the British Isles! It’s strange to see plants and flowers that were once too common to be of any note to us; we haven’t seen bracken in half a dozen years and the common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) seems exotic to our eyes!

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Indeed, the lush vegetation seemed voluptuous, tropical even, in the mid-summer heat (rare for the western Pyrenees – and only in the daytime as we were to discover later whilst camping at Isaba!). A paradox here is that although the pine forests of the Mediterranean regions are quicker growing, they don’t exude the sense of flux, the physiology if you will, of deciduous growth – and death!

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Leaving the forest via the summer pastures it was difficult to imagine how much the scene would be different in winter, but we have vowed to return in the autumn. The herdsmen, (and women!) return with their cattle to the tiny, close knit village communities like Isaba or Roncal itself – the latter giving its name both to the valley and the famous, and delicious, sheep’s milk, Queso de Roncal, which is a mainstay of the local economy.

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Isaba has a grim, rather unfriendly face, much to do with the severe black masonry of its older buildings and their forbidding adornments.

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But the people themselves were warm and welcoming, despite the obvious impact of tourism, which is also vital to the economy there. Friends, even Catalan friends, all agreed that we would eat well in Navarre, and indeed we did – what a pleasure it must be to garden here with all this lovely water to hand!

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