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Max Abroad : The Best of Spain

Quite simply writing about the best things Spain has to offer and anything that might crop up along the way. Spain is a lot more than just sun, sand and sea...

Sierra de Urbasa - One of Spain's most spectacular natural parks
30 July 2019

Millions of years ago, the relief of a great plateau known as Zunbeltz or Lizarraga changed for ever. A gigantic tectonic slip occurred that led to the opening of a wide passage between the mountain ranges of Urbasa and Andía. On the crest between Atlantic Navarre and the Mediterranean watershed, both make up an extensive Natural Park in the west of the region. 

 

 

Meadows and leady beech woods alternate in this protected space with an idyllic landscape. Its southern edge falls brusquely onto the Valley of the Améscoas, forming an impressive natural viewpoint over the cirque around the source of the river Urederra. 

The Information Centres contain information on this Natural Park, its leisure areas, information points, flora and fauna and signposted paths, which will take you through the beauty of woods and rock outcrops. The landscape is dotted with memories of the lifestyles over the centuries of hunters, shephers, woodcutters and charcoal burners. The megalithic station of the Urbasa range is not signposted, so access to it is difficult.

 

The Urbasa-Andía Natural Park in western Navarre is made up of the Urbasa and Andía mountain ranges. The NA-120 road links Etxarri-Aranatz with Estella-Lizarra and runs along the Andía range. At kilometre 20, just a few metres from the road, you will find a Roman road, a thousand-year-old witness of an era in which it connected Valdega with the Arakil valley. This range contains one of the most spectacular places in the park: the Monastery of Iranzu.

 

 

 

The NA-718 road from Olazti/Olazagutía to Estella-Lizarra crosses the mountain range and you can park your car at several points. It is advisable to visit the Information Centre at the north entrance, where you can find details of the landscape, environment and culture of the Natural Park. In the south, the 'Borda de Severino' - the word 'borda' is used to describe all the huts used by shepherds and livestock -, now converted into a Nature Interpretation Centre, recalls the pastoral way of life. In it a charcoal pile has been reproduced, recalling the traditional customs of the Urbasa mountain range. Several dolmens, menhirs and cromlechs are a testimony to human presence here 100,000 years ago.

The Natural Park has several viewpoints offering a full panorama of its size and resources: el Balcón de Pilatos (Pilate's Balcony - shown above), located above the cirque at the source of the river Urederra (access from the NA-718 road), the viewpoint at Lizarraga (access from the N-120) and the panoramic table next to the Palace of Urbasa (access from the NA-718).

 

 

Impressive beech woods cover 70% of the territory, together with other species such as yew, juniper and pine trees. On the rasos, flat land located at around 1.000 metres above sea level, the woods give way to pastures dotted with heather and hawthorns where it is quite common to see mares and sheep grazing; the latter's milk is used to make the delicious Idiazábal cheese. 

Another characteristic of this Natural Park is the absence of rivers. The limestone soil allows water to filter through and run underground in numerous chasms and crevasses, so the area is ideal for caving enthusiasts. Sometimes these underground currents emerge in the form of waterfalls. The river sources are spectacular: that of the Urederra in the Urbasa range (access from Baquedano) and of the Ubagua in the Andia range (access from Riezu). Both sites can be reached along easy paths. 

 

 

Throughout the Natural Park there are other signposted paths with different levels of difficulty that will guide you along their peculiarities. The best known are:

- The 'route of the fountains', a circular path that starts at the Borda de Severino and runs gently for 4.5 kilometres past sources/fountains and beautiful sites.

- The 'route of the shepherds', 7.6 kilometres long, is an easy path that crosses woods and rasos to give you an insight into the livestock rearing activity of Urbasa. It starts at the Information Centre and ends at the Borda de Severino.

- The 3.8-kilometre-long 'mountaineers' route', which provides access to the highest cliff in the north of the range (1,113 m.). The route is of medium difficulty, starting at the Information Centre and crossing the old Camino de la sal (salt route), which was used to transport salt from the nearby village of Salinas de Oro.

- Dulanztz and the Canyon of the Iranzu (Andía), a racket-shaped 18-kilometre-long path long that starts near the monastery of Iranzu and follows the course of the river, initially ascending through leafy woods to the summit of Dulantz.

 



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Mainland Spain's highest peak isn't that tough in Summer...
25 July 2019

 

Jutting up above the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains, Mulhacén Peak is the highest mountain in continental Spain and in the Iberian Peninsula and may just be the final resting place of a 15th century king. It is named after Abu l-Hasan Ali, or Muley Hacén as he is known in Spanish, the penultimate Muslim King of Granada in the 15th century who, according to legend, was buried on the summit of the mountain. Mulhacén is the highest peak in Europe outside the Caucasus Mountains and the Alps. It is also the third most topographically prominent peak in Western Europe, after Mont Blanc and Mount Etna, and is ranked 64th in the world by prominence.  Summer is an ideal time to climb it, if you are looking for a easier challenge.

The peak is not exceptionally dramatic in terms of steepness or local relief thus the path to Spain's tallest mainland peak is not actually too challenging, gently rising along the back of the mountain, but the view from the top is nonetheless breathtaking.

 The south flank of the mountain is gentle and presents no technical challenge, as is the case for the long west ridge. The shorter, somewhat steeper north east ridge is slightly more technical. The north face of the mountain, however, is much steeper, and offers several routes involving moderately steep climbing on snow and ice (up to French grade AD) in the winter.

Mulhacén can be climbed in a single day from the villages of either Capileira or Trevélez, but it is more common to spend a night at the mountain refuge at Poqueira, or in the bare shelter at Caldera to the west. Those making the ascent from Trevelez can also bivouac at the tarns to the northeast of the peak.

 

Despite the peak's relative ease, a group of hikers perished on the slopes in 2006 and a commemorative plaque now remembers them at the summit.

There are many companies offering guided walks to the summit so it is highly recommended that you do the walk with expert guides. At 3479 meters high Mulhacen is no walk in the park. You will need to be fit enough to climb to its peak and hardy enough to withstand the mountain elements. Expect to sweat for your food and to pick up a few blisters of you are not used to walking.

Altitude shouldn't be a worry and there are no sheer drops, but you will be walking for up to eight hours a day. If you have a the physical stamina and strength for this it is a really recommended hike. The ascent itself is non technical, so you don't need much mountaineering experience. With expert guides, comfy accommodation, good meals and some good boots it is rarely this quick and painless to scale a mountain.

 

 

 



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Run,Run,Run
03 July 2019

Pamplona hosts the festival of all festivals. When the chupinazo or rocket goes off on July 6th the city explodes to life. Thousands of people from across the world converge on this city which is coloured white and red for the occasion. Over the course of a few days the streets are filled with an outpouring of fraternity, joy and merrymaking accompanied by the rhythm of the charangas bands and fiestas. The running of the bulls is the only part of the day when the festival is reined in and tension flows through the air minutes before the bulls begin their journey through the streets behind the runners. The festival continues with the caldico (broth), chocolate with churros, the procession, the giants and big-headed carnival figures, sipping an aperitif, the running of the bulls and the fireworks which segue into the night-time commotion.

The origin of the fiesta of San Fermín goes back to the Middle Ages and is related to three celebrations: religious ceremonies in honour of San Fermín, which intensified from the 12th century onwards, trade fairs and bullfights, which were first documented in the 14th century. Initially, the fiesta San Fermín was held on October 10th, but in 1591 the people of Pamplona, fed up with the bad weather at that time of year, decided to transfer the fiesta to July so it would coincide with the Fair. This is how the Sanfermines were born. It initially lasted two days and had a pregón (opening speech), musicians, a tournament, theatre and bullfights. Other events were added later, such as fireworks and dances, and the fiesta lasted until July 10th.

 

Chronicles from the 17th and 18th centuries tell us of religious events together with music, dance, giants, tournaments, acrobats, bull runs and bullfights, and the clergy's concern at the excessive drinking and dissolute behaviour of young men and women. They also refer to the presence of people from other lands, whose shows "made the city more fun". In the 19th century there were curious fairground attractions such as a woman fired from a cannon, exotic animals or wax figures, while the Comparsa de Gigantes (parade of giants) had new carnival figures with big heads, kilikis and zaldikos. Furthermore, the absence of a double fence in the bull run meant that the bulls escaped on several occasions and ran around the city streets.

The Sanfermines reached their peak of popularity in the 20th century. The novel "The Sun Also Rises" ("Fiesta"), written by Ernest Hemingway in 1926, attracted people from all over the world to come to the fiesta of Pamplona. The 20th century also witnessed new events within the fiesta such as the Riau-Riau (suspended since 1991), the Chupinazo, or the cultural programme.

 

 

The Pamplona fiestas in honour of San Fermín, the “Sanfermines”, combine official celebrations with popular festivities, religion with profanity, local with foreign, tradition with new change, order with subversion; and all in a week, from 6th to 14th July, in which the city transforms into the world capital of mirth. 

They are open and hospitable festivities that welcome all - here no one is an outsider. The beat of the fiesta never ends. 24 hours of buzzing atmosphere, revelry, dances and prayers, where the city of Pamplona takes centre stage in its widest sense.

The Encierro is the event at the heart of the Sanfermines and makes the fiesta a spectacle that would be unimaginable in any other place in the world. It was born from need: getting the bulls from outside the city into the bullring. 

The encierro takes place from July 7th to 14th and starts at the corral in Calle Santo Domingo when the clock on the church of San Cernin strikes eight o'clock in the morning. After the launching of two rockets, the bulls charge behind the runners for 825 metres, the distance between the corral and the bullring. The run usually lasts between three and four minutes although it has sometimes taken over ten minutes, especially if one of the bulls has been isolated from his companions. 

 

 

Three rockets fired from the bullring, signals that all the bulls have entered the bullring. A fourth and final rocket indicates that all the bulls are safely in the corral located inside the bullring, and that the bull run has ended.

For security reasons, a double fence marks out the route of the bull run through the streets. It is made of over 3,000 wooden parts (planks, posts, gates, etc.). Part of the fence stays put throughout the fiesta but other sections are assembled and disassembled every day by a special brigade of workers.

 

 

A large number of pastores (bull 'shepherds') cover the entire bull run. They place themselves behind the bulls, with their only protection being a long stick. Their main role is to stop the odd idiot from inciting the bulls from behind, to avoid the bulls turning round and running backwards, and to help any bulls that have stopped or have been separated from their companions to continue running towards the bullring.

Other key people in the bull run are the 'dobladores', people with good bullfighting knowledge (sometimes ex-bullfighters) who take up position in the bullring with capes to help the runners 'fan out' (in other words, run to the sides after they enter the bullring) and 'drag' the bulls towards the 'corral' as quickly as possible.

The encierro is an unrepeatable experience for spectators and runners alike. It is a spectacle that is defined by the level of risk and the physical ability of the runners.

An inexperienced runner should learn about the characteristics of this dangerous 'race' (although it should not be considered as a race) before starting, and also about the protective measures to be taken for his/her own safety and that of the people running alongside.

Not everyone can run the encierro. It requires cool nerves, quick reflexes and a good level of physical fitness. Anyone who does not have these three should not take part; it is a highly risky enterprise.

Runners should start somewhere between the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (City Hall Square) and the pink-slab Education building in the Cuesta of Santo Domingo, and they should be there before 7.30 a.m. because entry to the run is closed from that time on. The rest of the run, except for the stretch mentioned above, must be completely clear of runners until a few minutes before 8 a.m.


What is not allowed in the bull run:

  1. People under 18 years of age, who must not run or participate.
  2. Crossing police barriers placed to ensure that the run goes off smoothly. 
  3. Standing in areas and places along the route that have been expressly prohibited by the municipal police force.
  4. Before the bulls are released, waiting in corners, blind spots, doorways or in entrances to other establishments located along the run.
  5.  Leaving doors of shops or entrances to apartments open along the route. The responsibility for ensuring these doors are closed lies with the owners or tenants of the properties.
  6. Being in the bull run while drunk, under the effects of drugs or in any other improper manner.
  7. Carrying objects that are unsuitable for the run to take place correctly.
  8. Wearing inappropriate clothes or footwear for the run.
  9. Inciting the bulls or attracting their attention in any manner, and for whatever reason, along the route of the run or in the bullring.
  10. Running backwards towards the bulls or running behind them.
  11. Holding, harassing or maltreating the bulls and stopping them from moving or being led to the pens in the bullring. 
  12. Stopping along the run and staying on the fence, barriers or in doorways in such a way that the run or the safety of other runners is jeopardised. 
  13. Taking photographs inside the run, or from the fences or barriers without due authorisation.
  14. Carrying objects that are unsuitable for the good order and security of the bull run.
  15. Installing elements that invade horizontal, vertical or aerial space along the bull run, unless expressly authorised by the Mayor's Office.
  16. Any other action that could hamper the bull run taking place normall

 

If you are brave enough, get on your running shoes!



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