Navarra is a small and stunning corner of Spain, most of which is overshadowed by its capital, Pamplona, and the love it or hate it Running of the Bulls. We skipped Pamplona altogether and headed for the hills, this time in the Irati Forest.
The Irati Forest is the second largest beech and fir forest in Europe after the Black Forest, some 17,000 hectares of outdoors to explore. There are two access points, Ochagavia and Orbaitzeta. We spent two days hiking trails in the forest, one from each park entry. The entry fee is minimal, even cheaper if you fill up on gas at a nearby gas station, includes a great trail map, and the parks have well-maintained facilities (yes, including a bar-restaurant!). On the first day, we headed to Ochagavia, which is worth a walk around. Cobblestones! A rushing river! Plants everywhere! A complete 180 from Madrid´s hot, dry summer.
After some hardcore trails in Ordesa National Park, I was looking forward to something a little more moderate. We chose two routes, a kind of build your own circular route, known as Casas de Irati/Embalse de Koixta, a 10km hike. Imagine my surprise when the trail started with a rather steep 200m climb! It was short-lived, though, and walking on the soft, springy forest floor made it easier.
The beech forest felt magical. It was so dense, so quiet, it didn´t feel like I was in Spain at all. Forests are just not something that comes to mind when I think of Spain. After the initial climb, the trail was fairly flat and even followed a forest access road for about a kilometer. It was a hot day, and about a third of the way through, the path left the forest for an open plain, and boy did we miss the shade! Back in the forest, we descended and followed the river for a while. Of course we passed a shrine with a little chapel, closed, to the Virgin of the Snow, and the ruins of some stone houses. We saw less than ten people.
The only downside to this route was that there were no real natural picnic areas along the way. Can you believe it? A Spanish trail that hadn´t factored in the eating of the requisite bocadillo, a sandwich on baguette, wrapped in tinfoil.