- 18.6 miles / 30 kms
- 6857 feet / 2090 metres
- 43.04581382, -1.204138833
Pyrenees High Route 4 - Iraty Forest
- Trails /
This is stage four of the Pyrenees High Route through the east of the Basque Country. The trail is mostly along good tracks and farm roads that at times give fine views and through dense woods and forests. Part of the route follows sections of the GR10. Off this signposted national trail route finding can be challenging particularly in bad weather.
The Iraty Forest covers more than 105 square miles / 170 square kilometres along the border between France and Spain. It is the second largest beech forest in Europe and is a nature lover's paradise. It can be visited in all four seasons for fishing in the steams and high lakes, mushroom picking, cross country skiing and mountain walks. Due to its relative remoteness it is still in an almost unspoiled state.
There is a network of signposted trails for walkers and cyclists of all abilities. The forest floor offers pleasant, gentle walking. More adventurous walkers can climb the numerous summits and enjoy panoramic views of the Pyrenees. Bird lovers will head for the Organbidexka pass, where you can watch the autumn migration of birds across the Pyrenees.
The gorges of Kakuetta (Sainte-Engrace) with its vertical walls and impressive waterfalls is not to be missed. These gorges, sunk vertically in the limestone, are beautiful as well as impressive, with the beginning of the Grand Etroit the most grandiose of all. This splendid canyon is more than 200 metres deep but only 3-10 metres wide. There is a path along the water's edge that crosses the stream via numerous footbridges. It ends with a view of a 20 metre high waterfall and caves with giant stalactites and stalagmites.
The wildlife population of this unique area includes birds such as goldcrests, chaffinches, robins, black woodpeckers and white-backed woodpeckers, foxes, wild boar, stags and deers. Equally rich and varied is the flora. The forest has changed over the years: beech and pine trees now coexist alongside linden hazelnut, elm, willow, maple, box, and juniper trees. The variety of colour reaches its peak in autumn when warm browns, intense yellows and reds tinge the tops of the trees. The high rainfall in this Pyrenean zone means that the landscape is full of streams and rivers that cut through the rock.
Ossau-Iraty is produced in two regions in the southwest of France along the Spanish border: (1) in the Northern Basque Country's Irati beech forest and (2) in Bearn's neighbouring Ossau Valley. The two places lie in the green rolling foothills of the Western Pyrenees and they are the namesake for the cheese.
Producing Ossau-Iraty has been a vital part of the region's economy for a very long time. Pyrenees sheep's milk cheeses have been included in records as early as the first century, where they were bought and sold at markets in Toulouse. Monks often produced wheels in their monasteries. By the 14th century sheep's milk cheese was considered a currency. Shepherds and farmers could pay bills and taxes with wheels of cheese.
Ossau-Iraty received AOC status in 1980 making it only one of two sheep's milk cheeses with this status, the other is Roquefort. It's sometimes called the "farmer's dessert" for its creamy and buttery texture and its fruity, slightly floral flavor. Ossau-Iraty was granted European PDO status in 1996.