THE ARRAZOLA “GREEN TRAIL”
Under the gaze of Mount Anboto,
through the magical Atxondo Valley
The old Arrazola mine railway, with its steam locomotive the Aurrera, ran down through the peaceful Arrazola river plain to the town of Apatamonasterio.
A “green trail” along the old rail line now enables you to cross the beautiful Atxondo Valley from north to south and reach the foot of Mount Anboto, the highest peak in the Urkiola natural park and supposedly the home of the ancient Basque goddess Mari.
This gently sloping trail, along which trains once ran to the mines at Errotabarri, is about 5 km long and winds past farmsteads and through beautiful countryside parallel to the River Arrazola.
For a walk along the Arrazola green trail we recommend parking in Apatamonasterio. As you drive through Apatamonasterio on the BI-4332 road, on your right you will pass the town hall, the church of San Pedro and the pelota court. On your left opposite the pelota court there is a small square with a large tree.
From there Calle Ziarreta takes you to a recreation area with benches, exercise equipment and a fountain by the shady corridor formed by the walnut, alder, maple and ash trees that line the banks of the River Arrazola. This is the start of the Arrazola green trail.
From the recreation area a concrete bridge crosses the river, affording attractive views of the weir and a mediaeval arched bridge. On the far side there are several paths: the one on the left is part of the Long-Distance Trail (marked as GR) and the one straight ahead runs straight over level ground between green meadows along the old rail line.
The path comes back to the river for a short way until it comes out from under the canopy of the trees, then heads for the hillside that climbs sharply up to the right.
THE HAMLET OF MARZANA
800 m from its start the trail is shaded by a group of tall plane trees that mark the entrance to the hamlet of Marza or Marzana. This is perhaps the most striking hamlet in the Atxondo valley: it boasts an open central area shaded by great lime trees, around which stand the church of San Martín, a number of farmhouses and a 16th century Renaissance style tower. There is also an elegant drinking fountain.
It is well worth taking a stroll through this hamlet to enjoy its old-time splendour including Etxezarra farmhouse, whose Gothic style door came originally from the Marzana tower. In the days of the railway there was a halt in Marzana where ore from the mines up the hill was loaded.
After leaving Marzana the Arrazola green trail crosses the BI-4332 road and runs on through green hay meadows, past a recreation area (km-point 1.3) with toilets, picnic tables and a children’s play area.
The trail crosses the river again, with its cool, tree-lined banks, at km-point 1.6. After this the Arrazola valley narrows. As you emerge from the narrow stretch (km-point 2.1) the green valley broadens again, revealing stone farmhouses standing among the woods of Mount Memaia and the limestone crags of Mount Anboto.
The trail then rolls along the top of a curved bank and crosses the stream bed running down from the village of Axpe in the valley. This man-made embankment, built to level the rail line, provides a superb viewing balcony over the valley. On the other side of the stream the railway embankment crosses the road to Axpe on what was once a level crossing.
From here the green trail continues along a steeper embankment with the hillside to its right, overlooking the river on its left. This stretch features broad views over the valley with its scattered farmsteads, and welcome shade from the hazels, oaks, pines, chestnuts and alders that line the path. It runs on along the top of the embankment that finally passes over the BI-4332 road (km point 3), at the foot of the village of Arrazola.
This overpass, where there is a well-placed drinking fountain, gives you an excellent view of the bell tower of the church of San Miguel and the 16th century Urrutia farmhouse, one of the oldest in Bizkaia, built in a Renaissance-Gothic style.
This is also the best spot for viewing the steeper, eastern face of Mount Anboto in all its glory. Up there lies the cave of “Anbotoko Mari”, the Lady of Anboto, a mythological Basque deity and Mother Nature figure.
CHAPEL OF SAN ROQUE
The trail winds around the village of Arrazola on the hillside above the 18th century Ibarra tower and mill, which still houses its old machinery. The path out of the village runs through fine fruit trees and passes alongside the Ollargane farmhouse, whose outer wall bears an inscription with the name Pedro de Albayalde and the date 1519. This is the earliest stone-carved date in Bizkaia.
At the end of this stretch the old railway embankment crosses the River Arrazola again and the path takes you to the chapel of San Roque (km-point 4.5), which stands in the shade of tall, ancient plane trees. Beside the chapel there are a large car park, seats and a drinking fountain.
From the chapel you can clearly see the opening known as “Ojo de Bentaneta” [“the Eye of Bentaneta”], where the action of water has hollowed out the limestone rock of Mount Anboto. It is said that when the sun sets the last ray of sunlight that falls on Atxondo shines through this opening.
The trail now comes to its final, roughest stretch. After the chapel of San Roque the path runs through pasture land towards Anboto and a hillside covered with leafy ash, acacia, alder, birch, pine and walnut trees that provide welcome shade for walkers.
As the space narrows the trail runs alongside the river as far as the old railway station of Errotabarri or El Tope (km point 5), where the remains of lime kilns and the ruins of an old mining settlement can be seen.
The old station has been rebuilt and now houses a recreation area with toilets, picnic tables and a drinking fountain.
If you wish you can extend your walk along a woodland trail that runs on into the ravine of the River Arrazola. 500 m further up you will come to the mines, where iron and copper were extracted until 1920.