From the Basque coast to Aiako Harria (Peñas de Aia) Natural Park
Between Pasai Antxo or Lezo and the Arditurri mining district (Oiartzun)
Length: 11,2 Km (from Lezo). 12 Km (from Pasai Antxo)
Type of surface:
Tarmac. At Errenteria there is a red paved section and a cycle path
Bahía de Pasaia, gardens bordering the river Oiartzun at Errenteria, Valleys of the rivers Oiartzun and Arditurri, Txara de Mendibil botanical route and park. Aiako Harria (Peñas de Aia) Natural Park. Atlantic forest and riparian understory. Meadowland and pastureland with scattered country houses
Pasaia: Historic town centres of Pasai Donibane and Pasai San Pedro. Ondartxo Maritime Cultural Centre, Victor Hugo’s house, planetarium, Mater-Itsasgela (fishing boat/museum), and Pasai Antxo market.
Errenteria: Historic town centre, Fandería mill, and San Marcos Fort (recreational-cultural space).
Oiartzun: Popular Music Centre and Luberri Geological Interpretation Centre at Ergoien. Arditurri mining district with its interpretation centre and mining galleries. Megalithic monuments at Aiako Harria (Peñas de Aia).
Lezo: Historic town and Basilica of Santo Cristo; centre and Carlist towers on Jaizkibel Mount. Natural environment tours.
Greenway. 6 tunnels with lighting (one of them belonging to the old mining/timber railway of Artikutza) and one without lighting (unnecessary). At Pasaia the Greenway passes through the tunnel of the old N-I road under the suburb of Capuchinos. One footbridge over the access to Beraun and another over the river Oiartzun. Seven bridges over streams. Arditurri mines and mineral ore loading facilities. There are rest areas, recreational areas, bike parks, lampposts, benches, water fountains, public baths, signposting and interpretation panels.
How to get there:
Pasaia: Euskotren. Pasai Antxo station; San Sebastián-Hendaya line. Renfe: Pasaia station; Brinkola-Irun line
Bus/coach. Herribus-Iparbus. Lines H1 San Sebastián-Donibane or H2 San Sebastián-Oiartzun
Lezo: Renfe suburban network. Lezo-Errenteria station; line Brínkola-San Sebastián-Irún. Bus/Coach: Herribus-Iparbus line H1 San Sebastián-Donibane
Errenteria: Renfe suburban network. Lezo-Errenteria station; Brínkola-San Sebastián-Irún line
Euskotren (Topo). Errenteria station; San Sebastián-Hendaya line
Bus/Coach: Lines H1 San Sebastián-Donibane or H2 San Sebastián-Oiartzun
Oiartzun. Euskotren (Topo). Arragua station; San Sebastián-Hendaya line.
Bus/Coach. Herribus-Iparbus. Line H2 San Sebastián-Oiartzun.
San Sebastián/Donostia: 5 Km from Pasai Antxo and 7.7 Km from Lezo.
More information in the Greenways Guide, volume III
This is a trip beside the river Oiartzun which takes us to the Arditurri mining district, right at the foot of mines first worked in Roman times, which last century spawned the railway line which our Greenway is based on today. This route has the added bonus of allowing us to go down into the actual mines. This underground walk through mines dating back nearly two thousand years is a memorable experience.
But first and foremost the Greenway, which follows the route of the old Arditurri mining railway, developed by the Provincial Government of Gipuzkoa, is the best way to see the rural district of Oarsoaldea in the province of Gipuzkoa.
Km 0 The urban section of the old railway route has not been recovered for Greenway use. As an alternative we take a cycle path (or bidegorri as it is called in Basque) which, while it does not follow the old railway route exactly, at least starts out from where the old mining train used to finish its journey.
From the Renfe Suburban Line station at Pasai Antxo (Pasajes/Pasaia) we follow the cycle path which runs parallel to the old Madrid-Irún road (N-I/GI-2640), now the refurbished Avenida de Navarra. We now travel along the characteristic red tarmac of the cycle path, flanked on our right by the seafront facades of the town of Pasai Antxo and on our left by the salty aroma of the nearby docks, where the mineral ore carried by the Arditurri railway used to be loaded onto ships.
Once through Pasai Antxo we reach the big Molinao roundabout (km 0.3), the border between Pasaia and Errenteria, where our red cycle paths snakes upwards to reach the overpass which takes us over the access to the Errenteria suburb of Beraun. At the other end of the overpass the cycle path meets another one perpendicular to ours (km 0.5). At this T-junction we turn left and about 100 m further on we cross Sorgintxulo street (using a pedestrian crossing) and the cycle path begins to run parallel to the new A-I motorway, on our left. Once in Errenteria the cycle path parts company with the motorway and follows the old N-I road, which it crosses via a safe tunnel under the Capuchinos district of Errenteria, from which it emerges at the roundabout leading to the suburb of Alaberga (km 1.2).
The other variant of this route starts in the municipality of Lezo, near a kiddies’ playground. The first stretch is made up of a two-way, marked and signedcycle path with an excellent surface, equipped with urban furniture, water fountains, waste paper bins and protective fencing.
After passing over the railway tracks, the cycle path arrives at the Lezo-Errenteria railway station. Nearby you can see a monument commemorating an old railway level crossing. Then our Greenway passes over a bridge crossing the river Oiartzun and joins the variant coming from Pasai Antxo described earlier.
Now in the town proper of Errenteria, the cycle path runs alongside the route of the old N-I road formed by the Avenida de Navarra (Nafarroa Etorbidea) and its prolongation, Calle de los Amasa (Amasatarren Kalea). This section of cycle path continues to the banks of the river Oiartzun (km 2), a river which our Greenway will follow for many kilometres. The red cycle path follows the river upstream along Errenteria’s bustling riverside promenade, first flanked by the narrow mediaeval streets of its historic town centre, declared a heritage site and later by gardens and the groves of trees that provide cover to the riparian understory. The present day greenness dims the memory of the numerous factories which used to occupied this area some years ago and caused Errenteria to be dubbed “Little Manchester”.
At km 3.7 the cycle path says goodbye to Errenteria as, one after another, it passes under the Avenida de Fandería, the railway lines, and the A-8 motorway, before rounding it all off by crossing the river by a metal bridge. On the far bank, now in the municipality of Oiartzun, the route continues to follow the course of the river, taking us around the Talaia industrial estate and under the GI 2132 and GI 3631 roads via a couple of underpasses.
At the exit to the second of the underpasses, the Greenway cycle path meets another cycle path at a T-junction (Km 4.4). Here in the area called Larrea we must choose between two options: to our left there is a spur barely one kilometre long which runs along the rail bed of the old Artikutza railway to the village of Arragua and itsstation, while to our right the original route of the Arditurri railway makes a timely appearance. The entire rural section of the railway has been recovered and developed as a Greenway. At this junction there is an information panel about the Arditurri cycle path (Arditurriko Bidegorria) to clear up any doubts that users may have and to satisfy their curiosity.
To our right, the Arditurri Greenway closely follows our travelling companion, the river Oiartzun, with its crystalline and babbling waters flowing between dense forestry. So much verdant freshness inebriates the senses while a curtain of trees and plant life screens us from the modern urbanity of the village of Ugaldetxo. Meanwhile, to our left we have an unbroken view of gently rolling hills covered with green meadows and woods, scattered with country houses. It is the idyllic image that you would expect to find in the rural Basque Country.
At around km 5.3, the Arditurri Greenway crosses the road going into Elizalde, passes a park overlooked by the bell tower of the church of San Esteban de Lartaun on our left, and splits into two before plunging into two parallel tunnels. Here we find incontrovertible proof that, in this section, the Arditurri mining railway ran parallel to the also disused Artikutza mining/timber railway. They ran alongside one another but were separate, which is why each railway had its own tunnel. This had a practical benefit for the developers of the Greenway; pedestrians and cyclists can be separated to prevent accidents in such narrow tunnels.
The short, well-lit underground stretch leads us to Txara de Mendibil, an area of oak and ash trees which used to be worked for timber. Next the trail cuts through a broad and flat carpet of green hay meadows, where the river and its tunnel of trees are left behind. In this open landscape the most striking feature is the rows of trees that flank the tarmacked cycle path. Each tree is properly identified with its respective label, providing us with a shady, open-air encyclopaedia of nature. The arboretum boasts over a hundred species: from the most primitive of trees, the yellow poplar, through magnolias, laurels and plain trees, to the blue holly, the most highly evolved plant.
However, this section has much more to offer. Half way along the tree-lined promenade, the Greenway crosses the road which leads down to Iturriotz (Km 6.4), a village featuring the fortified houses of Iturriotz and Makutso. And almost at the end of the botanical promenade (Km 6.6) there is a rest area with toilets, a water fountain and benches, from where the road to Elizalde leads off. The climb to Elizalde, the largest town in the municipality of Oiartzun, is energy sapping, but a stroll around the old town area makes the effort worthwhile
The tree-lined promenade comes to an end when the Greenway crosses the road at Altzibar (Km 7). Here we have the chance to make another break in our journey and visit this secluded village where in days gone by the river Oiartzun used to turn the wheel of the Ugarte mill.
After the botanical promenade, the trail continues through green meadows until it meets a small road leading to Altzibar and the GI 3420 road (Km 8). Here we can find some strategically placed restaurants, worthy ambassadors of Basque gastronomy, where we can put back some of the energy we have expended. The route crosses both roads without the benefit of bridge or tunnel before continuing parallel to the GI 3420 road, immersed in a landscape of pasture land and scattered country houses. Soon we reach the village of Ergoien (Km 9), where we can visit the PopularMusicCentre and the Luberri Geological Interpretation Centre.
Once past Ergoien the landscape undergoes a radical change as we enter the natural exuberance of the Aiako Harria (Peñas de Aia)Natural Parkthrough a narrow gorge, hemmed in by steep, rocky slopes.
The Arditurri Greenway now runs some way above the river Oiartzun, perched on a terrace cut into the hillside like a balcony over the river, which is now hidden by a tangled mass of verdant vegetation. In order to follow the river the track bed begins to climb more steeply, first in a straight line but then snaking up the abundantly lush green hillside.
At around km 10.3 the trail arrives at another tunnel, the first of a long series of tunnels. It also forsakes the river Oiartzun for the river Arditurri, which runs through a gorge even narrower than the previous one. The beautiful setting becomes so wild that the track bed has to twist and turn to overcome the complicated topography. And when that was not enough, a long cutting was excavated, which time has lined with moss, and no fewer than four tunnels of varying lengths were bored to pass through the most obstinate rocky obstacles. The tunnels lend a cool and cavernous feel to the route, especially the last of them, which is very long and curves round. With some magnificent views of the vertical granite walls of the Aiako Harria (Peñas de Aia) crags to our front,our Greenway reaches its end at the Arditurri mining district (12 km).
The old mining laboratory building has been refurbished as an Interpretation Centre for the Aiako Harria Natural Park and the Arditurri Mines. Here we can learn about the historical, cultural and natural wealth of the Natural Park, home to the Arditurri mineral mines. The ground floor is devoted to the natural park while the first floor deals with the mining operation.
The cherry on the cake of our excursion is a descent into the heart of the Arditurri mines. The guided tour starts in gallery 20 or the Mina Grande. where we will need to put on a mining helmet. The explanations by the guide will be accompanied by sound and lighting effects.
There is another type of visit called “La mina a fondo” (Mining at depth in which you can visit another mine gallery at a lower level.
Mining railways, devoid of the glamour of passenger railways, tend to have a less than stellar existence. They generate no news and scarcely leave any photos or accounts behind, only their secluded routes through the mountains. This is the case of the mining railway which used to carry tons of iron ore from the pitheads at Arditurri to the port at Pasajes. It had a narrower gauge than conventional railways: 75 cm. This narrow gauge made it easier to negotiate the mountainous topography, while reducing building costs at the expense of lowering speeds, which, for obvious reasons, was not a key issue when transporting iron ore to the ships. However, that particular gauge was unusual, since the normal gauge used for mining railways was 60 cm, the gauge employed by the neighbouring Artikutza railway, for example. This line was conceived as the best way to take mineral ore from the Arditurri, on the west face of the Peñas de Aia crags, to the port at Pasajes.
The route from the mines runs gently downhill, ideal for a mining locomotive pulling laden wagons which could descend almost solely by gravity, and which only had to pull empty wagons, or wagons with mining equipment, from the port back up the mountain to the mines. The mines enjoyed a long history, from Roman times until, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Chavarri family of Basque business magnates acquired them and looked for a way of optimizing their exploitation. To that end they built this railway, dedicated solely to the transport of mineral ore, which was inaugurated in 1901.
The track went down to the port where there was a cantilever-type loading arm which enabled ore to be loaded directly from the railway wagons into the ships’ holds, although the ore could also be transferred to trains belonging to the broad gauge railway company, Compañía del Norte, which operated from the docks of this Guipuzcoan port. The mines shut down in the mid-1980s, but the trains had already stopped running in 1965, since the route of the new A-8 motorway effectively split the railway in two and the low volume of mine traffic that there was by then did not make it worth finding a solution to this problem.