Discover the Iraty forest, the natural jewel of the Basque Country

Iraty is not only the name of a well-known Basque cheese (Ossau-Iraty), it’s also a magnificent forest clinging to the Pyrenees mountains. Friendly hikers and nature lovers, let us guide you along the paths of theIraty forest, the largest beech forest inEurope!

A journey to the roots of the Basque Country

Perched on the slopes of the Pyrenees, on either side of the Franco-Spanish border, theIraty forest is the largest beech forest inWestern Europe. Framed by the summit ofOkabe and the Pic d’Orhi, theIraty forest extends over some 17,000 ha between Soule (Larrau), Basse-Navarre (Mendive) and Spanish Navarre. In the heart of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region, covered with beech and fir trees as far as the eye can see, this thousand-year-old forest massif in the Basque country is home to griffon vultures, deer and roe deer, but also, according to legend, a legendary wild man and fantastic creatures that are half fairies, half lutes.

Hiking in the Iraty forest

Starting out from Larrau, a small mountain village nestled at the foot of the Pic d’Orhi, several hiking trails take you through theIraty forest. Here are just a few examples.

The Pic des Escaliers via the Chalets d’Iraty: a beautiful loop from the Chalets d’Iraty to the summit ofArthanolatze and the Pic des Escaliers. The highlight of this hike is the view of the Pyrenees, the Arbailles forest and the landscape stretching from Mauléon to Oloron.

  • Start in Larrau, distance: 7.5 km, duration: 3h30.

From the Col d’Orgabidexka to theIraty ski resort: a short, easy hike to the Organbidexka ridge, a bird migration mecca. The highlight of this hike is the panoramic view of the Pic d’Orhy, rising to 2,000 m (the highest peak in the Basque Country), the Pic d’Anie and the neighbouring peaks of the Béarn region.

  • Start in Larrau, distance: 3 km, duration: 1h20.

Lac d’Iraty: from the Chalets d’Iraty, this trail follows the GR10 down to Lac d’Iraty. An easy loop with a beautiful forested section. Highlight of the hike: the discovery of Lac d’Iraty and its dam, and the view of the ridges overlooking the valley.

  • Departure from Chalets d’Iraty (Col de Bagargiak), distance: 11 km, duration: 3h30.

Meet the wild man of the Pyrenees

The Basajaun(Basa Jaun or Baxajaun, which means “Lord of the forest” in Basque) is a legendary creature said to live in the Basque Pyrenees, and more specifically in theIraty forest. A fast runner, he looks like a wild, hairy man, and hides in the depths of the forest or in caves. TheIraty massif is also inhabited by laminak, the little elves of Basque mythology, half fairies, half lutins. Essentially nocturnal creatures, these nature spirits often gather under stone bridges, by fountains and rivers.

Did you know ?

TheIraty forest has long been one of the most remote and mysterious places in the Basque Country, and one that is difficult to access and little used. In the 17th century, Cardinal Richelieu, anxious to supply the kingdom with wood for shipbuilding, began exploiting the forests of the Pyrenees. TheIraty forest was the first to be exploited. The trunks of these giant hardwoods were used to make the masts of the Royal Navy’s ships.

Things to see and do near Iraty forest

TheHolzarte footbridge: in the commune of Larrau, the vertiginous Holzarte footbridge overlooks theOlhadubi gorges, 180 metres above the void. A spectacular site accessible to all hikers, whether beginners or advanced.

Gorges de Kakuetta: near the village of Sainte-Engrâce, the Gorges de Kakuetta – nicknamed the “little Amazon” of upper Basque Soule – are among the wildest in Europe.

Looking for a campsite in the Basque Country, near Larrau and the Iraty forest? The ideal starting point for discovering the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, our 4-star Le Biper Gorri campsite in Espelette welcomes you between ocean, mountain and forest. A privileged location to enjoy nature in the Basque Country!

photo@Coline Buch