The beautiful Navarran valley rich in cheese factories and Romanesque bridges


Fernando Pastrano



Arriving from the south, the road that takes us to the Roncal Valley turns between curve and curve winding along the river Esca, watched over by the Table of the Three Kings (2,424 meters), the highest peak in Navarra. Despite the steepness of the landscape, it is a setting suitable for all ages and tastes, from the most sedentary or the smallest, who can travel by car to all the most important places, to the most intrepid and adventurous, who They have multiple trails and mountain routes to explore on foot, by bicycle or on horseback.

Mirador de Iso on the Foz de Arbayún – Pillar Arches

We start at the Foz de Arbayun, 50 km from Pamplona. They say that she is the queen of the foces of Navarre (foz means sickle or cannon).

The road that goes from Lumbier to Ezcároz It leaves us at the Iso viewpoint, a large cement balcony from which the gorge of about 6 km in length can be seen in all its splendor, with walls up to 300 meters high, produced by the ancient erosion of the Salazar river. This narrow area, declared a Nature Reserve in 1987, has one of the largest colonies of griffon vultures in Spain.

We continue until Burgui, in the heart of the Roncal Valley. It is interesting to make a stop at the Larra Cheese (, there Mikel Aznárez and his sister Heli have been dedicated since 1985 to raising menhaden sheep, with whose milk they make one of the most appreciated Roncal cheeses. If we say Rioja, we think of wine; if we say Jabugo, in ham; and if we say Roncal, in cheese. Its characteristics are a cylindrical shape and a solid crust. Cut has a yellowish ivory white color with small holes, consistent texture, strong and buttery flavor. In 1981 it was the first Spanish cheese to receive the Denomination of Origin.

Mikel Aznárez explains the history and the manufacture of his cheeses in his shop where he also offers typical products from the region and from all over Navarre. Among them the Xorta craft beer (, which is manufactured in the same industrial estate a stone’s throw from the cheese factory. Xorta in Roncal Basque means ‘sip’.

Angel Oloron Shelter.  In the background, the Mesa de Los Tres Reyes, the highest peak in Navarra
Angel Oloron Shelter. In the background, the Mesa de Los Tres Reyes, the highest peak in Navarra – Pillar Arches

12 km. is the town of Roncal. With just over 300 inhabitants, the town that gives its name to the valley deserves a careful visit. Its urban center with cobbled streets and presided over by the Gothic church of San Esteban, preserves some stately houses with coats of arms from the 18th century, including the House-Museum of Julián Gayarre from Roncal (1844-1890) a tenor who was nicknamed ‘El Rey del Canto’ and whose lavish mausoleum, the work of Mariano Benlliure, can be seen in the municipal cemetery.

We continue going up the river Esca and 7 km later we arrive at Isaba, the northernmost of the Siete Villas and the largest municipality in the valley. But let’s not think of a large town, it barely has 400 inhabitants. However, its interest is considerable thanks to the abundance of typical Roncal houses built of stone and wood with very sloping gabled or hipped roofs to prevent the accumulation of snow in the coming winter. Very close to the town, on the Belagua plain, stands the hermitage of Arrako, which they say was built in the 16th century to neutralize the magical pagan rites that were performed there around a dolmen that can still be seen.

But the most attractive thing about Isaba may be her two Romanesque bridges, very close to each other and located next to the road that runs parallel to the belagua river. The most photogenic is located parallel to the current highway bridge. A little further up, after the mountains, is France.

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