Grotte d'Harpea

Grotte d'Arpea - Cueva de Arpea - Harpeako leizea

Useful Information

Location: 64220 Estérençuby.
(43.0331022, -1.1799978)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: bring torch
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Grotte d'Harpea
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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The Grotte d'Harpea is a unique cave. Actually it is a shelter, a cave portal with a single chamber behind, but there are millions of such shelters all over the world. Nevertheless, this one is unique, as it formed in the middle of a tectonic fault, The sedimentary rocks were compressed by the orogeny, the mountain-forming process creating the Pyrenees. The layers were folded, forming bends going up and down. The cave formed by the erosion of the softer layers of rock in the center of such a fold. The layers form the shape of an inverted “V” with the cave portal in the center.

Another unique specialty is the location of the cave, it is actually located right on the French-Spanish border. So there is some confusion if it is actually in France or Spain. As far as we interpret the maps and mapping tools, we guess it is 30 m or less on the French side. So we placed it on the French pages and used the French version of the name as the main name. Actually, there is also a Spanish and a Basque version of the name, Cueva de Arpea and Harpeako leizea.

The cave has been used as a shelter since prehistoric times. It was probably a stop on the strenuous hike across the mountain ridge, located right between the Aezkoa and Garazi Valleys. Today, like then, it's a long hike to get there and see the cave. From the town of Orbaitzeta follow road NA-2030 to the Orbaitzeta weapons factory. A narrow but well-paved road ascends to the Azpegui pass. On the French side start at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, use the D428, either from Valcarlos or from Estérençuby, on top of the mountain Orbaitzeta is signposted. At the Cromlech de Organbide a single lane paved road leads to the east. From the end of the road it's still a 400 m hike down into the valley. For obvious reasons, you should go on a sunny and warm day, avoid the spring and autumn rainy season.