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harbor
Harbor -
St Jean de Luz
graveyard stone
A traditional Basque funeral stone
welcomeGraciane welcomes you.
espadrilles
Espadrilles made in Mauleon

bayonne
B&B at Bayonne

map

Basque Country tour: 2013
June 22nd to 28th 2014
$4600


navarre
Basque farmhouse, Navarre

chapel
Chapel of St. Madeleine

sheep
Why a trip to the Basque Country,
or the 'Pays Basque', as we call it in France ?

When one thinks of France what comes to mind is not necessarily the diversity of cultures that make up our small country. The Pays Basque is certainly one of the most striking example. Its persistance to keep alive its unique culture in a country that has long wanted a unified idea behind the word 'France' and in a world that seems to be more and more homogeneous, the Pays Basque makes us respect the differences it has been able to cultivate.

chapel church
One of the many hillside chapels The Church of St. Bunus

The Basque culture is alive on both sides of the Pyrénées mountains: 4 regions in Spain and 3 regions in France. We will take you to those we know best, the French Pays Basque of Labourde, Basse Navarre and the Soule.  Though depending upon which side of the border they live the Basque speak either French or Spanish but many still speak Basque as well. It is not a dialect but a true language, and is common to all the basque people (about 80% of those in the Basse Navarre speak or understand the language). Their culture, food, music and games are common and specific to the whole basque area... with some variations depending on which side of the mountain or stream you are standing on. Traditionally the Basque are farmers, shepherds and fishermen.
Their social and family organisation has led many people to immigrate to the western United States and South America in the past century...almost every family has a 'cousin d'Amérique'. The physical contrasts of the montains and the sea as well as the contrasts in civilisation between the French and the French Basque make the passing visitor stop to admire the richness of the Pays Basque and make us want to share it with you while you are in France.

As in the other visits we offer in France, we want you to meet the local people and invite you inside private homes. We want you to learn how they live with their past history, share their passions of today and their dreams for the future.

DAY 1

Our week in the Pays Basque starts on Sunday afternoon in Biarritz which you can reach easily by train or plane. We'll meet in the beautifuly restored neo-basque B&B: Nere Chocoa. The home and it's guest rooms reflect the passion of its owners, Maryse and Marc, collectors of contempory art. We'll be able to relax and get to know each other while Marc prepares our evening dinner.

DAY 2

Monday morning after a 'petit déjeuner' on the terrace, we'll start our visit to the first of the three french regions of the Pays Basque: Labourde.  We'll go along the coast: from the surfers on the 'Côte des Basque ' through the charming coastal villages of Guéthary and Bidart to the former whaling port of St Jean de Luz where Louis XIV married L'Infant d’Espagne in 1660. We'll stroll through the village and take a walk on the beach.  After a picnic lunch overlooking the foothills of the Pyrénnées in  the tiny village of Arcangues, we'll meet with our private guide at the recently renovated Musée Basque in the capital of Labourde: Bayonne. This musée, in a  building dating from the 17th century, offers a key to the unique Basque culture that you will discover during the week and seemed to us an important way to start our visit together.  Before leaving Bayonne we'll, of course, stop for a foamy cup of chocolat at the oldest chocolat shop in France... Bayonne is the town where French chocolat was first made in 1496 !

About an hour from the coast our final destination for the day is St Palais, the capital of the another Basque region: Basse Navarre. A very basque frenchman, François Barthabaru, has transformed his family's 16th century home, Arthezenea, into a charming B&B which will be your home for the rest of the week. François, a gracious host and great cook will be expecting us for dinner !

DAY 3

François' home baked pastries for breakfast will tide us over until our early afternoon lunch in St Jean Pied de Port. The first stop-over will be a visit to a village museum with an insitu collection of basque grave-stones that will surprise many of you. Then we stop at a farm where two brothers continue making the traditional Basque walking sticks : the 'Makila'.

After a lunch and degustation of basque wines from both sides of the border, Spain and France, we'll take a walk though the hills of the Irouléguy vineyards with Charlotte and her donkeys.

Depending on the weather and your tastes, we can go into the hills to visit château Branna, which  makes the famous fruit alcools or stay in the valley to visit a 'cidrerie' who specialises in apple juice and hard cider made from local heirloom varieties.

Dinner is at our friend, Maris José's 18th century home, Ziberoa, in St Jean Pied de Port.

DAY 4

After another one of François’ home baked breakfasts, we'll start out for an early morning hike (an hour round trip) .and walk to 'Gibralter ' a chapelle on the famous pilgrims path of St James (Santiago de Compostela)....just down the road from Arthezenea. We'll  meet the pilgrims with their staffs and back packs as they too start out their day by foot through the Pays Basque, enjoy the panoramic view of the country through which we'll be traveling through today.

 st.palaischeese
B&B St. PalaisCheese

Then on, by car, to the valley of the Aldudes to taste some of the countryside's produces: the trout raised next to the bubbling mountain streams, the farm made cheese from the grazing sheep on the valley's hill sides and the heirloom black basque pigs that are raised in the nearby woods. We'll picnic in a beech forest and trot along beside the sheep as we make our way up and down the hill side path.

On the way back to St Palais we'll stop to visit a private château in Iholdy before arriving for some relaxing time and dinner at François'.

DAY 5

Another region of the Pays Basque: la Soule. To its capital, Mauleon....also the capital of the traditional Espadrille. We'll visit one of the last family enterprises to still make their espadrilles by hand. Then to another important stop-over on the road to Campostela: Hospital St Blaise....a jewel of a little chapel that is still taken care of by the people of the village.

A picnic and a stop under century old oak trees at the workshop of an artist who restores grandfather clocks.

Then, via the villages of Ordiarp and Bunus, where we'll visit a Basque grandmother, Graciane, whose family makes cheese from their sheep who graze in the lower medows...and we can compare them to the cheese from mountain sides of the Aldudes. Her farm is at the edge of a small village, Bunus, at the begining of a well traced foot path where we'll take a walk around the village and the hill side before going back to St Palais for dinner at the local 'Trinquet' and watch a traditional game of 'pelote'.

DAY 6

We'll visit the small weaving factory just down the street from Arthezenea where François buys his traditional basque table linens.

Then via the 18th century houses in the village of Garris we'll head off for the prehistoric caves of Oxocelhaya where the Basque culture perhaps began. The owner, Joelle Darricau, will take us on a private visit.

Lunch will be in a Palombiere...a very rustic hunting hut for the « palombes » or wild pigeons that are the traditional fall game during their October migration.

After lunch we'll drive to Cambo les Bains, the turn of the century spa where the French writer Edmond Rostand built an amazing neo-basque mansion and garden ...a striking contrast after the caves and the palombiere !

And then on to the beautiful basque villages of Labourde like Espelette, Sare and Ainhoa before finishing up back in St Palais for our farewell dinner done by Jean Pierre with the basque ingredients we've discovered during the week.

DAY 7

An early departure for Bayonne for those who are taking the 10:25 plane to Paris. And for those who are taking the train, we can have a coffee on the terrace of the Adour river next to Bayonne's covered market where you can pick something up for your picnic.